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Histories of World Series cover the bases

Sunday, May 25, 2003

By Bob Hoover, Post-Gazette Book Editor

The first modern World Series, 100 years old this fall, came about largely through the farsighted efforts of Barney Dreyfuss, the progressive owner of the Pittsburgh Pirates.


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It was Dreyfuss who first played peacemaker between the established National League and the upstart American, which in its second season in 1902 had drawn 500,000 more fans than the senior circuit.

It was Dreyfuss who suggested to Harry Killilea, owner of the Boston franchise that had won the AL pennant in 1903, a best-of-nine-game playoff with his National League champion Bucs.

This series would be the capper to the agreement both leagues reached after two years of acrimony, which included the luring of many established NL stars to the new league.

It would also be a statement to fans that the two leagues were now equals.

While many teams were weakened by the raids, Dreyfuss managed to keep the nucleus of his 1901 champion lineup intact. Playing against depleted rivals, the Bucs won the 1902 pennant by a record 27 1/2 games.

Dreyfuss was less successful that winter, losing two fine pitchers, Jack Chesbro and Jesse Tannehill, to the rival league, losses that would prove costly in the series.

By the time the series started Oct. 1 in Boston, Pittsburgh was down to one effective starting pitcher, Deacon Phillippe. Sam Leever injured his arm in a hunting accident, left-hander Ed Doheny was headed for a mental institution, and Bill "Brickyard" Kennedy, at 36, was worn out.

Ahead three games to one, thanks to Phillippe, who won them all, the Bucs would lose to the Pilgrims in eight games. They were shut out, 3-0, in the final contest in Boston, with Honus Wagner striking out to end the game.

Again Dreyfuss came through for his time, donating his owner's share of the gate to the players. It was the first and only time in World Series history that the losers earned more than the winners.

This triple-header of books on the first World Series is similar in structure -- chapters of game accounts alternate with background and commentary -- but far different in quality.

We can throw Bob Ryan's effort out first. The Boston Globe sports writer, now serving a suspension for intemperate remarks on a TV sports show (how could anyone tell?), bases his breezy little effort on the stories of Tim Murnane, a Globe scribe who covered the 1903 series.

The result is a brief peek at sports writing at the turn of the last century and the discovery that the writers took the game just as seriously as they do now.

The book's major attraction is its fine collection of photographs, including a photo of the crowd rushing onto the field at Pittsburgh's Exposition Park. The fans truly earned their "fanatic" label in this series, particularly the Bostonians, whose enthusiasm might have rattled the Pirates.

Led by tavern owner "Nuff Ced" McGreevy, the Royal Rooters traveled to Pittsburgh, hired local bands and razzed the home team unmercifully.

It seems Bucco supporters could not match the fervor of the Hub rooters, a problem of dispassion that still seems to affect Pittsburgh crowds, if Kevin Young is to be believed.

Back in Boston, the third game came close to cancellation when big crowds overflowed the stands and pressed within feet of the infield. Police used rubber water hoses as restraints to pull the fans back far enough to allow play, but the field was turned into a Little League park.

Easy pop flies hit mostly by Pirates fell among the throng for doubles, giving Pittsburgh its second win.

Both Louis Masur, a history professor at City College of New York, and Roger Abrams, a law professor at Boston's Northeastern University (site of Boston's first American League park), devote much of their books to life outside the stands.

Abrams offers an academically bland overview of social and economic conditions in both cities, while Masur presents a more lively history of major-league baseball in the early 1900s between game accounts.

As performances go, Masur probably gets the nod as the ace of the staff for his objective, even-handed report while Ryan and Abrams can't get past their Beantown myopia.

There is a Pittsburgh side to the first World Series and even an equal to the Globe's Murnane -- Ralph Davis, known for his "flowing tie" and pen of the old Pittsburgh Press -- but you won't find it here.

Next week, the Pirates and Boston Americans play each other for the first time since 1903 in inter-league play. Brush up on the history with this trio of books.

Bob Hoover can be reached at bhoover@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1634.

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