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October 19, 2005

Prospectus Matchups


by Jim Baker

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If variety is the spice of life, then the World Series has been turning into the East India Trading Company of late. For the fifth time in six years, the Fall Classic is going to feature two teams who have never met there before. With 224 possible World Series matchups, this shouldn't be too surprising; this marks the third-longest run of teams that have never met before.

(For our purposes, the meter doesn't start again when a team switches cities. The Giants/A's matchup in 1905 is the same as their meeting in 1989, two cities removed.)

1903, 1905-1960: 64 possibilities

Had there been some sort of gentleman's agreement in which teams would have taken turns finishing first so that every possible matchup could have taken place, it would have taken 64 World Series to play them all. As it was, the 16-team era came to a close with 32--exactly half--of the possibilities having been actualized.

Once they revived the 19th-century World Series idea, it didn't take long for the first repeat matchup. In the fifth year of the modern World Series, the Tigers and Cubs hooked up for the second consecutive time. By 1913, the Giants and A's had met three times already. It was then, though, that baseball's longest new-matchup roll began. From 1914 to 1921, teams new to each other were featured in every series. These are the longest such runs:

8: 1914-1921
7: 1969-1975
6: 1982-1987

The Red Sox maximized their opportunities in the teens, meeting four different teams in four tries.

The three most-likely Series happened repeatedly. They were these:

1 in 9: Giants (14) - Yankees (26), six times
1 in 12: Dodgers (10) - Yankees (26), seven times
1 in 12: Cubs (10) - Yankees (26), two times

(Odds based on the 57 opportunities for a World Series appearance in the 16-team era.)

The three most-likely World Series in the 16-team era that never happened were these:

1 in 33: Giants (14) - Tigers (7)
1 in 41: Dodgers (10) - A's (8)
1 in 46: Dodgers (10) - Tigers (7)

Dodgers/A's is also the most likely matchup not involving the Giants or Yankees. It was finally consummated in 1974, a continent away. The least likely to happen would have been a Phillies/Browns Series. That was a 1 in 1,625 shot. The least likely that actually happened were these, all of which were 1-in-271 chances:

1915: Phillies (2) - Red Sox (6)
1919: Reds (3) - White Sox (4)
1948: Indians (3) - Braves (4)

Between 1923 and 1957, the Yankees met every National League team, and they have added four more since. There are now just four teams they have never met and, to be truthful, it isn't their fault. Houston, Colorado and Montreal/Washington have never made it to the World Series, while the Brewers haven't made it since moving to the National League in 1998.

1961: 80 possibilities

All of the 16 new possibilities involved the Angels and new Senators, and that wasn't about to happen in 1962. In fact, it took 41 more years before either of them made it into a World Series.

1962-1968: 100 possibilities

It was business as usual in the first three years of the 20-team era as the Yankees meet up with their three most common World Series rivals: the Giants, Dodgers and Cardinals. We added the Senators/Twins versus the Dodgers and then the Browns/Orioles against the Dodgers. The Cardinals closed out this mini-era by meeting foes from 1946 and 1934 respectively.

1969-1976: 144 possibilities

They got right to it in the two-division era. New meetings were arranged in all but the final year of the fairly brief 24-team window. The Mets were the first expansion team to make it to the Series and they did it twice in this period. None of the other seven expansioners managed it, so the other five newbies were old-school clubs playing catch-up from the pre-expansion era.

1977-1992: 168 possibilities

This era gets off to a slow start in getting new teams involved with the reemergence of the Yankees. The Royals and Brewers become the second and third expansion teams to make it. Old Series standby St. Louis shows up three times in six years and picks up three new Series opponents in the process.

1993-1997: 196 possibilities

What did we miss in 1994? A White Sox/Expos World Series? The long-awaited but never played all-Ohio Series? Yes, it could have been something done previously like Braves/Indians or Yankees/Braves, but since we can only speculate, we might as well keep it exotic.

1998-present: 224 possibilities

When the Brewers jumped leagues, 13 possible World Series matchups died forever. The window of opportunity for a Colorado/Milwaukee World Series was very small, true, but now it will never happen. The Dodgers, Giants, Phillies, Pirates...none of them will ever play the Brewers in the World Series, now. Kind of sad, really. Of course, it created 14 new opportunities in its place. Now, all the Brewers have to do is start getting there and knocking down some of those possibilities.

Since the advent of three-division/wildcard play, there have only been thee Series redux. The Braves and Yankees, having met before in 1957 and 1958, played again in 1996 and 1999 and the Cardinals-Red Sox pairing last year was previously seen in 1946 and 1967.

It has been a long time since some of the unfinished business from the 16-team era has been taken care of. If the Cardinals can prevail the next two nights to meet the White Sox, it will be the first time two franchises extant in the 16-team era time had a virgin Series meeting since 1991, when the Braves met the Senators/Twins. In fact, since the big run of the early '70s, it's only happened two other times in the last 30 years: Phillies versus Browns/Orioles in 1983 and Cardinals versus Senators/Twins in 1987.

With the infusion of new teams, not much progress has been made on this list. These are the original 16 franchises and which teams they have yet to mate up with in the Series:

Yankees: none
Dodgers: Tigers
Red Sox: Braves
Cardinals: White Sox, Indians
Reds: Indians, Senators/Twins
Giants: Tigers, Browns/Orioles
Pirates: White Sox, Indians, A's
A's: Phillies, Pirates
Browns/Orioles: Braves, Cubs, Giants
Senators/Twins: Cubs, Reds, Phillies
Cubs: Indians, Browns/Orioles, Senators/Twins
Braves: Red Sox, White Sox, Tigers, Browns/Orioles
White Sox: Braves, Phillies, Pirates, Cardinals
Tigers: Braves, Dodgers, Giants, Phillies
Phillies: White Sox, Indians, Tigers, A's, Senators/Twins
Indians: Cubs, Reds, Phillies, Pirates, Cardinals

And that's not to mention all of the remaining matchups involving teams that have come online since 1961. Even with this latest rush, there are still 165 combinations yet to be implemented in real-life conditions. With so many possibilities, we're going to have to get used to the fact that, no matter if the major leagues as we know them go on for centuries, some teams may never meet in the World Series.

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