With the 2014 World Series in full swing, with all the hype and hoopla in the air, a flashback to an earlier and more innocent time in national pastime history seems in order.
Back in the 1880s, for a period of seven years, there had been playoffs between National League and American Association champs.
In 1903, Pittsburgh won its third straight National League pennant and Boston won the brand new American League title by 14 and a half games over the Philadelphia Athletics. The Pirates bragged about Honus Wagner, whose .355 average earned him the batting title. Their swashbuckling manager Fred Clarke was runner-up with a .351 average. Boston bragged about its two 20-game winners Deacon Phillippe and Sam Leever.
The first modern World Series came about at the suggestion of Boston owner Henry J. Killilea and Pittsburgh’s owner Barney Dreyfuss. It was called “Championship of the United States,” a five out of nine games affair. The matchup was a voluntary agreement between the two clubs, not the two leagues.
On October l, 1903, the first game was played at Boston’s Huntington Avenue Baseball Grounds before 16,242, quite a turnout which underscored the appeal of the “first World Series.” Each team provided one umpire. Hank O’Day represented the National League while Tommy Connolly was the American League choice.
Right-hander Deacon Phillippe, 31, matched up against Boston’s Cy Young, who had won 28 games that season and was in the 14th season of a legendary 22-year career.
The Pirates jumped all over Young in the first inning. After their first two hitters, Ginger Beaumont and Clarke, made easy outs, Tommy Leach tripled. Then the great Honus Wagner singled him in for the first run in World Series history. An error by Boston second baseman Hobe Ferris on Kitty Bransfield’s ground ball prolonged the inning. Then, all hell broke loose. Boston catcher Lou Criger would commit two more errors and the Pirates would steal three bases. By the time pitcher Phillippe struck out to end the inning, the American Leaguers were in a 4–0 hole. Pittsburgh won the game 7–3.
Throughout the game, and the series, Boston’s rabid fans serenaded Pittsburgh players with a popular song of the day, “Tessie.” Moreover, they substituted the regular lyrics with their own vulgar rendition. “It was that damn song that caused us problems,” grumbled Buc player Tommy Leach.
Deacon Phillippe won three of the first four games of the series for Pittsburgh, but then faltered. Boston swept the last four games. Bill Dinneen and Cy Young accounted for all five Boston victories.
On October 13, only 7,455 showed up—the smallest crowd of that first “Fall Classic.” Phillippe pitched his fifth complete game of the series, but lost 3-0 to Dinneen. Boston had the championship.
Right after the game, players from both clubs lined up for a combination team photo. That surprised many and was a remarkable display of good sportsmanship, considering the bitterness that had existed between the junior American League and the senior National League.
Deacon Phillippe made out very well. He was heroic in his efforts in the series, with five decisions in 44 innings pitched, still World Series records. His reward was a bonus and 10 shares of stock in the Pirates.
An oddity of the World Series was that the losing players received more money that than the winners. Bucs Owner Dreyfuss put his club’s share of the gate receipts into the players’ pool. Each Pittsburgh player netted $1,316 while each Boston player netted $1,182.
That first Fall Classic was a far cry from the way the competition has evolved. Nevertheless, it triggered all that has taken place through the decades.
Dr. Harvey Frommer is in his 39th year of writing books. A noted oral historian and sports journalist, the author of 42 sports books including the classics: best-selling “New York City Baseball, 1947-1957″ and best-selling “Shoeless Joe and Ragtime Baseball,” his acclaimed Remembering Yankee Stadium was published in 2008 and best-selling Remembering Fenway Park was published to acclaim in 2011. The prolific Frommer’s WHEN IT WAS JUST A GAME, AN ORAL HISTORY OF SUPER BOWL ONE will be published in 2015.