Baseball Holds Its First World Series

After two years of hostile feuding and raiding one another’s rosters, the established National League and the upstart American League began to mend fences with a nine-game championship series between the powerful Pittsburgh Pirates, champions of the National League, and the Boston Pilgrims, winners of the American League pennant.

Summary of Event

For twenty-five years, the National League was the only professional baseball league in the United States. The 1901 birth of the American League ushered in a period of bitter hostilities between the two leagues: Competing teams were placed in the same cities, and players were lured from one another’s rosters. As the 1903 season drew to a close, Barney Dreyfuss, owner of the Pittsburgh Pirates, and Henry Killilea, owner of the Boston Pilgrims, joined forces in an attempt to reconcile the enmity between the leagues. They agreed to stage a nine-game postseason series between their teams, both of which were headed toward winning their respective league championships. For the Pirates, winners of three straight National League pennants, the series offered the opportunity to demonstrate the superiority of the National League, while the Pilgrims, winners of the American League by fourteen and a half games, hoped to prove the competitive worth of their upstart organization. Sports;baseball
Baseball;World Series
World Series (baseball)
National League (baseball)
American League (baseball)
Major League Baseball;World Series
[kw]Baseball Holds Its First World Series (Oct. 1-13, 1903)
[kw]First World Series, Baseball Holds Its (Oct. 1-13, 1903)
[kw]World Series, Baseball Holds Its First (Oct. 1-13, 1903)
Baseball;World Series
World Series (baseball)
National League (baseball)
American League (baseball)
Major League Baseball;World Series
[g]United States;Oct. 1-13, 1903: Baseball Holds Its First World Series[00800]
[c]Sports;Oct. 1-13, 1903: Baseball Holds Its First World Series[00800]
Dreyfuss, Barney
Killilea, Henry
Dinneen, Bill
Young, Cy
Phillippe, Deacon
Wagner, Honus

The series seemed to be a mismatch. The Pirates possessed a powerful offensive lineup, led by future Hall of Fame shortstop Honus Wagner, playing manager Fred Clarke, and outfielder Ginger Beaumont, all of whom hit over .340. The Pilgrims, who would later be known as the Puritans, the Americans, and finally the Red Sox, had a solid lineup of their own, including American League home-run champion Buck Freeman, but they had presumably won their laurels against weaker competition. The series would eventually be decided by Boston’s pitching stars, including future Hall of Famer Cy Young and Bill Dinneen. Together they pitched sixty-nine of the seventy-one innings during the series, bettering Pirate workhorse Deacon Phillippe, who was forced to pitch five complete games because of injuries and illnesses on the Pirates’ staff.

The series opened in Boston and proved to be a wild affair, with more than sixteen thousand fans in bowler hats and three-piece suits crowding into the stadium and uncounted others perching on telegraph poles, sitting on rooftops, or swarming the outfield, confined only by fire hoses strung across the playing field just beyond the outfielders. One particularly rowdy group of supporters, the Royal Rooters, rallied before each game at a neighborhood bar before marching to the stadium playing rattles and drums and singing boisterous songs with lyrics written to insult the visiting players. Once the series moved to Pittsburgh, fans there responded in kind, throwing confetti at the Boston players and carrying the Pittsburgh players off the field on their shoulders.

The series began as expected. The Pirates pounded Young for seven runs, and Phillippe threw a six-hitter to earn a 7-3 victory in Game 1. The next day, however, Dinneen demonstrated the pitching prowess that would eventually secure Boston’s 3-0 win. The Pilgrims’ batting leader Patsy Dougherty slugged both of Boston’s home runs in the series to provide the offensive punch. Phillippe came back to pitch Game 3 and won again, 4-2, on a four-hitter, and when rain delayed Game 4, he returned to the mound and earned a 5-4 victory, giving the Pirates an advantage of three games to one. It would be Pittsburgh’s last win in the series.

