The pennant race in baseball is one of the exciting components of the entire season. Throughout the month of September, fans are enthralled as their favorite teams attempt to qualify for postseason play. When the playoff format expanded in 2012 to include 10 teams overall, the race became even more exciting.
Dating back to the 19th century, teams have fought for supremacy by engaging in meaningful games to decide the league champion. Here are four facts about pennant races that will help in understanding their overall history.
1. One Team Takes All
For the first century that baseball was played, it was a race to the finish with only one team left standing at the end. From the incorporation of the National League in 1976 until 1968, one team was crowned the champion while all of the other teams were left to wonder what happened throughout the entire winter.
For almost 100 years, that’s how the National League and then the American League—formed in 1901—did battle. It all came down to the final month of the season when teams jockeyed for position in order to come out on top. One team from each league won their respective leagues while the rest of the teams spent the offseason rebuilding and hoping for a chance the following season.
2. The Origin of the Word Itself
The word “pennant” actually dates back to the 17th century, and is a combination of two words. Pendant was originally described as a rope used for hoisting, and “pennon” was described as a flag for a warship. A pennon was usually hoisted by a warship who had won a significant nautical battle.
3. Bad Luck to Watch Scoreboards
For teams who were lucky enough to be in a pennant, it was considered poor form to gaze at scoreboards to watch how other contending teams were faring. In today’s day and age it’s nearly impossible not to watch. Technology allows for players and fans alike to get up-to-date scores and the advent of the internet and other types of technologies make it very easy to keep up with all of the current action.
However, back in the early days of baseball, scores from around baseball were harder to come by and were generally delayed. Players and managers were discouraged from focusing on the scores of other teams and were encouraged to focus only on their own teams and what they could control.
4. 1914 Miracle Boston Braves
While the National League in its infancy had already established pennant race fever for many fans and teams, it was the 1914 Boston Braves who pulled off the first pennant race miracle and personified just how unpredictable baseball can be over the final few weeks of the regular season.
On July 18, 1914, the Boston Braves had a 35-43 record and were situated in last place in the National League. Over the next six weeks the Braves won an incredible 25 of 31 games to move into a tie for first place. Over the final weeks of the regular season the Braves ended up pulling away and winning the National League pennant, but it gave fans in other cities a reason not to give up on their own teams down the stretch.
Pennant races themselves have been watered down somewhat over the years as the playoff format has been expanded to include three rounds before a champion is crowned in each league. But it’s also given a chance for more teams to be invested and included in the pennant conversation over the final few weeks. Still, the thrill of September baseball is unlike any other in MLB, and understanding how pennant races came to be gives fans even more of an appreciation of just how important they are overall.