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The First World Series and the Baseball Fanatics of 1903

Overview

Recapturing the drama and color of this historic sporting event, Roger I. Abrams shows how the first world series (Boston Americans vs. Pittsburgh Pirates) provided a unique lens to view American life and culture at the dawn of the twentieth century.

It is a fascinating story brimming with colorful, larger-than-life characters: legendary players Honus Wagner, Cy Young, Jimmy Collins, Fred Clarke, Big Bill Dineen, and Deacon Phillippe on the field; and Mike "Nuf Ced" McGreevey, ...

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Overview

Recapturing the drama and color of this historic sporting event, Roger I. Abrams shows how the first world series (Boston Americans vs. Pittsburgh Pirates) provided a unique lens to view American life and culture at the dawn of the twentieth century.

It is a fascinating story brimming with colorful, larger-than-life characters: legendary players Honus Wagner, Cy Young, Jimmy Collins, Fred Clarke, Big Bill Dineen, and Deacon Phillippe on the field; and Mike "Nuf Ced" McGreevey, "Honey Fitz" Fitzgerald, and the boisterous Boston Royal Rooters, cheering, chanting, and singing in the grandstands. This is also the story of how the post-season play gave disparate classes in society--Brahmins, industrialists, Irish politicians, Jewish immigrants--the rare opportunity to join in common support of their local teams and heroes.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Though the title may be misleading, Abrams's new book deals with economic issues almost as much as his past effort, The Money Pitch. He contends that baseball served as the primary unifier of an American society made up of distinct classes created by a host of factors associated with pre-WWII economics including immigration and expanding cities. While the majority of Abrams's prose is accessible, when faced with the burden of proof, his writing can turn academic, saturated with long quotations. And where is the World Series in all of this? Though the series was extremely competitive, Abrams's game recaps, presented using the era's lexicon, can't convey the excitement of the century-old series. Smartly, Abrams focuses the book's baseball sections on two subjects that baseball fans adore: nostalgia and statistics. The book's strength is the vignettes on stars like Pittsburgh's Honus Wagner, characters like pitcher Edward Doheny, who went "berserk" before the series started, and the antics of Boston fan "Nuf Ced" McGreevey and his Royal Rooters. Abrams has a strong case thanks to his broad and exhaustive research and he lets the statistics speak for themselves. For instance, Cy Young's 1903 season and astounding career numbers serve not only as a window into the national pastime at the turn of the century but also make for an intriguing contrast to today's game. Overall, Abrams's pitch is a strike for history buffs and diehard baseball fans, while for others it's more like a ball on the outside corner; just a bit out of reach. (Mar.) Forecast: In time for the centenary of the first World Series, this book will catch the eye of many a fan, though it will vie for shelf space with three other similar books this season. Copyright 2003 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Abrams's study follows the fortunes of Boston's Royal Rooters and their Pittsburgh fan counterparts as well as the meeting of the two cities' baseball heroes (including a young Honus Wagner) in the 1903 World Series, the debut year for this national institution. An authority on sports law at Northeastern, Abrams offers an original mix of social history, sports anecdote, and urban studies. Copyright 2003 Cahners Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781555536442
  • Publisher: Northeastern University Press
  • Publication date: 8/9/2005
  • Pages: 208
  • Sales rank: 829,919
  • Product dimensions: 5.72 (w) x 8.36 (h) x 0.62 (d)

Meet the Author

ROGER I. ABRAMS is Richardson Professor of Law at Northeastern University. A leader in the field of sports law, he is the author of The Money Pitch: Baseball Free Agency and Salary Arbitration and Legal Bases: Baseball and the Law. He lives in the Boston area.
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Read an Excerpt

The First World Series and the Baseball Fanatics of 1903


By Roger I. Abrams

NORTHEASTERN UNIVERSITY PRESS

Copyright © 2003 Roger I. Abrams
All right reserved.

ISBN: 1555535615


Chapter One

The Huntington Avenue Grounds: A Commoner Event

I see great things in baseball. It's our game-the American game. It will take our people out of doors, fill them with oxygen, give them a larger physical stoicism. Tend to relieve us from being a nervous, dyspeptic set. Repair these losses, and be a blessing to us.

