After a disastrous 1902 baseball season in which it had been out-drawn by the American League by more than a half-million fans, the National League agreed to peace. Ban Johnson rejected the National League's offer to form another 12-team league, and the modern two-major league format was born.
Other points of the new National Agreement included the American League's adoption of the foul-strike rule and the National League's acceptance of an American League franchise in New York.
The Agreement also set up a new National Commission consisting of League presidents Harry Pulliam and Ban Johnson, as well as Johnson-ally Garry Herrmann. This arrangement guaranteed Johnson's paramount influence; he would remain the de facto lord of baseball until the gambling scandals of the late teens brought about the modern sole baseball commissionership.
Johnson gave pitcher/manager Clark Griffith the job of building a successful American League club in New York City. Partially owned by Tammany Hall figure Joseph Gordon, the club was first called the "Highlanders," as a play both on the well-known British regiment, Gordon's Highlanders, and the team's hastily constructed park at 168th and Broadway, the highest point in Manhattan.
Later, newspapermen thumbed their noses at a team nickname with British associations and began calling the team the "Yankees."
Both pennant races were laughers. Boston led the American League in runs scored and fewest runs allowed behind slugger Buck Freeman, who hit 13 home runs and drove in 104; fan favorite and runs scored leader Patsy Dougherty; and pitchers Cy Young (28-9), Long Tom Hughes (20-7), and Bill Dinneen (21-13).
Boston finished 14-1/2 games ahead of a Philadelphia team that featured improved pitching -- thanks to Eddie Plank, Rube Waddell, and rookie Chief Bender -- but an attack weakened by off-years from Harry Davis and Lave Cross. Nap Lajoie's one-man show in Cleveland, including a league-high .344 batting average and a .518 slugging average, could push his team no higher than third place, 15 games out.
Nineteenth century great (and legendary drinker) Ed Delahanty was killed one night in 1903 when he was kicked off a train for disorderly behavior and then pursued it on foot over a bridge above Niagara Falls. He fell in and drowned. Delahanty had a lifetime .346 batting average, behind only Rogers Hornsby among righthanded hitters.
In Honus Wagner's first year as regular shortstop -- he had been playing first, third, short, and the outfield -- Pittsburgh won its third-straight pennant with a 91-49 record. The Flying Dutchman won another batting title at .355, and he and teammates Ginger Beaumont, Fred Clarke, and Tommy Leach monopolized the leader board in most other hitting categories.
Second-place New York had the National League's top pitching staff in Joe "Iron Man" McGinnity (31-20) and Christy Mathewson (30-13), but John McGraw's club never got close enough to make a race of it. McGinnity lived up to his nickname by totaling 48 starts (fourth-most in modern history), 44 complete games (third-most), and 434 innings (the third-highest total).
Late in the 1903 season, the owners of the two first-place clubs agreed amongst themselves to play a best-of-nine, postseason world championship series. American League's Boston came back to win 5-3 after being down 3-1 to the heavily favored Pirates.
The star of the series was Pittsburgh's Deacon Phillippe, a great control pitcher who pitched an incredible five complete games, going 3-2 with a 2.86 ERA. The recent war between the leagues and the drama of underdog versus dynasty made the series a big success and led to the formal World Series, which started in 1905 and has continued until today.
Find out some of the happenings that made headlines during the 1903 baseball season on the next page.
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