The Riot at the First World Series

This article was written by Louis P. Masur

This article was published in 2002 Baseball Research Journal

It is one of the most widely reproduced photographs in baseball history and probably the best known of all baseball pictures from the opening of the twentieth century. The picture is especially relevant in 2003 because it was taken one hundred years ago on October 3, 1903. The site is the Huntington Avenue Base Ball Grounds in Boston and the occasion is the third game of the World Series. This was the inaugural World Series, agreed upon only late in the summer of the 1903 season. The agreement signaled peace in baseball after two years of bitter fighting between the National League and upstart American League. From the start, the fall contest captured the imagination of the fans, and thousands turned out to watch as the Pittsburgh Pirates and Boston Americans faced off in a best-of-nine series.

The picture was taken by a photographer for the Boston Globe and it appeared two days later, on October 5, in the newspaper. The caption read in part that the picture “was taken a few minutes before the game began.” It was commonplace for overflow crowds to stand behind outfield ropes during the games and indeed fans had done so in Game 1 (won by Pittsburgh) and Game 2 (won by Boston) of the series. Balls hit into the ropes would go for ground-rule triples. But on October 3, the fans burst through the restraints and swarmed the field. The story of what took place, captured in the famous photograph, suggests nothing less than what might be called “The Riot at the First World Series.”

Excited by the two games played so far, and stimulated by the balmy weather, not to mention the extra money in their pockets from a Friday payday, fans turned out by the thousands for the Saturday afternoon contest. By 11 o’clock, hundreds of people stood outside waiting for the gates to open. Hour after hour, packed streetcars unloaded fans at the park. The sin­gle, long lane that led to the ticket office was clogged with fans inching forward, eager to buy tickets for the third game in Boston before the series shifted to Pittsburgh for four games.The ticket sellers had no time to place the dollars and coins in the box, so they simply threw the money to the floor. Later, once the game started, there would be time to gather it.

At noon, the gates opened, and a “surging, strug­gling mass ” rushed into the park. By 1:15, all the seats had been sold and the area behind the outfield ropes continued to swell with people who jostled for posi­tion. At 2:00, fans covered the outfield, occupied the terrace, climbed the fences, even found their way to the roof. Ticket speculators made a fortune, offering general admission bleacher tickets for one to two dollars and reserved grandstand seats for as high as ten dollars. Even the peanut vendors and scorecard boys made out by selling buckets and boxes for people to stand on for $1 a piece.

The ticket office closed, and the speculators ran out of seats. Yet people were still arriving. Some 3,000 fans clustered outside the Huntington Avenue grounds and clamored for admission. Once the game started, those in the bleachers called out to those in the street, reporting what was happening on the field.

The official attendance was put at 18,801, but that figure was low. Probably between twenty and twenty-five thousand people jammed themselves into the park. The situation seemed unstable. Anticipating a larger Saturday crowd, Boston’s business manager had arranged for fifty policemen, up from the thirty­-five at the previous game. But as many as 150 officers would have had trouble containing this gathering.

As the crowd swelled, it vibrated back and forth in waves. Fans stood ten deep in the outfield. Suddenly, at a little after 2:00, a few men slid past the ropes in center field. Others started to press toward the field from the third base bleachers. Within seconds, a stampede began. Thousands broke through the ropes and cov­ered the entire field. They “tore across the diamond … drove the two teams from their benches, swept restlessly around and around the entire lot, and they determined to get as close to the play as possible.” “A surging, struggling, frantic crowd,” reported the Boston Post, “a sea of faces, a perspiring mass of humanity that fringed the fences, packed and jammed the stands, encircled the diamond and fought both police and players.”

The scene was unfathomable. In their desire to get closer to the action,the exuberant fans,described as “good natured,” threatened the game, the players,and their own physical welfare. The police, aided by several players, struggled to prevent the mob from invading the reserved grandstand section.Two women, caught in the crush, were rescued by a Boston player and several policemen. The fans packed the field and the police began trying to move them from the infield.

Time and again the police would charge,with their clubs drawn, only to discover that the crowd would rush back to fill each area shortly after it was cleared. Boston’s business manager raced into the dressing room and returned with an armful of bats for the police, who used them against the shins and skulls of unruly fans.The victims grabbed themselves as if poked with a “white, hot brand.” Some fans saw “stars which no astronomer has yet mapped.”

