Major League Baseball history is filled with memorable World Series, from the first in 1903 to the 21st century. The New York Yankees, who have won more titles (27) than any other big-league team, have played in many World Series that have captured the imaginations of sports fans and historians. Here are seven of the most memorable World Series of all time.
1. 1903: Boston Americans Defeat Pittsburgh Pirates, 5 Games to 3
WHAT MADE IT MEMORABLE: It was the first World Series
The American and National leagues bickered for two seasons before they agreed to play the first modern World Series in 1903. So, the Americans’ 5-3 victory in the nine-game series was hugely significant for the fledgling league, established in 1901.
“When one pauses and looks backward a few seasons at the time when the big moguls of the National League turned up their noses in scorn at the very mention of the newcomer, the despised American League infant, one cannot refrain from thinking that this glorious victory of the junior organization over the National League champions must be a bitter pill for the fathers of the grand old body to swallow,” wrote Walter C. Kelly of the Buffalo Courier.
The first World Series also concluded with a rarity: praise for umpires. “One particularly pleasing feature of the series just finished was the impartial and almost faultless umpiring of Messrs. O’Day and Connolly,” Pirates owner Barney Dreyfuss said, via the Pittsburgh Daily Post.
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2. 1919: Cincinnati Reds Defeat Chicago White Sox, 5 Games to 3
WHAT MADE IT MEMORABLE: The “Black Sox” Scandal
The alleged game-fixing of the World Series was dubbed the “Black Sox” Scandal for the eight White Sox players involved. All were acquitted in court in 1920 but banned from the sport by Major League Baseball commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis. Evidence pointed to the players’ guilt in cahoots with gamblers, although many have debated the involvement of the White Sox’s “Shoeless Joe” Jackson, one of the greatest players in MLB history.
By 1920, suspicions of a fixed World Series had dogged the White Sox. Contemporaneous coverage of the World Series suggested things were playing out in an unusual fashion.
After Game 5, there reportedly was a dispute between the gamblers and players over non-payment of “progress money.” The White Sox won Game 6, 5-4, and then Game 7, 4-1, behind the complete-game pitching of ace Eddie Cicotte, one of the alleged conspirators.
Wrote C. Starr Matthews of the Baltimore Sun after that game: “For once in this mad series for the world’s baseball championship the dope ran true to form, and Eddie Cicotte, after two failures, managed to beat the Reds.”
Added Matthews: “[T]here is no club in the country that had the right to believe it can trim the veteran star of the White Sox three times in succession.” Cicotte led the majors with 29 wins in 1919.
3. 1956: New York Yankees Defeat Brooklyn Dodgers, 4 Games to 3
WHAT MADE IT MEMORABLE: Don Larsen’s perfect game
The Yankees and Dodgers have met 11 times for the World Series, seven while the Dodgers were in Brooklyn and four after their move to Los Angeles. Their seventh and final crosstown meeting was the most memorable, though, because of Don Larsen’s historic Game 5 performance.
The teams split the first four games of the World Series. Larsen, who lasted only 1.2 innings as a starter in Game 2, more than atoned for that performance in Game 5, throwing the only perfect game in World Series history.
“The imperfect man pitched a perfect game yesterday,” wrote the New York Daily News’ Joe Trimble. “…Don, an affable, nerveless man who laughs his way through life, doesn’t know how to worry… With the tension tearing at their nerves and sweat breaking out on the palms of the onlookers, Larsen seemed to be the calmest man in the place.”
Appearances were deceiving. “I was so nervous I couldn’t think straight. [Catcher] Yogi [Berra] had to do my thinking for me,” Larsen told the Daily News afterward. “My arm was still strong [in the ninth inning], but my legs began to wobble. They’re still wobbling now.”
4. 1960: Pittsburgh Pirates Defeat New York Yankees, 4 Games to 3
WHAT MADE IT MEMORABLE: Bill Mazeroski’s Game 7, Series-winning home run
“It just had to happen. It couldn’t have been any other way for the victory-starved, emotionally drained Pittsburgh baseball populace and its beloved Pirates.” Those were the words written by Pittsburgh Post-Gazette sports editor Al Abrams after second baseman Bill Mazeroski’s blast, the only game-winning, Game 7 home run in World Series history.
The teams combined for nine runs in the final two innings and were tied at 9 before Mazeroski sent a 1-0 fastball from Ralph Terry over the left-field fence to win the title. Mazeroski, known more for his defense, told reporters: “I made up my mind I was going for the long ball… I caught it on the fat of my bat. I knew it was a good-hit ball.”
