Besting Honus Wagner: The Forgotten Season of Cy Seymour
This article was written by Tom Nardacci
This article was published in Fall 2021 Baseball Research Journal
When James Bentley “Cy” Seymour of the Reds stepped into the batter’s box on August 2, 1905, in Cincinnati, he was battling Pittsburgh Pirates great Honus Wagner for the National League batting crown. At start of play that Wednesday afternoon Wagner, 31, was batting .356, and Seymour, 32, was at .357.1 Wagner had won the title in each of the previous two seasons and would win it in the succeeding four. Seymour, though, was no stranger to the NL batting race. He had previously challenged for the title in 1903, ultimately finishing fifth behind Wagner’s .355 average.
On this day, a struggling Brooklyn squad faced the Reds at Cincinnati’s League Park, also called the “Palace of the Fans.” Brooklyn, owned by Charles Ebbets, had finished the previous decade with its second league championship, but since then had steadily been falling in the standings. The Superbas, though, had come to Cincy fresh off a 1–0 victory over Wagner’s Pirates. In contrast, their hosts had lost an incredible eight in a row to the indomitable New York Giants. The Reds were eager to snap their skid.
In the top of the 13th, light-hitting Brooklyn shortstop Charlie Babb had doubled down the right-field line, was sacrificed to third, then scored on a bobbled bunt. With that, Brooklyn had taken a 7–6 lead.2
Leading off the Reds’ half of the inning was lefty-batting Seymour. The veteran hitter’s gray eyes were sharp and he was tall, of medium-build.3 Cy already had stroked two singles and a triple over the first nine innings before working a walk in the 10th.4
The first offering from Brooklyn pitcher Harry McIntire was crushed, as Seymour drove the ball on a line over first base and sprinted around the bases. Speedy outfielder Harry Lumley bolted for the ball at the crack of the bat, hoping to intercept it near the right-field line. He had no chance; the ball was simply moving too fast and he chased it into the far corner in right. Before Lumley could get the ball back to the infield, Seymour had crossed home plate and was on his way to the dugout. In one swing, Seymour had tied the score, 7–7. McIntire, appearing exhausted, yielded three more singles, and the Reds pushed across the second run of the inning to win, 8–7.5
Seymour and Wagner, “The Flying Dutchman,” would battle through the rest of the summer and into October, but with his four hits against Brooklyn that August afternoon, Seymour never trailed in the batting race the rest of the season.
A WILD START
“Cy” Seymour had been on the baseball scene for some time when the 1905 season began. He had played amateur, professional, and semipro baseball before joining the New York Giants as a pitcher in 1896. the Albany, New York, native played first in Plattsburgh, New York, near the Canadian border, then in Springfield, Massachusetts.6 Because of Seymour’s wildness on the mound, some batters feared him as much as a cyclone. “He had speed to burn and probably has as much stuff on the ball as any lefthander in the history of the game with the possible exception of ‘Rube’ Waddell,” wrote Fred Lieb. “But ‘Cy’ never could tell where his fast ball would go,” he added. “If he had luck, it would dart over the corners of the plate as intended.”7 His career in baseball would indeed carve a path befitting his pseudonym.
In 1898, Seymour won 25 games pitching for the Giants and led the National League in both strikeouts (239) and walks (213). In fact, he led the league in walks three straight years: 1897, 1898, and 1899. In his first five years with the Giants, he occasionally played other positions and batted part time, including two years in which he batted over .300.8
In 1901 and 1902, Seymour played for Baltimore in the upstart American League, where he was managed by John McGraw. McGraw converted him from pitcher to outfielder and full-time batsman. When John T. Brush bought the Baltimore team and broke it up, a few players — such as pitcher Joe “Iron Man” McGinnity and catcher Roger Bresnahan — went with McGraw to New York, while Joe Kelley and Seymour jumped to Cincinnati, a team in which Brush held interests. New York viewed Seymour as the “most desirable” player in Baltimore and wanted him, but ultimately, the player split was part of a “peace agreement” among the owners.9 In 1903, Seymour posted top-five numbers in batting average, hits, triples, and home runs.10 the 1905 season would prove to be his best and one of the best ever in the game of baseball.
OPENING DAY 1905
In 1905, 5,855,062 people attended major league baseball games.11 The Deadball Era of the sport was steadily turning baseball into America’s National Pastime. The beginning of the twentieth century, from 1901 until 1920, was a time of great prosperity in the country. America was an established world power. American industry, finance, and ingenuity were all booming, and its railroads had finally connected the nation from coast to coast. People were becoming consumers, buying telephones and phonographs. The age of the automobile had arrived. Americans were flocking to electrified cities and looking for entertainment. The sport of baseball fit the bill, and business magnates and city leaders started to work together to build stadiums to satisfy the growing populace.
Excitement was high in Cincinnati on Opening Day, Friday, April 14, as the Reds welcomed a fearsome rival, the Pittsburgh Pirates, a squad that featured many players who had participated in the first — and, to that point, only — AL-NL World Series in 1903.
“This afternoon at League Park the baseball season is scheduled to burst into bloom,” wrote sportswriter Jack Ryder in The Cincinnati Enquirer. “At the end of the session the hope of every fan in Redland is that Manager [Joe] Kelley’s grand conglomeration of earnest workers will be off in the lead. The Pirates will have a few well-wishers, however, for several car loads of Smoketown enthusiasts are at this moment wending their way hither to lend aid and encouragement to Fred Clarke’s lusty crew.”12
More than 15,000 fans watched the Reds lose, 9–4. The star batters for each team, Wagner and Seymour, were held hitless. In that season-opening series, the Pirates won three of four.13
In the first month of the season, Wagner’s Pirates finished with an 8–4 record, a half-game behind the Giants. The Reds, at a pedestrian 6–6, were fourth of the eight teams in the league. For his part, Seymour put together a six-game hitting streak at the end of April, and his batting average stood at .347 to Wagner’s .346.14 Seymour inching ahead of Wagner thanks to a hitting streak would become a theme in 1905.
