There was ample precedent for postseason play in the unofficial contests arranged by the winners of the NL and the American Association from 1882 to 1891. The first World Series, in 1903, was a best-of-nine affair arranged by the winners of the NL and the AL and won by the AL’s Boston Pilgrims in a 5-3 upset over the Pittsburgh Pirates. The feud between AL president Ban Johnson and the 1904 NL-champion Giants’ manager John McGraw precluded a World Series that year, but the popularity of the 1903 Series led the National Commission to establish an official World Series starting in 1905, with the length of the contest set at seven games. The Giants won 4-1 that year, with all the games being shutouts; Christy Mathewson permitted only 14 hits and one base on balls in his three shutouts. The 1906 Series matched the White Sox and the Cubs in the first World Series between teams from the same city. The White Sox, known as the Hitless Wonders for having the lowest team batting average in the AL that year, upset the mighty Cubs team that had set a still-standing major league record by winning 116 games (while losing only 36).
The unlikely star emerging in the World Series to lead his team to victory became a recurring scenario. The first example came in 1909, when the Pirates’ Babe Adams, a rookie pitcher who was 12-3 during the year and not considered the team’s ace, was given the starting assignment in the Series opener. He went on to win three games as Pittsburgh won 4-3 despite only two batters (Honus Wagner and Tommy Leach) batting above .250. In the 1911 WS the Athletics’ Frank Baker, already established as a fine player, won his nickname Home Run by hitting a game-winning homer off the Giants’ Rube Marquard in Game Two and a game-tying home run off Christy Mathewson the next day.
Another Series motif is the “goat,” the player whose lapse costs his team the World Championship. Fred Snodgrass wore the horns for the Giants in 1912 after dropping a routine fly ball in the tenth inning of the final game. In 1914 the Braves upset the Athletics in four games, contributing to Philadelphia owner Connie Mack‘s decision to break up his dynasty. Babe Ruth began his record scoreless innings streak pitching the Red Sox to victory in Game Two of the 1916 WS; after surrendering a first-inning home run, he blanked Brooklyn for 13 innings to win 2-1. He extended the streak to 29-2/3 innings in 1918. That year the Red Sox won their fifth World Championship; over the next 70 years, they failed to win another despite four chances.
The 1917 Series was memorable for Giants third baseman Heinie Zimmerman’s futile chase to home plate of Eddie Collins as the White Sox took the lead in the Series clincher; neither catcher Lew McCarty nor pitcher Rube Benton covered home. The White Sox became known as the Black Sox two years later when eight conspirators on the 1919 team threw the Series after gamblers induced them to “lay down.” When the fix became public knowledge the next year, it led to the appointment of Commissioner Landis, who became a fixture at World Series games thereafter and ruled on several controversies on the spot. The 1919 Series had returned to the best-of-nine format to take advantage of the renewed popularity of baseball following World War I, which had cut into the 1918 schedule. The 1920 Series, played under close scrutiny due to the previous year’s events, featured several Fall Classic firsts in Game Five. The Indians’ Elmer Smith hit the first WS grand slam in the first inning, Cleveland’s Jim Bagby became the first pitcher to hit a WS home run in the fourth inning, and the only unassisted triple play in Series history was turned by Indians second baseman Bill Wambsganss in the fifth.
The first New York Subway Series took place in 1921, with the Giants defeating the Yankees and holding Babe Ruth to one home run in the last best-of-nine Series. Brothers Bob and Irish Meusel played on the opposing teams. The Giants repeated with a sweep of the Yankees in 1922, notable for Ruth hitting only .118 and for Game Two being called “on account of darkness,” while tied 3-3 in the 10th inning, despite the sun still shining. Instantly it was rumored that it had been done to force an additional game (and additional profits). An irate Judge Landis ordered the gate receipts to be donated to charity. Babe Ruth became the first to hit three home runs in a Series in 1923 as the Yankees finally overcame the Giants. Casey Stengel hit two game-winning homers for the Giants, the first coming in Game One with two out in the ninth inning. An inside-the-park shot, it was immortalized by reporter Damon Runyon. The Giants lost again in 1924 as Walter Johnson (in relief) and the Senators won Game Seven in twelve innings as Earl McNeely‘s grounder to third base hit a pebble and hopped over Fred Lindstrom’s head. The Senators and Johnson were the losers in 1925 when Game Seven was played in extremely dark and muddy conditions under a continuous rain. The Pirates were the first team to win a seven-game Series after going down 3-1 in games.
