Remember when big-league baseball’s regular season meant something? Really meant something?
Remember when to get to the World Series a team had to have the best record in its league?
Before ultra-expansion. Before divisions. Before wild cards. Before Bud.
Sixteen teams, eight in each league. Then 20 teams, 10 in each league. Regular season’s best in each league go at it for the brass ring. Fair and square. Simple and pure.
And a long time ago. Practically prehistoric.
It’s been 45 years since the team with the best record in the National League and the team with the best record in the American League automatically met, with no further ado, in the World Series. If you recall that seven-game drama in which Mickey Lolich and the Detroit Tigers beat Bob Gibson and the St. Louis Cardinals, well, you’re probably old. You’re certainly no spring chicken.
Fast forward to today. The defending champion Giants, winding down a lost-cause season, are in New York to play the Yankees, who are fighting for their playoff lives, desperately trying to finish at a level of excellence that would make them the fifth-best team in the American League.
If the Yankees do that and become the second AL wild-card team, they’re in the postseason, the Series sweepstakes, and anything is possible, even a 28th title.
Don’t worry. This isn’t a baseball-loving geezer pining for the purity and glory of the good old days. This is a baseball-loving geezer asking an honest question: Was it more difficult, more honorable, to win the World Series back in the day?
The short answer: Yes and no.
Here is the longer answer. Fellow geezers might not like it.
Of course it was difficult to win a World Series pre-1969 (when divisional play began) because a team had to finish with the best regular-season record in its league to play in the Series. Nobody else got the chance. The postseason didn’t consist of second- or third-place teams scrambling in elimination series.