This article was written by Charlie Bevis
This article was published in 2002 Baseball Research Journal
In the early years of World Series play, game schedules were not nearly standardized as today’s format. Back then, a coin toss decided the site of the opening game as well as possible seventh game. The order of games hosted by each league’s pennant winner varied each year. And as late as 1956, the games were often played on consecutive days without any respite for travel or rest. The four primary elements of today’s World Series scheduling format have been in place since 1960 following a six-decade evolution. These four primary elements are:
- Seven-game series, winner needing four victories
- 2-3-2 format of alternating game sets between cities
- Site of the first game alternates between leagues each year
- Travel days after the second and fifth games
Since the first three elements were established within the first quarter-century of World Series play, the interesting facets surrounding their development have been masked by history. The fourth element, travel days, took more years to evolve from their intermittent use into a fixed arrangement.
Of the four major elements, the 4- of-7 game format was settled upon first, in 1905. Except for three years from 1919 to 1921 when a 5-of- 9 game series was conducted, this scheduling format has endured unchanged to today. Because the first modern World Series in 1903 was privately arranged, the Boston and Pittsburgh owners opted for a lengthy 5-of-9 game format to generate the most gate receipts possible. After the New York Giants refused to play Boston in a post-season series between pennant winners in 1904, New York owner John Brush proposed in early 1905 a set of official rules for future World Series play to be conducted under the supervision of the National Commission.
The “Brush Rules,” adopted by both leagues in mid-February 1905, stipulated that “seven games shall constitute a complete series” and “the clubs shall continue to play each day according to the authorized schedule until one of them has won four games.”1
Exactly what inspired Brush to include a 4-of-7 game format is unclear. Brush seemed to merely adopt a post-season format he was familiar with, that of the Temple Cup series conducted from 1894 to 1897 between the first- and second-place finishers in the National League.
The 4-of-7 game format was followed for 14 years until 1919, when the National Commission decided to lengthen the World Series to a 5-of-9 game format, ostensibly to respond to a greater demand for tickets to the World Series. August Herrmann, chairman of the commission and president of the Cincinnati Reds (bound for the National League pennant that year) stated, “The recommendation had been made for no other reason than to benefit the public by permitting a larger number of persons to see at least one of the games.”2
Another reason advanced for the change in series format was that the National Commission had cut back the regular season in 1919 from 154 games to 140 games. “Now Herrmann is sorry and, with the approval and support of [Ban] Johnson, he plans to make up the loss by stretching the world series over a longer period,”3 the New York Times commented in an editorial.
The owners approved the longer World Series schedule on September 11. The 5-of-9 game format seemed doomed from the beginning, though, as the change coi11cided with the Black Sox Scandal in that year’s World Series between the Reds and the Chicago White Sox. Judge Landis, installed as the first baseball commissioner following the Black Sox Scandal, then assumed control of the World Series. Immediately following the last game of the 1921 World Series, Landis issued a statement that he would move to reinstate the 4-of-7 game format for the World Series.
“This will be done in the belief that it is very generally accepted that the ideal world championship is decided by the winning of four games, as was the rule prior to 1919,” Landis articulated. “A five-game series, the championship to be awarded the club winning three victories, is too short for a fair test. On the other hand, the present lengthy series overtaxes the patience of the public.”4
Landis also mentioned a concern with public reaction to the “financial returns” generated by the 1921 World Series, which generated record gate receipts and higher player and owner shares than any previous World Series. With the longer 5-of-9 game series creating such a financial bonanza, Landis may well have thought this situation could engender another scandal like the 1919 one. In any event, why retain a series structure associated with a scandal when another better alternative (the 4-of-7 format) was readily available?
The reversion to the 4-of-7 game format was approved in December 1921. Beginning with the 1922 World Series, the 4-of-7 game format has lasted eight decades to the present day.
2-3-2 GAME FORMAT
While the Brush Rules established the seven-game series convention, there was little specificity for precisely how the seven games should be arranged until the now-standard 2-3-2 format was adopted for the 1925 World Series.
