BOSTON (MainStreet) -- Tonight the Texas Rangers face off against the St. Louis Cardinals for bragging rights in the 2011 World Series.
As the two teams grind out the best of a seven-game series, there is bound to be plenty of water-cooler chat about these final games of the baseball season. To help you keep up with the conversation among sports fans, we offer here nine innings worth of things we found that you may not know about the Fall Classic:
1. It's a presidential predictor
Though its recent predictive powers have been hit or miss, the World Series was once a fairly accurate predictor of who would win the presidency.
Election year match-ups (so no such on-field punditry this year) have often reflected which league the winner came from. An American League win meant victory for the Republicans; a National League win was good news for Democrats.
From 1952 to 1976, that formula held true. After botching three predictions, the 2000 election of George W. Bush (following a victory by the New York Yankees) restored the pattern.
2. It's an economic bellwether
A study last year by Capital IQ, a provider of data and analytics for financial professionals, found that the S&P 500 yields a positive fourth-quarter return almost 90% of the time when a National League team -- such as last year's victorious San Francisco Giants or this year's hopefuls, the St. Louis Cardinals -- is victorious. American League teams such as the Texas Rangers have only about a 70% success rate when it comes to coinciding with an S&P spike.
Capital IQ dismisses any real relevance to such statistics, but what it found is nevertheless intriguing.
How long the series goes can also serve as an indicator. Historically, a five-game series has returned an average return of 17%. If the series ends in six games, the average correlated S&P 500 return is 15%. If it goes all the way to Game 7, the average return is 8%. Four-game sweeps return the lowest average -- 7% in the following year.
In the 22 series since 1936 in which the New York Yankees were victorious, Wall Street returned a solid average return of 10%. The average return following a Yankees loss is 13%, though. The Boston Red Sox hold the title for the worst annual stock market return after a World Series win, with a drop of -37% after their 2007 win.
No baseball may also be a portent of good news. The average annual stock market return for the year following the cancelled 1994 series was 38%.
3. It's a social media metric
Undoubtably there will be an uptick in baseball-related social media blasts throughout the World Series. That surge in online interest will be unique, however, for a sport that continually ranks behind football and basketball in active online communities.
According to Kwarter, a sports social network that launched an Apple (Stock Quote: AAPL) iPhone and iPad app Oct. 11, the number of declared baseball fans worldwide on Facebook is approximately 7.2 million, a fraction of the 29.1 million fans for basketball and 19.6 million for football. Baseball does, at least, beat out hockey, which has only 2.5 million fans.
The most "followed" U.S. sports league was the NBA, with 10.5 million followers on Facebook and 2.9 million on Twitter. That league has more followers than three other sports leagues combined: The NFL has a combined base of 6.2 million, the NHL has 2.6 million and baseball, dead last, has 2.1 million.
Team followers on Facebook and Twitter skew toward the historic rivalry of the New York Yankees (4.9 million) and Boston Red Sox (3.1 million). Even combined, however, the two most popular franchises in professional baseball still don't compete with the 12.6 million followers of the NBA'S Los Angeles Lakers.
When it comes to "check-ins," AT&T (Stock Quote: T) Park, home of baseball's San Francisco Giants, was the undisputed leader among all professional sports venues. Close behind was Rangers Ballpark in Dallas with 266,087 check-ins and Yankee Stadium with 241,724 location-based shout-outs.
4. It's got a dirty secret
Every baseball tossed, caught and batted during the World Series has a unique connection to the Delaware River -- a generous smearing of New Jersey muck.
It has been a longstanding tradition to dull the bright white sheen of a baseball by rubbing it in dirt.
For decades every official, in-play baseball for the major and minor leagues has been smeared with a blend of mud from the Lena Blackburne Baseball Rubbing Mud company.
According to the company, back in 1938, an umpire complained to Russell "Lena" Blackburne, a third-base coach for the old Philadelphia Athletics, about the condition of the baseballs used by the American League. In his opinion, mucking up the balls with dirt from the park left the covering too soft and easy to tamper with.
Blackburne took on the challenge. "The next time he returned to his home in Burlington County, he checked out the mud along tributaries of the Delaware River until he found some muck (the whereabouts of the mud hole is still a dark secret) with a texture he felt would do the job," says the company history. "Taking a batch to the Athletics' field house, he rubbed some balls with the stuff. It worked like a charm! What's more, it had no odor and didn't turn the balls black. The umpires were happy, and Lena Blackburne was in the mud supply business."
