In the 1901 baseball season, for the first time in a decade, there were two major leagues. Two years were to pass before they learned to coexist peacefully. In the meantime, it was all-out war -- over ticket sales, over player contracts, and over the hearts and minds of the fans.
The American League opened for business in Milwaukee, Cleveland, Washington, Baltimore, Detroit, Philadelphia, Boston, and Chicago, the latter three franchises located on prime National League turf.
Fortunately for the upstarts, the National League was bitterly divided into two factions, one led by New York's Andrew Freedman and another by Chicagoan Al Spalding. In 1901, they couldn't even get together to elect a president, much less mount an effective defense against the new league.
Refusing to respect National League contracts, Ban Johnson and the American League owners ruthlessly raided National League rosters. More than 100 players, dissatisfied with the low salaries and dictatorial policies of 1890s National League management, gladly jumped at the chance to change leagues. Among the biggest names were John McGraw, Cy Young, Clark Griffith, Hugh Duffy, and Jimmy Collins.
Stars such as these lent legitimacy to the American League, and fans came out in droves to see ex-Cardinal Cy Young win 33 games for Boston with a 1.63 ERA, as well as ex-Cub Clark Griffith, who crossed town to go 24-7 for the Chicago White Sox.
But the brightest star of all was second baseman Napoleon Lajoie of Connie Mack's Philadelphia Athletics. A good player but no superstar in five seasons with the Phillies, Lajoie led the American League in nearly every offensive category in 1901, including the Triple Crown stats. He batted .426 (the highest mark in the 20th century), drove in 125 runs, and hit 14 home runs; he slugged .643.
Though Lajoie was playing under essentially expansion conditions and without the foul-strike rule (which was not implemented by the American League until 1903), his batting average was still 86 points higher than runner-up Mike Donlin's .340. Lajoie's 145 runs scored are among the most in history, but were surpassed only once between 1900 and 1920.
The A's won their attendance war with the Phillies, but in spite of Lajoie's heroics, finished 9 games back of a running White Sox club that stole 280 bases, led the league in runs and ERA, and finished 83-53, 4 games ahead of Boston.
For the first time in the National League, foul balls were counted as strikes (before the count reached two strikes), and offense suffered across the board. Total runs dropped by almost 800. The league batting average fell from .279 to .267. Even stolen bases were affected, as at-bats were shortened and strikeout totals skyrocketed.
A relatively intact Pittsburgh Pirates team won that city's first-ever pennant in 20 years of major league status, compiling a 90-49 record on the strength of pitchers Jack Chesbro, who finished 21-10; Deacon Phillippe, who went 22-12; and three-time 20-game winner Jesse Tannehill, who won the ERA title at 2.18.
The Pirates' attack consisted of outfield duo Ginger Beaumont and Fred Clarke, both of whom scored well over 100 runs and batted over .320, and of course Honus Wagner. Wagner stole a league-high 49 bases, batted .353, and drove in 126 runs.
Brooklyn's Jimmy Sheckard slugged .534 to lead the league, hammering 19 triples and 11 homers. In New York, 20-year-old rookie Christy Mathewson went 20-17 with a 2.41 ERA, the first of his 13 20-win seasons.
Another future star, Wahoo Sam Crawford, played his first full season and hit .330 with a league-leading 16 home runs. And 32-year-old Jesse Burkett, an 1890s legend who twice hit .400, won his final batting title at .376 for fourth-place St. Louis.
Continue to the next page for details on some of the baseball happenings that made headlines in 1901.
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1901 Baseball Season Headlines
In addition to the arguments between and within baseball's two leagues, a number of players' achievements and, of course, the season's big winners earned themselves a spot in the newspapers. The following is a sampling of the biggest stories and 1901 baseball season headlines.
Honus Wagner Makes Mark
If there had been a Most Valuable Player Award in 1901, Honus Wagner almost certainly would have swept up the honor in the National League, as he topped the circuit with 126 RBI and 49 swipes. Yet at age 27, he still didn't have a position, dividing his time between the outfield and shortstop and third base.
Monte Cross Yields Weak Year
After hitting only .197 in 1901, Monte Cross jumped from the Phillies to the crosstown A's in 1902 and grew a mustache, but neither move improved his hitting. Playing in 153 games for the Athletics in 1904, he batted .189 and collected just 95 hits. As a fielder, however, Cross was among the better shortstops of his era.
Cy Young Comes of Age
Cy Young was coming off his poorest season since his 1890 rookie year when he jumped to the fledgling American League in 1901. Despite his circuit-best 33 wins that season, most observers thought it was the last gasp of a once-great pitcher, 34 years of age at the time. It turned out, instead, to be a mid-point season in Young's career.