The Brush Rules provided for a very general formula: “Three games shall be scheduled in each of the cities of the contesting clubs. The Commission shall determine by lot where the first three games shall be played.” Therefore, in the early World Series schedules, only the first six games were affixed sites ahead of time. The site of the seventh and deciding game, if one was necessary, was not predetermined.5
If a seventh game was necessary, the Brush Rules furnished the principle that “the Commission shall determine the city in which the game is to be played.” Brush may have worded this clause intentionally to provide for a neutral site for the seventh game, using the term “the city” rather than the phrase “which of the two cities.” In any event, the possibility of a neutral site for the seventh game was swiftly disregarded after a negative reaction to the concept. In practice, a coin toss between owners of the contesting teams was used to determine the site of the seventh game.6
While the Brush Rules stipulated that the sites of the first three games were to be determined “by lot,” the National Commission had discretion regarding the next three games as long as the six games were equally divided between the two cities. By 1909, the National Commission was using the following two general principles to create the format of each year’s World Series schedule:
- When the contesting clubs were located in the same city or within close proximity by train, the games would alternate between the two cities.
- Otherwise, the first four games were played in sets of two in each city, then alternated between cities for the next two games.
These general principles are not readily discernible from simply looking at actual World Series play, because tie games and special situations surrounding rainouts often altered the original schedule. Of the first 14 World Series played under the 4-of-7 game format, only seven were completed as originally scheduled. Research into the actual initial World Series schedules, as summarized in the accompanying table, reveals the above general principles to World Series scheduling in the early years of the event.
After the resumption of the 4-of-7 game format in 1922 following the ill-fated 5-of-9 game experiment from 1919 to 1921, these principles were again employed for the 1922 and 1923 World Series. With the Giants and Yankees engaged in an intra-city series in both years, the home team for each game alternated between the two teams (the teams alternated last at bats for the games in 1922, all of which were played at the Polo Grounds; in 1923, the games alternated between the Polo Grounds and newly built Yankee Stadium).
When the Washington Senators won the American League pennant in 1924 to meet the New York Giants in the World Series, Landis deviated from the accepted general principles of World Series scheduling. Landis adopted a new 2-3-1 format instead of the 2-2- 1-1 format that had previously been used when teams were not located proximate to each other. Landis acted on his own, according to The Sporting News account of the meeting, as Landis “delegated himself as the advisory council of the major leagues, inviting neither President Heydler of the National League nor President Johnson of the American League.”7
In the 16 4-of-7 game series before 1924, a seventh game had only been required twice-in 1909 and 1912. All other World Series ended in less than the maximum number of games. Traditionally, the coin toss to determine the site of the seventh game occurred before the sixth game of the 4-of-7 game series.
In 1909 American League president Johnson won the coin flip between league presidents on October 13 and chose Detroit to be the site of the seventh game. In 1912 following the completion of the fifth non-tie game, the coin toss was conducted between opposing team managers, John McGraw, and Jake Stahl; the toss was won by Red Sox manager Stahl.8
This pattern was broken in the 1924 World Series, when McGraw wanted the coin toss before the fifth game in New York. Since the Giants and Senators had split the first four games, the Giants already knew they needed to go to Washington for a sixth game; McGraw wanted to know if the team might need to play the last two games on the road at Washington. McGraw lost the coin toss, and the Giants packed for two games in Washington. Although the Giants won the fifth game in New York, they lost both games in Washington.9
After the 1924 series was over, Landis concluded that the seventh game should be fixed on the initial World Series schedule (at the same site as the sixth game) rather than be both unplanned and determined by a coin toss. That December, Brooklyn president Charlie Ebbets proposed the following change to the World Series rules:
For 1925, game 1, 2, 6, and 7 shall be played in the city of the pennant-winning club of the National League and games 3, 4, 5 in the city of the pennant-winning club of the American League, then reverse annually thereafter.10
In a memo with the proposal, Ebbets argued that the change would: (1) make an even break of all the details every two years, (2) better suit the convenience of patrons, ( 3) eliminate adverse criticism which frequently results from the toss of a coin, and ( 4) allow the clubs to print and sell tickets for the seventh game in advance.
After both leagues approved the change in World Series format, the 1925 World Series established the 2-3-2 format that has survived intact to the present day. That is, except for special circumstances during World War II, which emulated a radical change in format used during World War I.
In 1918 due to the wartime travel restrictions of World War I that had truncated the regular season at Labor Day, the National Commission arranged the World Series to require minimal travel. The commission scheduled the first three dates in Chicago and the final four dates in Boston. In these exigent circumstances, the Brush Rules were disregarded. It was also the first time that a seventh game had been prescheduled before the World Series commenced.11
There was also special scheduling for the World Series in 1943 and 1945, when the 3-4 format used in 1918 was employed to respond to wartime travel restrictions.12
The special 3-4 scheduling would have applied in 1944 as well had either Detroit or New York won the tight American League pennant race to supply the World Series competition for the St. Louis Cardinals (who won the National League pennant by 14 games). Since the St. Louis Browns copped the American League pennant that year, and all games were played at the same site, Sportsman’s Park, the home team for each game alternated between the Browns and Cardinals.13
FIRST GAME SITE ALTERNATION
A coin toss for the site of the seventh game was not the only time this selection mechanism was employed. Before 1925, a coin toss was also used to determine the site of the first game of the World Series each year. For the 1925 World Series, Landis established the alternating pattern of the first game in the National League city one year and at the American League city the next year.
