Louis P. Masur

"Autumn Glory: Baseball's First World Series"

(Reviewed by Chuck Barksdale MAR 30, 2003)

"Fans had hoped for this all along. The rival leagues had been at war for two years, and now, in the first season of peace, superiority would be established on the playing field. A postseason championship series would give meaning to the drama of the year. It would offer conclusion and closure. For a fortnight in October, two teams would compete in a series of games, a World Series. The only time that seemed to matter was the two hours between three and five in the afternoon. The other parts of the day were spent analyzing and anticipating. Travel days were the hardest on the fans because they allowed too much time to think. Come October, "every American and his wife [would be] living in a baseball world." This was in effect the first October. It was the first time baseball consumed everything else around it. It would do so again, and again, and again."

Autumn Glory by Louis P. Masure

In Autumn Glory, Louis Masur not only puts the reader into the games of the first baseball world series, but also provides an excellent backdrop of the times, people and the historical importance of what formed the basis for baseball as we know it today. Masur's extensive research is presented in short but revealing excerpts from the writers and fans who lived and experienced the series of games between the National League champion Pittsburgh Pirates and the American League champion Boston Americans (soon to be known as the Red Sox). Masur describes each of the eight games of the best of nine series in a separate chapter with alternating chapters of the history just prior to the series - the war and eventual peace between the two leagues, the Winter and Spring just prior to the 1903 baseball season, the Pittsburgh and Boston 1903 seasons as well as the historical importance of baseball of the time.

The American League was formed as a major league in 1901 and from the beginning, the league built up its caliber of players from convincing the stars of the National League to go to the higher paying American League. The American League placed many of its teams in the same cities as the National League teams and often tried to take the player from the rival National League team. This way the city residents could still root for their favorite players, but for the new American League team. This approach lead to stars such as Nap Lajoie and Chick Fraser of the Phillies joining the Athletics (A's), Clark Griffith of the Cubs joining the White Stockings, and Buck Freeman and Jimmy Collins joining the Boston Americans (from the Beaneaters). At one point, the American League had "managed to acquire an astonishing forty-five of the forty-six players on their initial list." The one missing player, Honus Wagner, played for the National League Pittsburgh Pirates, who not surprisingly, won the NL championship all three of first three years of the AL's existence.

In 1903, at the beginning of the third year of the American League (as a major league), peace was reached between the two rival leagues and agreement was arrived at on a number of issues including consistency in rules, and limits on the movement of players back and forth between the two leagues (essentially re-establishing the reserve clause). This peace ultimately led to the first series of games to decide the World Champions of baseball. The Pirates (91-49) had some trouble winning the National League, but by the end won by 6.5 games over the New York Giants, while the Boston Americans (91-47), after some early season competition, easily won their league by 14.5 games over the Philadelphia A's.

The World Series was set with the first three games in Boston, the next four in Pittsburgh and the last two in Boston (if necessary). The series featured some major stars of the era, including Denton "Cy" Young, player-manager Jimmy Collins, Patsy Dougherty, Buck Freeman, Bill Dinneen of the Americans and Honus Wagner, player-manager Fred Clarke, Ginger Beaumont, Deacon Phillippe and Sam Leever of the Pirates.

The first game was a match-up of the pitching stars of each team, Cy Young (28-9, 2.08) of the Americans and Deacon Phillippe (25-9, 2.43). (Sam Leever at 25-7, 2.06 was probably slightly better, and although he pitched in the series, he was injured and limited to only 10 innings pitched.) Phillippe bested Young in the first game, with the Pirates winning easily 7-3. On paper, the pitching match-up for the second day appeared to favor the Pirates slightly with Leever starting for the Pirates and Bill Dinneen (21-13, 2.26) starting for the Americans. Unfortunately, Leever's shoulder injury limited him to just one inning, but the two runs scored against him in the first were all that the Americans needed as they won the game 3-0. The third game was a rematch of the first, with the same result as the Pirates won the game 4-2. The Pirates also brought Phillippe back to pitch the first game in Pittsburgh (on one day's rest) and he won again 5-4, despite the Americans' 3 run rally in the top of the 9th. Unfortunately for the Pirates, despite three more games in Pittsburgh, this game would be the last one they would win in the series, as the Americans won the next three in Pittsburgh and the last game in Boston to win the series, 5 games to 3. Masur does a great job of making these games come to life as he describes the action of the game, the gamblers, the fans and the players.

As someone who works part time for a company that was responsible for changing the baseball box score format in the 1980's (by adding batting averages, pitch counts, etc.), I was particularly interested in seeing the box scores of 1903. The box scores in 1903 are surprisingly similar to today's box scores, although they emphasized hitting and fielding and did not provide a separate pitching line. The batters, after their name and fielding position, had information on at bats (AB), runs (R), base hits (B), putouts (P), assists (A) and errors (E). (Runs batted in were not yet an official statistic.) The bottom of the box score showed additional information on team earned runs, players names who hit doubles, triples or home runs, pitcher walks (called first on balls), pitcher strike outs, passed balls, time of game (usually less than 2 hours), the umpires (just two) and the attendance.

Although I'm a big baseball fan, I generally just read baseball books about my favorite team (Phillies) or a few favorite non-Phillies players (mostly Mickey Mantle), although I have read a few general baseball books for which I've mostly been disappointed or bored. Autumn Glory was not disappointing in any way as it held my interest from beginning to end. With some general discussions of the 1903 season and some of the players of the league, I did get a few Phillies facts to enjoy, but the overall presentation in this book was great and I highly recommend this book to all baseball fans, (even if the author is a Yankees fan).

  • Amazon readers rating: from 6 reviews

Read an excerpt from Autumn Glory at FSG

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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)

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About the Author:

Louis P. Masur a professor of history at City College of New York and the editor of Reviews in American History. He lives in New Jersey with his wife and children.
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