The Yankees returned to the Fall Classic in 1926, but were defeated by the Cardinals in their first appearance. Ruth was thrown out stealing by Bob O’Farrell for the last out of the Series in the game made famous by Grover Cleveland Alexander‘s relief appearance. He came in in the seventh inning, after having won his second complete game of the Series the day before, and struck out Tony Lazzeri with two out and the bases loaded. The first consecutive sweeps in WS history came in 1927-28 as the Yankees devastated the Pirates and the Cardinals. In 1928 Lou Gehrig became the first man to hit four home runs in one Series, and in Game Four Ruth set a record with three homers. With Gehrig and Cedric Durst also homering, the Yankees set a record for HR by a team in a single Series game.
The Athletics represented the AL the next three years. Howard Ehmke was the surprise starter in the opener in 1929 and set a Series record with 13 strikeouts, and in Game Four the A’s scored 10 runs in the seventh inning to overcome the Cubs’ 8-0 lead. Philadelphia was finally bested in 1931 as the Cardinals’ Pepper Martin hit .500 and stole five bases. The Yankees swept again in 1932, setting a record with 12 consecutive WS wins. Ruth’s “called shot” off the Cubs’ Charlie Root in Game Three was the highlight in a contest featuring six home runs, two each by Ruth and Gehrig and two by the Cubs, for a new WS game mark. Ruth’s 15 career WS HR stood as the record until Mickey Mantle broke it three decades later.
Landis ruled on another controversy in 1934 when he removed the Cardinals’ Joe Medwick from Game Seven rather than forfeit the game after Detroit fans showered the left fielder with debris following his hard slide into third baseman Marv Owen. The Cardinals won 11-0. The tremendous offensive output of the era was best typified by the Yankees’ 18-4 victory in Game Two of the 1936 WS, won 4-2 over the Giants in a renewal of their subway rivalry. The two teams met again in 1937, with the Yankees again victorious. Yankee sweeps in 1938 (the Cubs) and 1939 (the Reds) gave manager Joe McCarthy a record four consecutive World Championships. The final game of the ’39 Series became famous for “Schnozz’s snooze” when Reds catcher Ernie Lombardi lay stunned, unable to tag Joe DiMaggio, after a collision with Charlie Keller. The Reds came back in 1940 to defeat the Tigers.
The first Yankees-Dodgers Series came in 1941 and was won by New York 4-1. Brooklyn won Game Two and was leading Game Three 1-0 when Yankee pitcher Marius Russo‘s line drive off the knee of Dodger pitcher Fred Fitzsimmons forced him out of the game in the seventh inning; the Yankees scored two runs off reliever Hugh Casey. In Game Four Casey was again on the mound with the Dodgers leading 4-3 in the ninth with two out. He struck out Tommy Henrich, but the ball got past catcher Mickey Owen, starting a four-run Yankee rally. The Cardinals’ defeat of the Yankees in 1942 was New York’s first WS defeat since 1926. St. Louis fell to the Yankees in 1943.
