The 1909 Cubs won 104 games. They had done worse before and won the pennant, but this time Honus Wagner and the resurgent Pirates finally put it all together and went 110-42 to take the National League pennant by 6-1/2 games.
Wagner led the Pittsburgh offense on its way to a league-best 699 runs scored, winning another batting title at .339 and stroking 39 doubles and 100 RBI. Fred Clarke led the league in walks with 80. The National League leader board in runs scored was crowded with Pirates, from Tommy Leach with 126 to Clarke with 97 to Bobby Byrne and Wagner, both with 92.
A much improved Pittsburgh pitching staff included Howie Camnitz, who went 25-6 to tie for the National League lead in winning percentage at .806, and 22-game winner Vic Willis. The Pirates led from May 5 until the final day of the season.
Chicago's pitching continued to be its strongest suit. Three Finger Brown had a 27-9, 1.31 ERA season; Orvall Overall was 20-11 with a 1.42 ERA; and Ed Reulbach won 19 games and had a 1.78 ERA. No Cub, however, notched more than 60 RBI.
The New York Giants won 92 games and finished third. Christy Mathewson took the ERA title at 1.15, the fifth-best ERA ever. Larry Doyle's league-leading 172 hits and .302 average paced the Giants' offense.
The American League race was a two-team affair between Detroit, the defending champion and winner for the past two seasons, and Connie Mack's rising Philadelphia dynasty.
The A's infield featured third baseman Frank "Home Run" Baker (age 23), second baseman Eddie Collins (22), and shortstop Jack Barry (22) -- three of the four men who would make up Philadelphia's famed "$100,000 Infield" of the 1910s.
Mack's pitching staff was anchored by Harry Krause, whose 1.39 ERA nosed out White Sox Ed Walsh's 1.41 for the ERA title. Baker and outfielder Danny Murphy combined for 33 triples and supplied the power for a late-season charge that carried the A's briefly into the lead over Detroit.
Ty Cobb turned in his best performance to date and dominated the American League at least as much as Wagner did the National League. Cobb led the league in batting at .377 and slugging at .517; he was also first in runs with 116, RBI with 107, stolen bases with 76, and on-base average at .431. The Tigers had two of the American League's three 20-game winners in Mullin and Ed Willett.
The Boston Red Sox had notable performances by several youngsters: Tris Speaker (age 21) hit .309 and had 77 RBI; Harry Hooper (age 21) batted .282 in part-time work; Larry Gardner (age 23) had a .432 slugging average; and Smokey Joe Wood (age 19) won 13 games, losing only five, and had a 1.97 ERA. Boston finished third, 9-1/2 games back.
Cleveland shortstop Neal Ball made history in a July 19 game against Boston when he turned the 20th century's first unassisted triple play. Interestingly, six of history's eight unassisted triple plays came in the 1920s.
In 1909, the first two modern steel-and-concrete ballparks, Shibe Park in Philadelphia and Forbes Field in Pittsburgh, opened their doors. Another first was the seven-game World Series, which was won by Pittsburgh.
While the fans who came to see a Cobb/Wagner match-up were disappointed -- Wagner had a decent Series, hitting .333, but Cobb flopped completely, batting .231 -- the Series was an exciting nip-and-tuck contest in which the teams alternated victories.
The hero of the 1909 Series was 27-year-old rookie Babe Adams, who had gone 12-3 during the season with a 1.11 ERA in limited spot-starting duty. Adams's junk held the great Cobb to a single hit in 11 at-bats as he won games one, five, and seven to finish 3-0 with a 1.33 ERA for the Series. This would be the last World Series for Detroit until 1935 and the last ever for Cobb and Wagner.
Find out what made headlines during the 1909 baseball season on the next page.