PLAYING AGAINST THE GREATS
Cincinnati opened the month of May by winning two of four at home with the Cubs, including eking out a victory over Mordecai “Three-Fingered” Brown, who was on the verge of establishing a reputation as one of baseball’s best pitchers. Seymour went 0-for-3 with a walk.15
After that, the Reds traveled to Pittsburgh, hoping to fare better on the road against their rival. “The Reds found the Pirates just as hard to beat on their own grounds as they were in the opening series of the season on the old home field and lost the first game here today before a large crowd, which gathered at Exposition Park to welcome Clarke’s crew home from their Eastern trip,” wrote Ryder of the Enquirer.16 It was Seymour’s poor defense in the fourth inning that gave the Pirates the run they needed to win. He had thrown errantly to the wrong base and in the process hit a runner with the ball, which allowed a third run to score in the inning. Although the former pitcher had a terrific arm, Seymour had a reputation as an erratic fielder. In 1903, the converted center fielder had accumulated an incredible 36 errors, leading all outfielders. In 1905, he finished second-worst with 21.17
Seymour tried to atone for his mistake at the plate. He had a hot bat, hitting two singles and a double. He also stole third and scored. Although he saved his team from a shutout, the Reds came up short, losing, 4–2. Wagner had a single and a run scored because of another Reds error. In the series, Pittsburgh once again bested Cincinnati, three games to one.18
Seymour’s hitting remained consistent, with a 10-game hitting streak from May 11 to May 24. On May 23, the Reds visited the Polo Grounds to face the juggernaut New York Giants and the game’s most dominant pitcher, Christy Mathewson. The Giants sat at an astounding 24–6, while the Reds had dropped below the .500 mark at 13–16. Mathewson, six-foot-one and broad-shouldered, had won 30 games in each of the previous two seasons, and 1905 would be one of his finest. “Big Six” would finish the year 31–9 with a 1.28 ERA, leading the Giants to a 105-win season and a world championship.19
In 1912, still in the midst of his great career, Mathewson wrote and published Pitching in a Pinch, an autobiographical insider’s look at the game. He devoted key sections in Chapter 1, “The Most Dangerous Batters I Faced,” to Seymour, including the following:
“Cy” Seymour, formerly the outfielder of the Giants, was one of the hardest batters I ever had to pitch against when he was with the Cincinnati club and going at the top of his stride. He liked a curved ball, and could hit it hard and far, and was always waiting for it. He was very clever at out-guessing a pitcher and being able to conclude what was coming. For a long time whenever I pitched against him I had “mixed ‘em up” literally, handing him first a fast ball and then a slow curve and so on, trying to fool him in this way. But one day we were playing in Cincinnati, and I decided to keep delivering the same kind of a ball, that old fast one around his neck, and to try to induce him to believe that a curve was coming. I pitched him nothing but fast ones that day, and he was always waiting for a curve. The result was that I had him in the hole all the time, and I struck him out three times. He has never gotten over it. Only recently I saw Seymour, and he said: “Matty, you are the only man that ever struck me out three times in the same game.20
On that Tuesday afternoon, Seymour could muster only a single to keep his second significant hitting streak of the season alive one more day. Matty held the Reds scoreless and struck out eight, yielding three harmless singles.21
To close out May, the Reds split a two-game series with the Pirates, then beat Chicago three games to one. In Pittsburgh, the first game of the series, on Saturday, May 27, was a “swatfest” for the home team, with Wagner getting three of the Pirates’ 12 hits. Had he not slipped running the bases, his deep drive to left in the fifth inning would have been a home run instead of a triple. His single to center in the seventh was fumbled by Seymour, a miscue that allowed another run to score and closed out an 8–3 Pirates victory. At the plate, Seymour singled and scored a run.22
The second game was a different story, as the rivals traveled to Cincy for the Sunday rematch. The Reds routed the Bucs, 12–3, and Seymour singled and scored twice as part of the romp. Wagner singled twice before being ejected in the seventh inning for arguing with an umpire. With Seymour on first, Reds right fielder Jimmy Sebring grounded to Pirates second baseman Claude Ritchey, who flipped the ball to Wagner. The shortstop, however, was out of position, a few feet off the bag, when he received the toss and then threw too high to first. Both runners were ruled safe. The hulky “Dutchman” vehemently protested and had his finger in umpire Bob Emslie’s face when he got tossed.23
