The first World Series

added 11/12/2007 by Gene Elston

Although there had been a few post-season playoffs in the 19th century, this first meeting between the National and American League champions was recognized as the first modern World Series. The National League began play in 1876 and the American was not formed until 1901. Over the previous two seasons the two leagues had been open to much hostility and player raids were commonplace.

In early August of 1903 Pittsburgh Pirates owner Barney Dreyfuss, whose club was well out in front in the National League, issued a challenge to the American League-leading Boston Pilgrims' owner Henry Killilea to a post-season confrontation, and the two shook hands to an October meeting in the best-of-nine games series. The 1903 season had ended with Boston's record 91-37 - 14 games ahead of Philadelphia, and the Pirates topping the National League with 91 wins and 49 losses - 6-and-a-half games ahead of the New York Giants. The first game was scheduled for October 1, 1903 to be played at Huntington Avenue Grounds in Boston. Interestingly, the fences in this park were LF 440, CF 635 and RF 280.

Both managers were playing managers - Fred Clarke for Pittsburgh and Jimmy Collins for Boston. Both would be voted into the Hall of Fame in 1945. There was one player on each club that later in their careers that would enter the Hall of Fame: Pirates shortstop Honus Wagner (1936) and Boston pitcher Cy Young (1937). Young came off the past season with 28 wins, and Wagner hit .355 and stole 46 bases. Wagner entered the series with a painfully injured right leg and hit .273 with one stolen base and Young would start three games, complete all three, winning two and losing one with an ERA of 1.85. The American League would win the best-of-nine series five games to three.

However, the big story of that first series was Pittsburgh's right-handed pitcher Deacon Phillippe who started games one, three, four, seven and eight and finished all five, winning three and losing two while pitching 44 innings. The Deacon had won 24 games during the regular season (Young 28) and were the obvious starters in the opener in Boston on October 1 and Phillippe won for Pittsburgh 7-3.

Boston won the second game and manager Clarke elected to start Phillippe in game three on one days' rest and he responded with a 4-2 complete-game victory. There was a travel day to Pittsburgh and the following day, rain forced the game to be postponed. Manager Clarke started Phillippe in game four (this time with 2 days rest). Again he pitched a complete game win 5-4 giving Pittsburgh a 3-1 edge in the series. Boston won games five and six while Phillippe rested to even the series at 3-3. Game seven was postponed giving Phillippe a "bonus" of three days of rest for game seven, which he lost for the first time 7-3.

The teams were back in Boston with the Pilgrims needing one victory to win the championship - but they were forced to wait a day because of another rainout which meant they would have to face the tired Phillippe for the fifth time. The Deacon shut out the Pilgrims for the first three innings - pitched another complete game, allowed eight hits but lost 3-0 as Boston took the best-of-nine game series 5-3.

Following the series, Pittsburgh owner Dreyfuss tossed his club's share of the gate into his players' pot, creating the curious situation of the losers receiving a larger share ($1,316) than the winning team Boston ($1,182).

July 8, 1904

Even though the National League and American League began operating in harmony in 1903, leading to the first World Series, New York Giants owner John T. Brush was still angry over the inter-league peace treaty, and Giants manager John McGraw still despised American League President Ban Johnson.

With the National League race all but over by mid-season, following the Giants' 18-game winning streak and posting a record of 53-18 at the time, Brush and McGraw announced they had no intention of playing a post-season series with the American League champions. Explaining his decision to reject the World Series challenge, Brush said, "There is nothing in the constitution or playing rules of the National League which requires the victorious club to submit its championship honors to a contest with a victorious club in a minor league".

At season's end the Giants held true to their promise and went on a two-week barnstorming trip. However, at their annual meeting in December, National League directors re-elected Harry Pulliam president and the league endorsed a World Series for future seasons.