The secret mud stash became a tradition and a family business that has been passed down for generations.
Each July, a crew "heads a boat out to the 'ole mud hole' and scoops up hundreds of pounds of the 'Magic Mud,' enough for one season," the company says. "Then the precious product rest in barrels until the next spring when it's packed and shipped to each of the major league teams, minor league teams, most independent leagues and many colleges in time for opening day."
5. It's not just for love of the game
Sorry for the sarcasm. But while the thrill of victory is one thing, making money has been a key motivator for players over the years -- in a unique way.
The World Series didn't officially start until 1903, but precursors date back to 1884. It wasn't long after championship games became a draw that players started looking for a little extra scratch.
In 1894, the owner of Pittsburgh's franchise offered a trophy to the winner of a best-of-seven-game series between the National League's first- and second-place teams. Even better, the winning franchise would get 65% of all ticket sales (the losing team was rewarded with a 35% share).
A similar concept continues. Today, the bonus pool for players heading into the World Series is 60% of the gate receipts for the first four games (a move to keep unscrupulous players from conspiring to keep a series running longer). The winner gets 35% of the receipts and the loser 24%. The breakdown of player shares comes via a vote by the roster, and former players, as well as non-player staff, can be rewarded for their service.
6. Glenn Beck is in this Series too
Polarized politics will intrude on even America's pastime this year. A back story to this year's World Series -- although one you can expect Fox (Stock Quote: NWS) commentators to steer clear of during broadcasts -- is a fight between a progressive group and conservative media commentator Glenn Beck.
Beck, a former Fox News host, has struck out on his own with a paid-membership, steaming media site called GBTV. That service is being streamed through a partnership with MLB Advanced Media, the interactive media arm of Major League Baseball.
Last week, in the lead-up to this year's World Series, the group Americans United for Change launched strikeoutbeck.com to protest the business deal. The group is also rallying opposition using paid Facebook ads that will run in about a dozen cities.
In a statement, Tom McMahon, executive director of Americans United for Change, said it was "troubling and disheartening that the good folks behind Major League Baseball would agree to what even Fox News couldn't stomach to do any longer -- providing Beck with a platform to peddle more fear and spew more hate."
Neither Beck nor Major League Baseball have yet to issue an official comment on the protest.
7. There's crying in baseball
When the call to play ball starts tonight, the Cardinals will be in their 18th World Series, the most among National League teams and second only to the phenomenal run of 40 appearances by the New York Yankees. The Rangers are the first American League team to earn a spot in the World Series in back-to-back years since the Yankees scored four in a row from 1998 to 2001.
Not every team has been so fortunate. Once the Rangers reached the championship series last year, only two current franchises were left that have never reached the World Series: the Washington Nationals and Seattle Mariners. The Nationals' former incarnation, the Montreal Expos, also never made the big games.
8. Players used to get to bed earlier
The first World Series game to be played on an illuminated field was in 1949, but traditionally games had been played during the day until 1971, when the first Fall Classic included a scheduled night game.
The novelty of that match-up between the Pirates and Orioles evolved into scheduling in which day games are now avoided. There is a very good reason for that: Prime-time ad revenue adds up a lot faster.
According to analysts at Kantar Media, the five-game World Series last year generated more than $191 million in TV ad revenue (by comparison, the single game Super Bowl raked in $205 million). The previous year, a six-game series, netted nearly $224 million.
9. Big money doesn't guarantee big results
There are frequent complaints that big-market teams such as the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox have an unfair competitive advantage.
This year's World Series, however, once again proves that even small- to midmarket teams have a fighting chance.
The Business of Sports Network crunched out some of the payroll statistics for the season.
In terms of payroll, based on opening day numbers and using their ranking of the 30 clubs, the teams in this year's championship series average out to 12 out of possible 30. The Cardinals' Opening Day payroll of $105.4 million ranked as No. 11. The Rangers, with a $92.3 million payroll, were No. 13.
In terms of median salary, the Cardinals, with $1 million, was No. 20 among clubs (tied with the Arizona Diamondbacks); the Rangers were smack dab in the middle, No. 15, with a median player salary of nearly $1.3 million.
Comparatively, the Yankees had a total payroll of nearly $203 million and an average player salary of almost $6.8 million. The Philadelphia Phillies spent nearly $173 million on talent, averaging almost $5.8 million per player.
Are you fully prepared to sit back, relax, and enjoy the World Series? Check out MainStreet's look at 5 Must-Haves for Bachelors' Homes, or 5 Must-Haves for Bachelorettes' Homes!