The 1903 Pittsburgh Pirates won the National League crown by 6.5 games over the New York Giants. In the American League the Boston Americans won the AL crown by 14.5 games over the Philadelphia Athletics. The Pirates owner, Barney Dreyfuss publicly challenged the Americans owner Henry Killilea to a post-season series and the two teams agreed to meet in what is now known as the first modern day World Series. There were prior posts-season series played from 1884-1890 between the NL and the American Association, in 1892 between the 1st and 2nd half winners in the NL and from 1894-1897 between the 1st and 2nd place teams in the NL.
The Pirates were without star pitcher Ed Doheny and the two teams agreed to only use players signed before September 1st so that left Pittsburgh at a disadvantage. They agreed on a best of nine series with the first three games in Boston followed by four in Pittsburgh then back to Boston. The other National League owners were not happy about the series. They battled to keep the American League from stealing their players and refused to acknowledge the league as a legitimate major league. They figured playing a post-season series, and possibly losing, would only help the credibility of the new league. Little did they know back then what kind of showcase event it would eventually lead to.
The matchup between the two teams, on paper, looked fairly even. The both had strong pitching during the season and were strong offensive teams so the players and fans seemed to be set for a competitive battle between these two powerhouse teams. Before getting into the series next week, I will breakdown the position-by-position comparisons between the two teams going into the series.
Boston had veteran Lou Criger behind the plate. The 31 year old had his worst season at the plate hitting just .192 but his true value was his strong defense and the fact he could shut down the running game. He led the AL with 53% caught stealing, throwing out 92 potential basestealers that year and he led the league in assists. The Pirates countered with 24 year old rookie Ed Phelps. He had an arm nearly equal to Criger throwing out 47% and he hit .282 that season. When you add in the veteran leadership that Criger added these two were probably even. Back in that era with much more small ball being played, a strong defensive catcher had a ton of value to teams and anything they added on offense was considered a plus. EVEN
Boston had another veteran here with 33 year old Candy LaChance. Another strong defensive player who didn’t add much with his bat. Candy led the league in games played and putouts at 1B. He hit just ..257 with one homer but his defensive play was considered strong enough that he still added value. The Pirates basically had their version of LaChance at 1B in Kitty Bransfield. Strong on defense, he had a down year at the plate hitting just .265 with two homers after hitting .305 in 1902 but he played everyday and played his position well. This is another matchup where it looks too even on paper to call. EVEN
Boston at least had a consistent thing going, every game their manager Jimmy Collins wrote Hobe Ferris and LaChance into the lineup and they anchored the right side of the infield. Ferris was an average player. He was good but not great on defense, he struck out a lot for that era but he also had a little pop finishing 3rd in the AL in homers with nine. He wasn’t that fast and didn’t take many walks. The Pirates had Claude Ritchey who was very strong on defense and he did get on base, hitting .287 and taking 55 walks that year. He didn’t have blazing speed and wasn’t a long ball threat but in 1903 he was the better player of the two. ADVANTAGE PIRATES
Boston could’ve had anyone at SS and lost this comparison, as it was, they had Freddy Parent. A little guy at 5″7 150, he had his best overall season in 1903 hitting .304 and slugging .441 while playing average defense at SS. He was a good baserunner and didn’t strike out much. He only took 13 walks all season but he had a very good year otherwise. The Pirates had the NL batting leader in Honus Wagner who hit .355 that year. He also slugged .518, had great speed, was strong defensively wherever he played on the field and he drove in 101 runs. This was a big win in every aspect for the Pirates. ADVANTAGE PIRATES
