Academic journal article Nine

How the Shaughnessy Plan Redefined Success in Sports

Academic journal article Nine

How the Shaughnessy Plan Redefined Success in Sports

Article excerpt

There were cries of heresy and treason under headlines such as "Baseball Has Sold Its Soul for Cheap TV Thrills" when in 1993 Major League Baseball expanded its postseason structure to double the number of qualifying ball-clubs in both the National and American Leagues.(1)

Critics accused baseball of stooping to the postseason greed sported by the three other dominant professional sports, football, basketball, and hockey. "Baseball is the only major sport where only a champion at the end of the long season qualifies for the opportunity to play for the world title," Joe Giuliotti wrote in the Boston Herald. "Now there's a move to dilute its championship format." The new playoff structure "will be a world with wild-card races instead of pennant races, a world in which finishing first is worth just a one-game home-field advantage in a best-of-five first round playoff series," Jayson Stark wrote in the Philadelphia Inquirer. The idea literally didn't play in Peoria. "Spurred on by lust for lost television revenues and a reckless desire to spur new interest in the game, [baseball] plans to add second-place division wild card teams to form a new tier of postseason games," Bryan Oberle wrote in the Peoria Journal Star. (2)

In reality, though, the playoffs that the NFL, NBA, and NHL had so successfully orchestrated to generate millions of dollars in revenue had been originally spawned by baseball--through its minor-league operations--which the other professional sports leagues had merely copied. Very few commentators in 1993 bothered to mention baseball's role in the original creation of the playoff concept back in 1933. New York Times writer Charles Einstein was one who did evoke the memory of the father of the playoff concept. "And the name of the mystery man mentioned above? Frank Shaughnessy," Einstein wrote about the forgotten pioneer of the playoffs. "Shaughnessy devised a post-season playoff scheme that all of the more than 50 Depression-ridden minor leagues instantly adopted, mainly to save themselves from total collapse. The first four teams in any eight-team league automatically made it into the playoffs?' It had just taken Major League Baseball a little longer than other professional sports to adopt the playoff concept that Shaughnessy had pioneered in the minor leagues six decades earlier. (3)

In the 1995 season, for the first time in the more than one hundred years of Major League Baseball, a ballclub without the credential of a first-place finish, the wild card, had a chance to be crowned champion. Indeed, just two years later, the Florida Marlins did capture the National League pennant as a wild-card qualifier, and then went on to win the World Series. By 2004 when the wild-card Boston Red Sox dislodged the Curse of the Bambino and won the World Series, the third consecutive wild-card ballclub to do so, there were few, if any, who felt that the Red Sox were not legitimate holders of the title. Actually, fans loved it. However, one hundred years earlier when the Red Sox won the first modern World Series in 1903, that would not have been the case. Since the formation of the National League in 1876, the champion ballclub in a major league was determined on a winner-take-all basis, rewarding the ball-club with the best win-loss record during the regular season (with just one exception). From 1969 to 1993 (except for the 1981 strike-interrupted year), the leagues had two divisions where the two first-place finishers vied to be league champion. Following the strike-shortened season of 1994, Major League Baseball implemented the cataclysmic change in postseason structure, with the eight-club playoff format described above for the 1995 season. (4)

Frank Shaughnessy, general manager of the Montreal International League ballclub in 1933, had cast the seeds of the 1995 change in how league champions were determined in Major League Baseball. Shaughnessy devised a system of postseason playoffs (the "Shaughnessy Plan") that not only revolutionized how champions were determined but also how success was defined at the highest levels of professional sports. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.