1903 Baseball Season

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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1903 Baseball Season Headlines

Mordecai "Three Finger"
Mordecai "Three Finger"

As the battle between the American and National leagues finally subsided for the 1903 baseball season, the papers were able to devote their full attention to the players' performance -- and the first championship series. Here are some of the headlines from the 1903 baseball season:

Mordecai "Three Finger" Brown Wins Nine

Mordecai Brown spent most of 1903, his rookie season, with St. Louis, where he went 9-13; he was playing for the Cubs at the start of the 1904 season. Brown lost most of his index finger in a childhood accident. Asked if his curve was aided by the truncated digit, he said that to be certain, he would have had to throw with a normal hand -- something he had never done. To this day, the Cubs have never won a World Series in which he didn't appear.


Deacon Phillippe Goes 25-9

Deacon Phillippe became the Pirates' pitching ace in 1903, in pan by default when both Jack Chesbro and Jesse Tannehill, who won 48 games between them for the 1902 club, defected to the American League. Phiilippe ended his 25-9 season in with a trio of World Series wins. Control was his bread-and-butter, as Phillippe is the only starting pitcher in history to issue less than one walk for every game in which he appeared.

Honus Wagner High in BA

Wid Conroy's defection to New York in the American League forced the Pirates to put Honus Wagner at shortstop in 1903 and leave him there until his retirement 14 years later (Wagner won his second National League batting title with a .355 average that year). Even so, Wagner continued to play every other position except pitcher and catcher upon occasion; serving as a pitcher earlier in his career, he registered a perfect 0.00 ERA in eight innings.

Huntington Hosts First World Series

The Huntington Grounds were the home of the 1903 Boston Pilgrims and the site of the first modern World Series game. The eight-game series spanned nearly two weeks. The players on both sides combined for 553 at-bats.

Joe McGinnity: Indestructible

Most posed photographs of Joe McGinnity, for some reason, show him with his arm cocked and ready to deliver an overhand pitch rather than one of the sidearm slings that were his trademark. McGinnity made the world indelibly aware of his nickname "Iron Man" in 1903, winning three doubleheaders and working a National League-record 434 innings. McGinnity led the majors that year with 31 triumphs.

Bill Dinneen, Deacon Phillippe Go Head-On

Featured on the front cover of the scorecard that was sold at the eighth and final game of the 1903 World Series were the contest's two preannounced starters, Bill Dinneen of Boston and Deacon Phillippe of Pittsburgh. They won a combined six of the eight games.

Find even more highlights from the 1903 baseball season on the next page.

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1903 Baseball Season Highlights

Frank Chance stole 67 bases in 1903.See more baseball seasons pictures.
Frank Chance stole 67 bases in 1903.See more baseball seasons pictures.

The National League and American League agreed to peace in the 1903 baseball season, and the modern two major league format was born. At the end of the first season, the two first-place clubs played a best-of-nine, postseason world championship series -- a practice that would soon become known as the World Series. Below, you will find highlights from the 1903 baseball season:

  • The Baltimore team is transferred to New York, the last franchise move until 1953.
  • Boston wins the American League flag.
  • The Pirates win their third straight National League pennant.
  • Boston wins the first modern World Series.
  • Deacon Phillippe wins three Series games for the losing Pirates.
  • The Cubs' Frank Chance steals 67 bases, a record for first basemen.
  • Honus Wagner wins his second National League batting crown at .355.
  • Nap Lajoie leads the American League in BA (.344) and SA (.518).
  • Rube Waddell fans 302, a post-1893 record.
  • Giants post two 30-game winners -- Joe McGinnity (31) and Christy Mathewson (30).
  • Foul balls are counted as strikes by both leagues for the first time.
  • Pirate Ginger Beaumont leads National League in hits (209) and total bases (272).
  • Washington's Ed Delahanty falls from a railway trestle to his death.
  • Boston's Buck Freeman leads American League in homers (13), total bases (281), and RBIs (104).
  • First moving picture of game is made, featuring Cleveland's Nap Lajoie and Harry Bay.
  • Cleveland shortstop John Gochnauer makes a 20th-century record 98 errors and hits .185.
  • When part of the Phillies' park, Baker Bowl, collapses, 12 fans are killed.
  • Pirate utility man Honus Wagner is installed at shortstop and plays there the rest of his career.
  • White Sox tie the American League record with 12 errors on May 6; in the same game, the Tigers make six errors.
  • Gambler Frank Ferrell and Bill Devery, reputedly a crooked cop, become owners of New York American League team.
  • Pirates blank foes for a record 57 consecutive innings.
  • Joe McGinnity pitches and wins two doubleheaders in an eight-day period and three in a month.
  • Cubs get Mordecai "Three Finger" Brown and Jack O'Neill from Cards for Jack Taylor and Larry McLean.
  • The Phillies' Chick Fraser no-hits the Cubs on Sept. 18.
  • Cincinnati shortstop Tommy Corcoran makes a record 14 assists in a game on August 7.
  • Jack Doscher becomes the first son of an ex-major leaguer to play in the majors.
  • The pitcher's mound is restricted in height to no more than 15 inches.
  • Pittsburgh's Sam Leever leads the National League in ERA (2.06) and shutouts (seven).
  • Christy Mathewson tops the National League in strikeouts with 267.
  • The Giants' jump from the cellar to second in 1903 is one of the biggest gains by a team in the century.
  • Bill Keister hits .320 and leads the Phillies in homers and RBIs, but is cut by the team after the season.
  • Joe McGinnity pitches a National League record 434 innings.
  • Boston ties the American League record with 112 triples.
  • Togie Pittinger of Boston's National League surrenders a post-1901 record 196 runs.
  • Pirates commit a National League record six errors in one inning on August 20.
  • Pat Moran of Boston's National League makes 214 assists, a record for catchers.
  • The Tigers' newly appointed player/manager Win Mercer commits suicide in the preseason.
  • Rube Waddell pitches a four-hitter vs. New York on August 1 -- Kid Elberfeld collects all four hits.

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