Bob Ryan

"When Boston Won the World Series"

(Reviewed by Mary Whipple MAY 28, 2003)

"Any time some old-timer starts rhapsodizing about the supposed 'Good Old Days' in American sport, Game 3 of the 1903 World Series can be cited as an example that greed and a complete lack of common sense was as much a part of doing business way-back-when as it has been at any time in our existence."

When Boston Won the World Series by Bob Ryan

The best-of-nine series between Boston and the Pittsburgh Pirates was tied, 1 - 1, when Game Three of the 1903 World Series opened at the Huntington Avenue Grounds in Boston, always a "baseball town." Boston fans were delirious about this team, with its "snap" and "ginger." Part of the new American League, started only three years before, in direct competition with Boston's National League team, the Boston Americans (sometimes called the Puritans or the Pilgrims, but not the Red Sox until 1907), boasted many players formerly of Boston's National League team, who had jumped to the new league. Third-baseman/manager Jimmy Collins was enormously popular. Star pitcher Cy Young, already 36 but still strong, and destined to play eight more seasons, was just one of three Boston pitchers with more than twenty wins in the regular season. And, best of all for the spectators, tickets were only twenty-five cents, rather than the fifty cents charged by the National League team.

When Game Three rolled around, fans descended in droves, and when the tickets ran out, the ticket sellers just kept selling admissions. When all the seats were filled, spectators swarmed over the ropes and rushed to line the sides of the park along the baselines-until they became so numerous that the players had to give up their own benches and sit on the grass. When the infield sidelines became overcrowded, the fans simply lined the outfield--in droves, occasionally crowding right up to the diamond itself. Police reinforcements had to use rubber hoses to drive back the crowd. And when a player hit a short fly ball toward left field and Jimmy Collins went back to catch it, there were so many fans in the outfield that this normally easy catch was declared an automatic ground-rule double! When Boston's biggest hitters cracked their bats and hit some long balls which would certainly have been homeruns under any other circumstances, these, too, became ground-rule doubles! For the first time in history, the Boston team lost the game thanks to their overly enthusiastic and numerous fans.

This was the first World Series ever held, not the result of an agreement between the two leagues, but the result of a personal challenge between Barney Dreyfuss, the owner of the best National League team, Pittsburgh, and Henry J. Killilea, owner of the best American League team, Boston. Ryan brings alive these events of a hundred years ago, using research from the Boston Globe archives, especially the writing of Tim Murnane, a former player turned reporter, and the Baseball Hall of Fame, the A. Bartlett Giamatti Research Center, and Northeastern University. Photographs and copies of original documents help bring this ancient duel, its players, and its partisans, alive for the modern reader.

Immensely skillful in characterizing the players for both teams, Ryan points out what makes them unusual and memorable so the reader can match their personalities and characters with the faces in the photos and imagine the action. Among the most memorable are Cy Young, his favorite catcher Lou Criger (sickly already from the early stages of tuberculosis), the elegant and intelligent Jimmy Collins (both a consummate player and respected captain/manager), the hot-tempered Hobe Ferris (later to become infamous for kicking a teammate in the face), and shortstop Freddy Parent of Sanford, Maine, who lived to be a 92-year-old commentator during the 1967 World Series between the Boston Red Sox and the St. Louis Cardinals. For Pittsburgh, the legendary Honus Wagner and pitcher Deacon Philippe, who, because of Pittsburgh's weak pitching staff, was forced to pitch in five of the eight games, sometimes with only one day off, are especially vivid.

Ryan devotes an entire chapter to Pittsburgh owner Barney Dreyfuss, "the greatest ball fan on earth," a generous man who declared that he would take no profit from the Series and that every penny would go to the players. In an unusual move when the Series was over, Dreyfuss made all his team's checks out to the players' wives, not the players themselves, saying the wives probably were more responsible with money than their husbands and probably needed it more. Numerous contrasts, both overt and implied, exist between Dreyfuss, whom Ryan believes belongs in the Hall of Fame for his contributions to the game, and Boston owner Henry Killilea, for whom the team was a business which he oversaw from out of state. Killilea originally wanted to split the gate receipts with the players in a 50-50 split. The Boston players eventually negotiated it to a 60-40 split, but as the winners of the Series, they were paid significantly less than the losing Pirates players. Killilea did not even attend all the games.

The book is filled with interesting similarities and differences between the games of 1903 and the games of the present. As early as 1903, Globe writer Tim Murnane was suggesting a designated hitter like the one the American League now uses. The concept of the fan club which travels to other cities to root for the team began in 1903, with Boston's Royal Rooters, and their use of the song "Tessie," totally unrelated to baseball, to upset the opposition was a deciding factor in this Series. Scalpers became a major problem in Game 8, the last game of the Series, and Ryan suggests that it was someone in owner Killilea's employ who assured that virtually all tickets had to be purchased from scalpers-there were almost none to be had through the regular venues.

With its publication coinciding with the opening of baseball season, Ryan's short but lively book should certainly catch on with Boston and Pittsburgh fans impatient with cold weather and champing at the bit to get out to the ballpark. But it should also appeal to lovers of the game in general. In his recreation of an era, more than a decade before Babe Ruth appeared in a Boston uniform, Ryan reminds us of the roots of "the American sport" and shows us that one hundred years after this series that the game is still remarkably unchanged.

  • Amazon readers rating: from 6 reviews


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About the Author:

Bob Ryan is a sports writer for The Boston Globe and also regularly appears on ESPN. He is the author of 15 books and has written passionately about sports for 30 years.
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