The First World Series

The regular 2019 Major League Baseball season has ended and teams are preparing to meet for the Wild Card games and the American and National League Championship Series, with ultimate champions from each league meeting in the World Series. The post season playoff series did not enter the MLB picture until 1969, before then the teams with the most wins in each league met for the World Series. Such was the case on October 1, 1903. On this day, 116 years ago, the National League Champion Pittsburgh Pirates Deacon Phillippe threw the first pitch in World Series history to the first batter in World Series history, outfielder Patsy Dougherty of the American League Champion Boston Americans.

The Pirates had dominated the National League at the dawn of the 20th Century, with 1903 being their 3rd league championship. After its creation in 1901, executives from the American League had been in discussions with executives from the National League about playing a championship series between the two leagues, but nothing concrete had come to pass. A National Commission had been created in 1902 to preside over both leagues, but not much had been done on their part either to facilitate a championship series. During the course of the 1903 season, the Presidents of both leagues became more enthusiastic about a championship series. By August, it appeared that the Pirates and Americans were locks to win their respective league titles and with encouragement from the executive from both leagues, the first World Series came about by agreement between the owners of the Pirates and the Americans. This “VOLUNTARY” arrangement would consist of a best of 9 series, the first 3 games being played in Boston, the next 4 in Allegheny City – the North Shore had not yet been incorporated into the City of Pittsburgh – the last 2 in Boston if needed.

The Boston Americans, who would eventually become the Red Sox, finished with a strong first place standing, 14.5 games ahead of their nearest rival, the Philadelphia A’s, with 91 wins and 47 losses. Players of note were 36 year old pitcher Cy Young and player/manager Jimmy Collins – both would enter the Hall of Fame. The Americans played their home games at The Huntington Avenue Baseball Grounds, on land now occupied by Northeastern University. Going into the World Series, the Americans were a healthy team, boasting a excellent pitching staff – better statistically than the Pirates pitchers – and had an excellent outfield.

The Pirates won their 3rd consecutive National League Championship in 1903, finishing the season with a 91 – 49 record, 6.5 games ahead of the New York Giants. The Pirates also had two future Hall of Fame members on the team, shortstop Honus Wagner and player/manager Fred Clarke. The Pirates pitching staff was not as strong in its two prior championship seasons, but solid hitting and fielding more than covered for the slip in pitching. Pirates played their home games in Exposition Park. The park was located on the north shore of the Allegheny River, across from downtown Pittsburgh, in what was then Allegheny City. The location of the park was on land between the current Heinz Field and PNC Park. Going into Series, the Pirates were limping. Pitcher Sam Leever, a 25 game winner during the season, injured his shoulder skeet shooting! The 3rd starter on the pitching staff, Ed Doheny, was admitted to a psych ward for “episodes of paranoia” eventually being committed to an insane asylum. That left the pitching staff in the hands of 25 game winner Deacon Phillippe and two ham & egg guys with less than 10 wins each. Star shortstop Wagner had a sore wrist and had injured his leg in the last regular season game.

Despite the advantages in pitching, and the lame Pirates team, the Americans were considered to be under dogs going into the series. The Americans beat the odds and won the World Series, 5 games to 3. Deacon Phillippe would pitch in 5 games, winning all 3 of the Pirate victories. Sam Leever was largely ineffective in his two starts. Honus Wagner would hit only .222 for the series. For the Americans, pitching dominated. Cy Young won 2 games and Bill Dineen 3 games. Patsy Dougherty provided power by hitting 2 home runs including the first out of the park home run in World Series history. Early ballparks had immense outfields, so many home runs were inside the park. Out of the park home runs were extremely rare. For winning the first World Series, each player for the Americans received $1182.00, the losing pirates received $1316.25! The Pirates owner kicked in his share of the ticket sales to the Buccos winnings.

There would not be a World Series In 1904. In 1905 the National Commission decided to make the World Series an annual, compulsory event.

1903 Pittsburgh Pirates – Honus Wagner is in last row, 2nd from right.
1903 Boston Americans
Photo of both teams at 1903 World Series
Poster from 1903 World Series
Boston Americans Huntington Avenue Park. Note deep outfield fences and large crowd of onlookers in semi-circle on outfield. The fans stood there during the game. Any ball hit into the crowd was a ground rule triple. The Americans hit 5 ground rule triples in one game.
The Pirates Exposition Park on the North Shore. Fans in the outfield were common in early parks.
Pirates Hall of Fame member Honus Wagner.
Pirates player/manager and Hall of Famer Fred Clarke
Boston Americans pitcher and Hall of Famer Cy Young
Boston Americans player/manager Jimmy Collins, also Hall of Fame member.
Boston Americans Team Logo
Pittsburgh Pirates team logo
1903 World Series Souvenir Card

Sources: Baseball Almanac,, The Encyclopedia of Major League Baseball, Boston Red Sox and Pittsburgh Pirates team archives, many books that I have read, too numerous and tedious to mention now.

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