The police could not restore order and clear the diamond. The game would have to be postponed, or worse, forfeited to the Pirates. At 2:45, one hundred additional officers rushed to the grounds, although the mounted unit the police had requested never arrived. One policeman, who weighed nearly three hundred pounds, had a “unique method of pushing back the crowd.” He would “throw his arms in the air and then run like a mad bull into the midst of the encroachers. His efforts had great effect.”

A patrolman brought out a long length of rubber hose and,with four men on each side, the police used it as a battering ram to force the crowd back. With a concerted push, they cleared the diamond. Then they moved to the outfield where “inch by inch the swaying mass fell back. … Forty feet was gained in 20 minutes.” At the same time,”the members of both nines, anxious to get together in the decisive battle of the local series, were using their bats in much the same manner as the police did the hose.” The best the police could do was to move the crowd about 50 yards behind the diamond. Along the base lines on first and third, the crowd was packed to within fifteen feet of the playing field. Behind the catcher, a space of about thirty feet was cleared, and men lined up ten deep in front of the backstop. The players were closed off from their benches and sat on the grass to the side of the catcher. The fans who crowded in front of the stands would be dangerously close to the action, but the patrolmen decided to leave them there “know­ing that a few foul balls would clear this part of the field better than the most strenuous suasion.”

The Pirates came out to warm up. Second base was missing. Manager Fred Clarke threw his cap down as a substitute, much to the amusement of the crowd. Finally, a “230 pound policeman gained fame by res­cuing [the bag which] had been stolen by a 57-pound newsboy.” After a few hit balls, the fans again drifted onto the field. The bell rang for Boston’s turn, and the Pirates came off the field having handled fewer than twenty chances. Screaming and waving his arms, Boston manager Jimmy Collins urged the crowd to give the home team more room. A little after 3:00, Collins, Clarke, and Umpire Connolly met to discuss ground rules. Connolly once remarked that “the con­stant woes of an umpire’s life are the height of a pitch, rain, and darkness.” He neglected to mention the fans. The group decided that balls hit into the outfield crowd, which stood only about 150 feet beyond the base paths, would count for doubles.

Remarkably, the game began only fifteen minutes late, but the presence of the fans, so close to the action, would have an effect. The Pirates scored a run in the second when, with two out, second baseman Claude Ritchey came to bat and lifted a ball into the crowd in center field, a ground rule double. The ball fell only a few yards from the outfielders. The fans groaned, perhaps in self-remorse, because outfielders Patsy Dougherty or Chick Stahl would have caught the ball easily had the crowd not shrunken the dimensions of the field. Jimmy Sebring walked and Eddie Phelps hit the ball into the left field crowd for another double, scoring Ritchey. Pitcher Deacon Phillippe grounded out, but his team now held a one-run lead.

In the top of the third, the Pirates struck again. Boston pitcher Tom Hughes started to come undone. Boston’s number three hurler walked Ginger Beaumont on four consecutive pitches to begin the inning. Clarke then doubled into the crowd in left. Tommy Leach quickly singled, scoring Beaumont. The formidable Honus Wagner was due up,with run­ners on first and third, and nobody out. The score stood 2-0, and Collins had seen enough. He started arguing with the umpire in a ploy to buy some time for a relief pitcher to warm up. As the argument concluded, the crowd that was jammed against the grandstand “trembled, then parted with a loud sound.” Out walked a large man with tawny hair. The fans recognized him at once. “In a second every one of that gang of 25,000 was swinging hats wildly and yelling ‘Cy! Cy!’ and it was he, Young was rushing to the rescue.”

Collins needed the extra time because, while Hughes was getting into trouble, Young was still in street clothes, sitting in the club’s office, helping to count the day’s take.

When play resumed, Wagner stepped in. Young’s first effort was a wild pitch that put Leach on second, but did not roll far enough away to allow Clarke to score from third. Wagner fell behind in the count with two strikes. Young then came with a hard curve ball that failed to break early enough and drilled the superstar in his left shoulder. Wagner’s face “crinkle[d] like an old ash-dump boot,” and he stormed around for a few moments.

“Hully gee,” yelled a young man, “but Wagner must be hard as nails to take such a swat as that.” Another cupped his hands together and screamed “Kill ’em Cy, that’s the only way they can be done up today.” The shortstop said his arm went to sleep. If so, remarked one writer, “it was the only part of Hans that did any sleeping during the remainder of the game.” Young stood motionless. He retrieved the ball, rubbed it in his glove, glared at first, and “began swaying like a Sioux squaw in a death dance, for another delivery.”

