The Beginnings Of The American League And The First World Series

By Linda Speckhals | November 6, 2022

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The Boston Americans and the Pittsburgh Pirates. Source: (Wikipedia).

In 1900, when the National League shrunk from twelve teams down to eight, the American League did not exist. There were, of course, minor league organizations, and Ban Johnson, the president of one of these minor league organizations, the Western League, decided to form the American League to take advantage of the contraction of the National League. Johnson and other owners took advantage of the moment to sign players away from National League teams. In their raids, they took star players including Cy Young and Jimmy Collins. Johnson had, in fact, made a list of the 46 players he wanted to steal away from the National League. Of the 46, he managed to sign all but one of the players on his list.

Johnson Wanted To Start An AL Team In Pittsburgh

This raiding of the top players meant that a championship between the two leagues was not going to happen. Barney Dreyfuss, the owner of the Pirates, was actually open to a postseason event and would have allowed the American League to create a roster of the all-stars it had appropriated; Dreyfuss was no longer feeling quite as amenable when Johnson started talking about creating an American League team in Pittsburgh and tried to raid the Pirates’ roster.

Johnson Played Hard Ball

As the conflict between the two leagues continued, NL executives initially asked Johnson to merge them and eliminate the four AL teams which were playing in NL cities. He refused. He did, however, have his own demands: the AL teams could hold onto the players they had plundered and would agree to stop stealing; he wouldn’t move the Detroit Tigers to Pittsburgh but only if he could move his Baltimore franchise to New York.

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Game 4 at Exposition Park. Source: (Boston Public Library/Wikipedia).

The Championship Of The United States

The National Commission to preside over baseball was formed after the leagues reached a truce in the winter of 1902-1903. During the first season that the Commission existed, the Boston Americans and the Pittsburgh Pirates won their respective championship pennants. Dreyfuss, apparently ready to deal with the American League and Johnson, challenged the American League to an 11-game championship series. Johnson and Harry Pulliam, the National League President, encouraged the owner of the Americans, Henry J. Killilea to meet with Dreyfuss. After that meeting, they agreed to instead play a best-of-nine championship. The games were to be divided with the first three games being played in Boston, and the following four in Allegheny City at Exposition Park (where the Pirates were technically located). In this stadium, the spectators in the outfield were separated from the game by a rope, and if a batted ball rolled under that rope, it was scored as a “ground-rule triple.” There were 17 ground-rule triples in the four games played there. If the last two were necessary, they would be played in Boston. This first playoff between the NL and the AL was called the “Championship of the United States.”

The Pirates Were Struggling In October

By the time October came, the Pirates were not doing great. Honus Wagner, their star player, was having problems with his right leg. Otto Krueger was the only utility player on the team, and he never fully played in the series as he had been beaned on September 19. Sam Leever injured his arm while trapshooting. The third man in the pitching rotation, Ed Doheny, had become mentally unstable, leaving one game because he thought he was being followed by “detectives” and before the end of the 1903, entered an insane asylum, where he would remain for the rest of his life. These troubles meant that Deacon Phillipe had to pick up the slack; he pitched five of the games.