Boston Red Sox robbed of opportunity for 1904 World Series championship
By Rick McNair
The Boston Red Sox missed out on a possible World Series championship in 1904 when the New York Giants refused to play them.
The history of the modern World Series has two benchmarks that are both cemented in egos. The cancellation of the 1994 World Series became the victim of a management-labor dispute – a casualty to a lack of common sense and mutual remediation. The second is the 1904 World Series when Giants manager John McGraw refused to meet the fledgling representatives of the American League – the Boston Americans – who had morphed into the Beaneaters and Red Sox.
Red Sox fans have long suffered angst over the stripping of the great 1918 team and beyond players delivered to the New York Yankees with little in return. It set the franchise back decades, but what about 1901?
The formation of the American League in 1901 instigated a bidding war against the National League in which star players were pilfered. The Red Sox stripped several players from the Boston Braves who became instrumental in the success of the 1903-1904 teams and set the Braves back.
The animosity between the two leagues fermented until in a shocking moment of clarity they realized peace was necessary for fiscal stability. The culmination was the World Series that was arranged by the teams and not the leagues, but the success – both financially and in baseball interest would make it a regular event.
McGraw, often referred to as “Mugsy,” had some quite noted animosity towards the president of the fledgling AL – Ban Johnson. A rehash of the Johnson – McGraw configurations can be examined here. McGraw was belligerent, aggressive, hard-nosed, competitive, and unrepentant – Billy Martin would have loved Mugsy and visa versa. That was reflected in the style of baseball he helped pioneer and to Johnson, this made McGraw a baseball Anti-Christ.
Johnson started the league with a new business model that attempted to remove the more unsavory aspect from baseball. The tolerance level for indiscretions on the field and off and that applied to the customers. The game needed reformation and Johnson became a baseball Cotton Mather.
McGraw and the Giants owner John Brush wanted nothing to do with the fledgling league. Adamant hard-liners despite the apparent truce. Originally it looked like the AL Highlanders (Yankees) would represent the AL and Brush was on record with his and McGraw’s refusal to play the AL victors.
Who would have won? Why the Red Sox, of course.
The Giants (106-47) simply steamrolled over the NL winning the pennant over the Cubs by 13 games. The Giants were one of the great teams in baseball history in 1904 and 1905. Offense? The Giants posted a baseball best 36.7 fWAR to Boston’s – now the Beaneaters – 22.9 fWAR. The defense is the key to baseball and pitching is the premier component and the Giants had a remarkable 22.9 fWAR to Bostons 17.6 fWAR. A staff with two 30 game-winners in Joe McGinnity (35-8, 1.61) and Christy Mathewson (33-12, 2.03). Dummy Taylor (21-15, 2.34) provided more depth.
The other part of defense is catching the ball and then having an idea of what to do with it. The Giants had the most double plays (93), the second-fewest errors (294), and the best fielding percentage in the NL at .956. With Total Zone conversion, they were the best in baseball at 50 TZ and Boston was (gasp) -44 TZ.
The pubescent Bostonians were no bindlestiff in the pitching department as the defending champions had 37-year-old Cy Young (26-16, 1.97), Bill Dinneen (23-14, 2.20), and Jesse Tannehill (21-11, 2.04) leading the way. Dinneen – known as “Big Bill” – was 3-1 in the 1903 World Series. A series would be based on a two-man rotation. The Red Sox had 148 complete games to the Giants 127. You finished what you started.
This was the Dead Ball Era and it was on display with the offenses as the AL hit .244 and the NL at .249. The Red Sox had nary a .300 hitter with outfielder Chick Stahl hitting .290. The power in the lineup was Buck Freeman. Likewise, the Giant’s top hitter was switch-hitter Dan McCann at .286 and he also slammed a team-best six home runs. Freeman blasted seven for Boston.
The Red Sox were not without fire in their style with the player-manager Jimmy Collins leading the way. Collins knew McGraw’s style and gamesmanship from their battles in the NL in the 1890s. The Red Sox also had a secret weapon – the Royal Rooters who had driven the Pirates collectively nuts in the 1903 series.
I still think the Red Sox would have won since I have an ingrained bias towards the team. The Giants had a change of direction in 1905 when again they topped 100 wins (105-48) and obliterated the Philadelphia Athletics 4-1 in the World Series. The Red Sox faded to fourth place (78-74) in 1905 so it was a missed opportunity.
There are simulations for the 1904 World Series but why not do the real thing? Baseball certainly needs something to generate a bit of interest as the season (maybe) approaches. Get the old style gloves, bats, and dead balls out. Let the pitchers work on the spitter and shine ball. Find a player with the personality of a pit bull to be, Mugsy.