Why is the World Series called the World Series when only American teams participate?
Something that rarely troubles baseball fans but seems to continually perplex those from outside the game is why the World Series is an American affair
Any baseball fan who has lived, worked, or even travelled 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.
There are several assumptions 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 look at the name. Firstly, we must dispel this 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 the favorite sport, it holds great 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 true of 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 very best players from all over the world eventually find their way into the Show. This, in fact, 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, quite well travelled, that the World Series was named after a newspaper, the New York World, who sponsored the early championship games. Accepted for many years as incontrovertible fact, this version has recently come under dispute. 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 snorkling, declares its winner “World Champion.” Prior to 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 that it is a competition between nations. In reality, baseball’s World Series is a competition to find the best professional team in the game.
For someone outside of North America, it is helpful to think of the World Series as homologous with UEFA’s Champion’s 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. Prior to 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.
Modelled 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 of as being four year gaps, there were a few hiccups due to scheduling conflicts and covid, with the fifth instalment of the event due to take place in March of 2023. And in case you are wondering, the USA has only won one of them.
World Baseball Classic winners
|Winning team||Score||Losing team|
|Dominican Republic||3-0||Puerto Rico|
So in summary, if you feel that a competition that uses the word “world” must contain nations, then 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 ever.
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 Houston Astros and the Philadelphia Phillies go head to head. For a baseball fan, it doesn’t get better than that.