Monday, October 29, 2012

The First World Series (From the Vault)


     The hype, hoopla and accomplishments of the 2012 baseball season will now belong to history along with the elongated play-offs and recent World Series which joins the first one that took place in 1903. The world, baseball and the World Series were very different then.

      Back in the 1880s for a period of seven years there had been play-offs between the champs of the National League and the American Association. Once the play-offs went to 15 games - 1887 between St. Louis and Detroit. Pittsburgh won its third straight National League pennant in 1903. Boston won the brand new American League title that season by 14 l/2 games over the Philadelphia Athletics.    

       The Pirates bragged about Honus Wagner whose .355 average earned him the batting title. Their swashbuckling manager Fred Clarke was runner-up with a .351 average. Boston boasted about two 20-game winners in Deacon Phillippe and Sam Leever.

        The first modern World Series came about at the suggestion of Boston owner Henry J. Killilea and Pittsburgh's owner Barney Dreyfuss. It was called "Championship of the United States" and it was a five of nine games affair. The first game was October l, 1903 at Boston's Huntington Avenue Grounds before 16,242. Deacon Phillippe pitched Pittsburgh to a 7-3 win over Boston's Cy Young.

      Throughout the game and the series Boston's rabid fans serenaded Pittsburgh players with a popular song of the day, "Tessie," but they substituted their own vulgar words for the regular lyrics. The routine definitely had a negative impact on the Pittsburgh players. "It was that damn song that caused us problems," grumbled Buc player Tommy Leach afterwards.

    Deacon Phillippe won three of the first four games of the series for Pittsburgh but then faltered. Boston then swept the next four games. Bill Dinneen and Cy Young won all five games for Boston in the series On October 13, only 7,455 showed up - the smallest crowd of the series. Phillippe pitched his fifth complete game of the series but lost, 3-0 to Dinneen and Boston had the championship.

    Right after the game ended players from both clubs lined up for a combination team photo. It was a remarkable display of good sportsmanship considering the bitterness that had existed between the junior American League and senior National League.

     An oddity of the World Series was that the losing players received more money that than the winners. Buc Owner Dreyfuss put his club's share of the gate receipts into the players' pool. Each Pittsburgh player netted $1,316 while each Boston player netted $1,182.

      Deacon Phillippe - heroic in his efforts in the series with five decisions and 44 innings pitched, still World Series records, was given a bonus and 10 shares of stock in the Pirates.

     Oddly enough there was no World Series played in 1904. Boston was ready, willing able. But the National League pennant winning New York Giants were not. Their manager John J. McGraw snarled: "We are the champions of the only major league." In 1905, the World Series resumed, fitted itself into its best of seven format and has been with us ever since.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Sports Book Reviews: Tony La Russa’s “One Last Strike” and More

          An avalanche of fall sports books are on the shelves ready for reading. The range of subjects and approaches are amazing.  All have something of interest for readers, but topping the list as he topped the baseball world in so many ways is Tony La Russa’s “One Last Strike” (William Morrow, $27.99, 420 pages). The price is right and the reading is fascinating.   

          The book takes one inside the mind of the great LaRussa through the 2011 world championship season of the Cards offering insights and inside baseball that only the legendary Redbird skipper could. The book also offers much more than that  - -focusing as it does in intriguing details about personalities like Mark McGwire, Joe Torre, Sparky Anderson, Albert Pujols. Where most “memoirs” are rehashes of news stories – this book breaks new ground fort the genre. MUST HAVE

          The story of the man behind the Heisman Trophy is the subject of “Heisman” by John M. Heisman (Howard, Simon and Schuster, $25.00, 248 pages). Written by the subject’s great nephew along with author Mark Schlabach, this is a special kind of book for football fans revealing as it was the life and times of its subject - -the man behind the trophy. Archival photos and important research make the book a winner.

          “How the SEC became Goliath” by Ray Glier (Howard, Simon and Schuster, $22.99, 245 pages) is an engrossing view revealing the creation of the most dominant conference in collegiate football.

           "Baseball is Just Baseball" by David Shields (Blue Rider Press/Penguin, $14.00, 183 pages) is a slim and under-sized attempt to capitalize of the fabulous Japanese star's move from Seattle to the New York Yankees. Nevertheless, this unauthorized collection is serene reading and a provider of insights into the superstar.
          "Sandlot Stats" by Stanley Rothman (Johns Hopkins Press, 571 pages) is an over-sized tome that is truly a scholarly labor of love as its sub-title proclaims "learning statistics with baseball." For those interested in the subject - -this is your book - - one that attempts to explain the mathematical anchorage of baseball as a way to understand the universe of stats and probability.

          For fans of the Mick – “The Classic Mantle” by Buzz Bisssinger with photographs by Marvin E. Newman (Abrams, $19.95, 114 pages, 50 color and b/w photos) is the book for you. The price tag is a bit hefty for the slim volume but the tome packs a punch showcasing as it does images from Mantle’s heyday.

          “Lamar Hunt” by Michael MacCambridge (Universal Uclick, $27.99, 416 pages) is a page turning biography by one of the best football writers around. Page after page yields up anecdotes about Hunt’s impact on sports- -in fact three sports. Hunt is the only one inducted into three Halls of Fame. Hunt was a man who changed American sports, especially football. This is an important book for all those interested in sports and culture.

          From the Clerisy Press comes “Gone Pro Alabama” ($17.95, 368 pages, paper) a book that details the deeds of Crimson Tide athletes who went on to become legends.

          In a hockey frame of mind from McClelland and Stewart comes “The Life of Conn Smythe” ($19.00, 384 pages, paper). This is definitely a tome terrific for those interested in the life story of a true hockey legend.