Autumn Glory: Baseball's First World Series

Autumn Glory: Baseball's First World Series

by Masur

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"A postseason series of games to establish supremacy in the major leagues was not inevitable in the baseball world. But in 1903 the owner of the Pittsburgh Pirates (in the well-established National League) challenged the Boston Americans (in the upstart American League) to a play off, which he was sure his team would win. They didn't - and that wasn't the only…  See more details below


"A postseason series of games to establish supremacy in the major leagues was not inevitable in the baseball world. But in 1903 the owner of the Pittsburgh Pirates (in the well-established National League) challenged the Boston Americans (in the upstart American League) to a play off, which he was sure his team would win. They didn't - and that wasn't the only surprise during what became the first World Series. In Autumn Glory, Louis P. Masur tells the riveting story of two agonizing weeks in which the stars blew it, unknown players stole the show, hysterical fans got into the act, and umpires had to hold on for dear life." Before and even during the 1903 season, it had seemed that baseball might succumb to the forces that had been splintering the sport for decades: owners' greed, players' rowdyism, fans' unrest. Yet baseball prevailed, and Masur tells the dramatic story of how it did so, in a country preoccupied with labor strife and big-business ruthlessness, and anxious about the welfare of those crowding into cities such as Pittsburgh and Boston (which in themselves offered competing versions of the American dream). His colorful history of how the first World Series consolidated baseball's hold on the American imagination makes us see what one sportswriter meant when he wrote at the time, "Baseball is the melting pot at a boil, the most democratic sport in the world." All in all, Masur believes, it still is.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
At the heart of this book by Masur (1831: Year of Eclipse) are eight in-depth, almost play-by-play, retellings of the games of the 1903 World Series between the Boston Americans and the Pittsburgh Pirates. Though the accounts of 100-year-old games can become tedious ("In the second inning, both teams went down easily"), for the most part Masur's storytelling skills ("He walked slowly, but not because of age. Pitchers always had a deliberate way about them") keep the book moving. Interspersed among the game recaps is a closely considered, detailed account of how the World Series was invented. Punctuated by chapters with titles like "War," "Peace," "Winter" and "Spring," Masur's presentation of the violent birth of the fall classic as the result of a bitter war between the established National League and upstart American League takes on a decidedly Yeatsian tone. Thankfully, the dense, political nature of these chapters is balanced by more colorful tales of the era, like Pittsburgh manager Fred Clarke being "pummeled" black and blue by an opposing player and the New York Giants' Christy Mathewson winning three games of a four-game regular season series versus the Pirates that demonstrate how much and how little the game has changed over the years. Despite a summer release in honor of the Series's centennial, Masur's work is a prime example of a winter baseball book: a story to stoke the fire of baseball lovers whose hope of a World Series title has become every fan's entitlement for the past century. Illus. (June) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Drawing on newspapers of the day and archival materials, Masur (history, CCNY) presents the story of the initial World Series pitting pennant winners from the rival National and American leagues. In interspersed chapters, the author focuses on each of the eight games between the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Boston Americans (later the Red Sox) and broader developments affecting the National Pastime. The game-by-game accounts compel the reader's attention, and the examinations of the battles between the two circuits, the carving out of the so-called National Agreement, and the 1903 pennant races are intriguing, too. As related by Masur, early 20th-century major league baseball seems both familiar and somewhat distinct from the contemporary version. The Pirates' ace pitcher, Deacon Phillippe, threw five complete games in the span of 13 days only to be outpitched by Boston's Bill Dinneen, who was backed by the great Cy Young. Masur provides texture for the first World Series, highlighting the fans overflowing onto the playing field, inclement weather conditions, and seemingly ever-present gamblers. Somewhat greater analysis of those events would have been welcomed, but this remains an enjoyable read. For public libraries.-R.C. Cottrell, California State Univ., Chico Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A celebration of baseball’s first post-season championship, later known as the World Series. While the 1903 series did much to rejuvenate flagging interest in the national pastime, most of its big names failed to deliver. Cy Young, pitching’s living yardstick, started Game One for the home-team Boston Americans, who found themselves down four runs within half an inning; the nicked-up Pittsburgh Pirate legend, Honus Wagner, drove in the first run but never really got his bat into a game after that and eventually struck out to give Boston the series, five games to three. Just like today, Masur (History/City College) assures us, owner greed was never far from the headlines; overflow ticket holders were ushered into the outfield and simply roped off against the wall. A ball into the crowd was a ground-rule triple, leading to both offensive and defensive misplays, and when Boston’s Jimmy Sebring drove one that died just short of the crowd, he parlayed it into the first Word Series homer. Another big difference: the wagering pool was in plain sight, and everybody, including players, managers, and owners, bet on games. The popular wisdom, Masur explains, held that fixing a game as intricate as baseball was impossible because you’d need players on both sides colluding, which would be obvious. Nonetheless, one of the swells cashing out the then-princely sum of $4,000 after Boston’s triumph, the author notes, was a certain Sport Sullivan. He would resurface years later—and $50,000 richer—in Chicago, indicted along with the eight White Sox players bribed to throw the 1919 World Series in an ironic example of what the author tabs as one of baseball’s most American attributes: "Teamworkmatters." Profusely detailed rendering of the early-20th-century’s melting-pot urban society and the national sport’s place in it. (32 b&w illustrations)
From the Publisher

