Tags : :
Welcome to this special edition of "Number One Says," which is Part 2 of the history of MLB's postseason format: a look at the Divisional Play/League Championship Series Era that lasted from 1969 until 1993.
From 1901 until 1960, there were 16 teams in MLB, eight in the established National League and eight in the fledgling American League. In 1903, the first official World Series was played, pitting the first place teams in the NL and AL against each other. The late 1950s and the 1960s saw a wave of relocations and expansion teams, as teams were placed in LA, San Francisco, Anaheim, Minneapolis, Kansas City, Milwaukee, Queens, Oakland, Atlanta, and a second team in Washington, D.C.
In 1969, four expansion teams were added--two in each league. American League teams were placed in Kansas City and Seattle, with the Royals beginning play a year after the A's moved to Oakland. Seattle's first MLB team was named the Pilots, but they would move to Milwaukee (the Braves' former home) and become the current Brewers franchise.
History was made on the National League side, as teams were established in San Diego and in Montréal, Quebec. The addition of the San Diego Padres gave the state of California a grand total of FIVE MLB teams (Padres, Dodgers, Giants, Angels, A's). The Montréal Expos made history as Canada's first MLB franchise. Eight years later, Toronto, Ontario would receive a team of their own when the Blue Jays were established in the American League in 1977.
Entering the 1969 season, MLB had a grand total of 24 teams, 12 in each league--too large of a number for the leagues to be bunched up. With that, MLB decided to divide each league into two six-team divisions, East and West, marking the debut of Divisional Play in MLB. Here's what the divisions looked like in 1969:
AL East: Baltimore Orioles, Boston Red Sox, Cleveland Indians, Detroit Tigers, New York Yankees, Washington Senators
AL West: California Angels, Chicago White Sox, Kansas City Royals, Minnesota Twins, Oakland Athletics, Seattle Pilots
NL East: Chicago Cubs, Montréal Expos, New York Mets, Philadelphia Phillies, Pittsburgh Pirates, St. Louis Cardinals
NL West: Atlanta Braves, Cincinnati Braves, Houston Astros, Los Angeles Dodgers, San Diego Padres, San Francisco Giants
For a long time, I wondered why the Braves and Reds, two East teams, would be in the NL West, while the Cubs and Cards were in the NL East. The Cubs and Cards felt that being in a division with Eastern teams would be more lucrative, so by their request, they were placed in the NL East. This meant that the Braves and Reds were placed in the West, which also meant a lot of miles of travel--considering that they were in a division with a Texas team and three California teams.
With each league divided into divisions, this meant that each league would have two first place teams. With that, MLB pitted the winners of the East and West against each other in the League Championship Series, or LCS for short. Technically, this also marked the introduction of the MLB Playoffs, as for 66 seasons, the World Series followed the regular season. As many sports fans know, the playoffs is usually referred to the preceding rounds that lead to the championship round. Though the World Series is lumped in with the playoff games, it stands out on its own.
The Baltimore Orioles and the Oakland A's were the winners of the AL East and West, respectively, and faced each other in the first ever American League Championship Series. In the National League, the New York Mets and the Houston Astros won their divisions, with the Mets famously coming back from a 10 game deficit to win the NL East by eight games over the Cubs. The two teams faced off in the first ever National League Championship Series. The LCS was introduced as a best-of-five series, with the Orioles and Mets each sweeping their series. The Mets defeated the Orioles in five games to win their first of two World Championships.
The best-of-five format lasted until 1985, when MLB expanded the LCS to a best-of-seven format. In that year, the Kansas City Royals defeated the Toronto Blue Jays in seven games in the ALCS, while the St. Louis Cardinals won the NLCS in six games over the Los Angeles Dodgers, resulting in the first all-Missouri series since the all-St. Louis Series between the Browns and Cardinals in 1944. 1985 featured a controversial ending to Game Six, when a bad call at first base in the bottom of the ninth resulted in the Royals scoring two runs to force Game Seven. The Royals blasted the Cards, 11-0, to win their first of two World Championships; their second one coming last year.
