ROGER I. ABRAMS
A century ago, it all started here
A HUNDRED YEARS ago this afternoon, Bostonians flocked to the Huntington Avenue Ball Grounds to witness the first game of the first World Series. The Pittsburgh Pirates, the "Champions of the West," had arrived the day before from the Smoky City, as they called their hometown. They suited up for the game at the Vendome Hotel on Commonwealth Avenue and took an open tallyho wagon to the contest that was scheduled to begin at 3 p.m. The Boston Americans -- sometimes referred to by the locals as the Pilgrims but not called the Red Sox until 1907 -- were prepared for what the newspapers called "the battle royal." Boston's nine were led by Jimmy Collins, the future Hall of Fame third baseman, captain, and manager. Boston's Irish adored him, and they would turn out in unprecedented numbers to watch "Jimmy's boys" beat the National League pennant winners. Boston had strong pitching, led by Cy Young, the Ohio farm boy who had already set a major league career record for wins and would continue to hurl for the Boston entry for eight more years.
Pittsburgh's lineup featured key hitting by its own captain and manager, the left fielder Fred Clarke, who would also gain a place in Cooperstown. The leader of the Pittsburgh squad, however, was the great Honus Wagner, whose work at shortstop was legendary and whose mighty bat had secured three straight pennants for the Buccaneers from Pittsburgh.
The grandstands at the Huntington Avenue Grounds were filled with immigrants and natives whose forebears had themselves immigrated to this country. There was a notable contingent of Boston Brahmins. John I. Taylor, son of General Charles Taylor, the publisher of The Boston Globe, took his regular seat behind home plate. (The following year, General Taylor would purchase the Boston club for his son.) Boxer John L. Sullivan, the "Boston strong boy," sat chatting with Jimmy Collins on the Boston bench before the game.
The series was the brainchild of Barney Dreyfuss, the German Jewish immigrant who owned the Pirates. He challenged Boston's absentee owner, Milwaukee lawyer Henry Killilea, to a best-of-nine series. The first three games were scheduled for Boston, followed by four in Pittsburgh. If necessary, the teams would return to Boston to conclude the tournament.
At 3 p.m. the gong sounded and the umpire (one of two who refereed the entire series) shouted: "Play!" Cy Young retired the first two Pittsburgh batters, but then gave up four runs. The Bostons would never catch up in that first contest. In fact, Boston lost three of the first four games, and its prospects looked dim. By now the clubs were playing at Pittsburgh's Exposition Park along the Allegheny River overlooking the steel mills downtown.
From the depth of sure defeat, the Boston Americans rallied, aided in large measure by the cheering and singing of the Royal Rooters who had accompanied their heroes west. "Nuf Ced" Mike McGreevey, whose Columbus Avenue saloon "Third Base" was a clubhouse of sorts for the Rooters, had commissioned new lyrics for the Broadway hit "Tessie" designed to rattle the great Wagner, and it did. The bands the Rooters hired played Tessie incessantly while the Boston team won game after game. By the end of a week in Pittsburgh, Boston led the series four games to three and it was back to the Huntington Avenue Grounds for the final victory and the first championship of the world.
As our beloved Red Sox begin their quest for the 2003 championship this evening, it is useful to recall the exploits of the team and its fans of a century ago. Although facing sure defeat, the Boston club rallied to victory. As now, the Boston club was a valuable civic asset, a rallying point for the city's diverse communities. With the support of its "fanatics," the club overcame adversity to triumph. It can happen again this year.
Roger I. Abrams is Richardson Professor of Law at Northeastern University School of Law and author of "The First World Series and the Baseball Fanatics of 1903."
© Copyright 2003 Globe Newspaper Company.