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Little Napoleon, Boss Bud and the Fall Classics that weren't


The first World Series was played in 1903, so the current Fall Classic between the Giants and Detroit Tigers should be the 110th edition of big-league baseball's annual rites of autumn. But it's the 108th.

What's up with that?

Well, twice the Series wasn't played, and if you guessed world war had anything to do with it you guessed wrong. Because of the United States' entry into World War I, the 1918 season was shortened and the Series was pushed ahead of schedule, ending on Sept. 11 with the Red Sox beating the Cubs in six games. In World War II, despite the vast dilution of talent because of military service, especially from 1943-45, the show went on.

The reasons for the World Series not being played twice are absurdly comic egomania and colossal stubbornness.

First, the comic.

In 1904, in what would have been only the second World Series, before it had established any footing whatsoever as an annual tradition, the Series wasn't played because manager John McGraw of the National League champion New York Giants opted out, as we might check off a box on an insurance form today.

McGraw, all 5-foot-7, 155 pounds of him and not called Little Napoleon for nothing, simply didn't like the upstart American League (then in only its fourth year of existence), thought its players inferior (despite the AL's Boston Americans defeating the NL's Pittsburgh Pirates in the inaugural 1903 Series), didn't really see the point of playing the AL champion (again Boston) in a World Series, and in fact thought it would be beneath him, his Giants and the National League to do so.

That one egomaniac's opinion held sway and what should have been the second World Series simply wasn't played is testament to the influence McGraw commanded in only his second full season as Giants manager, a tenure that would last 30 years and provide him with power and celebrity far beyond the ambitions of even the most famous modern-day managers. That said, McGraw listened to reason the following season, his Giants defeated Connie Mack's Philadelphia Athletics in five games, and the World Series did, in fact, go on to become a celebrated, highly anticipated baseball tradition.

Until 1994. That's when colossal stubbornness stepped up to the plate.

With the collective bargaining agreement between owners and players having run out some seven months earlier, and with the players union balking at acting commissioner (and Milwaukee Brewers owner) Bud Selig's insistence on a salary cap and longer arbitration eligibility, negotiations were hostile, especially in light of a recent court ruling that owners had colluded to keep salaries artificially low in the 1980s.

The players struck on Aug.12. If you were a fan who thought this would be a short-term work stoppage and that sooner or later both sides would come to their senses, considering how much money and good will were at stake, you weren't alone. But you were naive.

The stalemate dragged on and on, and eventually the unthinkable (at least unthinkable to anyone except McGraw 90 years earlier) became official: Boss Bud announced there would be no World Series. The games of Aug. 11, 1994, were the last to be played until April 25, 1995.

Now as a sort of fantasy supplement to the real World Series currently being played, it might be fun (in an admittedly nerdy, alternative universe kind of way) to imagine how those two lost World Series might have played out.

In 1904, the New York Giants, with 30-game winners Joe McGinnity (35-8) and Christy Mathewson (33-12), probably would have had the edge on the Boston Americans' starting pitchers, led by the aging Cy Young, and his 26-16 record. Also, the Giants' offense, led by shortstop Bill Dahlen (80 RBIs, 47 stolen bases) looks just a bit more potent than Boston's, led by Freddie Parent's six homers and Buck Freeman's 84 RBIs. The pick in this World Series that never was: Giants in six.

In the aborted 1994 season, it's not difficult to imagine a World Series between the NL's best up until Aug. 12, the Montreal Expos (74-40), managed by Felipe Alou, going up against the AL's best, the New York Yankees (70-43), skippered by Buck Showalter.

The speed of Marquis Grissom (36 steals), hitting of Moises Alou (22 homers, .339 batting average) and Larry Walker (86 RBIs, .322 average) and the pitching of Pedro Martinez (11-5), Ken Hill (16-5) and Sonoma County's own John Wetteland (25 saves), likely would be too much for the Yankees, even though they boasted Paul O'Neil (.359, 21 HRs, 83 RBIs), Jimmy Key (17-4) and Steve Howe (15 saves, 1.80 ERA)

Two lost World Series and the thought of what might have been. The luxury of this kind of fantasy baseball is that if you don't like one imagined scenario, just imagine another.

Robert Rubino can be reached at robert.rubino@pressdemocrat.com.