On the last day of May, the Reds capped their home series against Chicago by taking both games of the midweek doubleheader. Costly errors in both games by normally reliable Cubs middle infielders shortstop Joe Tinker and second baseman Johnny Evers contributed to their team’s misery. Each made two miscues in the first game, a batters’ battle that yielded 21 hits between the two clubs. The Reds had built a comfortable 5–0 lead by the fifth and looked to make it a runaway, but the scrappy Cubs clawed their way back. By the seventh, the score was tied, 8–8. The Cubs added two more runs in the eighth after “Three-Fingered” Brown was brought in to close out the contest. He held the Reds scoreless in the eighth and started the ninth by striking out Seymour, who earlier had hit his fourth triple of the year and scored. Brown then walked the next two batters before getting the second out. After Brown walked player-manager Kelley to load the bases, Tinker muffed an easy grounder, allowing the Reds to score two and tie the game. Brown then yielded a hit, and the game was over, with the Reds winning, 11–10.24
Game two of the doubleheader was tame by comparison. In the bottom of the first, Reds second baseman Miller Huggins walked, took second on teammate Tommy Corcoran’s safe bunt, then advanced to third on a sacrifice by Seymour. A wild pitch allowed Huggins to score and give the Reds the lead. The Reds scored in the fifth when Evers muffed a grounder. With the bases loaded for the Cubs in the eighth, Evers tied the game by singling home teammates Frank Chance and Billy Maloney. The Reds scored a run in the ninth to win the game, 3–2.25
Seymour closed out May batting .327, with Wagner at .321. The Reds maintained their middling status at 19–19, followed by the Cubs at 20–21. The Giants stood as tall as their star pitcher; at 30–9 they had surged well ahead of the second-place Pirates, who stood at 23–17.26
AN 18-GAME HITTING STREAK
In June, Seymour and Wagner continued their torrid hitting. Wagner hit safely in 23 of his 25 games, and Seymour hit safely in 22 of 25. Between June 7 and June 25, Seymour had his third significant hitting streak of the season: 18 straight games.27 In the five-game series that opened that month against the St. Louis Cardinals, Seymour collected seven hits, including a day when he hit a home run and had five runs batted in.28
Seymour’s June streak coincided with a planned 16-game homestand against Eastern opponents: Brooklyn, Philadelphia, Boston, and New York. In game two of the homestand, the Reds made easy work of their foes, beating Brooklyn, 11–2. In the first inning, Seymour blooped a single to center, scoring Huggins and first baseman Shad Barry. Seymour’s two RBIs and his own run scored later in the inning would’ve been all the home team needed, but the center fielder added a second hit and second run.29 In game three, the Reds completed a sweep of Brooklyn, with Seymour adding two more hits, marking three straight multihit games.30
The Reds, who welcomed the surging Philadelphia Phillies next, lost the opener of the four-game series but then won three straight. In the second game, Seymour went 4-for-4, adding another double and triple. For the series, he was 8-for-13, a torrid .615 batting average. During his June hitting streak, Seymour added five triples, bringing his season total to nine. By contrast, for the Phillies, future batting champ Sherry Magee, a 20-year-old left fielder in his second season, went a paltry 1-for-17 during the series.31
The Beaneaters, Boston’s National League team, faced the red-hot Reds next and lost all four games. In game one, the teams garnered 11 hits each during the contest, which the Reds won in 10 innings.
The best play of the series, a defensive gem by Seymour, happened in the sixth inning of the third game. After Boston’s Jim Delehanty tripled, Rip Cannell lined a shot to center, which Seymour, in perfect position, easily grabbed. Delehanty tagged and raced home. Jack Ryder of the Enquirer captured the moment: “Almost as soon as the ball had touched his hands it was on its way to the plate as fast as the bat had sent it out. Cy had gauged the distance exactly right, and had applied speed to burn. The ball sailed into Schlei’s waiting mitt on the first bound, fully three steps ahead of the hustling Delehanty. The Admiral took no chances, but stood square in the path, and made the runner dodge, tagging him as he went by.”32
Despite his penchant for committing errors, Seymour had a reputation for throwing out runners at the plate on fly balls. The double play occurred with Boston leading, 2–1, giving the Reds the jolt they needed to pull out the victory. With the Reds up, 4–2, Seymour opened the eighth with a triple, then scored on a single to close out the day’s scoring. The Reds beat Boston pitcher Vic Willis, a future Hall of Famer who had won 20 games four times in his career in Boston and would move on to Pittsburgh and win 20 games in four more seasons. In the fourth and final game against Boston, Seymour added his second home run of the season on a long drive to the right-field corner in the seventh inning.33
The Reds’ hot streak propelled them to a 31–24 record in the National League, a half-game behind Pittsburgh. The Giants, still in first with a seven-game cushion, were the next Eastern team to come to Cincinnati. The series was a chance for the Reds to make a move in the pennant chase, though the Giants’ top-flight pitchers posed a serious threat to Seymour’s June hitting streak.
