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A suspenseful account of the glorious days a century ago when our national madness began
A post-season 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...
A suspenseful account of the glorious days a century ago when our national madness began
A post-season 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 equally 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.
Excerpted from Autumn Glory by Louis P. Masur. Copyright © 2004 Louis P. Masur. Excerpted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
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"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
Posted December 9, 2008
At the beginning of the previous century baseball had two competing business leagues. In 1903 a deal was reached to hold a championship between the winners of the two leagues. The Pittsburgh Pirates and the Boston Americans played the first post-season championship. Several years later this event became known as the World Series and post season championships became a way of American professional sports life throughout the century and still is today a century later.<P> Baseball fans and early twenty-century history buffs will fully enjoy this deep look at the debut of the premier event of the National Pastime. The rules of 1903 were somewhat different than today adding flavor to an already delightful mix. A similar perspective (just under forty years ago) might be that of the first NFL-AFL championship, later known as the Superbowl that occurred six decades after baseball's premier event debuted. Louis P. Masur provides a grand slam home run with his wonderful look at the first World Series.<P> Harriet KlausnerWas this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 9, 2008
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