… but were afraid to ask.
Imagine you’re at an outdoor dinner party (yes, COVID-friendly). It’s October, and the conversation steers towards the World Series. While you are generally culturally literate, you know little about the game of baseball.
Here is a small cheat sheet to help you enjoy the big showdown between the Atlanta Braves and Houston Astros.
Start with the question, “When was the first world series played?” The Major League Baseball’s (MLB) response is October 1, 1903, when the Boston Americans defeated the Pittsburgh Pirates in a best of nine series.
However, back in 1884, there was actually an inter-league championship which MLB doesn’t claim as a World Series. The Providence Grays defeated the New York Metropolitans in a three-game series (today’s is 7) where each team put up $1000, and the winner took the jackpot. Darkness and extreme cold resulted in two games getting called. Total series attendance: 3,800.
The topic of compensation usually generates interest. Ask your friends how the World Series prize money is divided. Most won’t know. You can humbly offer that prize money is divided into shares that have been agreed upon by the teams before post-season play. All teams will get shares from what is referred to as the “Player’s pool.”
“How much do they get?” might follow. In the early years, players on both sides received less than $2,000. Fast forward to 2018, and the champions received an average of $400,000 while the losing team received $259,000 each for a full share (those playing half the season get a half-share).
Still need another World Series topic? Talk “scandals” which is juicy and the World Series doesn’t disappoint. In 1919, the “Black Sox” scandal occurred where eight players from the Chicago White Sox were accused of throwing the World Series in exchange for money from a gambling syndicate. Shoeless Joe Jackson, whom your friends might recall from the popular movie, Field of Dreams, was one of the eight—all of whom were banned from baseball for life.
More recently, in 2017, there was a cheating scandal where the Houston Astros used a camera to steal signs in their series against the Dodgers. The Astros won, and while punished, were still able to keep their ring. The justice of that outcome is a topic worth exploring.
World series aside, in general, do we enjoy watching baseball today? Not so much. It’s a slow sport in a fast-moving world. Using World Series viewership as our metric, in 2020, only 9.6 million viewers watched the World Series, compared to 96.4 million viewers who watched the Super Bowl.
Some believe our declining interest is because baseball is missing a significant face to represent it. According to YouGov, 91 percent of Americans have heard of LeBron James; 88 percent have heard of Tom Brady. Only 43 percent have heard of Mike Trout, who is arguably MLB’s best player.
As dinner-talk winds down, trivia might be a good way to end the conversation. Consider this: What was the longest World Series game? Answer: Los Angeles Dodgers and the Boston Red Sox in 2018 went 18 innings in a game that lasted over seven hours.
What team has won the most World Series championships? Answer: The New York Yankees have won 27, followed by the St. Louis Cardinals, who’ve won 11. Only one team, the Seattle Mariners, has never made it to the World Series.
Finally, why do we have a seventh-inning stretch? Answer: In 1910, then-President Howard Taft went to a game in Pittsburgh and stood to stretch. The crowd thought he was about to leave, and so they stood up as a sign of respect. Talk about different times as well as the beginning of a new tradition.
Of course, the seventh-inning stretch offers us more than a chance to stretch. It offers us a chance to sing Take Me Out To the Ball Game, whose first rendition at a baseball game occurred in 1934, despite being written in 1908. Its authors, Jack Norwoth and Albert Von Tilzer had never attended a game prior to writing the song.
In 2021, humor can be in short supply, so consider ending with a baseball joke. I offer two.
Where should a baseball player never wear red?
Answer: In the bullpen.
What do you get when you cross a baseball pitcher with a carpet?
Answer: A throw rug.
Now you should be all set. Batter up!