Saturday, June 23, 2012

1903 World Series: In the Beginning

The Teams
American League: Boston Americans (91-47) - First World Series
National League: Pittsburgh Pirates (91-49) - First World Series

What Happened
When the American League was founded in 1901 with the sole purpose of competing with the National League, the established National League teams were understandably upset. They had been the only league around since 1892 and were thoroughly enjoying their monopoly. Try as they might, though - and they did try hard - they couldn't keep the American League from putting teams into cities with National League teams and stealing the senior circuit's players. Soon, the talent level between the two leagues was nearly even, and the National League teams were struggling to match player salaries that were rising because of the bidding war between the two leagues.

Finally, Pittsburgh owner Barney Dreyfuss stepped in. He knew that a protracted turf war would eventually bankrupt both leagues, so he helped broker a piece. The AL and NL owners came up with a unified rule book, established minor league agreements, and agreed to stop stealing players from each other. From then on, both leagues started to prosper.

In early September, it became obvious that the Pirates would win their second straight NL pennant, so Dreyfuss had a hand in another cooperative milestone. He reached an agreement with Henry Killilea, owner of the runaway AL champion Boston Americans. Pittsburgh and Boston would meet in a postseason "World's Series" to determine the true champion of baseball.

Fans were excited to see this grudge match between the two leagues. Nearly all the games were played to overflow crowds. In games played in Pittsburgh, extra fans were asked to stand behind a rope in the outfield, and any ball hit out there would be ruled an automatic triple; there were 14 triples hit in the four games played in Pittsburgh.

There were some other things in the series that would be unheard of today. First of all, Pittsburgh's Deacon Phillippe started five of the eight games in the series, an unfathomable number. He was helped by two rain delays - including a very questionable one called by Dreyfuss to give him an extra day of rest - but that doesn't make his feat any less impressive. On the Boston side, Cy Young, the Game 1 starter, was in the business office helping count gate receipts for Game 3 when his manager called for him and told him to pitch in relief. As he had shown up to the ballpark in street clothes, he had to find a uniform first.

As for the series itself, the results came as a bit of a surprise. After the teams split the first two games (some people have suggested this happened on purpose, so the players could collect more of the gate, though no evidence exists of such a conspiracy), Pittsburgh took the next two for a 3-to-1 series lead. From there, though, Boston unexpectedly took over. It probably helped that Phillippe was the Pirates' only reliable healthy pitcher, and that he was being run into the ground, but Boston won the final four games to win the inaugural World Series 5 games to 3.

In a weird way, Boston's win helped prove Dreyfuss right. It proved that the American League was on equal footing with the National League, and that it should be a partner to cooperate with rather than a rival to vanquish. The series was immensely popular with fans, so much so that when the New York Giants refused to play Boston in 1904, the fan outrage was so loud - even from Giant supporters - that the Giants agreed to let the two leagues make the World Series mandatory starting in 1905. It's been going strong ever since.

Defining Game
Game 4 was already Phillippe's third start of the series, but he still had plenty left in the tank. His Pirates gave him a quick 1-0 lead, and Phillippe let it hold up until Boston tied it in the fifth. Pittsburgh took the lead right back in the bottom of the inning, then scored three times in the seventh - with the help of one of the aforementioned ground rule triples. Pittsburgh took a 5-1 lead into the top of the ninth when it all began to fall apart for Phillippe. Boston got five singles off the tiring Pittsburgh ace in the ninth, cutting the deficit to 5-4. They had two runners on base when Phillippe finally ended the bleeding by getting Jack O'Brien to pop out for the final out. Pittsburgh had won to take a 3-1 series lead, but in the process, they had tired out their ace pitcher. Phillippe started twice more in the series, but he was no where near as effective as he had been early in the series. Though Boston lost the game, they may have won the series in the ninth inning of Game 4.

A lot has been made of Phillippe starting five times for Pittsburgh, and rightfully so. But Young and Bill Dinneen combined to pitch 69 of the 71 innings for Boston in the series, and both were brilliant. Their stats for the series were basically identical, and though Young did hit a big triple in one of his starts, it's probably not enough to push him over the edge. Since there's nobody alive who can testify to who actually pitched better in the series, let's just name co-MVPs.

(Home team shaded; winners in Bold)

Pittsburgh 7045 2330
Boston 3324 11673

The List
I'm ranking all the World Series, from worst to best. Here are the ones I've done so far:

52. 1903 - Boston (A) def. Pittsburgh (N) 5-3
53. 1916 - Boston (A) def. Brooklyn (N) 4-1 
54. 1949 - New York (A) def. Brooklyn (N) 4-1
55. 1942 - St. Louis (N) def. New York (A) 4-1
56. 1974 - Oakland (A) def. Los Angeles (N) 4-1
57. 1955 - Brooklyn (N) def. New York (A) 4-3
58. 1979 - Pittsburgh (N) def. Baltimore (A) 4-3
59. 1987 - Minnesota (A) def. St. Louis (N) 4-3
Numbers 60-69
Numbers 70-79
Numbers 80-89
Numbers 90-99
Numbers 100-107

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