Historical Markers
First World Series Historical Marker
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First World Series

Pittsburgh Region


Marker Location:
Three Rivers Stadium, Pittsburgh

Dedication Date:
September 18, 1998

Behind the Marker

The 1903 World Series wasn't really the first World Series -just the first one played between the pennant winners of the National and American leagues. Through the last quarter of the nineteenth century, several major leagues were in operation at various times, and it wasn't unusual to determine a world champion through a post-season series. But the 1903 World Series has always been considered the first official World Series. And it was unusual, starting with the fact that this inaugural chapter of the Fall Classic was even held at all. In 1903 the two leagues were at war with one another, in full battle mode since the upstart American League had declared in 1901 that it was a full-fledged major league. Not surprisingly, the National League, which had enjoyed unrivaled supremacy as the only major league for almost a decade, refused to recognize the American League as an equal.

A photo of Exposition Park, in Pittsburgh, 1904.
Exposition Park in Pittsburgh in 1904

Offering much higher salaries, the new American League had brazenly raided and signed some of the National League's biggest stars, including future Hall of Famers Cy Young, Napoleon Lajoie - who fled cross-town from the Phillies to join markerConnie Mack's new A's and eventually lead the league in batting - Jimmy Collins, John McGraw, Hugh Duffy, Iron Man McGinnity, and Roger Bresnahan. The Nationals counter-raided. Bickering and backbiting, the two leagues fought each other on every conceivable battlefield from the courthouse to the sports pages - everywhere, that is, except the diamond. But that was about to change. And the catalyst, of course, was money.

As the leagues continued to fight over fans, franchises, and players, both sides realized they were hemorrhaging cash and heading on a collision course toward mutual destruction. A peace treaty seemed prudent.

By opening day of the 1903 season, the two leagues had established the structure for what's become known as Organized Baseball. The agreement included two major leagues, unified rules of play and unified agreements with the minor leagues, cooperative scheduling, and respect for the sanctity of each other's contracts. To cash in on the sudden appearance of good will and the potential bonanza of post-season gate receipts, the agreement also included a new and improved version of the World Series. All that was left, apparently, was to agree on the format.
1903 World Series  Photo
1903 First World Series

In September of 1903, markerBarney Dreyfuss, owner of the National League's Pittsburgh Pirates, and Henry Killelea, of the American League's Boston Pilgrims, did just that. With the outcome of the season still to be decided, each owner was so sure of his teams' ability to win their respective pennants that they hammered out the framework for a best-of-nine-game championship. The first three games would be played at Boston's Huntington Avenue Grounds, the next four at the Pirates' home, Exposition Park. If necessary, the final two games would go back to Boston.

The heavily favored Pirates won two out of three marker on the Pilgrims' home field, but then could manage only a single win at home. The fans turned out in such numbers in Pittsburgh that the overflow for game five had to be herded into a standing-room-only area, right in centerfield. Rallying from a 3-1 deficit, the Pilgrims swept the last four games, as Boston pitcher Bill Dineen won three victories and Cy Young notched the other two. The Pirates markerHonus Wagner had won the National League batting title that season with a .353 average, but he batted a pitiful .222 against Boston's American League pitchers. When it was over, the upstart Pilgrims had stunned the baseball world by triumphing over the National League champs five games to three.

Despite the financial and public relations boon of the first World Series, a grudging disrespect between the leagues continued to simmer. The Leagues played no second World Series in 1904, for the Giants refused to play. "We have gained all the glory there is to gain in baseball," their owner boasted, "winning the National League pennant."

In 1905, the series returned for good. Through two World Wars and the Great Depression, it has been played every year since except one. In 1994, the game's hardball economics resulted in a protracted and unpopular players' strike that ended the season early, and scrapped the post-season entirely.
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