Each of the four major American sports leagues have some form of playoff at the end of the season culminating in two teams vying for the championship. Two of those leagues, the NBA and NHL, refer to that last matchup as the Finals, while the NFL and MLB have less direct names for their championship-deciding competitions. While it isn’t as straightforward as Finals, the NFL’s Super Bowl does not pretend to be anything that it isn’t. MLB’s World Series, however, does do this.
First played in 1903, the World Series name has been around for over a century. It’s a name that suggests it has more in common with sports events like the Olympic Games or the FIFA World Cup than its American professional counterparts, and that’s one of the reasons it should be phased out.
While it is true that MLB has become more global in recent years ― pretending that a playoff finals, held in a league where 29 out of 30 teams are located in the United States, is somehow an event with a “World” scope is a bit of a stretch. According to MLB.com, 256 players born outside the United States were on major league rosters for Opening Day 2021, representing 20 different countries. While that’s a significant number of players, they only represent about 10% of the countries in the world. For contrast, the Tokyo Olympic games featured 206 different delegations.
Along with baseball being played at the Olympics in Tokyo, there has also been a “World Baseball Classic” held every four years, where countries send teams to compete against each other. While the amount of countries competing isn’t too different from MLB’s statistics, it’s actually a worldwide event as opposed to one always held in the United States.
A refutation of the World Baseball Classic argument would be that it’s not a professional baseball championship like the World Series, but that would only hold up if MLB was the world’s only professional league. Countries like Japan, Mexico, Venezuela, Korea and many others all have had professional leagues for decades, so unless the winner of the MLB playoffs beats the winners of all those other leagues, what right do they have to call themselves world champions?
One reason why this discussion is even more relevant now than usually is because of the ongoing MLB lockout. With the 2022 MLB season being questionable at this moment, an influx in MLB players, such as Yasiel Puig and Freddy Galvis, signing deals with teams belonging to other leagues is occuring. Could this lead to those leagues gaining more relevance internationally?
Modern Baseball first came to prominence in the United States, and it’s easy to see how that led those in power to refer to MLB’s winner as a world champion. While this is even less fair of an assumption now than it was then, it was still in pretty bad taste then. 1903 was a mere seven years after Plessy v. Ferguson, when the Supreme Court ruled that doctrines of “separate but equal” were just, so the World Series was not only not inclusive of international players, but also all Black American players were barred from the competition.
The name of MLB’s finale is long overdue for an overhaul, but luckily for the league, there are many easy replacements ready for use. For starters, MLB could look for continuity in-house, and go with Major League Baseball Championship Series, a nod to the ALCS and NLCS rounds that produces the series’ two contenders. If the “MLBCS” does not stick, there’s always the tried and true method of simply referring to it as the finals like it’s basketball and hockey counterparts. However, I’m personally a fan of a third option, one that many fans have already been well acquainted with for years: the Fall Classic.
The World Series has also been referred to as the Fall Classic for decades, and it just makes sense. It’s a simple name, it would be unique to MLB and it describes something about the series that is a lot more true than including the word “world.”