Until 1910 the National Commission determined the site of the first game either “by lot,” as the Brush Rules called for or used its discretion to pick the site. For example, in 1908, the National League pennant was still in doubt at the end of the regular season due to the confusion over “Merkle’s boner” in a New York Giants victory over Chicago on September 23, which was to be replayed after the season. The National Commission determined, “If the New York’s win, the first game will be played with Detroit here on Saturday, and if Chicago wins they will play in Detroit on Saturday and in Chicago on Sunday.”14
From 1910 on, a coin toss was usually conducted between the owners of the two pennant-winning teams after each had clinched first place in its league. The coin toss was conducted with minimal fanfare.
“The question in what city will the first game be played will be decided as usual by the toss of a coin by the two club presidents,” the Boston Herald outlined the process before the 1912 World Series. A meeting was held on September 25 at the home of New York owner John Brush, where the three members of the National Commission and the owners of the Boston Red Sox and New York Giants met for the coin toss. ”Advantage of opening on home grounds was lost to Boston when at the toss of a coin by Mr. Johnson, President Brush of New York called ‘tails’ and President McAleer of Boston chose ‘heads.’ The coin fell ‘tails;” the Boston Herald reported.15
In 1915 the process was similar but in more fashionable surroundings. “When Joseph J. Lannin, owner of the Boston American League team, called ‘tails’ as a shiny, new quarter went spinning through the air at the Waldorf-Astoria today, he lost every chance at starting the world series in Boston,” the Boston Herald reported. “William Baker, owner of the Philadelphia National League club, maintained an absolute silence and when the quarter landed on the heavy Persian rug it was ‘heads up.’ “16
During the period 1910-1924, when the coin toss between pennant winners was the convention, the National League received the first-game honor more often than the American League did, as nine of the 15 World Series during that period began in the National League city. Actually, the National League won only eight coin tosses during those 15 years.
There were just 14 coin tosses during the 15-year period 1910-1924, because there was no coin toss in 1916. Also, following the 1920 coin toss, the winner had to forsake first-game honors.
When Brooklyn won the NL pennant in 1916, the Boston Red Sox were automatically awarded the first game site since Ebbets Field wasn’t ready to host the World Series. Brooklyn had clinched the pennant late in the season, so the club needed several days to erect increased seating for the World Series.17
In 1920 although Brooklyn lost the coin toss to Cleveland, the World Series opened in Brooklyn after preparations to enlarge League Park would not be completed in time for the first game of the World Series. Cleveland owner Jim Dunn had requested that the World Series start two days later when construction was done. The Commission denied the request and reversed the order of the original schedule.18
When Landis moved to establish a fixed system for the site of a possible seventh game beginning with the 1925 World Series, he also established the principle of alternating home field advantage between the leagues each year. The Landis rule had the National League with home field in the odd years and the American League in the even years. This system worked well for ten years, until the National League pennant race in 1935 created complications.
In 1935 three teams went down to the wire in the National League. The New York Giants seemed to have the pennant wrapped up by the Fourth of July holiday, but St. Louis and Chicago didn’t give up. Chicago won 21 straight games in September to overtake both the Cardinals and the Giants, clinching the pennant only two days before the season’s end.
The Chicago winning streak began on September 4 near the start of a long home stand at Wrigley Field and continued for three weeks. On September 14, the Cubs moved into first place and never relinquished it. The winning streak culminated on September 27 in a doubleheader victory by Chicago over St. Louis to clinch the pennant.
On September 17, two weeks before the end of the season, Landis had announced a deviation from the 1925 rule for the site of the first game of the World Series.
“Normally, the 1935 series would open in the city winning the National League championship, but because of a large convention in St. Louis and the complicated championship race in the senior major league, it was decided to stage the opening in the American League city,” the New York Times reported.19
Detroit, the American League champion, was given the home field advantage for the 1935 World Series, even though it was the National League’s turn. This turn of events created a new rule, the American League in the odd years and the National League in the even years.
This system worked quite well for the next 60 years, until the 1994 World Series was cancelled during a year when the National League would have had the home field advantage. In 1995, the rule reverted to the original Landis rule, the National League in odd years and the American League in even years.