In game one, the Reds continued their roll, beating up four Giants pitchers for 17 runs. Pitching in relief, future Hall of Famer McGinnity gave up four runs in one-third of an inning in the fourth before being yanked by McGraw. For his part, Seymour scored three runs and drove in three while collecting three hits. It was the Reds’ eighth straight win.34 In game two, Giants pitcher Red Ames finally slowed down the Reds’ offense in an 8–3 victory. The 22-year-old earned the win to raise his record to 11–2 en route to one of the best W-L records of his career. Seymour picked up a single to keep his hitting streak alive and was having a great day defensively, nabbing five flies. But in the ninth, he rushed a ball hit by Giants catcher Frank Bowerman, and it went through his legs all the way to the fence, turning a single into four bases and a run.35
In game three, the Giants scored four first-inning runs, and the Reds simply could never catch up. On the day, Seymour bagged two hits, including a long drive to center that he turned into a triple, and drove in two of the Reds’ three runs. Seymour had failed to run out a grounder to the pitcher in the first, which resulted in a double play. In the field, Seymour snagged a fly ball in the fifth and immediately gunned down Giants third baseman Art Devlin, who couldn’t get back to first in time. With the 6–3 victory, Mathewson boosted his record to 11–3, while the loss started a tumble for the Reds in the standings.36 In the final game of the series, McGinnity got his revenge on the Reds, holding down Cincinnati in a 2–1 victory. Seymour had two singles, including a hit to lead off the ninth, but his teammates couldn’t advance him. Still, he had collected at least one hit in 15 straight games.37
The Reds then traveled to Pittsburgh and easily beat the Pirates, 8–2, in a lively Saturday afternoon contest. Wagner had two hits in the game, and Seymour had a single to continue his hit streak, but when he threw his glove in the seventh to object to a Pirates’ runner being called safe at second base, he was ejected.38
In Chicago, the Reds dropped three of four games to close out the month. In the first game, about 12,000 Sunday fans watched the Cubs score 18 runs and tally 34 total bases in an absolute drubbing of the Reds. The only notable hits for Cincinnati were a triple by Huggins and a double by Seymour.39 The Cubs beat the Reds badly again in the second game, 9–1. Seymour slammed a double, his 20th of the year, to right field to maintain his June hit streak.40 In the third contest, Reds rookie Orval Overall hurled a 6–0 shutout. Seymour walked once but failed to produce a hit in three official at bats, ending his hitting streak at 18 games. He then went 0-for-5 the following day as the Reds lost again, 13–5.41
In the final four games of the month, Seymour went 3-for-15 (.200), and his average stood at .351. Because of a doubleheader in St. Louis, Wagner had played an extra game over that same stretch, and he closed the month on a tear, batting 15-for-26 (.577). The Dutchman raised his average 20 points to end June at .377. Wagner found himself in a familiar position: leading the league.42 Could Seymour hit well enough the rest of the year to overtake the perpetual champ? Sporting pages around the country started to report that there was a battle brewing for the batting crown.43
A 21-GAME HITTING STREAK
Almost as if perfectly scripted, July started with a four-game series between Cincinnati and Pittsburgh. It had to be fate that after two games without a hit, Seymour would start his fourth noteworthy hitting streak of the 1905 season in Pittsburgh. Beginning on July 2 and ending on July 29, this streak would last 21 games.44
The series between Cincinnati and Pittsburgh was ultimately led by players who were not named Cy Seymour nor Honus Wagner. Seymour batted 5-for-15 (.333) and collected two more doubles. Wagner was 3-for-14 (.214) and added two more stolen bases, bringing his total to 27. Pittsburgh won three of the four games.45 In the National League, the Giants continued to set the pace and had the best record in baseball at 50–20. The Pirates trailed by seven games and stood at 43–27. The Reds were starting to fall completely out of the race; they were 35–33, 14 games back and struggling to stay above .500.
Seymour really picked up his pace when the club hosted St. Louis at home before traveling to Boston and then Philly. He batted .429 over the next 13 games, in which the Reds went 7–6 to remain just above .500. Seymour’s latest hitting streak was at 17 games, seven of which were multihit affairs. He added four more doubles and another triple.46
The Reds closed out July with an eight-game series against the Giants, the first four games to be played at the Polo Grounds in New York and then four in Ohio. Manager McGraw rolled out his pitchers in the following order for the home games: McGinnity, Mathewson, Ames, and Hooks Wiltse.
McGinnity held firm in game one, and the Giants picked up the win, 4–3. Seymour continued his streak, NARDACCI: Besting Honus Wagner reaching base twice on singles in the sixth and ninth innings. With runners on base earlier in the second inning, “Iron Man” had issued an intentional pass to Seymour rather than allowing him to hit because, as the Enquirer’s Ryder reported, “McGinnity saw the fire in Seymour’s eye and let him walk.”47 In game two, Mathewson gave up nine hits but held the Reds to two runs while his team scored seven. Seymour had a triple off Matty and also smacked a single in four at bats. In game three, the Giants squeaked out a win for Ames, 6–5, and “Iron Man” lived up to his nickname when he came in for two innings to close out the victory. Seymour had a single and three RBIs. The Reds almost erased the deficit in the eighth, but fell short. In the last game at the Polo Grounds, the Giants’ bats came alive and they won easily, 9–3, sweeping the series. Seymour went 1-for-5 with a single in the first to extend his hitting streak to 21 games. During his July streak, Seymour batted .402. The Reds, however, went 8–13 during the span.49
Cy Seymour at Cincinnati’s Palace of the Fans. (NATIONAL BASEBALL HALL OF FAME LIBRARY)
In the opener of the series at League Park, Mathewson shut out the Reds, and Seymour went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts against him to end his last notable hitting streak that year.
Unfortunately for the Reds, the remaining three home games against the Giants had the same result as at the Polo Grounds — Cincy lost them all. New York had completed an incredible eight-game sweep of the Reds. Cincinnati finished the month having lost more ground in the National League, going 12–18.50
During Seymour’s 21-game hitting streak, Wagner fell off his torrid pace, batting .299. The Pirates, though, went 17–7 between July 2 and July 27. By the last day of July, Wagner was leading all National League batters with a .356 average. But Seymour had successfully battled back and sat right behind him at .355.51
Seymour started August on a tear. He collected 13 hits in the first five games, including a triple and the homer in the 13th inning in the August 2 game against Brooklyn.52 In fact, through the first three games against Brooklyn, he had what would have been a run of eight straight at-bats with a hit if only one had not been ruled an error.53 The Reds picked up four wins in the five-game series and then, with Philadelphia in town, swept the Phillies in a four-game set.