-Walt Whitman

The crowds began arriving at the wooden gates by a 1:00 P.M., two hours before game time. They had come to witness the first game of the first World Series, and newspapers had cautioned patrons to arrive early if they were to attend "what is expected to be the greatest series in the history of baseball." It was October 1, 1903, a mild but cloudy early fall day in Boston.

The first World Series was the brainchild of the owner of the National League Pittsburgh club, Barney Dreyfuss, a German-Jewish immigrant, referred to by the Pittsburgh newspapers as the "little magnate." The 1903 regular season produced two runaway victors, Dreyfuss's mighty Pirates of Pittsburgh, who had captured their third straight National League title, and the Boston club of the upstart American League. (The ten Boston newspapers referred to the local nine as the Boston "Americans" or occasionallyas the "Pilgrims." The team would not receive its hosiery nickname, the "Red Sox," until 1907.) Boston newspapers heralded a "great struggle" with the leagues' champions "meet[ing] for blood." The Pittsburgh Press sporting page reported: "The enthusiasm is greater than has ever before been seen in this city." Boston was "baseball mad."

The electric trolley cars disgorged their human contents along crowded Huntington Avenue about a half-mile west of Copley Square. On the north side of the thoroughfare stood Boston's magnificent three-year-old Symphony Hall. On the south side stood the left-field wall of the Huntington Avenue Grounds, the huge wooden edifice that beckoned the throng that day. Erected only three years earlier as the first home of the Boston Americans, the Grounds had been consecrated by Cy Young with his first American League win on April 30, 1901. The playing field was expansive: left field measured 350 feet down the line, right field a mere 280, and no one had ever accurately measured center field, but it was estimated at an impressive 530 feet from home plate. Located on the trolley car line on the border of Boston and Roxbury's Mission Hill, the new park was easily reached by the urban populous.

The Boston Americans were not the Hub's only professional club. The National League entry, called the Beaneaters, occupied a nearby facility, the South End Grounds. To attract fans to cross over the New York, New Haven, and Hartford Railroad tracks from the South End and desert the National League Beaneaters, Charles Somers, the first owner of the American League franchise in Boston, set admission at half the price of a National League game. He also signed a team of strong, experienced major leaguers, many well-known "artistes" from the roster of the Beaneaters. By 1903, the public's affection had switched to the American League team, led by the acclaimed captain Jimmy Collins.

The 1903 National League champions, the Pittsburgh Pirates, arrived the day before the Series opener from western Pennsylvania, accompanied by their rooters, who "expressed the utmost confidence" in the outcome of the best-of-nine Series. The club played an exhibition game in Buffalo on its way east, a common event at the turn of the century and a way for the players to earn a little extra money. (They trounced the Eastern League club 9-1.) During their stay in the Hub, the Pirates and their followers, including many gamblers, boarded at the Vendome Hotel on the corner of Commonwealth Avenue and Dartmouth Street in the Back Bay. Most of the Boston players stayed at the Putnam Hotel ("Puts") on Huntington Avenue. A few blocks away, between the Fens and Massachusetts Avenue, the ladies of Boston's red-light district did a flourishing business.

The Boston Post reported that Bostonians were ready for the match: "Interest all over the city and by all classes is at fever heat. In the downtown hotels and sporting resorts [betting parlors] last evening nothing else was talked of." Boston's general manager, Joe Smart, had doubled admission prices for the occasion. Spectators paid 50¢ for bleacher seats and standing room and $1 for grandstand seats. Many of those in attendance had played baseball in their youth and remained avid followers of the game.

By 2:00 P.M., the nine thousand bench seats down both foul lines were taken, but the crowds continued to arrive in waves from the trolley cars. Men sat on every available inch of the twelve-foot fence that surrounded the outfield. "Thousands and thousands filed down the little avenue to the entrances and went their separate ways as determined by their desires and their purses," reported the Boston Herald. More than sixteen thousand "wildly enthusiastic" fans, almost all male, attended that day's festivities, thousands ringing the outfield behind ropes, the largest crowd ever to see a baseball game in Boston. A "small army of policemen" kept order in the good-natured crowd. The Boston Post reported that "Everybody seemed to be at the game. Business men rubbed shoulders with their clerks, and City Hall `pols' and their heelers were on an equal footing. Like a Harvard-Yale football game, almost everyone of any importance was to be seen." The Boston Herald echoed this chorus: "Side by side sat clerks, ministers and sports [gamblers], college professors and graduates of the sand lots, all bound together by one great all-absorbing love for the national game." It was a rare commoner event where virtually all of Boston cheered together to achieve the same goal.