“This is a book that every baseball fan will enjoy. History-minded Americans will love it, too. It's a marvelous look at the Americans of 1903. What a great way to celebrate the one-hundredth anniversary of the World Series!” —Thomas Fleming, author of The New Dealers' War: F.D.R. and the War Within World War II

Autumn Glory is a book to be savored in all seasons. Louis Masur vividly recreates a bygone year not only of immortals such as Cy Young, but also of forgotten diamond heroes with monikers such as Ginger Beaumont, Kitty Bransfield, and Noodles Hahn; a time when players rode to the stadium through cheering throngs in open barouches, and when, inning after inning, derby-hatted, cigar-smoking fans waved red parasols and belted out music-hall ballads until their throats were raw.” —William E. Leuchtenburg, William Rand Kenan, Jr. Professor Emeritus, University of North Carolina

“Louis Masur's Autumn Glory is the best researched and most eloquent account of the first World Series yet written. He provides ample evidence why the first modern fall classic became a beloved American tradition.” —Glenn Stout, co-author of Red Sox Century

Autumn Glory brings one back to those halcyon days when players and owners alike eschewed money for honor, and when Boston actually used to win the World Series. An invaluable resource for all fans of the game.” —Kevin Baker, author of Paradise Alley

“As the World Series turns a hundred years old this year, I can think of no better way to celebrate than reading Autumn Glory. Louis Masur drops us back a full century to relive the first World Series, and in his hands the games lose none of their excitement and flavor. The era comes vibrantly alive in this wonderful baseball book.” —Jules Tygiel, author of Past Time: Baseball as History

“In a perfect world, there would be a book this good about every World Series.” —Rob Neyer, author of Feeding the Green Monster

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Product Details

Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publication date:
Edition description:
Product dimensions:
5.38(w) x 8.88(h) x 0.95(d)

Read an Excerpt

"The Most Perfect Thing in America"

He wanted to hold the ball in his hand. He walked slowly, but not just because of age. Pitchers always had a deliberate way about them. In his playing days he stole a few bases, but foot speed wasn't his gift. What he remembered well, what he could never forget, was the hard feel of the ball in his right hand and the sound it made as it sped toward the plate. How he loved to throw. Out after out, inning after inning, game after game, year after year. The pitches mounted, but his arm stayed strong through twenty-two seasons in the major leagues. He pitched into his forties. He had memories of General Grant, and now General Eisenhower was President. So much had changed, but the game had remained the same.

Cy Young came to Yankee Stadium on September 30, 1953, to throw out the ceremonial opening pitch of that year's Fall Classic, commemorating the golden anniversary of the first World Series, played in 1903. He was eighty-six years old. Bill Dinneen, who had been his teammate on the Boston Americans then, stood to his left. Seated to his right was Fred Clarke, the manager and left fielder of the opposition Pittsburgh Pirates, one of the finest teams at the turn of the century. Tommy Leach, the third baseman on that team, was also in attendance. He recalled the first World Series as "the wildest World Series ever played." Honus Wagner, star shortstop on the Pirates, was invited, but he was too ill to travel from his home in Carnegie, Pennsylvania. Two years later, Young would make a pilgrimage to Pittsburgh to see Wagner and participate in the unveiling of a statue of him outside of Forbes Field. Within months of that visit, both men would be gone.

Seeing the immense crowd and feeling the excitement in the air, Young, Dinneen, Clarke, and Leach could have smiled knowingly, for the celebratory scene was eerily like the one fifty years earlier when it had all begun. In the fall of 1953, fans were filling Yankee Stadium to capacity; in the fall of 1903, the crowd at the Huntington Avenue Base Ball Grounds in Boston overflowed onto the field. In the fall of 1953, talented players -- Mantle, Berra, Reynolds, Snider, Robinson, Erskine -- amazed the fans with their ability; in the fall of 1903, players every bit as good -- Young, Dinneen, Collins, Wagner, Clarke, Phillippe -- thrilled crowds of thousands. For a long week in both years, interest in world events yielded to baseball.