TRAVEL DAYS AFTER SECOND AND FIFTH GAMES
The off day following the second and fifth games was established by 1960 to remove the uncertainty of the World Series time span. Two reasons for this change were television scheduling and eliminating the possibility of giving a pitching advantage to one of the World Series teams.
Before 1957, World Series games were normally scheduled on consecutive days, so that the seven game series would be played in seven days. There were two elements that could affect this scheduling pattern to create an off day:
- Where professional baseball was not legally permitted on Sunday.
- When a lengthy train trip was necessary to travel between cities.
Sunday scheduling was a persistent concern in the early years of the World Series, as there was a Sunday open date in the World Series in 1909 and every year from 1911 to 1918. Before World War I, only teams located west of the Allegheny Mountains could legally play on Sunday. I 1918 Washington, D.C., was the first eastern city in the major leagues to obtain legal permission for Sunday baseball, followed by New York in 1919, Massachusetts in 1929, and Pennsylvania in 1934.
While Sundays were a challenge in the early years of World Series play, travel days were not, since prior. to World War I the World Series was generally played between cities located either both in the West or both in the East. The first designated travel day included on the World Series calendar was in 1910, when the Philadelphia Athletics played the Chicago Cubs.
After the first two games in Philadelphia on Monday and Tuesday, a “train trip from Philadelphia to Chicago’ was planned for Wednesday to play the next two games in Chicago on Thursday and Friday. No travel days were planned after that, however, after a fast run in a special train from Chicago to Philadelphia,” the teams were to play the fifth game on Saturday in Philadelphia; then “another hurried run in a special train will be made from Philadelphia to Chicago” to play the sixth game on Sunday in Chicago.20
As it turned out, the harried travel schedule planned after the fourth game didn’t occur, because the fourth game on Friday, October 21, was rained out.
Postponed games were normally simply moved ahead, but for the 1910 World Series there was a special rule for postponements: “except that in any event the game scheduled for Sunday October 23 is to be played in Chicago.” The Sunday game in Chicago was important because it also had an impact on player compensation. “If none of the first games receipts equals those of the Sunday game in Chicago, the players’ proportionate share shall be made on the basis of the Sunday game in Chicago.”21
The fourth game of the 1910 World Series was played in Chicago on Saturday, October 22. Due to the Sunday exception that year, the fifth game scheduled for Philadelphia was instead played in Chicago on Sunday, October 23, where the As won the World Series with a 7-2 win over the Cubs. Philadelphia could then take a lay train trip back east.
Travel days were used on an intermittent basis in the World Series before World War II when an Eastern team played a Western team, such as the 1931 World Series when the Philadelphia Athletics played the St. Louis Cardinals.
After World War II, from 1947 to 1956, no travel days were included in the World Series schedule, so the World Series in each of those years was played on consecutive days. Even when Cleveland played both Boston in 1948 and New York in 1954, there were no travel dates on the World Series calendar. The teams traveled by train overnight between the cities in 1948 to reach their destinations in the morning hours of their next scheduled games. The Giants did fly to Cleveland after the second game of the 1954 World Series. As late as 1957, the New York Yankees took the train to Milwaukee after the second game in New York, arriving there by noon on the off day; the Braves had flown back to Milwaukee.22
The 1956 World Series was the last one played on consecutive days without a break. For the next three years, franchise relocations to western cities impacted World Series scheduling. In 1957 and 1958 the Milwaukee Braves, five years removed from Boston, played the New York Yankees, and created the longest stretch of travel between World Series cities at the time. Then in 1959, the Los Angeles Dodgers, only two years removed from Brooklyn, won the National League pennant, requiring a lengthy trip from Chicago, the site of the American League champion.
The last World Series schedule to occur with the potential to go either way — with travel days or played on consecutive days — was in 1957. “If it is to be an East-West series — the Yankees versus the Braves, for example days off for travel will be scheduled following the second and fifth contests,” the New York Times reported. “If it is to be East-East or West-West, action will be continuous, no off days, unless forced by bad weather.”23
By early September 1958, both the New York Yankees and the Milwaukee Braves had their respective league pennants well in hand. Travel days were planned for the World Series even though, when the schedule was announced on September 9, Pittsburgh still had a possibility to win the NL pennant.24
The 1960 World Series was the first to have travel dates without the need for them. Plane travel was then the rule rather than train travel, so Commissioner Ford Frick decided to automatically include travel days in the 1960 World Series when New York met Pittsburgh. “Open dates have been arranged between games 2 and 3 and between games 5 and 6,” the 1960 announcement read. Travel dates had officially been transformed into open dates.25
Standard open dates after the second and fifth games had two benefits. Television benefited greatly with an automatic open date on Friday after the first game on Wednesday and the second game on Thursday since the World Series was now guaranteed to be played on both Saturday and Sunday. With the third and fourth games played on the weekend, a large audience was sure to tune in to increase ratings. This, in turn, increased the amount of money the networks were willing to pay major league baseball to televise the World Series.
