Q. I noticed a sticker on a truck proclaiming the St. Louis Cardinals as "World Champions." Why do they call them world champions when they do not compete against other countries?
-- R.W., of Collinsville
A. Now that other countries not only serve as farm clubs for Major League Baseball but field their own pro leagues as well, our continued use of "world champions" may strike some as outdated braggadocio.
But you have to remember that back in the 1800s, U.S. baseball was the only such game in town, so to speak. So when the early pioneers were looking for a title to christen the country's best team, they swung for the fences. Now after more than a century, the description probably continues, as a certain fiddler on the roof might say, out of tradition. "U.S." or "North American Series" just doesn't have the same pizzazz.
Perhaps the most exhaustive history of the term World Series has been done by John Rickert, an associate professor of mathematics at the Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology in Terre Haute, Ind.
On "JHR's Home Plate," he traces the origin to a time long before baseball's first recognized World Series. In 1884, the New York Metropolitans of the American Association challenged the Providence Grays of the National League to a three-game series "for the championship of the United States."
It featured future Hall-of-Fame pitchers Charles "Old Hoss" Radbourn of the Grays, who was 59-12 that year, against Tim Keefe, who was "only" 37-17. Radbourn won all three games as the Grays bombed the Mets 20-3 and walked off with the $1,000 prize. Immediately, the popular weekly newspaper Sporting Life hailed Providence as "champions of the world."
Who could argue? At that time, what other country played baseball? So baseball quickly latched onto the title. By 1888, Spalding's Official Baseball Guide printed the following, according to Rickert:
"Up to 1884 this question of what is now justly termed 'the world's championship' in baseball remained an unsettled one ... In 1887 the world's championship series had become an established supplementary series of contests ..."
Other publications followed suit, so by 1903, when the Boston Americans whipped the Pittsburgh Pirates five games to three in the first modern fall classic, "world" already was firmly rooted in the description of MLB's champion team. And you don't have to take Rickert's word for it. If you search for the 1903 scorecard at www.baseball-reference.com, you can see the cover that prominently states "World's Championship Games."
Since then, the wording has evolved, going from "world's championship games" to "world's championship series" by 1907 to "world's series" by about 1911. Rickert lists the first mention of "world series" on the 1920 Cleveland scorecard although the name we now call it didn't seem to become permanent until 1939.
But as you note, the rest of the world now might argue with that title. In 1938, amateur players from Great Britain beat the United States in the first Baseball World Cup. In the 38 tournaments that followed, the U.S. won only 14 medals (four gold) compared to 31 for Cuba (25 gold). Now, pros are allowed to play in the World Baseball Classic, but the U.S. failed to medal in 2006 or 2009 while Japan won both.
I'm sure our pro players would say we're simply not fielding our best team. But in a nod to critics, the Associated Press reminded us writers in its 2011 style guide, "Teams that win the championship are World Series champions, not world champions."
In any case, you can find a more extensive history as well plenty of other statistical treasures that would fascinate amy mathematically inclined fan at www.rose-hulman.edu/~rickert/BB.
Q. A few of us are debating this: Does common-law marriage exist in Illinois?
-- Don Athy, of Belleville
A. Yes, but only if you entered into such a marriage in another state that recognizes such unions. Illinois banned common-law marriages after June 30, 1905. Now, you'd have to meet the varying requirements of the nine states (including nearby Iowa) or the District of Columbia that still allow such marriages and then move to Illinois.
Otherwise, when it comes to recognizing marriages, unless you say "I do," they don't.
What classic 1949 novel was almost entitled "The Last Man in Europe"?
Answer to Sunday's trivia: In the early 1700s, the United Kingdom ran its treasury by commission. Those on the commission were known as Lords Commissioners of the Treasury and the senior commissioner became known as First Lord of the Treasury. By the time Robert Walpole took the office in 1721, he was unofficially called "prime minister." As of 1905, prime minister became an official title, so the First Lord of the Treasury/Prime Minster lives at 10 Downing Street, the history of which dates to 1682.
Send your questions to Roger Schlueter, Belleville News-Democrat, 120 S. Illinois St., P.O. Box 427, Belleville, IL 62222-0427 or email@example.com or call 239-2465.