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Pirates Pirates, Red Sox face off for first time in a century

The first World Series: First of three articles

Sunday, June 01, 2003

By Shelly Anderson, Post-Gazette Sports Writer

Baseball historians will always look back on '03 as a year that had its share of problems -- free agency, fans running onto the field, scalping, troubled players, an averted strike -- but also as the season when the sport solidified its future and its snug place in American society.

The 1903 Pittsburgh Pirates. Click photo for larger image. (Pittsburgh Pirates)


Second article:

Pirates' owner took swing at idea to make money

Third and final article:

Cy Young found old magic as Boston rallied to win title

If that sounds familiar and yet not quite right, it's because we're talking about 1903.

It was 100 years ago that the World Series as we know it -- the National League champion against the American League champion -- was born.

It was an idea conceived largely by Barney Dreyfuss, owner of the Pirates. In September 1903, he worked out an agreement with Henry Killilea, owner of the Boston Americans (later the Red Sox), for the two teams to play a best-of-nine post-season series in October to determine the world's champion.

The Pirates got off to a good start in the Series but faltered because of tired arms and perhaps the only stretch of poor performances in Hall of Fame shortstop Honus Wagner's career. Boston rallied to win the series, five games to three, behind the pitching of Bill Dinneen and the legendary Cy Young.

The Pirates and Red Sox will meet for the first time since that World Series when they open a three-game interleague set Tuesday at PNC Park, on Turn Back the Clock Night. The park and the players will be decked out in period costume, and the game will be played as it was in 1903, with a few changes in equipment and ambiance.

The circumstances, though, will be vastly different.

First, there were the venues in 1903. The Pirates played at Exposition Park on the North Shore (then part of Allegheny City), where there are now parking lots between PNC Park and Heinz Field. Boston played at Huntington Avenue Base Ball Grounds on what is now part of the Northeastern University campus.

Then there were the realities of everyday life. There were no airplanes or televisions or radios, no one knew what a World War was, working conditions for the lower classes were often bleak and brutal, horses vastly outnumbered newfangled automobiles, and the country was just getting wired for power and light.

Barney Dreyfuss, owner of the 1903 Pirates.

Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of the 1903 World Series, though, was the series of events that led up to it.

Baseball had been popular in the United States since before the Civil War, and several pro leagues had come and gone. In the 1890s, the Players League, the American Association and the National League were all major leagues, but only the NL survived into the 20th century. With no major-league office and no commissioner to reign, players were free to move between leagues. Teams routinely "stole" stars.

In 1900, the American League proclaimed itself a major league and began raiding the National League to the extent that many of the teams were left without good players. The Pirates escaped more or less unscathed, though, and that's one reason they were able to run away with the 1902 pennant with a 103-36 record.

On Jan. 10, 1903, representatives of the two leagues met in Cincinnati and drafted a peace agreement that halted the rampant player raids. The agreement on a post-season showdown came later, on Dreyfuss' initiative.

"You had this war for talent between the two leagues," said Louis Maser, author of "Autumn Glory, Baseball's First World Series," one of three books about the 1903 World Series published this year. "Baseball in the 1890s had been going through a down cycle and the fans were losing interest. The peace conference and the first World Series really restored the place of baseball."

The 1903 World Series was covered extensively by the multiple newspapers in Pittsburgh and Boston, but there were a few other casual post-season series around the country.

Fans in the two cities became enthralled with the series between their pennant winners and scrambled to get tickets and put down bets. The nine games averaged 11,589 in attendance -- numbers that had the wooden ballparks bursting at the seams and fans sometimes bursting onto the field.

For the players, being in the business of baseball apparently was no less stressful then than it is now, as several incidents in 1903 show:

A raincheck from the series.

On Jan. 12, Detroit pitcher Win Mercer, who had just been named the Tigers' manager, killed himself by inhaling gas.

On May 7, the Pirates' Wagner was suspended for three games after he threatened to punch Reds infielder Jack Morrissey following a close play at second.

On May 17, Pirates pitcher Ed Doheny received a three-day suspension after he hit a popup in front of the plate, then tossed his bat at Giants catcher Frank Bowerman.

On June 2, Wagner filled in for Pirates Manager Fred Clarke, who was said to have had a nervous breakdown.

On June 26, Bowerman of the Giants started a fight with Clarke. Bowerman got fined. Clarke got a black eye.

On July 2, Ed Delahanty, who had jumped to the Washington Senators of the AL, decided to leave that team in Detroit and try to jump back to the NL and play for the New York Giants despite the peace agreement. Traveling back east, he was asked to leave the train for being disorderly and, perhaps, drunk. When he tried to walk across a railroad bridge over the Niagara River, he fell and was swept over the falls to his death.

On July 29, Doheny, who was 12-6, left the Pirates for nearly three weeks because he thought he was being stalked by detectives. Four days after the World Series agreement was reached in September, Doheny left the team again and went home to Massachusetts.

That's not to say all was dreary with baseball in 1903 leading up to the World Series, especially in Pittsburgh and Boston. In June, the Pirates put together shutout wins in six games in a row and nine of 10. By late August, they had a five-game lead over the Giants.

The Pirates finished the NL season 91-49, 6 1/2 games ahead of the second-place Giants. Boston had the same number of wins, with 47 losses, but finished an impressive 14 1/2 games ahead of Philadelphia.

Wagner won the second of his eight NL batting titles with a .355 average and 101 runs batted in. Clarke, who played left field, wasn't far behind at .351. Center fielder Ginger Beaumont, the speedy leadoff hitter, hit .341 and led the Pirates in runs (137), hits (209), and games (140). Pitchers Sam Leever and Deacon Phillippe each won 25 games and had ERAs under 2.50.

For the Americans, left fielder Patsy Dougherty batted .331, shortstop Freddy Parent hit .304 and right fielder Buck Freeman had 104 RBIs. Cy Young, a ripe 36 but still dominant, was 28-9 with a nearly five times as many strikeouts as walks.

On Sept. 18, one day after Boston clinched the AL pennant and one day before the Pirates locked up the NL title, Dreyfuss and Killilea signed the agreement to play the post-season series. Before it became official, Killilea had to quash what amounted to a strike threat from his players over the extension of their contracts to include the World Series.

At 11:30 a.m. Sept. 28, the Pirates, all 15 of them, boarded a train at Pittsburgh and Lake Erie Station for Boston and a date with history.

Tomorrow in Sports: The Pirates' roaring start.


Shelly Anderson can be reached at shanderson@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1721.

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