The New York Highlanders had come quickly, rushing into the American League Grounds without a chance to change into their home uniforms. They had been expected earlier that Friday but a train wreck near Terre Haute, Indiana, delayed their return from St. Louis and they did not arrive in New York until noon.1 They would play today in their blue road uniforms since they did not have time to change into their home whites before the 3 p.m. start time.2
While Boston’s Americans had a smooth journey from Chicago, the visitors were likely as fatigued. This five-game series to decide the 1904 American League pennant was the culmination of a battle of attrition at the end of the longest season in major-league history so far.
The schedule had been expanded from 140 to 154 games in 1904, and after roughly 149 of them there still was no decision. Defending champion Boston led New York by the thinnest of margins: .001 percentage point. Five teams had been within five games of the lead in late August but pretenders like the Chicago White Sox, Philadelphia Athletics, and Cleveland Naps fell away over the season’s final month. Now Boston and New York prepared to fight for the flag like a pair of weary heavyweights answering the bell for the final round.
It was a chilly early October day, but around 9,000 fans made the trek to what some called the “Hilltop” in the outer reaches of Manhattan. The Champions, as the Boston press referred to them, were a veteran crew that used only five pitchers the entire year, but an injury to regular third starter Jesse Tannehill meant Norwood Gibson would take the mound.3 For his part, New York manager Clark Griffith went with his ace, Jack Chesbro, who had compiled an incredible 40-10 record. Erstwhile Highlander third starter Al Orth was also hurt, which left Griffith with only a pair of reliable arms he was forced to lean heavily upon down the stretch.
Chesbro was the most important of those arms, and when the dust settled in 1904, he amassed 454⅔ innings pitched over 55 appearances, 51 starts, and 48 complete games. A critical part of the pennant-winning Pirates clubs in 1901 and 1902, the 30-year-old Chesbro had used a new pitch – the spitball – to reach greater statistical heights in 1904. He made good enough use of his new weapon to post a 5-2 mark against the Champions so far this season. He was expected to start at least two of the five games in the series.
Boston manager Jimmy Collins was the first man to reach base this day after an uneventful first inning. He led off the second with a walk and moved up on a groundout. But he committed a bonehead play when he tried to take third on Candy LaChance’s hard grounder to short. Kid Elberfeld fired the ball to third and Collins was an easy out.
The Highlanders threatened in the bottom half when Gibson walked catcher Red Kleinow to load the bases with one out. Chesbro had a chance to help his cause but could only tap back to the mound. That brought up a smiling Patsy Dougherty, the man at the center of the year’s most controversial trade.4
Dougherty had led the AL in hits (195) and runs (107) in 1903. After a slow start in 1904, he had begun to hit when the baseball world was stunned by his trade from Boston to New York. “Trade” was a bit of a misnomer; all the Champions received in return was injured utilityman Bob Unglaub, who contributed only 14 plate appearances for his new team that season. The fans’ outrage was magnified when Dougherty went on a hitting tear for New York and contributed heavily to a series victory in Boston in late June. This time, however, there was no revenge on his old team as he bounced into a force, and Gibson escaped the jam.
Boston nicked Chesbro for the first run in the top of the third when Freddy Parent singled to center to score Kip Selbach, who had singled and advanced to second on a passed ball, but the home team quickly responded in its half. Gibson, who had a reputation for wildness, hit Elberfeld in the leg with one out. One batter later, the Kid broke for second, and John Anderson reached out and pulled the ball down the left-field line for a double. Elberfeld scored to tie the game, 1-1.
It remained that way until the bottom of the fifth when Dougherty came through to bedevil his old team. Boston ownership had underestimated fan reaction to the trade and began a whispering campaign against their former player, alleging that Dougherty had been dealt because he was a bad defender who sulked and caused problems. Whether or not it was true, Jimmy Collins had to quickly swing a trade with Washington for Selbach, a veteran of three National League teams and two American League teams so far in his 11-season career, to plug the gaping hole in the Boston outfield.
Dougherty fell behind 0-and-2, then fouled off a series of pitches before fisting a blooper that fell between Selbach and shortstop Parent in left-center field. The Boston Globe claimed the ball dropped due to crowd noise; whatever the cause, Dougherty made it to second on the play and eventually scored on Elberfeld’s sacrifice fly, giving the Highlanders a 2-1 lead.5
Gibson survived the inning to keep the deficit at one, but New York struck again in the seventh, and Dougherty was in the middle of the trouble. The fleet left fielder dropped a bunt down the first-base line and LaChance fumbled the ball.
Wee Willie Keeler tried to get a bunt down but failed and fouled out. That brought up Jimmy Williams, but Dougherty broke for second before he had a chance to swing and was easily safe as catcher Lou Criger dropped the pitch.6 Williams then drove a grounder through the left side of the infield to make the score 3-1.
Boston made its charge in the next inning. Selbach walked and took off on a hit-and-run. Parent grounded to Williams, who reached the ball as Selbach cut in front of him, sending both men sprawling. Umpire Tommy Connolly called Selbach out for interference, leaving Parent on first.7
Chick Stahl singled, but Chesbro got Collins out, which left men at second and third with two gone. One swing of the bat could tie the game, and Buck Freeman’s high bounder looked likely to do just that. Elberfeld, however, did a fine job of knocking the ball down and keeping in it the infield and holding Stahl at third, as Parent scored to cut Boston’s deficit to one run.
Elberfeld’s defense proved critical when Chesbro induced LaChance to hit an easy grounder to short. The Champions’ last best chance was gone, and they were retired in order in the ninth.
The New York fans swarmed the field as the 3-2 victory moved the Highlanders into first place with only four games to go. They carried Chesbro and Griffith on their shoulders and the latter reveled in the moment.8 “Clark Griffith held a handshaking bee after the game,” the Globe snidely commented.9 The locals needed to win only two of the remaining four contests to clinch the pennant. It was the apogee of New York Highlander baseball.
But there were still those four games remaining and the Saturday doubleheader would be in Boston. Although originally scheduled for American League Park, New York owner Frank Farrell had leased the grounds to the Columbia University football team earlier in the year. Instead of playing at home, the Highlanders were forced to go on the road in front of 30,000 screaming Hub fans to disastrous results.10 Griffith started an exhausted Chesbro in the opener and Boston took both games. The teams returned to New York where the big pitcher threw a devastating wild pitch in the ninth inning to lose the pennant on the final day of the season.
Yet all of that was ahead as the Highlanders basked in the glow of Chesbro’s 41st win and looked forward to the weekend. The future appeared bright and none of the fans pouring out of the grounds could have imagined that it would take another 17 years and the arrival of Babe Ruth for an AL pennant to fly in New York.
In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, the author consulted Baseball-Reference.com and Retrosheet.org.
1 “Double-Headers in Two Big Leagues,” New York Times, October 7, 1904: 7.
2 “First Game Taken by Greater New Yorks,” New York Times, October 8, 1904: 7.
4 “Passed in the Race,” Boston Globe, October 8, 1904: 4.
5 “Passed in the Race.”
6 “Passed in the Race.”
7 “Boston Loses First Game to New York,” Boston Post, October 8, 1904: 5.
8 “New Yorks Win and Lead,” New York Sun, October 8, 1904: 9.
9 “Passed in the Race.”
10 “Columbia’s Football Field,” New York Times, July 16, 1904: 8.