What is generally conceded to be the first World Series almost never got played. It was saved by a last-minute phone call involving Lou Criger and Cy Young, the most famous battery of their day—and one of the greatest of all time—and Jimmy Collins, the third-baseman-manager of the Boston Americans (also known as the Puritans and as the Pilgrims). That call is vividly remembered today by Fred Parent, one of their teammates and, at 92, the last surviving Boston player in that first Series.
The call came through as Criger and Young were waiting at a railroad station near the Americans' Huntington Avenue diamond for a train to take them home to the Midwest. As far as both were concerned, the season of 1903 was all finished and done with. They were packed and ready to go, convinced, like many of their teammates, that their contracts had run out. All they knew about a possible World Series between their team and the Pittsburgh Nationals was what they had read in the Boston papers of September 25, i.e., that it had been called off.
"We didn't have much communication with the management in those days," says Fred Parent.
A lot of things were different in baseball in 1903. Parent remembers that there were no clubhouses for visiting teams, and the players drove from hotels to the fields wearing their uniforms. But when they got there they played real ball. Parent loves to talk about those Boston Americans. There was Pat Dougherty, who hit a couple of home runs in one of the games. "He could hit, run and throw," says Fred. "I faced him first when he was pitching for Bridgeport in the Eastern League. He could do everything well." And then there was Candy LaChance, who played first and went to church with Parent. "He was a really nice fellow."
September 29, 1968
Buck Freeman, who had hit 25 home runs in 1899, was the cleanup batter and played right field. "Buck's legs weren't too good. We'd tried him at first base one year, but he was no good on ground balls. He couldn't cover much territory in right." Then there was Lou Criger, the catcher. "He wasn't a great hitter by any means. He'd hit to right field even though he was right-handed. He had a low batting average, but Lou would drive in a lot of runs. And what a catcher. In eight years I never saw him drop a foul ball. Even Ty Cobb had all kinds of trouble running the bases on Lou."
Certainly it was a well-rounded team, this 1903 Boston American aggregation, what with its hitting, fielding, pitching and catching.
Its series with the Nationals, the Boston counterpart in the other league, had been arranged after a long period of interleague warfare, which ended—more or less—when both leagues signed an agreement permitting the owner of the Nationals to bar the American League from Pittsburgh forever. Sometime during the season when it looked as if Pittsburgh would be an easy winner in its league, that same owner, Barney Dreyfuss, approached Milwaukee Lawyer Henry J. Killilea, who owned the American League-leading Bostonians, with the idea of staging a best-out-of-nine-games playoff in September. The deal was made; the dates were set. Then the Boston players revolted, and Killilea announced to the press that the Series was off. The cause of the revolt was a disagreement over the players' split of the gate. Killilea wanted half Boston's share of the receipts; the players wanted more. They read the statement from Jimmy Collins in the September 25 papers that there would be no Series, that Killilea was adamant, and they got ready to leave—and were on the way. But Killilea recanted, and Collins had to round up the Americans. He got in touch with most of them at home and, as Parent says, put in the crucial call to the railroad station after he found out where Criger and Young were. A clubhouse meeting was called for September 26. Killilea finally said he'd take only 25% of the proceeds coming to him (half of the total proceeds) and let the team have 75%. Thus the stage was set for a unique event—a World Series in which the winning-team (Boston) members got less money than members of the losing team. The Boston Americans each received $1,182.17 plus $98 apiece that they raised at a banquet in Boston. But Barney Dreyfuss turned over all his proceeds to his Nationals, and their final shares totaled $1,316.25 each. 'Things just weren't worked out very well for the Series," Freddy Parent asserts.
It wasn't just the arrangements for paying the players. The fields they played on were far too small for the crowds they drew. The October 3 game in Boston sold 18,801 admission tickets, and another 20,000 crowded in free. The October 10 game in Pittsburgh drew 17,038 paid. Exposition Park in Pittsburgh normally held about 8,000 maximum. Pictures in the Boston papers show police using rubber hoses and nightsticks to move the fans back. Ropes went up to keep them back, and it was a triple if you hit it into the crowd behind those ropes. In the four games in Pittsburgh 18 triples boomed into the crowds, 13 of them hit by the Bostons. "Sure, if we got the ball we wanted we'd deliberately try to hit it into the crowd behind the ropes," Parent admits. "In Boston the fans broke down the fence. And before it broke down some fans were pulling up others with ropes over that fence for $1 or $2 a head. What a way to run a World Series!"