The opening game against Philly was a slugfest; the Reds scored five runs in the first inning. Huggins started things out by slamming a hard shot to third. When the third baseman threw wildly, Huggins ended up on third. A triple by Barry brought in Huggins, and a single by Kelley scored Barry. Seymour then laid down a perfect bunt toward third and beat the throw to first. Shortstop Tommy Corcoran loaded the bases by reaching on an error, and two runners scored before the final out of the inning. In the sixth, Seymour singled with the bases loaded, scoring two more en route to a 13–7 victory.54
Seymour’s hot August start raised his batting average 19 points, and he overtook Wagner. Wagner would fight his way back through the remainder of the season, but Seymour would never lose the batting lead after his torrid first week of the month.55
Cincinnati played Boston for the next seven games, with four in Boston and three at home, then went back to Philadelphia for three more games. Over that stretch, the Reds went 6–4, while Seymour’s hitting cooled, and he collected only 11 hits in 38 at bats (a .289 average) and merely one RBI. The Reds then headed to the Polo Grounds for a Thursday doubleheader and were blanked by Mathewson in the first game, losing 8–0 and only getting two hits off him. Seymour was 0-for-4 as Mathewson improved his record to 22–7. The second game ended in a 6-6 tie, with the game being called after the ninth because of darkness.57 In that game, Seymour had two hits and a sacrifice. The Giants won the third game with McGinnity shutting out the Reds, 2–0. Seymour went 0-for-3.58
After that, Cincinnati traveled to Brooklyn and split a two-game series to end the month. After losing the opening contest, the Reds, powered by Seymour, won the second. In the latter game, Seymour hit a shot that cleared the right-field wall for his fourth home run of the season. And he ended the game with a sensational double play, throwing out a Brooklyn runner on his way to third after catching the second out of the ninth.59
As August faded, Seymour still maintained his lead in the race for the batting crown with a .361 average. Wagner was right behind at .357. At month’s end, the Reds were 22½ games back and out of the pennant hunt. At 6½ games back, the Pirates were still chasing the dominant Giants.60
THE SEPTEMBER BATTLE
In September, Seymour kept hitting the ball consistently and playing like he had throughout August. He batted .387 and picked up 43 more hits, including five doubles, three home runs, and seven triples. He also stole nine bases. As a team, the Reds didn’t keep up their star player’s pace. They started the month miserably, losing two in Chicago to the Cubs, and then four out of five to St. Louis. Seymour batted .333 during the stretch and added a triple and home run in St. Louis. The Reds then traveled to Pittsburgh for a much-anticipated three-game series.61
“Premier Batters in the League/Seymour and Wagner Hook Up In Pittsburgh/Each Secured a Single, a Double and a Triple,” proclaimed the three-deck September 8 headline on The Cincinnati Enquirer’s sports page.62 The Thursday series opener the day before at Pittsburgh’s Exposition Park did not disappoint. It was a “slugging contest” with the teams combining for 30 base hits, 43 total bases and 18 runs. The Enquirer zeroed in on the showcase matchup of the day: “A feature of the game was the batting duel between the two premier sluggers of the league, Cy Seymour and Hans Wagner. The result was a tie. Both men came to bat five times and each secured three hits — a single, a double and a triple. Each also secured two runs, so neither had any advantage on the day’s work. Wagner also fielded beautifully, but Seymour did not have a chance to show what he could do in that time.”63
Pittsburgh hit and scored at will and had a 10–3 lead heading to the eighth. Seymour singled and scored in the eighth, and in the ninth, he tripled to right with the bases loaded to drive in three. It wasn’t enough, and the contest ended with the Pirates winning, 11–7. The victory moved the Pirates to within five games of the Giants.
In game two, though the Pirates rapped out 15 hits, they left plenty of runners on base, scoring only three times. The Reds scored at a better rate, crossing the plate eight times on 13 hits. Wagner walked three times and singled. Seymour got the better of the Dutchman, getting four hits, including two triples. His triple in the third drove home two runs. In the fifth, Huggins and Seymour executed a double steal that brought Huggins home. The report by the Enquirer noted: “The battle between the two main sluggers, Seymour and Wagner, was all the way of the Red biffer this afternoon. Cy was in fine trim, and his eye was never off the ball.”64
The rubber match was all Pittsburgh, and this time the Pirates produced runs at a high rate, scoring 12 times on 19 hits. The Reds scored five on eight hits. Wagner finished with two singles, two runs scored, and one RBI. Seymour garnered three hits, including a double, and scored a run. The next day’s Pittsburgh Gazette covered the status of the batting race between Seymour and Wagner and also made a point to say that the Pirates were playing better team ball and leading the league in hitting: “The race between Seymour and Wagner is one that any person who takes an interest in the game will watch from now to the finals of the season. The Reds’ clever hitter is now 8 points ahead of the Pirates’ slugger, while last week only 5 points separated them.”65
On the Reds’ next homestand, they beat the Cubs two out of three games before hosting the Pirates in a two-game Friday-Saturday series. The first game vs. Pittsburgh was tight, with both teams getting 11 hits. Seymour did his part for his team, going 2-for-4, scoring twice and stealing a base. Wagner edged him out on the day, going 2-for-4 as well, but contributing a triple. After his single in the first drove in Tommy Leach with the first run, Wagner easily stole second and third, then scored on a drive by Del Howard. the Bucs ultimately bested the Reds, 8–7.66 In game two, Reds spitball ace Bob Ewing baffled the Pirates, shutting them out and holding them to six hits. Wagner had a single. Seymour’s single in the first drove home Huggins, and although the Reds scored five more times, Cy’s RBI was all that was needed to split the series. The Enquirer continued to follow the batting race closely, its headline proclaiming “Wagner and Seymour are Now Nip and Tuck,” and reporting that “the National League race is rapidly drawing to a finish and a battle royal is ‘on’ for the honor of leading batsman. Wagner and Seymour are having a hot struggle.”67
After losing two to the Cubs in Chicago, the Reds then won seven straight games against lowly Brooklyn and Boston. In the first game of a Sunday doubleheader against Brooklyn at home, Seymour hit home runs in his first two at bats. The slugger drove both balls deep to right and, on both occasions, teammate Barry was on base and scored ahead of him.68 In the second game, Seymour beat out a bunt in the third.69 Seymour closed out September by collecting a few more hits against Philadelphia while his team dropped two of three.70
September ended with Seymour leading the National League batting race with a .367 average to Wagner’s .361. The former had collected 202 hits to that point to Wagner’s 188.71 With the season not yet over, the New York Giants had 102 wins and the Pirates 94. The Reds, at 74–72, were just above .500.
