Only one team can be champion. That's not really in dispute.
Yet, in 1885 the second world championship in the history of baseball resulted in both teams disputing the result and the prize money getting split down the middle.
In 1884, the American Association champion New York Metropolitans challenged the champions of the National League — the Providence Grays — and were swept in three games with Game 2 (darkness) and Game 3 (cold) called early. Though we call it a "championship" today, it was really more of an exhibition than a competitive, winner-takes-all series.
The idea was repeated the following season, this time with a $1,000 prize for the winner. The series pitted the National League's Chicago White Stockings against the American Association's St. Louis Browns.
Chicago White Stockings, 1885-86
Baseball in the 1880s was a rough game, and I'm not just talking about the sort of beanballs and takeout slides that define dirty play today. Players hurled insults at each other during the game. Defenders would hold onto baserunners so they couldn't advance. Fans would get drunk and verbally and physically harass visiting players, who, in those days, didn't have dugouts to hide out in.
As fate would have it, the 1885 World Series featured two teams that exemplified their era. St. Louis tried to intimidate opponents by running up and down the baselines and yelling at the opposing pitcher. Browns star Arlie Latham led the way and was known for constantly getting into fights.
King Kelly of the White Stockings was more mischievous than Latham was outright aggressive. He would cut bases when he noticed an umpire wasn't looking and drop his catcher's mask so a baserunner would trip over it.
Arlie Latham, 1887
In retrospect, it's perhaps little surprise that these two teams would meet in a championship that would end with an outcome that remains unclear to this day.
The series didn't get off to a great start, at least with regards to its eventual prospects of determining a winner. After Game 1 was declared a tie due to darkness, chaos really reigned in the second game of the series.
Trouble began in the first inning when umpire Dave Sullivan — games only had one umpire back then — called Kelly out at second on a steal, even though he was said to be clearly safe. In the ensuing innings there were a couple other apparent mistakes — a foul ball ruled fair, a poor called strike — but hardly anything that would cause a crisis.
Then the sixth inning happened.
Chicago outfielder Billy Sunday led off with a double. Kelly followed with what appeared to be a groundout to shortstop, but Sullivan was watching Sunday steal home and missed the play at first since he was the only umpire. Therefore, he refused to call Kelly out. This led to an extended stoppage in play as St. Louis player-manager Charles Comiskey threatened to instruct his team to walk off the field. Eventually play resumed.
King Kelly, 1887
Play would not continue for long. Later that half-inning, Ned Williamson came to the plate with the go-ahead run at third for Chicago. He hit a grounder to first base that started foul, but curved fair before Comiskey fielded it. Comiskey threw to first, but Williamson beat the throw and was ruled safe by Sullivan, which meant the runner scored on the play to give Chicago the lead.
Comiskey took issue with the decision, claiming that he heard Sullivan call the ball foul — for his part, Sullivan claimed that it was Chicago's Cap Anson who shouted, "foul." Comiskey then threatened to leave the field unless Sullivan ruled the hit a foul ball. Shockingly, the umpire initially ceded to the St. Louis skipper's objection and directed Williamson back to home plate. Chicago obviously objected to this change … and Sullivan reversed his ruling again! Williamson was safe at first.
By this time, the St. Louis players and fans had had enough. Comiskey called his players off the field in protest. The stands emptied as fans stormed the field in displeasure and some even tried to get at Sullivan, who had to be escorted to safety by police. He had not issued a ruling on the game by the time he left the field.
Later that night, from his hotel room, Sullivan declared that, by leaving the field, St. Louis had forfeited the game. Therefore, the White Stockings were awarded a 9-0 victory. St. Louis, claiming it was forced off the field by the encroaching crowd, disputed the forfeit. Regardless of how the Browns felt, the series moved to Game 3 with Chicago up, 1-0-1.
The rest of the series is almost an afterthought. None of the games were well attended and a few more were called early for darkness. Though the series was supposed to go 12 games, due to the lackluster attendance, both teams agreed to cancel the series after Game 7. St. Louis easily won the seventh game, which was also called early on account of darkness — hardly a thrilling end to the final game of a championship series.
So, who won it all?
St. Louis claimed a 3-2-1 series victory on the grounds the forfeited Game 2 shouldn't have counted, while Chicago claimed the series was tied. According to the Chicago Tribune, however, there was mutual agreement before the seventh game that the forfeited game wouldn't count either way. That meant that the game would break a 2-2-1 tie and decide the series.
If we agree to follow the money — the $1,000 purse agreed to before the series — the result is a tie, as both teams eventually accepted and received half the pot. Don’t tell that to Henry Chadwick — the "Father of Baseball" who invented many of the box score statistics – though. He wrote that the Browns were "unquestionably the champion."
Historical consensus falls on the former line of argument, with the White Stockings and Browns playing to a 3-3-1 series tie, the only baseball championship that ended without a real winner.