The sport of baseball has long been known as “America’s pastime,” though many might argue in today’s world with such things as television, video games and smartphones that’s no longer the case. Even as a sport, in recent years American style football has overshadowed baseball in the U.S. in popularity.
But Major League Baseball’s yearly championship, the World Series, still captures the attention of much of the sporting world, and not just in the U.S. Now teams feature players from many countries, from Canada and Mexico, to Puerto Rico, Cuba and the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, to Japan and South Korea.
Baseball has the longest regular season of any U.S. professional sport. Each team plays 162 games between April and October, offering very few days off. The National Basketball Association and National Hockey league regular seasons are about half that many games, Major League Soccer plays 34 games and the National Football League’s regular season is only 16 games.
Besides the length of its season, baseball also stands out from those sports in another way – there is no time clock that defines the end of a game. A regulation baseball game is nine innings, but if the score is tied the game continues until one team has more runs. For many, that is one of the big attractions of the game.
Baseball is played with a bat, ball and glove. Two teams of nine players each take turns at offense and defense. The offense tries to score points by hitting a ball thrown by a pitcher, and running counter-clockwise around a series of four bases. A run (point) is scored after a player hits the ball with a bat and advances through all of the bases, before returning to home plate. The team with the most runs wins in the end.
For years, Major League Baseball’s teams were divided into the American League and National League, with no divisions in either league, so the first-place teams met in the best-of-seven games World Series to decide the champion. But after adding teams through expansion, the leagues each split their teams in two.
East and West Divisions were created in 1969 which added a playoff round in both leagues. The first place teams in those divisions met in a best-of-five series for the right to play in the World Series. Eventually those League Championship series became best-of-seven games like the World Series.
With the addition of two more teams, the leagues then split their teams into three divisions in 1994, with both having East, Central and West Divisions. That led to the advent of a Wild Card team and a second round of playoffs before the World Series. The second-place team with the best record in each league got to the play the division champion with the best record in a best-of-five series, while the other two division champions met. Those winners then advanced to the best-of-seven League Championship Series for the right to play in the World Series.
In order to keep fan interest in as many teams as possible during the long regular season, a second Wild Card team was added to the playoffs two years ago. Now while the three division champions get a bit of rest at the end of the regular season, the two Wild Card teams in each league play in a pressure-packed one game playoff. The winner moves on to the Division Series – still a best-of-five games – against the division champion with the best record.
This year the World Series, also referred to as “The Fall Classic” because it’s held in October, features the Kansas City Royals and San Francisco Giants. Kansas City has only been to the World Series twice since it joined Major League Baseball in 1969. The last appearance for the Royals was in 1985 and that was their only championship. San Francisco has won two recent World Series, in 2010 and 2012, and the Giants have eight current players who were on both of those championship teams.
Both teams finished the regular season as Wild Card playoff teams, making it only the second time that two second-place teams are meeting in the World Series. That means both needed success in three playoff rounds just to reach the World Series.
Once teams make it to the World Series, all games are played at night under floodlights, mainly so they can generate more income because prime time commercials with more viewers are more lucrative. Before television, all World Series games were, of course played, in the daytime.
For fans, they just want to be there. With games sold out well before the first pitch, tickets can be extremely expensive on the secondary market. There’s nothing like being at a game in person, with most home fans dressing in the colors of their team. It’s quite a sight in person and for the television viewers. Some also bring homemade signs with sayings referencing their team or favorite players, hoping they’ll be spotted by a video camera and shown on TV.
The most popular foods at baseball games through the years have been hot dogs, peanuts, popcorn . . . and beer. To try to prevent fans from becoming too rowdy, alcohol sales are typically cut off after the seventh inning.
Fans of the champions get bragging rights for a year, and the winning players get more than a team trophy and individual World Series rings. Last year Major League Baseball distributed almost $63 million to the playoff teams. A full share to a player on the winning team in 2013 – the Boston Red Sox – received about $307,000. A full share for second place was almost $230,000.
So there is a lot at stake as the Kansas City Royals and San Francisco Giants battle in the 110th World Series.