Washington Senators manager Bucky Harris presents President Calvin Coolidge with baseball used to open the 1924 World Series (Library of Congress)
The World Series has held a singular place in America’s sporting consciousness since it was first played in 1903. Through its 113 seasons, many of the most memorable moments in sports have taken place during baseball’s signature event. Over time, the World Series has maintained an esteem that few sporting events can match.
Many of the best players in the game’s history have burnished their reputations in the World Series (Babe Ruth and Reggie Jackson), while other greats (Ty Cobb and Ernie Banks) were never on a team that won. Oddities abound in the Series, where unusual bounces have sometimes determined the outcome and otherwise-unheralded players have had their best performances on the sport’s biggest stage.
The Series has also faced challenges. While players gambling on and fixing games was an open secret in the early 20th century, it took an effort to throw the 1919 World Series for baseball to become serious about cleaning up the game. The World Series was cancelled in 1904 and 1994. Several Series have been plagued by controversial umpiring calls. And the 1989 San Francisco earthquake was jarringly broadcast live to a World Series audience.
The World Series, like the game itself, has changed over the decades, shifting with the culture of baseball and the times themselves. Today, it finds itself competing for attention in a sports landscape that includes a number of other leagues and where Super Bowl is the biggest draw. Yet more than a century later, the World Series remains a pillar of American sports.
Before the 2018 Series begins, join John McMurray, chair of the Deadball Era Committee and Oral History Committee of the Society for American Baseball Research, for an examination of how the World Series came to be, its evolution, and a fascinating replay of highlights from Series history.
Even in its early years, the World Series was an event that drew in the crowds. In 1912, Harry Grant Dart illustrated for Life magazine what the World Series of the future might look like. It included spectators in balloons, flying machines, and rooftop bleachers—and New York City and London vying for the win. Take a look at Dart’s charming take on the World Series craze.