Expansion and relocation continued in this era, with the second Washington Senators franchise moving to Arlington and becoming the Texas Rangers in 1972. With that move, the Brewers were placed in the AL East to make way for the Rangers to be placed in the AL West. Seattle received baseball again in 1977 when the Mariners were established and placed in the AL West, while the aforementioned and debuting Toronto Blue Jays were placed in the AL East. MLB wouldn't expand again until 1993, when National League teams were placed in Miami and Denver. The Florida Marlins were placed in the NL East, while the Colorado Rockies were placed in the NL West.
Divisional Play also changed the rules regarding tiebreaker games. Before 1969, tiebreakers were needed to decide the pennant, and back then, each league had different formats. National League tiebreakers were decided in a best-of-three series, while the Amercan League used a single game tiebreaker. Since 1969, tiebreakers are single game regardless of league, and they were used to decide divisions.
Between 1969 and 1993, the tiebreaker, also known as Game 163, was only needed on two occasions. The first and more notable of the two came in 1978 between the Red Sox and Yankees. The Red Sox held a 13.5 game lead in the AL East with about two months left, but the Yankees caught up and passed the Red Sox with just days left. After 162 games, the two teams were tied for first place, forcing a tiebreaker game to be played in Fenway Park on October 2. As we all know, the Yankees won that game, 5-4, with Bucky Dent's three-run HR being the winning shot. The Yankees went on to defeat the Royals in the ALCS, and the Dodgers to win the World Series for the last time in the era; our next one would come 18 years later.
The only other instance came two years later in 1980, when the Astros and Dodgers finished tied atop the NL West. The Astros blasted the Dodgers, 7-1, to win the NL West, but they were defeated by that year's eventual World Champions, the Philadelphia Phillies, in the NLCS. Game 163 wouldn't be played again for another 15 years.
An odd occurrence happened in 1981, as a players strike split the season into two halves. Each half resulted in different division winners, and in the interest of fairness, MLB decided to have the first half and second half winners face each other in what they called the "Division Series." The Division Series was played under a best of-five format, and pitted the different division winners against each other to decided undisputed division champions. Three of the four Division Series reached the max, with the Yankees defeating the Brewers in the AL East series, the Expos defeating the Phillies in the NL East series, and the Dodgers defeating the Astros in the NL West series. Only the AL West series didn't reach the max, as the A's swept the Royals. The Dodgers and Yankees won their respective pennants, with the Blue Crew defeating the Bronx Bombers in six games in the World Series.
The 1980s were full of crazy moments, most notably the Red Sox blowing the World Series against the Mets in 1986, and Kurt Gibson's walk off shot in Game One of the 1988 Fall Classic. The tail end of the Divisional Play/LCS Era also marked the beginning of the Braves being a dominant force in the entire National League. In 1990, the Braves finished in dead last in the NL West at 65-97. In 1991, the team improved by 29 games, going from worst to first to win the NL West; their first of 14 straight division titles. The Braves defeated the Pirates in the NLCS, but lost the World Series in seven games to the Minnesota Twins. That Series is best known for Jack Morris' historic 10-inning complete game shutout in Game Seven, earning him the MVP nod.
History was made in 1992. The Blue Jays again won the AL East that year, but that's not the history I'm talking about. The Jays defeated the A's in six games in the ALCS, becoming the first Canadian team to play in the World Series. Game Three of the World Series was the first WS game to take place outside the US. The Jays defeated the Braves in six games to bring a baseball championship to Canada for the first time. Toronto added a World Series Championship to their collection of Grey Cups and Stanley Cups. The Jays repeated as World Champions in 1993, the final year of the four-division format, defeating the Phillies in six games. It was Joe Carter's walk-off shot in Game Six that clinched the Series for the Jays (sorry JT).
That is the history of the very manic and exciting Divisional Play/LCS Era. Of course, next week will be about the Wild Card/Division Series Era, which had some great moments. But regarding the Divisional Play/LCS Era, what was the best moment of that period?