Forty years ago this fall, baseball made a fundamental change in the structure of the business that had operated the same way since Babe Ruth played the outfield for the New York Yankees in the House that Ruth Built - the old ballpark sitting next door to the new Yankee Stadium, which is playing host to the 2009 American League Championship Series between the New York Yankees and the Los Angeles Angels.
Forty years ago baseball divided, splitting the American and National leagues into two divisions each.
There was nothing called the “postseason” in baseball up to 1968. There were 10 teams in each league, and they played 162 games, and when the season ended, there was simply the World Series - the American League pennant winner facing the National League pennant winner. One series, best of seven.
It had worked pretty well under that structure. You could make the case that the last two World Series played under the old format - the Cardinals and Red Sox in 1967 and the Tigers and Cardinals in 1968 - were both thrilling, memorable contests, with each one going seven games.
But there were four expansion teams being added in 1969 - Kansas City and Seattle in the AL and Montreal and San Diego in the NL - and the increase in the number of teams now competing for the pennant meant that even a smaller percentage of baseball franchises could take advantage of the money and attention that comes with “postseason” baseball.
So the East and West divisions in the American and National leagues were born, and baseball reaped the rewards of another layer of postseason baseball - so much so that it added the wild card and division series, which debuted in 1995. And now there are 30 franchises.
But when baseball created the league championship series in 1969, did it wind up eventually diminishing the World Series? Many of the most dramatic games in the postseason in recent memory have taken place in the LCS - Bartman’s battle with Moises Alou for the foul ball at Wrigley Field in Game 6 of the 2003 NLCS between the Chicago Cubs and Florida Marlins, or in the same year, when Aaron Boone sent a shot high into the left-field seats of old Yankee Stadium to beat the Boston Red Sox 6-5 in 11 innings in Game 7.
The Yankees went on to get beat by the Marlins in six games of a forgettable World Series that year.
I once asked someone who is more familiar with the LCS than anyone - Atlanta manager Bobby Cox, who managed in nine of them. He thinks the best baseball is now played in the LCS.
“You’ve got to win those games to get there,” Cox told me. “You feel good that you are there at the World Series, but to get there, you’ve got to use all your ammunition, pitch guys when you probably shouldn’t be pitching, you’ve got to shoot every bullet just to get there. Once you are there, you get your team back to normal, and there’s a sigh of relief.
“They just seem more stressful than World Series games,” said Cox, who has won five and lost four league championship series. “Your dream is to win the World Series, but you have to get there to do so. I think some of the very best games are definitely in the League Championship Series.
“With the introduction of the division series, adding another layer of the playoffs, teams put everything they have into the LCS to get to the World Series, and one team or the other may be too spent to do it one more time in October.”
The 2008 ALCS proved to be dramatic, going the full seven games, with David - the Tampa Bay Rays - defeating the Goliath Red Sox, including one extra-inning contest. The NLCS was over in five games, with the Phillies disposing of the Dodgers just as they did in this year’s NLCS. But even in this year’s five-game NLCS, the games were dramatic - Jimmy Rollins lining a two-run double with two outs in the ninth inning off Dodgers closer Jonathan Broxton for a 5-4 walk-off win in Game 4.
Since 2002, no World Series has gone seven games, while seven LCS contests have gone the full seven.