Cubs Victory Illustrates the Difference between Reasonable Rules and a Rigged System

As millions saw last night, the Chicago Cubs beat “the curse” and won their first World Series since 1908. Congratulations to the Cubs as well as to the Cleveland Indians, who despite their amazing performance come up a run short.

There’s an interesting lesson to be gleaned from this series about how the rules of the game affect the outcome and about the dangers of casting reasonable rules as “rigged.”

In various sports, the championship team must win four games in a series of seven possible games. But sometimes sports championships involves a best-of-five series or some other scenario.

We expect that a longer series usually allows the overall best team to win in the end. But there’s nothing magic about best-of-seven. The main reason we don’t see best-of-nine series is that they’d drag on for too long. There’s nothing inherently wrong with best-of-five series, as long as the rules of the game are set in advance so everyone knows what they are. Of course the National Football League championship involves a single game.

Obviously different rules can yield different outcomes. Cleveland would have won a best-of-one series (they won the first game) or a best-of-five series (Chicago won the final three games of seven). But no one claims the World Series was “rigged” because of this.

Cleveland also would have won by a system that tallied total runs over seven games. In terms of total runs scored, Cleveland was actually ahead by the end of the ninth inning in Game 7, 26 to 25. Is it fair that Chicago had the opportunity to go to extra innings, score two additional runs to Cleveland’s one, and win despite an overall tie of 27 runs per team? Of course it was fair—because best-of-seven series weigh game-to-game consistency and don’t count overall runs toward victory.

As I pointed out in 2004, the Red Sox beat the Yankees in the American League Championship despite being outscored overall 45 to 41.

I have heard exactly zero people carping about the “rigged” World Series, despite the fact that different systems of rules would generate different outcomes.

Yet, in the realm of politics, we regularly hear claims that the system is “rigged” when it clearly is not.

Consider the Electoral College. The federal constitution intentionally gives a little extra weight to low-population states, and tossup states that hold winner-take-all elections draw relatively more political attention. This pushes candidates to strive for consistency in more states rather than just for the biggest overall popular vote—comparable to how the World Series pushes teams to strive for consistency over games rather than just the biggest overall run count.

Yet, every four years, we hear cries about how the system is “rigged” because of the Electoral College. (The complaining was especially loud in 2000 when Al Gore lost the Electoral College but won the popular vote.) But the Electoral College isn’t “rigged” just because it allows a candidate to win without the popular vote, any more than the World Series is rigged because Cleveland didn’t win 26 to 25 after the ninth inning of Game 7. The Constitution lays out the rules, and everyone knows them in advance and participates accordingly.

We’ve also heard Donald Trump complain about a “rigged system” that isn’t actually rigged in the ways he claims. For example, Trump claimed that Colorado’s caucus system was “rigged” when it wasn’t, and he claimed our mail-in system is flawed in ways that it isn’t. (I do think that some of the election rules really are unfair—a topic for another article—but in ways that actually benefitted Trump.)

So, please, stop complaining about a “rigged” political system when really at issue are reasonable rules set up in advance and known by all. Cranks who groundlessly complain about a “rigged system” should be taken no more seriously than someone who complains the World Series is rigged because Chicago won playing by the established and reasonable rules of the game.

Latest Updates | Image: Arturo Pardavila III

Leave a Comment