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Why is the World Series called the World Series when only American teams participate?

Baseball fans wonder why Major League Baseball’s final stage of competition, the World Series, is limited to American teams, although it has the World adjective in its name.

Arizona Diamondbacks shortstop Geraldo Perdomo (2) and manager Torey Lovullo (17) celebrate after Perdomo scores against the Texas Rangers during the fifth inning in game one of the 2023 World Series at Globe Life Field
Jerome MironUSA TODAY Sports via Reuters Con

Any baseball fan who has lived, worked, or even traveled abroad will recognize the conversation: why do you call it the World Series when Americans are the only ones in it?

It is a question that is at once infuriating and valid, so let’s try and unpack it a little bit.

Several assumptions are at play when you consider the question, and nearly all of them are wrong. And perfectly reasonable.

Baseball’s international reach

Let’s deal with the game first; then, we will examine the name. Firstly, we must dispel the idea that baseball is uniquely American. It isn’t.

Baseball has its roots in medieval England and took hold in North America, but it has an enormous following around the Caribbean and the Far East. Countries like Venezuela, Nicaragua, Panama, Cuba, and the Dominican Republic venerate baseball above all other sports. The same is true of Japan, Taiwan, and South Korea.

Even in countries where baseball is not a favorite sport, it holds excellent regional sway. The coastal areas of Colombia, for example, will ignore cycling or soccer in favor of baseball, even as their inland compatriots show little interest in the game. The same holds for Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula and Baja California. Baseball is king in those regions, while the rest of the country remains staunchly soccer-mad.

And while all of these countries have professional leagues, none of them are at the same level as Major League Baseball. So the best players from all over the world eventually find their way into the Show. This is one of the reasons most often cited for dubbing the championship game the “World Series”: it contains the best players in the world.

But as valid an argument as that may be, it isn’t the origin of the name.

The New York World

There is another story, exceptionally well traveled, that the World Series was named after a newspaper, the New York World, which sponsored the early championship games. Accepted for many years as an indisputable fact, this version has recently been disputed. While the World was wildly popular in its day and did, in fact, report on those early 19th-century championship games, there is no evidence that they had any part in organizing the matches, much less lending their name to the series.

It would seem that the most plausible story is that the word “World” quite naturally attaches itself to the word “champion.” Much as any boxer who wins any belt at all, no matter how small, is declared “World Champion,” or every competition, from hot dog eating contests to bog snorkeling, claims its winner “World Champion.” Before the invention of FIFA’s World Cup, the British title was referred to as “football world champion” despite only English and Scottish teams competing. It seems that the phrasing, at least in the English language, is inevitable.

Club vs Country

To foreign ears, the “World Series” would seem to suggest a competition between nations. In reality, baseball’s World Series is a competition to find the best professional team.

For someone outside of North America, it is helpful to think of the World Series as homologous to UEFA’s Champions League soccer. Real Madrid may win the title in a given year, even as few, if any, of their players will be from Madrid—or even Spanish.

To pit nation against nation, baseball has had to reinvent a formula laid down by soccer. Before 2008, there was an argument that since baseball was an Olympic sport, there was no need for a further national competition. After it was dropped from the program, the International Baseball Federation, the World Baseball Softball Confederation, and MLB responded by creating the World Baseball Classic.

Modeled on soccer’s World Cup, the amateur requirement was dropped in favor of appealing to the best players in the world to represent their countries at regular intervals. Conceived as being four-year gaps, there were a few hiccups due to scheduling conflicts and COVID-19, with the fifth installment of the event due to take place in March of 2023. And in case you are wondering, the USA has only won one.

World Baseball Classic winners

Winning teamScoreLosing team
Japan5-3South Korea
Dominican Republic3-0Puerto Rico
USA8-0Puerto Rico

So, in summary, if you feel that a competition that uses the word “world” must contain nations, don’t miss the World Baseball Classic in March. The clashes have already been mouth-watering, with Great Britain pulling out two must-win victories, including one where they climbed off the canvas against Spain to qualify for the first time.

But if you want to see the best players in the world at every position competing for the highest prize in baseball, tune in to the World Series and watch the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Texas Rangers go head-to-head. For a baseball fan, it doesn’t get better than that.