The People of Boston

Representatives of all segments of the Boston populous enthusiastically embraced their sports heroes. The Royal Rooters, a contingent of Irish men dressed in their Sunday finest (including the new "Continental Special" bowler hat that could be purchased for only $2), were the greatest baseball fanatics. They occupied reserved bleacher seats at the Huntington Avenue Grounds behind first base. Rooter Charley Lavis was the "master of ceremonies." Lavis, John Fitzgerald, and "Nuf Ced" Mike McGreevey, whose Third Base Saloon the Boston Rooters patronized before and after the contests, led the Rooters in songs and cheers.

Prizefighter James J. Corbett took his front-row seat among the Boston rooters, and local hero John L. Sullivan, the "Boston Strong Boy," sat on the Boston players' bench chatting with manager Jimmy Collins before the game began. Born in 1858, in the Roxbury section of Boston, Sullivan was a gifted baseball player in his youth and was offered a contract to play for the Cincinnati Red Stockings. Instead he chose to pursue his fortune in the ring, and he became the most celebrated boxer of the nineteenth century, America's first sports superstar. On June 26, 1880, Sullivan announced that he would fight anyone in America, with or without gloves, for $500. In 1892, Sullivan met his match when Jim Corbett won the heavyweight crown by knocking out Sullivan in the twenty-first round of their historic match in New Orleans. That was the "Great John L's" last fight, ending his fabled career with thirty-seven wins and one loss. Corbett held the heavyweight title from 1892 until 1897 and had fought his last fight on August 14, 1903, against champion James Jeffries.

Former Massachusetts governor Winthrop Murray Crane, who had served three one-year terms starting in 1899, was also in attendance that day. A member of a wealthy and paternalistic Dalton, Massachusetts, family, he managed the family's stock portfolio and philanthropic activities before entering politics. In addition to the churches, hospitals, and temperance organizations that received his gifts, Crane contributed substantial amounts to the Republican Party. He gained nationwide notice in 1902 when as governor he mediated a crippling teamsters strike in the Bay State. In 1904, Crane was rewarded by the Massachusetts legislature (the "Great and General Court," as it was called) with appointment to the U. S. Senate, where he served as a staunch member of the Republican old guard.

William Henry Moody, secretary of the navy during Teddy Roosevelt's administration, also came to enjoy the day's baseball festivities. He was born in his family's two-hundred-year-old home in Newbury, Massachusetts, a town his Puritan ancestor and namesake, William Moody of Suffolk, England, had founded in 1635. A graduate of the Phillips Academy and Harvard University-where he had played catcher and captained the baseball teams-the Brahmin Moody was a devoted "baseball crank," an inveterate fanatic of the game. He served three terms in Congress before accepting an appointment to the Roosevelt Cabinet. As attorney general in 1904, he would regularly attend the baseball contests played by the Washington Nationals in the nation's capital, cheering on their stalwart hurler Walter Johnson. In 1906, President Roosevelt appointed Moody to the U.S. Supreme Court.

John I. Taylor, son of General Charles Taylor, the patrician owner of the Boston Globe, took his regular seat behind home plate. Taylor would play a critical role in Boston baseball history. In 1904, he would become the owner of the Boston club, which he renamed the Red Sox in 1907, and, using his father's money, built a new concrete stadium for his club. Fenway Park would open in 1912.

John Roberts Tunis, the fourteen-year-old son of a Brahmin Unitarian minister, also attended the first World Series. Later, after graduating from Harvard and studying law, Tunis became a celebrated writer of sports books for children and frequently contributed to the Atlantic Monthly, Collier's, Harper's and the New Yorker. In his autobiography, A Measure of Independence, Tunis recalled standing in line to enter the Huntington Avenue Grounds and hearing the music from the approaching cavalcade. The Royal Rooters, dressed in their finest black suits and high white collars, each with "his ticket stuck jauntily in the hatband of his derby," strutted into the Grounds led by "Nuf Ced" McGreevey.

