Unlike the glitz and glamour of the Super Bowl, the individualistic NBA Finals or the “What the hell is Vs.?” aspect of the Stanley Cup Finals, the World Series thrives on a sense of Americanism. As the oldest U.S. championship series around, the Fall Classic brims with tradition and nostalgia. Sure, the Super Bowl captures the Land of the Free’s obsession with violence, ADD-inducing advertisements and phallic-rich halftime shows, but baseball’s premier showcase illustrates this country’s most historic sport as laid back but intense, calm but chaotic. Just like American history itself.
History books like to point out that Howard Taft was the fattest U.S. president ever, and World Series history is loaded with equally odd moments. Baseball rarely features major shocks, which explains why the Yankees have so many gosh darn titles, and why the top franchises consistently shine. So when something weird happens in baseball, it sticks out like a rush shirt at a theater party. With the World Series set to start oh-so-soon, featuring one of the oddest matchups ever, here are some of the most bizarre series in the Fall Classic’s history.
10. 1918: Chicago Cubs vs. Boston Red Sox
This World Series featured the two most cursed clubs of all time, before their actual cursing. The matchup screamed “the hell!” from the outset. Just think back to 2003 when these two teams almost played one another for the championship. People thought the Cubs/Red Sox clash would bring about Armageddon.
The 1918 championship felt the intense impact of the then-raging World War I from the start. The regular season was shortened and the World Series was played from Sept. 5 to 11, not quite applicable to Dane Cook’s “This is October” spiel. The Cubs chose to play at the larger Comiskey Park, home of the Southside White Sox, instead of Wrigley Field. The weirdness carried over to the diamond. Not a single home run was hit in the low-scoring games and players delayed the final game over a debate on ticket-sale revenue. Nearly everything about the 1918 series seemed a bit out of frame except for one fact: Babe Ruth kicked total ass in the series.
9. 1985: St. Louis Cardinals vs. Kansas City Royals
When the Yankees play the Mets, you call it the Subway Series. When the Angels play the Dodgers, you call it the Freeway Series. When the Marlins play the Devil Rays, you call it “What Channel is Animal Planet on?” But what the hell do you call this in-state battle? The Show-Me State Showdown? Mayhem in Missouri? The Battle of Cities Partially in Other States?
Picking a moniker for the 1985 World Series wasn’t the only problem. In Game 6, with the Royals down in the series 3 to 2, KC’s Jorge Orta hit a grounder to Cardinal first baseman Jack Clark*. He flipped the ball to the covering pitcher and the umpire called Orta safe. The replays told a different story: He was clearly out. The Royals went on to build momentum off the botched call. They won the game and the World Series. When a team blows their chance at a championship, it stings; but when the officials muck up the outcome, well, that’s just memorable for all the wrong reasons.
8. 1992: Atlanta Braves vs. Toronto Blue Jays and 1993: Philadelphia Phillies vs. Toronto Blue Jays
“Wow, grandpa, the Angels really rallied from that much to win it?”
“Gee, I hope the Pittsburgh-Baltimore series is as good as that one. Hey, Grandpa . . . what’s Toronto? This says they won two Series, but I’ve never heard of ‘em before.”
“Oh, those were strange times. Back in the early ’90s, when I was no more a tot than you, they had baseball in Canada. And not just piss-poor minor league baseball – actual honest-to-God good teams. Toronto had this club called the Blue Jays and they were loaded with talent. They won back-to-back championships, bringing the greatest American championship outside the U.S. for the first time ever. But eventually, they got bad, people stopped caring and they moved to Hoboken. Canada winning the Fall Classic . . . Those were weird times, kid.”
“That’s cool. Grandpa, what’s a Kenny Lofton?”
7. 1982: Milwaukee Brewers vs. St. Louis Cardinals
The strangest World Series is when a pitiful club climbs its way to the Fall Classic. The moment Tampa Bay wins the ALCS, I’ll revise this article and put it as number one. Even my imaginary grandchildren won’t see that one happen. The 1982 World Series featured one such out-of-nowhere team, the Milwaukee Brewers, who squared off against MLB steadfast St. Louis.
The Brew Crew opened the series explosively, scoring 17 runs at St. Louis. The Cardinals didn’t flop though and pushed the series to seven games, eventually beating the Brewers in the finale. The Brewers may have fallen in Game 7, but they’re memorable as being the first true surprise team to make the Fall Classic and also for having one of the most outdated nicknames of all time (Harvey’s Wallbangers. I Love the ’80s had a field day with that one).
6. 1986: Boston Red Sox vs. New York Mets
The 10th inning of Game 6 featured one of the craziest comebacks in baseball history, capped with the most cringeworthy moment in Boston sports. Here is an 8-bit interpretation.
