The Major League Baseball season is still weeks away and starting today we are looking back at the early years of baseball and some of the unique aspects of each season beginning with the 1901 season. Many of the short stories and statistics may be little known to today’s baseball fans, but perhaps we can help reflect on baseball’s great past.
MEMORIES OF MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL
In 1901, for the first time in a decade, there were two major leagues. It took two more years before they learn to coexist. It was all out war for those first two seasons over ticket sales, player contracts and attempts to win the hearts and minds of the fans.
The American League opened for business in cities like Milwaukee, Cleveland, Washington, Baltimore, Detroit, Philadelphia, Boston, and Chicago.
American League owners raided National League rosters, taking more than 100 players that were dissatisfied with low salaries and bad policies of National League management. Some of the biggest names that defected were John McGraw, Cy Young, Clark Griffith, Hugh Duffy and Jimmy Collins. Ex- Cardinal Cy Young won 133 games for Boston with an ERA of 1.63. Griffith left the Cubs for the White Sox and went 24 – 7 in 1901.
Perhaps the biggest star to defect the National League was second baseman Nap Lajoie of the Philadelphia Athletics. He led the American League in nearly every offensive category in 1901, including the Triple Crown with a .426 batting average, 125 RBI and 14 HR. His 145 runs scored are still among the most in baseball history for single-season.
Philadelphia led the league in attendance despite finishing nine games behind the White Sox, a club that stole 280 bases and led the league in runs and ERA.
For the first time in National League history, foul balls were counted as strikes and offenses suffered throughout the league. Runs dropped by almost 800. The league batting average fell from .279 to .267. Stolen bases were affected as at-bats were shortened and strikeouts skyrocketed.
The Pittsburgh Pirates won their first pennant in 20 years of major league status after compiling a 90 – 49 record behind the pitching of Jack Chesbro, who finished 21 – 10, Deacon Phillippe, who went 22 – 12; and three – time, 20 – game-winner Jesse Tannehill, who finished with an ERA of 2.18.
Pittsburgh had a potent offense that consisted of outfielder Ginger Beaumont and Fred Clark, both who scored over 100 runs and batted over .320. Honus Wagner stole league high 49 bases, hit .353 and drove in 126.
Brooklyn’s Jimmy Sheckard slugged .534 to lead the league, adding 19 triples and 11 home runs. 20 –-year-old rookie pitcher Christy Mathewson finished his first season with a 20 – 17 record and a 2.41 ERA. It was the first of his 13 20 – win seasons.
Sam Crawford played his first full major league season and hit .330 with a league-leading 16 homeruns. Jesse Burkett one his final batting championship at .376 for St. Louis.
OTHER NOTABLES ABOUT 1901
- The first game and AL history is played on April 24 – Chicago 6, Cleveland 2 – at Chicago Cricket Club.
- Pittsburgh wins its first major league pennant.
- Chicago takes the first American League pennant.
- Louis’ Jesse Burkett leads the National League and hitting, runs and hits.
- Philadelphia’s Nap Lajoie sets a 20th century record when he hits .426 to lead the American League; he also wins the Triple Crown.
- The Phillies finished second in the National League after losing Lajoie to the American League.
- Brooklyn’s Bill Donovan leads the National League in wins with 25 and walks with 152.
- Connie Mack manages the Philadelphia A’s and will remain their manager until 1951.
- Baltimore, behind fiery manager John McGraw, finishes fifth despite leading the American League and hitting.
- Noodles Hahn sat the modern record for most pitching wins for the last – place Reds with 22 victories.
- Hahn has 41 complete games, a record for the 20th – century left-hander.
- Christy Mathewson, in his first full season, wins 20 games for the Giants and has a no-hitter against St. Louis.
- Cleveland’s Earl Moore throws a no-hitter for nine innings, but loses 4 – 2 to the White Sox in 10 innings.
- Sam Crawford of the last – place Reds leads the National League with 16 dingers.
- Roscoe Miller of the Tigers sets a rookie record pitching 35 complete games.
- Trailing 13 – 4 in the ninth inning of their first game in the American League, Detroit rallies to beat Milwaukee 14-13.
- For the fourth straight day, Detroit beats Milwaukee in its final at-bat.
- Noodles Hahn strikes out 16 Boston Braves, a post – 1893 record.
- The Chicago White Sox collect 23 hits off Cleveland’s Bock Baker – every hit was a single.
- The Giants have a record 31 hits on June 9, six of those hits by Kip Selbach.
- Philadelphia’s Chick Fraser hits an American League record 31 batters.
- It was May 23, Nap Lajoie was intentionally walked with the bases loaded, the first player this ever happened to.
- Irv Waldron leads the American League in at-bats with 598 and hits .311 in his only major league season.
- Detroit pitcher Roscoe Miller pitches an American League rookie record 332 innings.
- Willie Keeler collects at least 200 hits for the eighth straight year, which is a National League record.
- Philadelphia’s Roy Thomas leads the National League and walks with 100, but manages only eight extra – base hits.
- The modern infield – fly rule is adopted.
- Detroit commits an American League record 12 errors in one game on May 1.
- Harley Parker of the Reds gives up 21 runs in a game on June 21.
- In August 1901, the A’s and Senators play five straight doubleheaders against one another.
- Honus Wagner leads the National League and steals with 49 and RBI with 126.
- Dummy Taylor of New York leads the National League in starts with 43 and losses with 27. Taylor is a deaf-mute.
- Philadelphia A’s pitcher Lew Wiltse collects for extra – base hits and one game.
“THE BONUS” ABOUT 1901 BASEBALL
If there were a most valuable player in 1901, it would most certainly have been Honus Wagner. Wagner top the National League with 126 RBI and 49 stolen bases. Despite his ability to hit, Wagner did not have a true position to play. He divided his time between the outfield, shortstop and third base.
After hitting only .197 in 1901, Monte Cross left the Phillies to join the A’s in 1902 and decided to grow a mustache. Neither move improved is hitting. He played in 153 games for the Athletics in 1904 and batted just .189. Cross was one of the better shortstops of his era.
Cy Young was coming off his worst season since his 1890 rookie season when he jumped to the American League in 1901. Despite his 33 wins that season, most of felt it was his last gasp at a once great career. It turned out, instead, to be a mid – point season in his career.
Although new manager John McGraw hit .349 with Baltimore in 1901, injuries and suspensions allowed him to play only 73 games. At 28 years old, he was, for all intents and purposes, finished as a productive player. McGraw would never have more than 42 hits in a season the rest of his career.
Jesse Burkett may be the least known great hitter in Major League baseball. As a member of the Cleveland Spiders in the 1890’s, Burkett had 2,249 hits at the end of the 1901 season. Burkett topped the National League with 226 hits that season.
Pitcher Noodles Hahn had no equal from 1899 to 1904. The left-hander one 121 games and struck out 878 batters while pitching for poor Cincinnati teams. 22 of those wins and a National League best 239 of those strikeouts came in 1901. His decline began at the age of 25, when he slipped to just 98 strikeouts.