So much for 'separate but equal'
At the turn of the 20th century, baseball was beset with declining attendance, rowdyism, greedy owners and very unhappy players.
Despite all of its problems, baseball found a way to divide itself into two leagues, cleaned itself up and started a World Series in 1903 — and succeeded magnificently.
In 1900, President Byron Bancroft Van Johnson changed the Western League’s name to the American League. He promoted honest baseball, lowered ticket prices and provided wholesome family atmospheres. The National League just ignored the AL.
Johnson was able, resourceful and very determined. When the NL dropped its least profitable clubs in Boston, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington, he quickly incorporated all four into the American League.
But soon after, the mild-manner Johnson threw gas on the feud between the two leagues and began raiding NL rosters. He offered $500 more in salaries and 111 NL players jumped ship, including stars such as Cy Young, John McGraw and Rube Waddell.
For the next two seasons, the American League got the best of its rival league.
Finally, the National League had enough and raised the white flag. In an effort to end the bitter two-year rivalry and promote unity in baseball, the two leagues agreed to form a three-man commission to rule over the “separate but equal” leagues, now called the Major Leagues.
The peace agreement brought baseball together, and as part of the accord, each league’s champion would play a new kind of experimental post-season championship at the end of the 1903 season.
However, the 1903 World Series wasn’t really the first World Series — just the first one played between the pennant winners of the National and American leagues.
The best-of-nine spectacle featured the Pittsburg (no “h” was used in 1903) Pirates, who had just won their third consecutive NL pennant, and the Boston Red Stockings (also known as the Pilgrims, Puritans and Americans), who had won their AL flag by 14½ games. And yes, Red Stockings was changed to “Red Sox” in 1908 by the team owner John I. Taylor.
Prior to the series, Johnson “ordered” Boston to win to prove the American League’s superiority. Pittsburgh (I will use the h), however, came in missing two of its top pitchers as Sam Leever injured his shoulder while trap-shooting and Ed Doheny suffered a mental breakdown and was institutionalized. More importantly to Pirate fans, their star shortstop Honus Wagner was hurt and wasn’t 100 percent.
Game one was played at the Huntington Avenue Baseball Grounds in Boston on Oct. 1. Despite home- field advantage in the form of the Boston “Royal Rooters,” Pittsburgh won the first game of the first “Fall Classic,” 7-3.
The Red Stockings evened the series with a 3-0 victory in Game 2. But the Pirates rallied to take the next two games to take a 3-1 lead.
But Boston got hot and roared back to win the next four games to win the series, 5-3.
Great pitching dominated the series, while the hitters obviously had a rough time at the plate as Boston batted .252 while Pittsburgh, despite the presence of Wagner, hit .237.
Shortly after the conclusion of the series, the owners of the two leagues agreed to call it the “World Series.”
But peace between the NL and AL lasted only one year. In 1904, the New York Giants, which won the National League pennant, refused to meet Boston because of a bitter animosity between Giants manager John McGraw and Johnson.
McGraw hated Johnson so much he wanted to stick it to the AL president. The Giants also maintained that the rules for the World Series were haphazardly defined.
McGraw, who called the Red Stockings champions of the “junior” or “minor” league, even went so far to say that his Giants were already the World Champions since they captured the pennant of the “only real major league.”
Stung by criticism from fans and writers, rules were drafted in January of 1905, which both leagues quickly adopted. The rules compelled the two winning clubs to participate and governed the annual determination of sites, dates, ticket prices and division of receipts. The rules essentially made the World Series the premier annual event of Major League Baseball.
In 1905, the series returned for good, and there have been 105 World Series played between 1903 and 2011. (The World Series was also cancelled in 1994 because of an ongoing strike by the Major League Baseball Players Association, which began on Aug. 12).
The “junior” American League currently holds a 62-43 advantage against the McGraw’s so-called “senior” National League.
So much for “separate but equal.”