Politicians attending the Democratic State Convention skipped the afternoon session to attend the sporting festivities and joined with Republicans in supporting the local nine. Boston mayor Patrick A. Collins could not attend. The city's street commissioner, James A. Galvin, presented Boston's captain, Jimmy Collins, with a note from the mayor:

Baseball Team Huntington Avenue Grounds

Dear Sir-In a contest between Boston and any other city for supremacy, either in the domain of brain or brawn, the sympathies and best wishes of our citizens are always with Boston champions.

In this spirit and interpreting the popular desire, I sincerely hope that your brave corps of ball players will triumph over the invading forces of Pittsburgh, as they have triumphed over all their opponents during the season.

Some of Boston's loyal fans were not in attendance for that first game but would attend later contests. Many German and Russian Jews, among Boston's newest immigrant groups, were otherwise occupied on October 1, 1903. It was Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish year. However, led by Rabbi Charles Fleischer, the distinguished patriarch of one of Boston's oldest congregations, Temple Adeth Israel, they would be present for the second game. Rabbi Fleischer viewed the game as the guest of President Dreyfuss and his Pittsburgh rabbi, who had made the trip east with the Pirates owner. Five years later, in a widely read article in Baseball Magazine, Rabbi Fleischer would extol the virtues of baseball and his personal love for the game.

The Athens of America

By the early 1820s, Boston had become known as the "Athens of America," a romantic vision of the city that Ralph Waldo Emerson helped spread when he wrote:

This town of Boston has a history. It is not an accident, not a windmill, or a railroad station, or cross-roads tavern, or an army-barracks grown up by time and luck to a place of wealth; but a seat of humanity, of men of principle, obeying a sentiment and marching loyally whither that should lead them; so that its annals are great historical lines, inextricably national; part of the history of political liberty. I do not speak with any fondness, but the language of coldest history, when I say that Boston commands attention as the town which was appointed in the destiny of nations to lead the civilization of North America.

Emerson's rhapsody was based partly on fact, but mostly on fancy. Emerson downplayed the impact of the new immigrants who had settled on Boston's Shawmut Peninsula. He also ignored the streak of arrogance that characterized upper-class Bostonians. A reporter for the Pittsburgh Dispatch wrote: "Massachusetts boasts a long line of distinguished sons and daughters, whose greatness is hammered into the average American who chanced to be born elsewhere, from paregoric to the shroud."

Boston at the turn of the twentieth century had 560,000 inhabitants, making it the nation's fifth largest metropolis. In many ways, it was typical of American coastal cities. It was a city of immigrants, some recent, others native to these shores for generations, but still emotionally tied to their ancestral homelands. Boston was a city of ethnic enclaves, each with its own churches and markets, civic organizations and sporting groups. The city's multitudes had few experiences in common, but one they did share was an interest as spectators and participants in the national game of baseball.

Boston's economy was booming in the first decade of the twentieth century, and it was a good time to be rich. Boston was a major international financial center, and its financiers supplied the capital that fueled the industrial age. America had transformed itself into a world economic power, and Boston was an important player in that transformation. The large industrial towns north of Boston-Lowell, Lawrence, and Haverhill-manufactured goods for a world market accessed through the piers of Boston's harbor.

Emerson had also written glowingly of Boston's power to level and assimilate disparate social groups, but this too was wistful fiction. Boston at the turn of the century was a decidedly class society. Members of the privileged Brahmin upper class, the "Proper Bostonians," ruled the social scene from their perch on Beacon Hill.

Continues...


Excerpted from The First World Series and the Baseball Fanatics of 1903 by Roger I. Abrams Copyright © 2003 by Roger I. Abrams
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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Table of Contents

Preface Introduction The Huntington Avenue Grounds The National Game Boston Proper: the Brahmins and the Yankees Boston's Irish Community: Coming of Age The Series Heads West to the Smoky City The Hometown Favorite: Honus Wagner A New Jewish Homeland Boston Victorious Notes Bibliography Index
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