The Origin of the Seven-Game Series

From Michael Weinreb at on October 24, 2011, with mention of SABR member Steve Steinberg:

To trace the origins of the seven-game playoff series in America, you have to hearken back to the 1880s, to a time when baseball was played by men with nicknames like Heinie and Kid, to an era when obdurate moguls like [John T.] Brush and William Chase Temple bankrolled the sport. The first World Series — originally called “The Championship of the United States” — was three games played in 1884 between the New York Metropolitans of the American Association and the Providence Grays of the National League, and from then until 1890 a variety of formats were utilized: In 1887, the series went 15 games; in both 1885 and 1890 — in a triumph of Seligian logic — the series ended in a 3-3-1 tie.

Once the American Association folded, the National League enjoyed a monopoly; without direct competition between leagues, the postseason ceased to exist. After Temple’s Pittsburgh Pirates finished second in 1893, the lumber baron established the Temple Cup, a championship series between the first- and second-place teams in the NL. Temple’s creation was a miserable failure — the perception among fans was that the regular season had already determined the champion, and so it became the Pro Bowl of the Grover Cleveland era.

And yet, there was one lasting legacy: Temple had specified that each Cup would be a seven-game series. And a decade later, after John T. Brush first chose to boycott the World Series, after the Sporting News subsequently likened him to a swamp thing, Brush saw the error of his ways and advocated for the same format, presenting a plan to National League owners for a World Series against the American League. These were the “Brush Rules”: They were adopted in February 1905, and have endured for a century.

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Originally published: October 24, 2011. Last Updated: October 24, 2011.