At that point, the Pilgrims’ bats came alive and, with the help of Young’s pitching, won Game 5 with a score of 11-2. Dinneen came back to win Game 6, 6-3, tying the series. Pittsburgh sent Phillippe out for Game 7 to recapture the momentum, but Boston pounded the tiring ace 7-3 to gain its first lead in the series, four games to three. Desperate for survival, the Pirates sent Phillippe out one more time for Game 8. The Pilgrims countered with Dinneen, who shut down the Pirates on four hits to give Boston a 3-0 victory. The Pilgrims won the world championship, five games to three.

The Pilgrims had played an outstanding series. Pitching heroes Young and Dinneen won all five games for Boston and never allowed the powerful Pirates to get their offense moving. Pittsburgh’s frustration took its toll defensively as well. Wagner, the Pirates’ popular superstar shortstop, batted just .222 and made six errors in the field. Luck seemed to be against the Pirates as well. Phillippe’s heroic pitching performance became necessary after Sam Leever, who had won twenty-five games for the Pirates, hurt his arm trapshooting, and Ed Doheny, who won sixteen games during the regular season, suffered a mental breakdown, was sent home, and was eventually committed to an asylum. The three-time National League champions would go six more years before they would return to the World Series.


The public loved the idea of a championship between the two leagues. Attendance at the eight games reached 100,429, pushing ticket revenues to $55,500. Dreyfuss and Killilea divided the money equally, and Dreyfuss created additional goodwill by allowing his players to split Pittsburgh’s entire share; Killilea, in contrast, kept half of Boston’s share himself. As a result, Pittsburgh’s players earned nearly $125 more per player than the victorious Pilgrims. The rash of errors and poor offensive performances early in the series led some to suggest that players on both sides were colluding to extend the series and raise gate receipts, but no one doubted that Boston’s dominant pitching determined the outcome.

The series did not immediately resolve tensions between the two leagues. Some National League owners continued to consider the American League an upstart minor league or a renegade competitor for playing talent. The following year, 1904, John T. Brush, owner of the National League champion New York Giants and one of the league’s most influential executives, refused to play a World Series with the Pilgrims, who had again won the American League championship. He was angry that the new league had placed a team of its own in New York and refused to compete with what he considered a representative of the inferior American League. By January of 1905, however, Brush had changed his mind and proposed to reinstate the series under a set of guidelines governing future competition and finances, including shortening the series to seven games and paying players only for the first four games. Within a decade, the World Series had become one of America’s premier sporting events. Sports;baseball
Baseball;World Series
World Series (baseball)
National League (baseball)
American League (baseball)
Major League Baseball;World Series

Further Reading

  • Abrams, Roger I. The First World Series and the Baseball Fanatics of 1903. Boston: Northeastern University Press, 2003. A short but engaging account of Boston’s ethnic and economic character during the early part of the twentieth century, examined as a backdrop for the first World Series.
  • Dabilis, Andy, and Nick Tsiotos. The 1903 World Series: The Boston Americans, the Pittsburgh Pirates, and the “First Championship of the United States.” Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 2004. A gritty look at the social and financial stakes of the first World Series. The authors examine the lives of the players, some of whom, such as Honus Wagner or Cy Young, were household names, although others came from the working class.
  • Masur, Louis P. Autumn Glory: Baseball’s First World Series. New York: Hill & Wang, 2003. A poetically written and sharply detailed account of the series, emphasizing not only the ebb and flow of the games themselves, but the personalities of the men who participated in them and the social context in which they occurred.
  • Ryan, Bob. When Boston Won the World Series: A Chronicle of Boston’s Remarkable Victory in the First Modern World Series of 1903. New York: Running Press, 2004. An engaging look at the first World Series from the perspective of the Boston Pilgrims, with a focus on the players and their roles in the community and on the team. Written by a Boston sports reporter who used the firsthand accounts of the Boston Globe sportswriter who covered the series and knew its participants.

First Rose Bowl Game

American College Football Allows the Forward Pass

Black Sox Scandal

New York Yankees Acquire Babe Ruth

Formation of the American Professional Football Association

First Major League Baseball All-Star Game

Dedication of the Baseball Hall of Fame