The home run touched off a wild celebration at Forbes Field and throughout Pittsburgh. As Abrams put it, “[Pirates fans] milled around for several hours shouting and singing: ‘Our Pirates are going all the way. Beat ‘Em, Bucs.’ It mattered not to them that their Pirates had already gone all the way and they did beat ‘em, Yanks.”
The loss was particularly galling for the Yankees and their fans. New York outscored Pittsburgh, 55-27, in the World Series.
5. 1975: Cincinnati Reds Defeat Boston Red Sox, 4 Games to 3
WHAT MADE IT MEMORABLE: Carlton Fisk “waving” a home run fair
The Reds, known as the “Big Red Machine” for their 1970s dominance, were one of the best teams of all time. They won 108 games during the regular season, swept the Pittsburgh Pirates in the playoffs in three games and won the World Series in seven games.
But it was a hit by Red Sox catcher Carlton Fisk in Game 6 that cemented this World Series as a classic. In the eighth inning at Fenway Park, Boston erased a 6-3 deficit on a three-run homer by Bernie Carbo. In the bottom of the 12th, Fisk led off with a long drive to left field that hit the foul pole for the winning home run. En route to first base, he tried to wave the ball fair—one of the sport’s more iconic moments.
Of the home run, Fisk said: “When you’re a kid, you dream about being Ted Williams or Mickey Mantle and hitting a home run to win an All-Star game or one like this. You only dream about it. You never expect it to happen. When you think about what happened out there tonight, it’s like something out of a story book … I mean, it’s almost too good to be true.”
6. 1986: New York Mets Defeat Boston Red Sox, 4 Games to 3
WHAT MADE IT MEMORABLE: Bill Buckner’s big mistake
In the bottom of the 10th inning of Game 6, the Mets’ Mookie Wilson stepped to the plate with the score tied at 5. On a full count, he hit a slow roller to first base. The ball went through first baseman Bill Buckner’s legs for an error—one of the most infamous errors in World Series history—and Ray Knight scored the winning run to force a Game 7.
“It was bouncing, bouncing, bouncing…then it went under [my glove],” Buckner told reporters. “I haven’t missed a grounder in two months.” Boston manager John McNamara was excoriated for leaving Buckner, a poor defensive player, in the game. “If the Red Sox don’t come back to win this World Series, manager John McNamara might want to move to another town,” wrote Ian Thomsen of the Boston Globe.
Many blame Buckner for Boston’s loss, but the truth was many Red Sox were at fault for the collapse. Boston reliever Bob Stanley’s wild pitch allowed the Mets to tie the score before Wilson’s winning grounder.
Said Mets manager Davey Johnson: “I’ve never run out on the field, but when the ball got past Buckner, and I knew the run was going to score, I ran on the field. It was very emotional. This is not a club that gives up easy.”
New York won Game 7, 8-5, extending the World Series misery for the Red Sox, who had not won a championship since 1918. (In 2004, Boston finally won a title, ending “The Curse of the Bambino.”)
7. 2001: Arizona Diamondbacks Defeat New York Yankees, 4 to 3
WHAT MADE IT MEMORABLE: Arizona’s Game 7 rally
The 2001 World Series—played less than two months after the September 11 terrorist attacks—was perhaps the most emotionally charged in baseball history. It delivered on the field, too, with Yankee shortstop Derek Jeter’s winning home run in Game 4. That game, which started on October 31, Halloween, and ended after midnight, earned Jeter the “Mr. November” moniker.
In Game 7, New York held a 2-1 lead in the bottom of the ninth. A fourth straight title World Series title seemed imminent. The Yankees turned to relief pitcher Mariano Rivera, a future Hall of Famer who had an aura of invincibility. That didn’t matter to the Diamondbacks, who tied the score on Tony Womack’s double and won the title on Luis Gonzalez’s single over a drawn-in infield. Said Womack: “I wasn’t feeling nothing. Just see the ball, hit the ball.” .
“We knew it wasn’t going to be easy against that guy. He’s pretty much automatic. But you know what? We never were going to give up. No way,” Diamondbacks catcher Damian Miller said of the effort against Rivera.
Diamondbacks first baseman Mark Grace summed up the disbelief many felt watching the comeback, telling reporters, “I think we just won the World Series! I think we just won the World Series!”
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