Automatic travel days also eliminated the need to use ace pitchers with minimal rest between starts, in an attempt to have them start three games within seven days, an inequity produced when travel days were not included in the World Series schedule. If the World Series combatants were located distant from each other to necessitate travel days in the train-transportation era, such as New York and Milwaukee in 1957, then a team could expect an ace pitcher to start three World Series games with decent rest if the series went to its seven-game limit. Lew Burdette started and won three games for the Braves in the 1957 World Series. Travel days arguably greatly assisted the Braves in winning the 1957 World Series. Either Warren Spahn or Burdette could have pitched three games, and the Braves didn’t need to go beyond Bob Buhl.
Alternatively, if the World Series teams were located close to each other to enable the series to be contested on consecutive days, such as New York and Brooklyn in 1956, then an ace pitcher would have to pitch on two days rest between starts, in order to have three turns on the mound in a seven-game series.
Otherwise, with the standard three-day rest, an ace pitcher could get in only two possible games as a starter. When the two-day rest strategy was used, the pitcher typically wasn’t successful. There are numerous examples, including Johnny Sain in 1948, Don Newcombe in 1949, and Bob Lemon in 1954. In 1952, Brooklyn’s Rookie of the Year reliever Joe Black did pitch three Would Series games in seven days hurling. the first, fourth, and seventh games. Black won just the opening game, though, while taking the loss in the other two games. Pitching depth thus had a more significant impact on winning the World Series when no travel dates were included than when the schedule did include travel dates.
We don’t know how a travel day policy would have been implemented in the jet-transportation era. Except for a New York-Los Angeles or similar East Coast-West Coast matchup, where travel days would be desirable, it is arguable that all other matchups would not have necessitated travel dates due to the ease of plane transportation between cities.
In this context, where most World Series would have been played on consecutive days, we may not have witnessed several fabled pitching feats in the 1960s without the automatic open dates in the World Series schedule. Sandy Koufax came back on two days rest after the fifth game to win the 1965 World Series for the Dodgers, while Mickey Lolich did similarly for the Tigers in the 1968 World Series to win his third game that year. In 1967, Bob Gibson also won three games, all complete (all previous three-game winners in a seven-game series were achieved in World Series having travel dates).
Lolich’s third win in 1968 marked the end of the World Series as exclusive post-season play. With the playoff era ushered in for 1969, the World Series schedule was now intertwined with that of the League Championship Series.
CHARLIE BEVIS writes baseball history from his home in Chelmsford, Massachusetts. He is the author of the 1998 biography Mickey Cochrane: The Life of a Baseball Hall of Fame Catcher, and the 2003 book Sunday Baseball: The Major Leagues’ Struggle to Play Baseball on the Lord’s Day, 1876-1934.
1. New York Times, February 18, 1905; The Sporting News, February 25, 1905; Dean Sullivan, Early Innings: A Documentary History of Baseball, 1825-1908. Lincoln: Univ. of Nebraska Press, 1995: 275-276.
2. New York Times, September 3, 1919.
3. New York Times, September 8, 1919.
4. New York Times, October 14, 1921.
5. Early Innings: 276.
7. The Sporting News, September 25, 1924.
8. New York Times, October 14, 1909 and October 15, 1912.
9. New York Times, October 9, 1924.
10. New York Times, December 11, 1924.
11. New York Times, August 27, 1918.
12. New York Times, September 12, 1943, and September 28, 1945.
13. New York Times, August 29, 1944.
14. New York Times, October 8, 1908.
15. Boston Herald, September 25 and 26, 1912.
16. Boston Herald, October 3, 1915,
17. New York Times, October 4, 1916.
18. New York Times, September 28 and 29, 1920.
19. New York Times, September 18, 1935.
20. New York Times, October 4, 1910.
22. New York Times, October 1, 1954, and October 4, 1957.
23. New York Times, September 10, 1957.
24. New York Times, September 8, 1958, and the Milwaukee Journal, September 9, 1958.
25. New York Times, September 14, 1960.