THE NATIONAL SPOTLIGHT
With the pennant race decided, National League partisans turned their attention to the batting race between Seymour and Wagner that had percolated all season. Cincinnati was slated to end the season on October 8, with all eight of its final games at home — first against the pennant-clinching New York Giants, then vs. the Philadelphia Phillies, and finally, like from out of a storybook, with a closing-day doubleheader against the Pirates and Wagner. Over eight days in October, the Reds played magnificently: They won five, lost two, and tied one. And Seymour helped pace his team’s strong close.72
Fifteen thousand fans showed up for the Reds’ Sunday doubleheader with the Giants on October 1, and they were treated to two fine games. In the first game, McGinnity and Ewing both pitched all 10 innings, with the Giants victorious, 5–4. In the first inning, Seymour put the Reds ahead with a sharp hit to right-center that scored one. The Giants broke a 4–4 tie in the top of the tenth. When it was the Reds’ turn in the bottom half, McGraw made a defensive switch in the outfield when he noticed a lot of Cincinnati’s hits going to center. He directed speedy outfielder Sam Mertes to move from left field to center, with center fielder Mike Donlin moving to left. (Donlin would finish third in the 1905 batting race.) The first batter in the inning for the Reds, Shad Barry, singled past the second baseman. That brought up Cy, seeking his fourth hit of the day. As the Enquirer’s Ryder recounted, “Seymour, with three good marks already on his slate, raized [sic] a long fly ball to deep center that would undoubtedly have escaped Donlin, but Mertes just did get under it.” McGraw’s defensive switch and Mertes’ great catch robbed Seymour and saved the first game for the Giants.73 In the second game, the Reds scored three runs in the first, including one on Seymour’s triple to deep center field, and one more in the fourth. The umpire called the game in the fifth inning because of darkness with the Reds up, 4–3.74
Cy Seymour’s race with Honus Wagner would come down to the final series of the 1905 season, when their two teams met in Cincinnati. (NATIONAL BASEBALL HALL OF FAME LIBRARY)
Two days later, the same teams played another doubleheader. The Reds won the first game, 4–2, and Seymour hit a long triple in the eighth, his 21st and final three-bagger of the season.75 In the second game, Seymour got the Reds off to a hot start by smashing a line drive over center fielder Sammy Strang’s head for a home run, which also scored Barry. The Giants scored three in the fourth to go ahead, 3–2. The Reds came right back to tie the score in the bottom of the inning on a walk to Barry and singles by Seymour and Corcoran. Seymour led off the sixth with a single and was forced out at second, but the Reds still managed to score a run to go up, 4–3. The Giants tied it when Bill Dahlen scored all the way from first after Seymour let a ball go through him and then, recovering it, juggled it. The game was called after the Reds failed to score in the bottom of the eighth to allow the Giants to catch their train. Notwithstanding that tie, the Reds won two of the three completed games and thus beat the Giants in a series for the first time all season.76
The closing weekend of the 1905 baseball season for the Reds at home included a Saturday doubleheader against St. Louis and then the much-anticipated contest on Sunday against Wagner and the Pirates to decide the year’s batting race. In the Saturday series, Seymour positioned himself well for the finale, going 5-for-8 on the day. He smashed two doubles in the opener, further lifting his average, as the Reds split the series with the Cardinals.77
The closing regular-season series, and the contest between Seymour and Wagner, drew 10,000 to the “Palace of the Fans.” The Pittsburgh Gazette described the opening scene:
Interest centered on Seymour and Wagner. They met and shook hands. Everybody cheered. Seymour thoughtfully wiped his eye and grinned. Wagner walked over and hefted Seymour’s bat and sighed. Cy looked at Hans’ stick, drew his form up in three-bagger posture and swung it mightily, then carefully laid it down. Services concluded, both took a chew of tobacco (from different plugs) and the game was on. Ten minutes later Seymour tried to tear Wagner’s arm off with his first hit. When Wagner struck out his first time up, 10,000 fans yelled. Every swipe at the leather by either of the mighty pair caused craned attention until the last.78
Ironically, it was Seymour’s defense that generated the greatest moment of the anticipated day, when he initiated a rare triple play in the seventh inning. Seymour caught a long fly off the bat of Pirates right fielder Bob Ganley and fired the ball home to nail Pirates catcher George Gibson trying to score. Reds catcher Schlei made the tag and then zipped the ball to third to nab Pirates pitcher Charlie Case, who was trying to advance from second base. With the Reds ahead, 2–1, the play saved the game. Seymour picked up two singles in the contest; Wagner was 0-for-3. Wagner was hit by a pitch in the eighth when the ball grazed his hand. The Reds added one more run and won, 3–1.79
In the second game, the final of the season for each club, both Seymour and Wagner collected two hits, but Cy was a little better on the day. Seymour’s blooper over first base in the opening inning was lost in the sun by the Pirates infielders, allowing him to reach second. It was his 40th double of the season and would ensure that he led the league in that category. In the third, with two outs and the Reds trailing, 1–0, Huggins singled to center and then tried to steal second. Wagner, covering the bag from short, bobbled the throw from the Pirates catcher to keep the inning alive. Barry walked, and Seymour then smashed a hit to right field that scored Huggins. The Reds added two more runs in the fourth inning and then, with two outs, loaded the bases, bringing up Seymour.