Bases loaded, no one out. Young induced the strug­gling Bransfield to foul out to first. Ritchey hit a hard shot to third, which Collins handled and threw to Lou Criger to force Clarke at home. The bases were still loaded, but now two were out. It looked as if Young would escape from the jam. Sebring had two strikes on him when he hit a swift, skipping shot to Fred Parent. The shortstop partially stopped the ball. Leach scored, but Wagner got caught rounding third and was tagged out by the catcher in a run down. The Pirates had jumped ahead 3-0.

After Pittsburgh went down in the top of the fourth, the police managed to move the outfield crowd back another 30 feet. The Boston partisans couldn’t help but think that had the police done so in Pittsburgh’s second or third time up, “a different tale would possi­bly be told.” Boston scratched out a run, to make the score 3-1, but Young and Phillippe settled into a pitch­ers’ duel. Each team added a run in the eighth, but the game by then had taken on an air of inevitability. In the ninth, after Pittsburgh went down in order, few thought a rally against Phillippe, who had kept the ball down in the strike zone all afternoon, was possi­ble. And it wasn’t. Parent popped up to second. Candy La Chance grounded to Wagner. Hobe Ferris struck out, but won a momentary reprieve when Phelps dropped the ball. An instant later, with the throw to first, his at-bat, as well as the game, came to an end.

No one had left the grounds before the final out. Whereas prior to the game, some fans on the field had tried to climb into the stands, now those in the stands emptied onto the field. For ten minutes, “it was impossible to see one bare inch of turf.” As the fans shuffled away from the grounds, “gloom and silence” marked their demeanor. They admitted that the “Pittsburg aggregation is almost in a class by itself” and conceded that “Boston’s chances for the champi­onship look very dim indeed.”

If the commotion prior to the game had turned the contest into a battle of nerves, then Phillippe demon­strated that he could not be shaken. Twice, a hit would have led to runs for Boston, and twice the Deacon “showed his ability, once by a strike-out and the sec­ond time by compelling the batsman to hit a grounder to the infield.” He was pitching from inside “a great ring of humanity, 40 deep, sitting, standing or lying around the entire field within 200 feet of the bases, yet in nine full innings he allowed only two balls to be hit into the crowd.” Hughes, by contrast, became rat­tled when he saw “those dumpy, illegal hits” fall not further than ten feet from his outfielders. The Pirates also ”backed up their pitcher at every point, and time and again cut off seeming base hits by apparently impossible plays.” Wagner alone “was everywhere and anywhere [and] three of his stops were labeled sure base hits.”

Pittsburgh spent the afternoon “outbatting, outfielding, and, yes, ‘outnerving’” their opponents. Some would say “outlucking” them as well. “Luck is Quite a Factor,” claimed a headline in the Boston Globe. “Luck, that inscrutable dogma of the fatalists, was romping” with the Pirates all day long. The prob­lem was the ground rule established prior to the game. “Right here,” reporters noted, “was where Boston lost the game before ever it was started.” Of four Pirate base hits in the first three innings, doubles into the crowd by Ritchey, Phelps, and Clarke would have been easy outs. The two runs resulting from these hits was the margin of the loss. A third run as well, scored in the eighth, came off of yet another “fungoe,” a lazy fly ball hit by Wagner just beyond the outfielder. And LaChance’s shot in the bottom of the second “would have been a clean home run” rather than a ground-rule double. “With a clear field,” wrote one writer, “the final score would have been three to one in favor of Boston.” Difficult as it was to admit, the fans’ behavior prior to the game had to be viewed as “the main cause of the local team’s defeat.”

There were “plenty of excuses and ifs to offer” for the results of the game. If only Young had started, many thought Boston would have won. If only the Boston bats had broken through in the fourth and the eighth innings, they might have emerged victorious. If Young and Collins had not made those errors in the eighth, the Pirates would have had one less run. If only the crowd had been a few feet further back. It was a game of feet. “Baseball is full of uncertainties,” reasoned one writer. The famous photograph of that day captures the uncertainty, but also the glory that was baseball at the first World Series.

LOUIS P. MASUR teaches history at the City College of New York and is the author of Autumn Glory: Baseball’s First World Series (Hill & Wang, 2003), from which this account is adapted.