We have another pair of birthdays today: A happy 32nd birthday to Robinson Cano and a happy 40th birthday to Ichiro Suzuki!
Tomorrow is the first day of the 109th World Series. And the winner will be wearing red. The Red Sox and the Cardinals start their face off in Boston, thanks to a really fantastic AL win at the All-Star Game this year. Perhaps it is only fitting that it is Boston who hosted the first World Series in 1903 (as the Boston Americans). If you think the games are too long or too many postseason games today, the Americans beat the Pirates in 8 games in a best-of-9 series (1903, 1919, 1920, and 1921 were the only years the Series were not a best-of-7 series).
And if you’re doing math, you may be confused as to why it’s the 109th when the first one was 110 years ago. (Technically, it should be the 111th because 1903 was the 1st.) But there were two skipped series.
In 1904, they skipped the series, which would have been played by the Boston Americans and the New York Giants, but the Giants’ owner and manager had some issues with being forced to play against the “inferior American League” and considered the National League to be the only legitimate league in baseball. Well, actually, the biggest issue was that the newly christened Yankees (the Giants’ cross-town rivals) were getting really good, and the Giants were afraid of being beaten by them publicly by this new upstart team. (See, the anti-Yankee stuff started long before the Red Sox were anybody!) And while there was an agreement to hold a World Series in 1904, there was no legally binding agreement with set rules and policies (regarding money, host cities, operations, etc.), so they backed out and cancelled it. There was such an uproar with the fans that they set those rules and policies in place for every subsequent World Series.
Except 90 years later, when the season was cut short due to a players’ strike. The Series was played through World Wars and the 1919 Black Sox scandal and the 1989 earthquake. But in 1994, disputes between the players and the team owners led to the infamous players’ strike, which at the time seemed like the second biggest “black eye” to Major League Baseball. (The first being the Black Sox scandal.) It was essentially a labor strike, where the players were protesting unfair labor practices and walked off the field on August 12 of that year. A month later, the new baseball commissioner Bud Selig cancelled the World Series that year, thus forfeiting what would probably have been a Yankees-Expos World Series based on their really great records at that point. The strike was later settled after a congressional hearing and a US District Court helmed by future Supreme Court Justice (and lifelong Yankee fan) Sonia Sotomayor issued an injunction and upheld the appeals court that ruled against the owners and for the players’ union. It took awhile before the fans loved baseball again, and while it temporarily helped the game, the steroid era blasted its way through the full cycle from secret to open love to mistrust to outright disdain to illegal irreparable damage (something many people equate with the biggest black eye on MLB ever).
Now, the Yankees are, of course, the team with the most World Series appearances and wins, having won 27 of their 40 appearances. And it’s the Cardinals who are 2nd on that list with 11 wins of their 19 appearances (their last win was 2011). The Athletics have 9 wins of 14 appearances, last year’s champions the Giants have 7 of 19, and then the Red Sox come in 5th with 7 wins for their 11 appearances (last winning in 2007).
At both recent ALCS and NLCS award ceremonies, comments were made about how many wins and appearances both teams have made in the last 10 years — Cardinals with 2 wins in 3 appearances (2006, 2011, and 2004) and the Red Sox with 2 wins in 2 appearances (2004, 2007). In fact, the last time they faced off was that infamous “Reverse the Curse” year for Boston in 2004, when the Red Sox swept through the Cardinals for their first win in 86 years. This is not the 2004 Red Sox, and no one thinks relying on the old curse stuff is going to work any more for them; the sympathy is done; the playing field is level; regular rivalries remain. And the Cardinals got rid of their 2000-era power-hitter Pujols to the Angels after their last Series, but fans aren’t really missing him in light of their really tight pitching staff.
They meet for the first of a best-of-7 series for the 109th World Series Championship tomorrow. The winner will be wearing red. But next year, the winner will (hopefully) be wearing navy pinstripes emblazoned with “New York” on their chest.