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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1904 Baseball Season Headlines
The 1904 baseball season signaled the start of many Boston vs. New York pennant race match-ups, but there was plenty of news-making during the season as well. Sample a selection of 1904 baseball season headlines below:
Honus Wagner Stars at Shortstop
Never before and never again would two middle infielders dominate every phase of the game as did Honus Wagner and Nap Lajoie in the early 1900s. The only two major batting departments in which Wagner failed to lead the National League at least once were home runs and bases on balls. In 1904, he led the National League with a .349 batting average, a .520 slugging average, and 53 steals.
Bill Dinneen is Divine
Like Jack Chesbro, Bill Dinneen fell on hard times after the 1904 campaign, a year in which he went 23-14 in 336 innings without being relieved (a season record in the American League). A 20-game winner in each of his first three seasons with the Boston Americans, Dinneen won only 47 more games in his five remaining years in the majors and just once, in 1908, was a better than .500 pitcher.
Joe McGinnity Hits Zenith
Joe McGinnity averaged more than 27 victories a year in his first eight major league seasons -- no other pitcher since 1893 has won as many games as quickly at the commencement of his career. In 1903, McGinnity also became this century's only 30-game winner to lose 20 games in the same season. He came back in 1904, reaching the peak of his career with 35 wins, best in the National League.
Nap Lajoie Still Going Strong
Nap Lajoie topped the American League in 1904 with a .376 batting average, a .552 slugging average, 211 hits, 305 total bases, and 49 doubles. Only once in his 21-year career did he play on a team that came close to winning a pennant -- in 1908, when the Cleveland club he piloted finished just a half-game behind Detroit.
This was Lajoie's greatest disappointment, in part because he played poorly in the season-ending series with St. Louis that could have brought Cleveland the flag.
John McGraw Wins National League Flag
No baseball immortal aged more rapidly than John McGraw (born in 1873), who captured his first pennant in 1904 as manager of the New York Giants. Photos of him in the early 1900s show a man who seemed too young to have already played ten years in the majors; by the end of the decade, he looked to be deep into middle age.
Harry Davis Kicks In
Like many of the A's stars in the early part of the century, Harry Davis was a slow starter. Following a good season with Pittsburgh in 1897, he went into a tailspin and spent most of the rest of the 1890s in the minors before joining the Mackmen in 1901. By 1904, he was the American League's top first sacker (and its leader in home runs with ten).
Find even more highlights from the 1904 baseball season on the next page.
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1904 Baseball Season Highlights
The first ever New York-Boston Pennant race took place during the 1904 baseball season. The season was also marked by record-breaking performances by stars like Jack Chesbro, Cy Young, and Rube Waddell. Below, you will find highlights from the 1904 baseball season:
- No World Series is played, since the National League pennant-winning Giants call the American League a "minor league" and refuse to play.
- Giant John McGraw wins his first pennant as manager.
- The 154-game schedule is adopted.
- Jack Chesbro's wild pitch gives Boston the American League flag on the last day of the season.
- Jack Chesbro wins a record 41 games, and sets a 20th-century record with 48 CGs.
- Joe McGinnity wins 35 and Christy Mathewson 33 for Giants to set a modern teammates tandem record.
- Honus Wagner leads the National League in BA (.349), SA (.520), total bases (255), and steals (53).
- Nap Lajoie leads the American League in BA (.376), SA (.552), hits (211), total bases (305), and doubles (49).
- Rube Waddell fans 349, a record for 154-game season.
- Cy Young pitches first perfect game in 20th century on May 5, 3-0 over A's and Rube Waddell.
- Harry Davis of A's leads the American League in homers (ten) for first of four straight seasons.
- Washington sets new 20th-century record for losses with 113.
- On June 11, Cub Bob Wicker throws a no-hitter vs. New York for nine innings; loses no-hitter in tenth, but wins game.
- Boston American League uses just five pitchers all season.
- John Lush of the Phillies is youngest regular in National League history (18).
- Giants players, fomented by ump-baiter John McGraw, beat an ump unconscious after a spring game.
- Cards pitcher Jack Taylor is accused of dumping games, but nothing comes of the charge.
- Giants clinch the National League flag in a record 137 games.
- Cy Young allows only 29 walks in 380 innings.
- The dead-ball era begins in earnest -- Cleveland is the only American League team to average four runs a game.
- Giant Hooks Wiltse wins his first 12 major league decisions before suffering his first loss.
- Herman Long retires as the only major league player to make 1,000 or more career errors.
- Frank Huelsman plays for a record four American League teams in the same year.
- Ginger Beaumont sets a National League record when he leads the loop in hits for the third straight year.
- Boston's Bill Dinneen pitches an American League season record 337 innings without being relieved.
- Jesse Tannehill of Boston no-hits the White Sox on August 17.
- Brooklyn's Harry Lumley tops the National League in triples (18) and homers (nine).
- The Giants lead the National League in BA (.262), FA (.956), runs (744), homers (31), steals (283), and ERA (2.17).
- Jack Chesbro pitches a 20th-century record 455 innings (since broken).
- Christy Mathewson tops the National League in strikeouts (212) and is the only National Leaguer to fan more than 200.
- Cleveland leads the American League in runs (647) and BA (.260), but finishes only fourth.
- Cy Young's ten shutouts top the majors.
- The National League has 366 more stolen bases than the American League and scores 441 more runs.
- Kid Nichols wins 21 games for lowly Cardinals after being out of game for two seasons.
- Jack Chesbro and Jack Powell set American League teammates tandem record with 64 wins between them.
- At age 52, Jim O'Rourke catches a full game for the Giants.