The exigencies of wartime baseball led to the Browns’ first pennant in 1944. The quality of play in the World Series, won by the Cardinals, was still fair, featuring a Game Five pitchers’ duel between Mort Cooper (12 strikeouts) and the Browns’ Denny Galehouse (10 strikeouts). But the 1945 Series was considered a travesty; reporters predicted that neither team could win. In fact, the Tigers prevailed in seven games in what proved to be the Cubs’ last World Series appearance. The return to peacetime ball in 1946 began the Red Sox’ string of seven-game Series defeats when Enos Slaughter scored from first base in the eighth inning on Harry Walker‘s double as Boston shortstop Johnny Pesky hesitated with the relay. Leon Culberson had bobbled the ball in centerfield, where he was subbing for the injured Dom DiMaggio. Red Sox star Ted Williams hit .200 for the Series, and the Cardinals’ Stan Musial hit .222. There was more drama in 1947 as Brooklyn and New York met again. Game Four saw the Dodgers tie the Series when Cookie Lavaghetto broke up Bill Bevens‘s no-hitter with two out in the ninth inning. The Series was once again knotted in Game Six when reserve outfielder Al Gionfriddo‘s running catch of Joe DiMaggio‘s 415’ blast against the left-field fence with two runners on in the sixth inning preserved the victory for the Dodgers and provoked a rare display of emotion by DiMaggio, who kicked the ground when the catch was made. The Yankees prevailed in Game Seven when Joe Page pitched five innings of one-hit relief. Lost in the excitement was Yogi Berra‘s pinch-homer in Game Three, the first in Series history. The Indians defeated the Braves in 1948, with Larry Doby‘s HR in Game Four being the first by a black player. Game One included one of the most controversial umpire’s calls in Series history. Bill Stewart‘s safe call on Bob Feller‘s attempted pickoff at second base of Phil Masi allowed Masi to score the only run of the game two batters later as Johnny Sain pitched a shutout.
Casey Stengel was named manager of the Yankees in 1949 and started a record streak of five World Championships by defeating the Dodgers 4-1. Phillies ace reliever Jim Konstanty was the surprise starter in the 1950 opener but lost 1-0, and the Yankees went onto a sweep. The Yankees’ skein was threatened in 1952 when the Dodgers took a 3-2 lead in the Series (Joe Black becoming the first black pitcher to win a WS game), but New York won the last two games, at Ebbets Field. Billy Martin saved the last win with a catch at his knees of a routine pop-up that neither the first baseman or the pitcher, who were closer, got under; the bases were loaded. Gil Hodges finished the Series 0-for-21, the most famous WS slump in history. In 1953 Carl Erskine struck out a Series-record 14 batters in Game Three, but the Yankees were unstoppable in winning their fifth World Series in five years. But the Indians won the AL pennant in 1954 and were then swept by the Giants on the strength of Dusty Rhodes‘ pinch-hit heroics.
The Dodgers finally beat the Yankees in 1955 for the NL’s first back-to-back Series triumphs since 1933-34. Johnny Podres was the pitching hero for his Game Seven shutout, saved by Sandy Amoros‘s long run to catch Berra’s fly in the left-field corner. The Yankees returned to form in 1956, with Don Larsen pitching a perfect game in Game Five, but they were no longer invincible. They lost to the Braves in 1957 as Lew Burdette won three complete games (two were shutouts), although they turned the tables on the Braves in 1958. The 1959 contest saw the Dodgers beat the White Sox in six games, with Chuck Essegian hitting two pinch-homers. In Stengal’s last year at the Yankee helm, the Bronx Bombers outscored the Pirates 55-27 but lost on Bill Mazeroski‘s dramatic home run in the bottom of the ninth in Game Seven. Under Ralph Houk the Yankees handily defeated the Reds in 1961 and squeaked past the Giants in seven games in 1962. The latter Series featured Chuck Hiller‘s grand slam in Game Four, the NL’s first, and was ended by Willie McCovey‘s lineout to Yankees second baseman Bobby Richardson with two on and two out in the ninth inning of Game Seven. The Dodgers stunned the Yankees with a four-game sweep in 1963, holding New York to four runs overall. Sandy Koufax struck out a record 15 batters in the opener. The Yankees appeared in their last World Series for the next 12 years in 1964 and lost to the Cardinals, led by Bob Gibson. The Dodgers’ pitching gave them another WS victory in 1965, over the Twins, but they received a dose of their own medicine in 1966 when the Orioles swept them, with shutouts in the last three games. Bob Gibson won three games in 1967 to lead the Cardinals over the Red Sox in seven games and appeared set to be the hero in 1968 as well. He struck out a still-standing record 17 Tigers in the opener and won Game Four, but Mickey Lolich won his third game, on two days’ rest, to defeat Gibson in Game Seven.