Reds fans erupted. “The stands clamored for a homer and four more runs when the mighty Cy advanced to the plate,” reported The Cincinnati Enquirer.80 The Pirates thought the situation over and decided it was best to simply walk Seymour and force in a run rather than pitch to him. The Cincinnati Enquirer reported: “[Pitcher Ed] Kinsella and [Catcher Heine] Peitz, however, were afraid of the Main Slugger, for he was given a base on balls, forcing [catcher Gabby] Street over.”81 Shortstop Tommy Corcoran then flied out to end the inning. That ended the scoring for the day, and the Reds maintained the 4–1 lead to win. Wagner had two singles on the day, but it was not nearly enough to surpass Seymour.82
The Pittsburgh Gazette noted that the fate of the race favored Seymour: “There was scant chance today for Wagner to displace Seymour for the leadership, but even had there been, Cy would have triumphed, for in the test of the last day he doubled the inside count of the Carnegie Dutchman.”83
In the end, Seymour was the 1905 National League batting champ. He finished the season with a .377 batting average, compared with Wagner’s .363. In his last eight games in October, Seymour batted .567.84
Seymour also led the National league in hits (219), doubles, triples, and RBIs (121). His eight home runs were one shy of the lead, keeping him from winning what would one day be called the Triple Crown.
To beat out Honus Wagner during a decade in which “The Flying Dutchman” reigned as baseball’s greatest player was no simple feat; 1900 through 1910 was the Wagnerian Era. Wagner won seven batting titles, with averages ranging from .381 to .339. In 1905, with his .363 average, Wagner was as dangerous a hitter as ever, though Seymour was just a notch better. That year, 1905, was the only year between 1900 and 1911 that Wagner didn’t lead the league in at least one offensive category.85
PASSING OF A CYCLONE
Seymour’s 1906 season got off to a slow start with the Reds, and McGraw, who had managed him in Baltimore, bought him for the princely sum of $12,000 halfway through the season.86 (McGraw had tried in vain in 1905 to work out a deal to bring Seymour back to New York.) The change of scenery seemed to rejuvenate Seymour, who batted .320 for the Giants in the second half. Of the chance to play in New York again and his time in Cincinnati, Seymour said, “When I found that I was to be sold to the New York club a load seemed lifted off my shoulders. The bare announcement made me feel differently, and when I finally did join the New Yorks I knew that I was in my element again — that it was a change that I needed to bring me to form again.” He added, “I was never disloyal to Cincinnati for a moment — but I simply could not do the work there that was expected of me, so this deal was the best thing that could have happened to me or the Reds.”87
Seymour batted above .300 in eight of his 16 professional seasons and was a lifetime .303 batter.88 For several seasons, he was one of the star players in the game. In 1906, writer Bozeman Bulger of New York’s Evening World published his “All-American” list of the game’s top players. He included Seymour as his center fielder.89
But Seymour’s career came to an unceremonious close for a variety of reasons: a series of injuries, his frequent alcohol abuse, and his mercurial temperament, which led to a mix of on-and off-field incidents and several fallings-out with McGraw and other officials. He was suspended several times for instances labeled “unruly behavior” and drew the ire of team owners, league officials, and even newspaper editors throughout his career. Giants owner Andrew Freedman sent a missive to manager Buck Ewing on May 21, 1900, calling into question Seymour’s “habits” and his “lack of condition.”90 In a January 31, 1906, letter from Cincinnati Post managing editor Ray Long to Reds team President August Hermann, Long complained that Seymour had threatened a photographer.91 McGraw suspended Seymour for all of the Giants’ spring training in 1909 for attacking coach Arlie Latham at the team hotel.92
Despite the abrupt end to his stardom, Seymour stayed around the game he loved until his untimely death. After he left the Giants in 1910, Seymour played minor league ball for two years. He first went back to Baltimore and then in 1912 was recruited to play for Newark by its manager, former rival “Iron Man” McGinnity.93 Seymour briefly attempted a comeback at the age of 40 with the Boston Braves in 1913.94 Later that year he wrote to Reds President Hermann on November 28, 1913, and pitched his services as a manager and called himself a “changed man” from what Hermann had known.95
During World War I, Seymour went to work in the New York shipyards and contracted tuberculosis. In 1918, at the age of 45, he played minor league ball again briefly for 13 games for Newark. He was also known to frequent Yankees and Giants practices at the Polo Grounds, including during the 1919 season.96 Seymour died in his New York City home on September 20, 1919. He was 46 years old. Every major sports paper in the country carried at least a brief notice of his death, including in the places he played: Baltimore, Cincinnati, and New York. The Pittsburgh Gazette Times carried his headshot under the headline “Cy Seymour Passes Away” and listed among his accomplishments the 1905 batting-title victory over Wagner.97
Seymour is interred in a family plot at Albany Rural Cemetery.
TOM NARDACCI was born in Rensselaer, New York, where he and his friends, unbeknownst to them, played sandlot baseball on the same Hudson Riverfront Park field where Roger Connor of the Troy Trojans hit major league baseball’s first grand slam in 1881. Tom, a lifelong Yankees fan, is a collector of T206 baseball cards and primarily researches and writes about the Deadball Era. Tom earned his master’s degree in strategic communications from Columbia University.
In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, the author consulted the Baseball-Reference.com and Retrosheet websites for pertinent material and the box scores noted here.
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3. U.S. World War I draft card, James Bentley Seymour, September 12, 1918.