Noodles Hahn Fans Over 200
From 1899 to 1904, the left arm of Noodles Hahn had no equal. He won 121 games and struck out 878 batters during that period for poor Cincinnati teams, 22 of those victories and a National League-best 239 of those strikes coming in 1901. Hahn was already on the wane by age 25, when he slipped to just 98 strikeouts.
John McGraw, 28, Washed Up
Although new manager John McGraw hit .349 with the Baltimore club in 1901, injuries and suspensions held him to only 73 games; just 28 years old at the time, he was, for all intents and purposes, finished as a productive player. Never again would he total more than 42 hits in a season. In 1902, he jumped from the Orioles to become the manager of the Giants. He would become the most famous skipper of all time.
Jesse Burkett Is a Hit
Jesse Burkett is probably the least known great hitter. A member of the Cleveland Spiders in the 1890s, Burkett had 2,249 hits at the conclusion of the 1901 season, topping the National League with 226 hits that year. He would have finished with a .362 career batting average if he'd quit then and there instead of defecting to the American League, where he was but an average hitter during his remaining four years of play.
1901 Pittsburgh Pirates Take National League
Pittsburgh won their first flag in 1901. George Merritt was 3-0 in three starts as a rookie in 1901 but never starred another game in the majors.
Continue to the next page, where you'll find more highlights from 1901 baseball.
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1901 Baseball Season Highlights
The American League opened for business during the 1901 baseball season, and this marked the first time in a decade that there were two major leagues. Powerhouses like Nap Lajoie and Honus Wagner also helped to make this historic season memorable. Below, you will find highlights from the 1901 baseball season:
- The first game in American League history is played on April 24 at the Chicago Cricket Club. The final score is Chicago 6, Cleveland 2.
- Pittsburgh wins its first major league pennant.
- Chicago takes the first American League pennant.
- The St. Louis Cardinals' Jesse Burkett leads the National League in batting (.376), runs (142), and hits (226).
- The Philly's Nap Lajoie sets 20th-century record when he hits .426 to lead American League; he also wins the 1901 Triple Crown.
- The Phillies finish second in the National League after losing Lajoie to the American League Raiders.
- Brooklyn's Wild Bill Donovan leads the National League in wins (25) and walks (152).
- Boston's Cy Young leads the American League with 33 wins.
- Connie Mack manages the fledgling Philadelphia A's and will be their only manager until 1951.
- Baltimore, behind fiery manager John McGraw, finishes only fifth despite leading the American League in batting.
- Noodles Hahn sets a modern record for most pitching wins for a last-place team, by winning 22 for the Reds.
- Noodles Hahn has 41 complete games, a record for a 20th-century lefty.
- In his first full season, Christy Mathewson wins 20 games for the Giants and hurls a no-hitter vs. St. Louis on July 15.
- On May 9, Cleveland's Earl Moore throws a no-hitter for nine innings, but loses 4-2 to the White Sox in ten innings.
- Sam Crawford of the last-place Reds leads the National League with 16 homers.
- Roscoe Miller of the Detroit Tigers sets a rookie record when he pitches 35 complete games.
- The Phillies' keystone combo of Bill Hallman and Monte Cross hit .184 and .197, respectively.
- Trailing 13-4 in the ninth inning of their first game in the American League, the Tigers rally to beat Milwaukee 14-3.
- On April 28, for the fourth straight day, Detroit beats Milwaukee in its final at-bat.
- Noodles Hahn fans 16 Boston Braves on May 22, a post-1893 record.
- The White Sox collect 23 hits in a game off Cleveland's Bock Baker -- all singles.
- Giants smack record 31 hits on June 9, six of them by Kip Selbach.
- Philadelphia's Chick Fraser hits an American League record 31 batters.
- On May 23, Nap Lajoie is the first player to be intentionally walked with the bases full.
- Irv Waldron leads the American League in at-bats (598) and hits .311 in his lone major league season.
- Roscoe Miller pitches an American League rookie record of 332 innings.
- Willie Keeler collects at least 200 hits for the eighth straight year, a National League record.
- Roy Thomas of the Phillies leads the National League in walks (100), but compiles only eight extra-base hits.
- The modern infield-fly rule is adopted.
- The Tigers commit an American League record 12 errors in a game on May 1.
- Harley Parker of Cincinnati gives up 21 runs in a game on June 21.
- The A's and Senators play five straight doubleheaders against each other in August.
- Honus Wagner leads the National League in steals (49) and RBI (126).
- Deaf-mute Dummy Taylor of New York leads the National League in starts with 43 and losses with 27.
- On August 10, A's pitcher Lew Wiltse collects four extra-base hits in one game.