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Every baseball fan knows about the World Series, the best-of-7-games contest between the winners of the National and American leagues. But what about all those minor leagues? Does minor league baseball have a world series?
The top level of minor league baseball has the equivalent of the Major League Baseball’s World Series, which it calls a championship game (and not World Series), a contest among the top teams in the highest levels of minor-league play, known as AAA.
The minor leagues have had a mechanism to determine the top AAA team since 2006, in a contest finally named the Triple-A National Championship game in 2009, at which point there were only 2 AAA leagues. For many years to 1996, there were 3 top-level minor leagues: the International League, the Pacific Coast League, and the American Association. The AA folded in 1997.
Some form of a championship among league leaders in the highest-classification leagues dates back to 1904. These contests were staged periodically, and the format of the AAA championship has changed many times the past century, including in 2021.
Triple-A Championship Today
There was a championship game for top AAA teams every year until 2019. In 2020, minor league baseball was shut down (and the championship canceled) due to the coronavirus pandemic. The following year, MLB clubs totally reorganized all minor league operations across the country, shuttering many lower-level clubs and even disbanding entire leagues.
Today in the place of the IL and PCL there is Triple-A East and Triple-A West. In 2021 due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, these teams played limited schedules, and no postseason playoff was arranged. The National Champion was to be the team that ended the season with the best record.
For the Double-A level and the two divisions for Single-A ball (High-A and Low-A), the top 2 teams were scheduled to play a best-of-5-game series at the end of September 2021.
The 4 Actual ‘World Series’ for Minor League Teams
While there have been many versions of minor league championship format, only 4 times have organizers ventured to call it a “minor league world series”:
- Triple-A World Series (1983) – Because then there were 3 AAA league champions (including from the old American Association), this format was a round-robin tournament like the College World Series so each team had an opportunity to play against every other squad.
- Las Vegas Triple-A World Series (1998-2000) – the surviving two minor leagues (IL and PCL) sent their champs to Sin City for a best-of-5 championship series.
The latter was discontinued due to poor attendance, partially fueled by searing-hot temperatures in the desert in September. The series just didn’t pull Vegas visitors out of air-conditioned casinos.
Regardless, baseball officials continued staging championships between the AAA leagues ~ just with other names, and sometimes a different format.
Note: see below for the Little World Series and Junior World Series.
Other Contests Simulating a ‘Minor League World Series’
Today’s Triple-A National Championship Game started in 2006 as a single contest to determine the top club of the 2 highest levels of minor league ball. It was known as the Brickdown Showdown, so named for the Oklahoma City stadium that hosted the event.
It ran through 2019, before postseason play was canceled due to pandemic concerns. In 2021, it was agreed that the National Champion would be the team that ended the season (extended into early October due to the minor league restructuring) with the best record. That ended up being the Durham (N.C.) Bulls.
Starting in 2011 the game was moved to a different AAA city each fall. The host cities have never been the teams playing in the championship game. To date, the PCL claimed 9 titles, the IL won 5.
Minor League Championship Efforts from 1904-On
Starting in 1904 and running through 1975, the three highest-level minor league teams staged a postseason (most years) to try to name a champion. Here are some iterations:
- Little World Series (1904-1931)
- Junior World Series (1932-1975)
Mostly these series were set up just like MLB’s finale, in a best of 7 games contest. The trouble was the fact that there was an odd number of these leagues; more often than not some type of championship contest was staged only between the IL and AA. The PCL ~ like much of the rest of the West before World War II ~ was left out.
Which minor league team has won the most AAA-level championships?
Answer: The Sacramento River Cats have won the Triple-A Championship Game 3 times, the last being in 2019. That club is undefeated in title games. The most appearances record is shared by the Durham Bulls and Columbus Clippers, at 4 appearances each. Both clubs won the game twice, Durham in 2017, Columbus in 2011.
Do minor league championships always use the same rules as the World Series?
A.: Not precisely, but often, very similar. The championships are usually 5- or 7-game series with the teams splitting being the home team. A difference is, the designated hitter is used by all minor league teams including in the playoffs.
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