Starting with the Pirates this time, they had Tommy Leach. A decent fielding third baseman prior to 1903, he would lead the league in errors both that year and the next at the hot corner. What he could still do though is hit and drive the ball despite his size at just 5″6 150. Leach led the NL in homers and triples in 1902 yet had a higher slugging % in 1903 and he could run. Boston had their player-manager Jimmy Collins at 3B, not only is he a Hall of Famer but he was also considered by some to be the greatest 3B well after his playing days ended, even over Pie Traynor. Collins hit .296 that year and played his position brilliantly leading the league in putouts, fielding % and fielding range. ADVANTAGE BOSTON
Pittsburgh had a rookie in RF named Jimmy Sebring. He did well in a September trial in 1902 winning the job. He was a good player, decent hitter with some speed. His outfield defense was okay but he had a good arm and picked up the outfield assists, leading the league in 1904 with 27. As a 21 year old he actually had a pretty good rookie season but it would be the best year of his career. Boston had slugger Buck Freeman. At the time he was considered the single season home run king with his 25 homers in 1899 (research later proved Ed Williamson in 1884 had 27). In 1903 Freeman was still a middle of the order threat and he led the AL in homers, RBI’s and total bases that season. He was mainly just a DH well before the rule existed but his strong presence in the lineup gives this matchup to Boston. ADVANTAGE BOSTON
Boston had Chick Stahl in CF while the Pirates had Ginger Beaumont. Prior to 1903 this would’ve been a closer matchup but Stahl hurt his leg in April while sliding and had his worst season while playing just 77 games. He was a career .322 hitter prior to getting hurt but hit just .274 in 1903 and couldn’t run near what he was able to before. I said the matchup would’ve been closer and despite Stahl’s strong hitting, Beaumont had his best career season in an under-appreciated career. He had a career high 209 hits and scored 137 runs while batting .341 from the leadoff spot. Beaumont was in the middle of his run of three straight times leading the league in hits that year and it was his fourth straight season scoring 100 runs. ADVANTAGE PIRATES
Boston had lead-off hitter Patsy Dougherty in LF and he was their version of Beaumont. He led the league in hits with 195 and runs scored with 107 while batting .331 and stealing 35 bases. He was okay defensively and surprisingly he struck out a lot finishing 8th in the AL. The Pirates had their player-manager and future Hall of Famer, Fred Clarke in LF. He led the league in doubles, slugging % and finished in 2nd place, just 4 points behind Wagner for the batting crown. For this one particular season this is a fairly close matchup between the two but Clarke was the team manager and had the slightly better year at the plate so it goes to him. ADVANTAGE PIRATES
Even if the Pirates had Ed Doheny this would still be a win for Boston, but not only was Doheny gone, Sam Leever also was having some arm issues so he wasn’t healthy for the series. A sore Leever though was a better option than what the Pirates had behind him and Deacon Phillippe. The two went a combined 50-16 that 1903 season winning 25 games apiece while the rest of what was left in their bullpen went a combined 25-25.
The Americans had Bill Dinneen who went 21-13 with a 2.26 ERA as their 2nd best starter. They had another 20 game winner in Tom Hughes as their 3rd man in the rotation and then at the top spot they had a pitcher who went 28-9 with a 2.08 ERA and led the league in innings pitched by the name of Cy Young. Young at that point had a record 379 wins, passing former Pirates great James “Pud” Galvin for 1st place in career wins during that 1903 season. He also had a string of winning 20+ games for 12 of 13 seasons, the year he didn’t win 20, he won 19 for a team that finished 10 games under .500 in 1900. All three of their pitchers were healthy going into the World Series. ADVANTAGE BOSTON
The pitching obviously counts for more than the other categories with the problems the Pirates were facing but the position by position matchup shows two positions too even to call, big advantages for Pittsburgh in CF and SS and a strong player-manager for each team leading the way. The Pirates had their huge superstar in Honus Wagner while Boston had their own in Cy Young, two of the greatest players of all time. Next week we get the World Series started as I take you back to Thursday October 1,1903 at the Huntington Avenue Baseball Grounds in Boston Massachusetts with Deacon Phillippe taking the ball for the Pirates and Cy Young on the mound for the Americans.