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Worldly wise

Some legends just can't be stopped from spreading, and even smart people fall prey to them. Case in point: Eugene Volokh writes about chutzpah:

It's almost as bad as some people naming a championship contest a "World Series" when the only eligible teams come from two countries, and all but two of the teams come from one country.

UPDATE: Yes, I had heard that the name "the World Series" came from the name of the newspaper that sponsored it. I lack the inclination to check this out in detail, but even if it's true, that's not quite how it's actually understood these days by 99.44% of baseball fans, no?

In fact, Eugene's initial comment was more-or-less correct, and his update was wrong.

As Doug Pappas, who heads the Society for American Baseball Research's Business of Baseball Committee, wrote:

In fact, the postseason series between the AL and NL champs was originally known as the "Championship of the World" or "World's Championship Series." That was shortened through usage to "World's Series" and finally to "World Series."

This usage can be traced through the annual baseball guides. Spalding's Base Ball Guide for 1887 reported the results of the 1886 postseason series between Chicago, champions of the National League, and St. Louis, champions of the American Association, under the heading "The World's Championship." As the editor noted, the two leagues "both entitle their championship contests each season as those for the base ball championship of the United States," so a more grandiose name was required to describe the postseason showdown between the two "champions of the United States."


Moreover, the New York World never claimed any connection with postseason baseball. The World was a tabloid much given to flamboyant self-promotion. If it had been involved in any way with sponsoring a championship series, the fact would have been emblazoned across its sports pages for months. I reviewed every issue of the World for the months leading up to the 1903 and 1905 World's Championship Series -- there's not a word suggesting any link between the paper and the series.

I suspect this myth sprang into being because, while seeming plausible, it enabled those spreading it to sound slightly more sophisticated than the average person, who leaps to the conclusion that World Series is to be taken literally. But sometimes first guesses are correct, and this is one of those times.

(Note further that the charge of "arrogance" is not entirely fair; when the series originated, American baseball was world baseball. Also note that while the involved teams themselves are based in only two countries, the participating players come from around the world.)


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