Thursday, March 30, 2017

The Shaughnessy playoff system isn't used as much as it once was

Frank "Shag" Shaughnessy
While preparing for one of my recent Sports Flashback features, I ran across a sports-related term that I had never heard before, that is, a Shaughnessy playoff.

To find out what it meant, I do what almost all of us do nowadays, I Googled it. According to the results, this playoff system is used to determine a champion in a sports league that isn’t divided into separate divisions. Invented in 1933 by baseball manager and executive Frank Shaughnessy, this playoff system pits the top four teams in the final league standings in a single elimination tournament.
In the first round, the first and fourth place teams play each other and the second and third place teams play each other. The winners of those two games, play each other in the finals to determine the overall champion.

Shaughnessy was a pretty interesting guy. Born in Illinois in 1884, he went on to play football and baseball at Notre Dame before moving on to a professional baseball career with the Washington Senators (now the Minnesota Twins) and the Philadelphia Athletics (now the Oakland Athletics). Later, he became the general manager of the Montreal Royals minor league baseball team, and during that time he invented the Shaughnessy playoff system.

This playoff system became popular and has since been widely used by minor league baseball leagues for years and years. Later, it even spread to other sports leagues, including several now-defunct American professional and minor league football leagues.

Many of you will remember reading in one of my recent Sports Flashback features, that in August of 1957, the Conecuh County Amateur Baseball League used the Shaughnessy playoff system to determine its champion. However, the story in The Courant mentions that this playoff was also a round robin series, which implies that each team played all the others in turn. In other words, they used some variation of the old Shaughnessy system.

Plus, the 1957 Conecuh County Amateur Baseball League playoff also appears to have involved more than just four teams. At the end of the regular season, Evergreen was in first place, Garland was in second, Paul was in third, Castleberry was in fourth, Red Level was in fifth and Lyeffion was in sixth.

In the finals, Lyeffion, the sixth-place team, was facing Castleberry, the fourth place team. In a true Shaughnessy playoff, Lyeffion and Red Level would not have been eligible for competition.

Another thing that I found odd about the 1957 Conecuh County Amateur Baseball League playoffs was the fact that the finals were scheduled to be played in Brewton, which didn’t have a team in the league. While I don’t know, it is possible, but probably not likely, that Castleberry played its home games in Brewton during that particular season.

Local amateur baseball in towns like Evergreen, Brewton and smaller communities was past its heyday by the 1960s. When televisions began popping up in the homes of average citizens, it pretty much killed small-scale amateur baseball teams and low level minor league feeder teams. Nowadays, only cities the size of Mobile, Montgomery and Birmingham are considered large enough to support true minor league teams.

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