Denton “Cy” Young leaned in for the sign. Across his chest “Boston” was sewn into a collared jersey, laced at the top. White baggy pants rose high above the waist tucked into tall dark socks. A leather glove in the shape of a human hand rested on his knee, ready for the action like the thousands of onlooking spectators.
In the heart of the Northeastern campus, the statue of Cy Young, the man for whom the annual award for the best pitcher in each league is named, stands ever-waiting.
It was October 1, 1903 – the first game of the first World Series. Honus Wagner and the Pittsburgh Pirates from the dominant National League were in town to take on the Boston Americans (the franchise that would become the Red Sox just four years later) from the newly established American League in a best of nine – yes, nine – game series.
Believe it or not, there was an era in Boston baseball that predates historic Fenway Park. Fenway wasn’t constructed until 1912, moved deeper north into Boston from the franchise’s original home. Its home on Huntington Avenue.
The Huntington Avenue Grounds, costing all of $35,000 (just under $1 million in today’s dollars), opened in 1901 after owner Ban Johnson decided his new American League needed a Boston-based team to compete with the Boston Braves just a quarter mile away. Staff ace Cy Young, player-manager Jimmy Collins and the outfield trio of Patsy Dougherty, Chick Stahl and Buck Freeman were plucked from National League squads and banded together, placing second and third in the team’s first two seasons.
But it was their magical third season together in 1903 that would bring the first taste of interleague baseball glory to the city of Boston.
The series was meant to be a simple exhibition, an attempt by Johnson to prove that his newfound league was more than a scrap heap from the National League’s remains. No, his intention was to transform major league baseball into a two-league battle for ultimate supremacy.
Roughly 12,000 fans packed into the makeshift stadium lined with advertisements for 10-cent cigars and bottled beer. The infield diamond gave way to a sprawling pasture of an outfield measuring 530 feet to center field. Patches of sand lay where grass would not grow, a rough conglomeration resembling the nascent stage of the sport as a whole.
Heavy underdogs against the established National League powerhouse, the Boston Americans disappointed the home crowd in Game One, as the Pirates’ four-run first off Cy Young proved insurmountable.
This was a time known as the “deadball era” in baseball – the balls did not have same cork center as they would later adopt, taking much more effort to drive the ball. At the same time, players didn’t receive the kind of advanced training that professional athletes do today; pitchers threw their fastball in the low eighties and complemented it with a changeup or maybe a looping curveball. On the plus side, they seemingly had rubber arms, often finishing the games they started.
In 1903, Young and Bill Dinneen combined for 69 starts – they went all nine innings in 66 of them.
Dinneen spun a three-hit shutout in Game Two, striking out 11 Pirates. Outfielder Patsy Dougherty led off the bottom of the first with an inside-the-park home run, a feat that would not be replicated in the World Series for 112 years. He would then hit the first over-the-fence home run in a World Series later in the sixth.
A Game Three loss took the Series back to Pittsburgh (or more accurately Allegheny City), where a second straight defeat put the Americans in a 3-1 hole. However, a new sense of momentum showed up quite literally at Exposition Park in the form of the Royal Rooters.
These rowdy Bostonians gathered en masse in the bleachers, flooding the stadium to the point where a rope was assembled in the outfield to hold spectators back. A ball that found its way under the rope was deemed a ground-rule triple – 17 were hit in the four games in Allegheny City.
The Royal Rooters made their presence felt, belting the words to their fight song, “Tessie”, the noise reaching deafening levels whenever Hall-of-Fame shortstop Honus Wagner strode to the plate for the Pirates. Any sense of home field advantage was shattered with “Up from Third Base to Huntington / They sang another victory song”. Boston won three games of the four in enemy territory.
With that, the inaugural World Series found its way back to Huntington Avenue for the decisive Game Eight.
Bill Dineen takes the mound as hungry students rush in between classes for a quick bite at Rebecca’s. Honus Wagner steals second base in front of the steps to Hayden Hall. Patsy Dougherty hits the first World Series home run, crashing into the window of the Cabot Center. The Royal Rooters sing from the Krentzman Quad. Boston celebrates the first World Series victory on Huntington.
The start of a 115-year-old-and-counting baseball tradition happened here – the place where America’s pastime meets America’s future.
Photo by Brian Bae