4. “Broke that Long Losing Streak,” The Cincinnati Enquirer, August 3, 1905, 4.
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13. Jack Ryder, “Opening Scenes at League Park,” The Cincinnati Enquirer, April 15, 1905, 3.
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33. Jack Ryder, “Bunted, Biffed, Banged, Bingled,” The Cincinnati Enquirer, June 19, 1905, 3.
34. Jack Ryder, “Smashed Through Giants Defense,” The Cincinnati Enquirer, June 20, 1905, 4.
35. Jack Ryder, “Broke Reds’ Winning Streak,” The Cincinnati Enquirer, June 21, 1905, 4.
36. Jack Ryder, “Bumped,” The Cincinnati Enquirer, June 22, 1905, 4
37. Jack Ryder, “Quartet of Singles Off Overall,” The Cincinnati Enquirer, June 23, 1905, 4.
38. Ralph S. Davis, “Pirates Walloped by Cincinnati Sluggers,” 38 The Pittsburgh Press, June 25, 1905, 18.
39. “Selee’s Men Hit Ball for 18 Bases,” Chicago Tribune, June 26, 1905, 8.
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43. George L. Moreland, “Seymour and Wagner Having a Close Race,” The Pittsburgh Press, June 25, 1905, 18.
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47. Jack Ryder, “Iron Man Won His Own Game,” The Cincinnati Enquirer, July 25, 1905, 4.
48. “Champions Defeat Cincinnati Again,” The New York Times, July 28, 1905, 5.
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52. “Brooklyns Lose a 13-Inning Game,” The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, August 3, 1905, 11
53. Jack Ryder, “Thirteen Reds at Bat in First,” The Cincinnati Enquirer, August 6, 1905, 10.
54. Jack Ryder, “Pounded Pitt Off the Rubber,” The Cincinnati Enquirer, August 8, 1905, 4.
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62. Jack Ryder, “Premier Batters in the League. Seymour and Wagner Hook Up in Pittsburgh,” The Cincinnati Enquirer, September 8, 1905, 4.
63. “Premier Batters in the League,” The Cincinnati Enquirer, September 8, 1905, 4.
64. Jack Ryder, “Batted Pirate’s Prize Pitchers,” The Cincinnati Enquirer, September 9, 1905, 3.
65. “Batting Race is Still Close,” Pittsburgh Gazette, September 10, 1905, Third Section, 2.
66. Jack Ryder, “Short Fell the Reds Rally,” The Cincinnati Enquirer, September 16, 1905, 3.
67. “Close Race for the Batting Honors…Wagner and Seymour Are Now Nip and Tuck,” The Cincinnati Enquirer, September 17, 1905, 34.
68. Jack Ryder, “RECRUITS…Seymour Drives Out Two Home Runs in Succession,” The Cincinnati Enquirer, September 25, 1905, 3.
69. “RECRUITS,” The Cincinnati Enquirer, September 25, 1905, 3.
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73. Jack Ryder, “Fifteen Rounds with Champs,” The Cincinnati Enquirer, October 2, 1905, 3.
74. “Fifteen Rounds with Champs,” The Cincinnati Enquirer, October 2, 1905, 3. “Through the Day Without Defeat,”
75. The Cincinnati Enquirer, October 4, 1905, 4.
76. “Through the Day Without Defeat,” The Cincinnati Enquirer, October 4, 1905, 4.
77. Jack Ryder, “Seymour Boosts His Big Average,” The Cincinnati Enquirer, October 8, 1905, 18.
78. “Pirates Lose Two: Seymour Leader,” Pittsburgh Gazette, October 9, 1905, 7.
79. “‘Cy’ Seymour The ‘Champeen’ Hitter,” The Cincinnati Enquirer, October 9, 1905, 3.
80. “‘Cy’ Seymour The ‘Champeen’ Hitter,” The Cincinnati Enquirer, October 9, 1905, 3.
81. “‘Cy’ Seymour The ‘Champeen’ Hitter,” The Cincinnati Enquirer, October 9, 1905, 3.
82. “‘Cy’ Seymour The ‘Champeen’ Hitter,” The Cincinnati Enquirer, October 9, 1905, 3.
83. “Pirates Lose Two: Seymour Leader,” Pittsburgh Gazette, October 9, 1905, 7.
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86. “Seymour Wears Red Sox No More, Cy Sold to Champion New York Giants,” The Cincinnati Enquirer, July 13, 1906, 4.
87. “No Mystery About Cy Seymour’s Batting,” The Scranton Truth, July 31, 1906, 4.
88. Baseball-Reference.com (https://www.baseball-reference.com/players/s/seymocy01.shtml).
89. Bozeman Bulger, “Bulger Selects the All-Americans for 1906 Season,” The Evening World (New York), September 22, 1906, 8.
90. Letter from Andrew Freedman to William Ewing, May 21, 1900. Baseball Hall of Fame Archives “Cy Seymour Clip File”
91. Letter from Ray Long to August Hermann, January 31, 1906. Baseball Hall of Fame Archives “Cy Seymour Clip File”
92. “Cy Seymour Fired Bodily,” Buffalo Evening News, Sat, March 13, 1909
93. May Buy Cy Seymour, Joe McGinnity is Said to Have Dickered with Player,” The Baltimore Sun, March 13, 1912, 10.
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95. Letter from J.B. Seymour to August 95 Hermann, November 28, 1913. Baseball Hall of Fame Archives “Cy Seymour Clip File”
96. “Seymour Funeral Today,” The New York Times, September 22, 1919, 12.
97. “Cy Seymour Passes Away,” Pittsburgh Gazette Times, September 22, 1919, 9.