What’s wrong with the World Series: Part 1
The World Series just ended. The morning after the Nationals defeated the Astros in Game 7 the local radio station in Oklahoma City chose it as the 5th most important story on it’s morning sports report, behind the Thunder’s 102-99 loss to the Portland Trailblazers, the Oklahoma State Cowboys and the Oklahoma Sooners men’s basketball teams opening their seasons with scrimmages against Roger’s State and Southeastern Oklahoma State and a preview of the Oklahoma State’s football team’s Saturday game against TCU. How much further will baseball fall.
Up until the early 1970s Baseball was considered the “National Pastime” and the World Series was the most important sporting event of the year. The World Series still pulls in respectable ratings, beating the other networks prime time line-ups, but it barely beat ABC’s College Football coverage on Saturday, October 26th, and lost badly to NBC’s Sunday Night Football on Sunday, October 27th. The first five games of the 2019 World Series drew about 11.2 million viewers. Games 6 and 7 were better, with Game 7 peaking at 21.2 million. These numbers are nothing next to the Super Bowl, which draws over 100 million viewers, and are some of the lowest since World Series Games went to night games in the 1970s. Why?
First, Baseball no longer rewards their best teams. It so happens that baseball’s fall coincides exactly with the expansion of the playoffs in 1969. Before 1969 the team with the best record in the National League faced the team with the best record in the American League in the Fall Classic. That doesn’t happen anymore. The “World Champion” Washington Nationals were tied for the 8th best record in baseball this season. They finished 13 games behind the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 162 game regular season, and then eliminated them 3 games to 2 in the National League Division Series, winning Game 5 in 10 innings. The Houston Astros finished 14 games ahead of the Nationals during the regular season, and they lost 4 games to 3 to Washington in the World Series. Winning 3 out of 5 games, or 4 out of 7 in no objective way indicates that you are a better team than a team that won double digit more games during the regular season, and fans instinctively know that.
Is it unusual, since the expansion of the playoffs, for this to happen? No it is not. From 1903 to 1968 the team with the best record in the American League played the team with the best record in the National League in the World Series. That changed with the expansion in 1969. Baseball’s expanded format forced the Leagues to have four 6-team division instead of one 10-team league. From 1969 to 1993 Baseball had 4 divisions. The winner of each division faced each other in the League Championship Series. The team with the better regular season record won 29 of the 48 League Championship Series, that’s a little over 60% of the time. Going a little further; the teams with the best record in each league met 9 times in the World Series, that’s about 38% of the time and the team with the best record in all of baseball won the World Series 7 times, or 29% of the time.
Now let’s look at what has happened since baseball introduced Wild Card teams in 1995. Since 1995 there have been 75 Division and Championship Series in Baseball. The team with the better record has won 84 of them or 55%.
The team with the best record in the National League has represented the Senior Circuit in the World Series 7 times (28%). The American League 11 times (44%). The teams with the best record in the two leagues have met only 3 times in 25 years (1995, 1999, and 2013) in the World Series, or 12% of the time. Just to show how watered down the World Series has become. In 10 of the 25 World Series since 1995 the World Series was a battle between no team that had the best record in their league (40%). That’s an incredible number, and one of the main reasons the World Series is no longer a must see event for the general public.
We’ll cover Part II of our What’s Wrong with Baseball series next week.