5. 1944: St. Louis Cardinals vs. St. Louis Browns
Thanks, war, for ruining another baseball season! Many of America’s finest ballplayers fought overseas in World War II, leaving all the crappy ones behind. The result was this all-St. Louis series, the only time it ever happened. Every game took place in the same ballpark (this also actually happened in 1922). The Cardinals took the title but won in one of the most lackluster seasons ever. At least Joe DiMaggio won World War II for us.
4. 1995: Cleveland Indians vs. Atlanta Braves
In the mid-’90s, baseball’s most famous runner-ups met to determine who was less of a doormat than the other. Cleveland always seemed to be just on the cusp of getting to the World Series, usually bested by some random A.L. squad or, eventually, the Yankees. The Braves, meanwhile, won the N.L. East a record 11 times starting in ‘95. Twelve years ago, these two eventual-underachievers met in the Fall Classic and the Indians only recently got a shot at redemption. Not strange enough for you? How about this: In Game 6, The Rembrandts (of Friends fame) performed the National Anthem. You’ll need to know that for ’90s Trivial Pursuit one day, I swear.
3. 1989: San Francisco Giants vs. Oakland Athletics
This one is remembered for all the wrong reasons. During Game 3 of this series, at San Fran’s Candlestick Park, a 6.9-magnitude earthquake struck the Bay Area while the two teams were warming up. Nobody at the game was hurt, but the surrounding area wasn’t so lucky. Most of the region was left in shambles, a portion of the Bay Bridge collapsed and 62 people died. Creepiest part about it? The quake was captured on the World Series pregame show. If you can find it, check the video. Everything was running smoothly when suddenly the equipment started freaking out and the screen went to static. I want baseball, not The Ring.
2. 2007: Colorado Rockies vs. Boston Red Sox
Too soon? No, not really. This year’s World Series serves as the perfect example of how bizarre the last few MLB championships have been. Numerous recent teams have captured the World Series only to return to the cellar the very next year. This trend kicked off in 2001, when the “I didn’t know they existed” Arizona Diamondbacks beat the New York Yankees in seven games. Since then, we’ve seen surprise teams like the Anaheim Angels and Florida Marlins win world titles, then pull a Britney-style crash-and-burn. This climate reached its pinnacle in 2005 when the flash-in-the-pan Chicago White Sox beat the flash-in-the-pan Houston Astros with the best sweep in World Series history. Neither team bothered to make the playoffs the next year, fading to a crappy existence only marginally better than the Washington Nationals.
And now this. I wasn’t even aware Colorado played baseball for most of the season, and I live on the West Coast! What they’re doing is incredible, but they’re without a doubt the most head-scratching team ever to make the World Series. Here’s a test: Name three players on this team. Oh, you are on a computer, you can just Google them. Cheater. But my point stands. Boston adds some sense of tradition to this series, but rooting for the Red Sox now is like wanting Michael Bay to make tons of money off his latest movie. At least the added wrinkle of “long-storied franchise” versus “team that serves bull testicles at ballpark” works some weird wonder.
1. 1997: Cleveland Indians vs. Florida Marlins
The odd trend of lame-ass franchises making miracle runs to the World Series originated in 1997. The might-as-well-be-newborn Florida Marlins fought the long-suffering Cleveland Indians in the Fall Classic. The Marlins stocked up on great ballplayers in the off-season, landing big names like Kevin Brown, Craig Counsell and Bobby Bonilla (remember, this was the ’90s). Armed with talent worthy of the “will be working at Arby’s in the 2000s” label, the pride of Florida squeaked into the playoffs as the N.L. wildcard. Their A.L. rivals, the Cleveland Indians, ten years away from ALCS heartbreak, were the overwhelming favorite heading into the series.
The 1997 Flordia Marlins are the most bizarre team to ever make the World Series. Just look at the roster. That might get them on the list, but watch them compete with a clearly better Cleveland team (they had Jim Thome and Manny Ramirez*. Some fantasy players would carry Mo Vaughn* from coast to coast for that). To actually beat them in seven games — seven exciting games — truly boggles the mind. Still not convinced? Game 7 was the looooongest Game 7 in World Series history and Game 4 featured a game-time temperature of 15 degrees, the lowest ever for the Fall Classic (and people wonder why Cleveland gets a bad rap).
This series created the template that the World Series follows today. Florida loaded up on talent, forgoing farm systems for instant results and pulled off one of the biggest upsets in World Series history. Most teams since have followed a similar strategy, creating unstable teams that either get hot and take it all or burn out spectacularly. Don’t forget, the Marlins imploded after their Series win, as have most teams this decade. The 1997 Series is the strangest ever because of how prophetic it was. Though Billy the Marlin was also pretty rad.
Correction — October, 27, 2007: This article initially misspelled the names of Vladimir Guerrero, Manny Ramirez, Mo Vaughn and the Cardinals. Thanks to grammar nazi for pointing out some of these errors.