American League fans enjoyed the first of many Boston-New York pennant races in the 1904 baseball season, thanks mainly to Yankees pitcher Jack Chesbro's record 41 wins, 51 starts, and 48 complete games. After a season-long dogfight, the race came down to a last-day doubleheader between the two teams in New York. Boston's half-game lead meant that New York needed to sweep.
In the opening game, Chesbro dueled Bill Dinneen until the ninth, when a Boston rally threatened to break a 2-2 deadlock. With catcher Lou Criger on third, two out, and two strikes on good-hit shortstop Freddy Parent, Chesbro launched a spitball past catcher Red Kleinow's head. Criger scored, and Boston held off New York in the bottom of the inning to win 3-2 and clinch the flag.
Chesbro died in 1931, about a decade too soon to see the world remember him as the winningest pitcher in 20th-century history, instead of one of the all-time pennant-race goats.
Fourth-place Cleveland featured the league's best offense in 1904. Nap Lajoie banged out 49 doubles and batted .376 to win another batting title; he also led the American League in both on-base average at .405 and slugging average at .552.
Philadelphia flamethrower Rube Waddell struck out 349 American League batters at a very modern-looking rate of 8.2 per nine innings. Waddell struck out 110 more batters than Chesbro, the American League runner-up in strikeouts. Waddell's strikeout total is the fifth-best ever -- and every other season on the Top Ten list came in the strikeout-happy post-World War II era.
John McGraw won his first National League pennant in grand style; his Giants won a then-record 106 games and lost only 47. A typical McGraw team, the pitching was ably handled by workhorses Joe McGinnity and Christy Mathewson, who won 68 games between them; but New York's National League-leading offense was a complete team effort.
Lacking a dominant star, the Giants lineup was made up of beautifully complementary parts, including George Browne, who led the league in runs with 99; Bill Dahlen, who led in RBI with 80; and Sam Mertes, who was second in doubles with 28.
As a team, the Giants led the league in runs, hits, doubles, home runs, walks, batting average, and stolen bases. McGinnity won the National League's ERA title at 1.61, the finest ERA mark of his Hall of Fame career.
The Pirates were let down by poor pitching and finished fourth; Honus Wagner won his third batting title and stole a league-leading 53 bases. Frank Selee's second-place Chicago club won 93 games with rising young stars like Frank Chance, Johnny Evers, and Joe Tinker. The Cubs would be heard from soon.
Fans who anticipated another exciting interleague, postseason series were disappointed. Late in the year, John McGraw and New York owner John Brush issued a press release that called the American League a "minor league" and stated that the Giants "desired no greater glory than to win the pennant in the National League."
The National League would therefore refuse to meet the American League pennant winner -- McGraw had struck one more spiteful blow against his old enemy, Ban Johnson. After the season, however, owners from both leagues sat down to make sure that this would never happen again. They drafted a set of guidelines that established a formal World Series under rules that remain more or less intact today.
Continue to the next page to see some of the headlines from the 1904 baseball season.
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