There were other mixed-up aspects to the contest. The great Honus Wagner, for example, never looked worse. He batted .222, made many errors and got only one hit in his last 14 times at bat. Near the end of the games in Pittsburgh, this famed shortstop was being showered with confetti—and not as a tribute. Parent himself hit 59 points higher, made some great plays and was being cheered in Pittsburgh by the time the Series neared its end there. "Wagner was hurt and wouldn't speak to me on the field or right after the Series," Parent says. "I'm afraid he choked." At the end of it all Boston won five games to three, after trailing three games to one.
How does Parent explain the shift? "We just couldn't get started," he says. "We didn't get the breaks in these first four games. We were hitting the ball hard—and we were a hitting team—but it would go straight to someone, or one of the Pittsburgh players would come up with a sensational catch. Kitty Bransfield caught one I hit, and as I ran past he himself said he was a lucky s.o.b. [Bransfield was the Pittsburgh first baseman.] After we started getting the breaks we could have beaten them 50 games easy."
What Parent feels was the greatest fielding play of the Series is an example of Pittsburgh's early breaks. In the fourth game played at Pittsburgh, Duke Farrell, the Boston team's drunk ("It was hard stuff, you know," Parent says), pinch-hit with three on and with Boston rallying. Even with a hangover Farrell could still hit, and he laced a line drive over Wagner's head. It looked like a sure hit, Parent explains (and he was on third), but Fred Clarke, Pittsburgh's playing manager, came tearing in from left field and made a great, one-handed catch. That saved two runs, and the final score of that fourth game was Pittsburgh 5 and Boston 4. "I have a picture of us on the bench about that time—and you should have seen the long faces," Parent declares.
By the time the Series got going the Pittsburgh pitching staff had been riddled for one reason or another, but the team still had Deacon Phillippe, who won the three games that Pittsburgh took and was dubbed a hero. Parent doesn't recall that Phillippe was so great. "He just had a curve and a changeup, and we always could have hit him with any breaks," he claims. Although Sam Leever, who had won over 20 for Pittsburgh, came up with a lame arm for the Series, he did pitch one complete game and part of an earlier one, but Parent scoffs at that. "Sam was afraid we'd hit the hell out of him," he asserts. "He, too, had nothing but a curve and changeup." Ed Doheny, who had won 16 games for Pittsburgh, went insane near season's end and ended up in an institution.
Parent's own team had at least one pitching problem: Tom Hughes, a 21-game winner, appeared for only one short two-inning stretch in the Series. Bill Dinneen, who was later to become a great umpire, was the Boston hero with three wins, two of them shutouts. And old Cy Young, by then 36, had a couple of wins. What happened to Hughes, who had just as many wins as Dinneen in the regular season? "For some reason," says Parent, "Collins didn't like him by Series time. He must have crossed Jimmy somewhere along the line in the season. Collins was a quiet, nice man, but you couldn't cross him. He started Hughes one day after Tom had spent a night on the town. I think Tom did it because he wasn't being pitched. Naturally he was whacked and never appeared in the Series again. It was about the end for Tom."
While Parent has some contempt for the way the first modern World Series was run, he has only admiration for the way the game was played then compared with now. "The pitchers were smarter then," he says. "If you got a couple of hits in a row you were bound to be brushed back on the first pitch your next time up. No manager would give signs to the batter. It was up to him. If you didn't do what was right at the plate you heard about it. You gave signals to the base runner. The batter had to think; he just didn't do what the manager ordered."
After that first Series the baseball war broke out again, and there was no World Series in 1904. John J. McGraw, who managed Baltimore, jumped out of the American League in 1902 and joined the New York Giants in the National. John Brush, the Giants' owner, backed up his manager 100%. The Giants won the pennant in 1904 but refused to play the Americans. It took another year for public opinion to bring about the first official World Series between the two leagues in 1905.
But even though the 1904 Series wasn't played, Fred Parent knows how it would have come out. "The Giants would have been duck soup for us," he says. "They were afraid of us. We'd played them in the spring and had really whacked them, both Joe McGinnity and Christy Mathewson. We would have won."
And there is sadness in Parent's memory about the breakup of the 1903-1904 Boston Americans. "General Taylor, the new owner, did it. He was drunk half the time, and when he didn't like a player that was that. He didn't like Jimmy Collins, and he got rid of him. He didn't like Pat Dougherty and sold him to New York. He got rid of Candy LaChance when Candy wouldn't become a switch hitter. General Taylor did give us all more money in 1904. My salary went up from $3,500 to $4,200, but at the end of 1907 he sold me to Charley Comiskey and the White Sox."
That was the end of the first World Championship team.