The Miracle Mets of 1969 stunned the favored Orioles in five games. Outfield defense saved two games for New York, with Tommie Agee making two spectacular catches in Game Three (and hitting a leadoff homer) and unlikely hero Ron Swoboda making a foolhardy – but successful – diving, sliding catch in the ninth inning of Game Four to hold the Orioles to a tie. The Orioles used 10 home runs and the spectacular defense of third baseman Brooks Robinson to triumph over the Reds in 1970. Roberto Clemente starred in 1971, which featured the first Series night game in Game Four. Clemente hit .414 and extended his Series hitting streak to 14 games as the Pirates defeated Baltimore in seven games. The surprise hero in 1972 was the A’s Gene Tenace, who became the first player to homer in his first two WS at-bats. He had two more HR in the Series and also figured in two game-winning rallies as Oakland beat the Reds in seven games. The A’s made it three straight World Championships in 1973 and 1974. The 1973 contest, against the Mets, included the longest WS game by time (4:13) in Game Two, won by New York 10-7.
The Red Sox lost in seven games again in 1975, but to listen to their fans, you’d think they had won. Luis Tiant pitched a five-hitter and ran wild on the basepaths in Game One, and came back with a 163-pitch victory in game Four. And in the famous sixth game, a seesaw contest that saw Bernie Carbo hit a record-tying second pinch-homer for the Series, Carlton Fisk‘s 12th-inning HR, just barely fair, won the thrilling game for the Red Sox to tie the Series. But the Reds won Game Seven in the ninth inning on a Joe Morgan two-out single. The Reds went on to sweep the Yankees in 1976, a Series that featured the two catchers, Johnny Bench and Thurman Munson, hitting .533 and .529 respectively. The Yankees returned in 1977 and won in six games over the Dodgers when Reggie Jackson earned his “Mr. October” nickname by homering in three consecutive at-bats (each time on the first pitch he saw) in the clincher. New York repeated over the Dodgers in 1978, the last time anybody repeated as World Champions. Graig Nettles was the fielding star with a Brooks Robinson-like display of prowess at third base in Game Three; his four gems enabled Ron Guidry to hold the Dodgers to one run despite allowing eight hits and seven walks. Bucky Dent hit .417 and was the unlikely Series MVP. The Pirates overcame a 3-1 deficit to beat the Orioles in 1979 despite playing the last two games away.
The Phillies won their first World Championship, ending the sport’s longest-such drought, by overcoming the Royals in 1980. Kansas City leadoff hitter Willie Wilson was the goat, batting only .154. In 1981 high-priced free agent Dave Winfield went 1-for-22 and was publically humiliated by Yankee owner George Steinbrenner as the Dodgers won in six games. Mike Schmidt suffered a similar slump in 1983 when Baltimore pitched around him, going 1-for-20 as the Orioles won 4-1. Sparky Anderson became the first manager to win World Championships in both leagues in 1984 as the Tigers blasted the Padres in five games. In 1985 umpire Don Denkinger‘s safe call, clearly wrong, on Jorge Orta‘s single in Game Six started Kansas City’s comeback. When they defeated St. Louis 11-0 in the finale, they became the first team to come back from a 3-1 deficit after losing the first two games at home. The Series hero was Bret Saberhagen, who surrendered only one run in his two complete games and became a father during one of them.
The Mets triumphed in 1986 as the Red Sox lost yet another seven-game Series. Bill Buckner was the goat in Game Six after the Mets’ spectacular comeback in the tenth inning was climaxed by a Mookie Wilson grounder going through Buckner’s legs. Wilson most likely would have been safe even if Buckner had fielded the ball, but the winning run wouldn’t have scored from second base. To get to that point, the Mets had strung together three two-out singles and a Bob Stanley wild pitch. The Twins, with the worst record of any World Champion during the regular season (85-77), won all four home games during the Series, the first time that had happened. Dan Gladden hit a grand slam in Game One. In 1988 Orel Hershiser shut down the powerhouse A’s in his two starts and was the hitting star of Game Two, going 3-for-3. Kirk Gibson, barely able to run, pinch-hit a stunning home run off Oakland relief ace Dennis Eckersley with two out and one on in the ninth inning to win. The A’s managed only a lone win in Game Three, but came back in 1989 to sweep the Giants in the first Bay Area Series despite a ten day interruption after an earthquake measuring 7.1 on the Richter scale struck shortly before the start of Game Three at Candlestick.