Baseball as a game was no different in 1953 than it had been in 1903. And it is essentially no different today. The pitcher stands 60 feet 6 inches away from home plate. Ninety feet separate one base from another. It is a perfect distance. So many times the runner is safe or out by a matter of inches. The field is green and the grounds are vast. It seems like too much space for only nine players to cover. The game comes down to the ball: throwing it, hitting it, catching it. How simple it has always seemed, but it never has been. Thousands of fans crowd the stadium. They follow the home team's every move, feeling brighter with a victory and dimmer with a loss. A journey from April through October leads either to a world's championship or to nowhere, hopes realized or expectations dashed. Winter is for dreaming.

So it has been since 1903, when the National League and American League ended two years of warfare and the champions of each league faced off in October for the World Championship Series. Baseball as we know it dates from that 1903 season. To be sure, there are differences of degree in the game. The equipment is better. The players are stronger. Some rules have been varied. But Cy Young could walk to the mound tomorrow and throw blazing strikes. Honus Wagner could smash a double into the gap, or fire from deep in the hole to nab a runner by a step. And just like every other player in the last hundred years, they would play all season for the chance to compete in October. But at the start of the 1903 season they did not know what awaited at the end -- and now, because of that season and what their teams did, everyone knows.

The story of the first World Series is the story of the birth of baseball as a modern game, as an American ritual. The day after the Yankees lost the Series in 2001, in the last inning of the seventh game, a middle-aged man declared that the trauma he had suffered as a child, watching his Brooklyn Dodgers lose repeatedly to their rivals from the Bronx, had at last been alleviated. Such is the place of the Series in the life of every baseball fan. On October 30, 2001, in Game Three of that same Series, played at Yankee Stadium in the midst of a national crisis, the President of the United States strode to the mound and threw a strike for the ceremonial first pitch, and millions of Americans breathed more easily. Such is the place of the Series in the life of the nation.

Just a few years after the first World Series in 1903, a writer remarked that "when thirty thousand people in a single city shut up shop and forsake their work and everything else to watch the final struggle between the leaders at the season's end, it is small wonder." Rather, it would be remarkable if people acted any other way. Autumn had quickly become World Series time, and the postseason championship games had come to stand for "the very quintessence and consummation of the Most Perfect Thing in America" -- baseball.

Game One Thursday, October 1

The crowd in Boston gathered early. The city's streets were choked with "good natured fans, laughing, chatting, happy in the opportunity to see the clash of champions." Although the game was not scheduled to begin until 3 p.m., by noon thousands had filled the Huntington Avenue Base Ball Grounds. The reserve grandstand seats had already sold out, and fans clamored for general admission tickets. But there would be no 25-cent tickets available for this game. Grandstand seats cost $1.00 and the bleachers 50 cents. A souvenir scorecard set fans back another dime. Some folks groused at being priced out of the ballpark, but many more were content to pay extra to witness history in the making.

"The day was made a holiday," reported one out-of-town newspaper. "The usually placid Hub was stirred to its conservative foundations by the enthusiasm of its own big army of fans and the influx of thousands of visiting rooters, who were even more exuberant than the home people. Every train coming into the big Union Station was loaded with excited individuals who appeared to look upon the occasion as the one big event of their lives."

Fans jammed the streetcars that took them to the baseball grounds. The men wore jackets, ties, and hats (bowlers or tam o'shanters). The women ("baseball enthusiasm knows no sex") dressed in smart tops and long skirts. The day was warm and clear, a lovely Indian summer afternoon "that appealed to everyone to get out of doors for the mere pleasure of living," and people left their topcoats at home. What looked like an indistinguishable mass of "human freight" pressed toward the ticket booths. A few dozen policemen did their best to keep the throng moving along. Well before game time, the bleachers on both the first- and third- base sides of the field were packed. So too the pavilion area toward left field. The only patches of empty seats were in the reserve grandstand sections, where patrons felt no need to rush. With all the seats sold, officials ran a rope across the deepest part of the outfield and allowed the crowd to flow onto the grass behind it. And on the terrace surrounding the grounds, fans were packed a dozen deep. They climbed as well onto the outfield fences and roosted wherever they could find a spot to squeeze in. To those sitting in the stands, it looked as if these fans would fall, but they "stuck like leeches to their vantage posts and were happy in the ability to see the diamond." Side by side across the grounds stood "professional men and grocery clerks, ministers and college professors . . . all bound together by one great, all-absorbing love for the national game."

Copyright 2003 Louis P. Masur

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Meet the Author

Louis P. Masur, a professor of history at City College of New York and the editor of Reviews in American History, is the author of 1831: Year of Eclipse (H&W, 2001). He lives in New Jersey with his wife and children.

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