A World Series Match-Up from an Era Long Past

October 19, 2020

It’s a near miracle that professional sports are even being played in this pandemic year of 2020. It’s even stranger that the 2020 baseball world series pits the winningest National League team against the American League team that had the best regular season won-loss record. The first world series in 1903 and subsequent world series through 1968 matched the best regular season team from each league. The fact that world series opponents had not played one another before, nor that they shared any common opponent from the regular season, was a big part of the world series mystique. The two leagues of major league baseball represented entirely separate universes, except in the world series when the most successful teams from each league met to crown the all-world champion. Going into each year, the absolute firewall between the two major leagues added to the uncertainty of the outcome.

Subsequent changes in the structure of baseball made to keep more teams in the hunt through the whole season and to thus generate more revenue for owners moved the world series apart from the world series’ original incarnation.

  • A round of divisional play prior to the world series was introduced in 1969, making it possible for a team without the best record from the regular season to play in the autumn classic.
  • A wild card slot to a second-place team in each league with the best record was added in 1995. The number of elimination rounds prior to the world series was expanded from one to two, and the chances thus increased for each league not to be represented by the team with the most regular season wins.
  • Inter-league regular season games for all teams were introduced in 1997. This made it possible for a world series match-up of opponents that had actually played one another during the regular season. And if that was so, the teams also would have shared some regular season opponents.

The pandemic forced even more radical differences to be introduced in 2020. The bracket of post-season participants was expanded from ten to sixteen teams, consisting of the first and second place teams in each of three league divisions plus the two other teams with the best records. This modification expanded the number of postseason elimination rounds from two to three.

Amazingly, the teams with best American League and best National League regular season records each emerged as the last team standing through the three earlier league rounds of post-season play. The National League will be represented by the Los Angeles Dodgers, which ended the abbreviated 60-game regular season with a 43-17 record, winning 71.7% of its games. The American League champion Tampa Bay Rays won 40 games, a 0.667 winning record. The Dodgers and Rays did not meet in the regular season, and they played no common opponents.

Coming from entirely different populations, the Dodgers-Rays match-up is exactly the kind of face-off originally meant when the world series tournament was conceived. It’s been a long time coming, and so strange that this return to a world series as it was meant to be should occur in this pandemic year. But stranger still is that the sum of the winning percentages of the two teams, 138.4%, is the highest total ever, surpassing the 1906 world series when the Chicago Cubs with a regular season record of 116-36 out-dueled the cross-town Chicago White Sox, which had ended that season with a record of 93-58.

Copyright, Larry Greenberg. All rights reserved. No secondary distribution without express permission.

 

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