By Marty Appel
When New York Giants owner John Brush and his manager John McGraw, chose not to play their upstart American League rival Highlanders in a 1904 World Series, it was a great disappointment to the growing legions of baseball fans in New York.
Of course, when the Highlanders lost the pennant on a Jack Chesbro wild pitch in the final series of the regular season, it became a moot point. Still, the debate was lively, and even McGraw’s players felt deprived of the extra pay and the excitement the games would have produced.
McGraw explained, “our opponents next season expect to be playing champions. We owe it to them not to risk losing that in such a series.”
And so the first decade of the 20th century progressed, the Giants generally fielding strong teams and the Highlanders disappointing ones.
And in those seven years since the Highlanders were born – 1903 to 1909, neither team set foot in each other’s ballpark.
Yes, one century ago, 100 Octobers ago, the Yankees (“Yankees” and “Highlanders” were interchangeable by then) and the Giants agreed to play a best-of-seven post-season series. Long forgotten, this one wasn’t played like an exhibition; it was played for keeps. It is deserving of memory, exhibition or not, as the first of the great “subway series” between the Yankees and either the Giants, Dodgers or Mets.
And it was played at the same time the “real” World Series was being played, under governance of the National Commission (the three-man committee that preceded the establishment of the commissioner’s office).
It would be impossible to imagine a strong commissioner approving competition to the World Series, but not only did this event get green-lighted, at the same time, Cleveland played Cincinnati, the Reds winning in seven games without attracting nearly as much national interest.
The New York series however, was another story. Wrote Francis Richter in the Reach Guide, “National and local interest in this post-season engagement was so great that it shared attention with the supreme World Series contest between the Athletic and Chicago teams.”
As for New York rooters, there could be no doubt which series mattered more. “New Yorkers will watch with interest the battles between the Cubs and the Athletics for the highest honors in baseball, but they care less for this fight than they do for the battles which will decide the baseball supremacy of Greater New York,” wrote The New York Times.
The Giants and the Yankees both finished second in 1910, the Giants 13 games out, and the Yankees 14½, so there really was no close contest at the end, and plenty of time to plan for this “runner-up bowl.”
As for the actual use of a “subway,” it was hardly necessary to transverse between the two ballparks. The Polo Grounds, home of the Giants, could be reached by the IRT line, with the 157th Street station having opened in November of 1904. The Yankees home field, usually called Hilltop Park today, but more frequently then, just “the hilltop” or “The American League Park,” was at the next stop, the 168th Street station, which opened in March of 1906. Just as today, (where New York-Presbyterian Hospital now sits), it could only be reached by elevator from street level. Given the lines waiting to use the elevator, it was just as easy to get off at 157th Street and walk ten minutes up Broadway to get to the Hilltop. Many did.
McGraw, the dominant figure in New York sports, had managed the Giants since bolting from Baltimore in 1902, leaving that franchise in shambles. For the following season, it was replaced by New York and the Highlanders were born. Some consider Baltimore to be the same franchise, merely relocated, but that would awkwardly make McGraw and four of his players (Wilbert Robinson, Joe McGinnity, Joe Kelley and Rogert Bresnahan), “Yankees in the Hall of Fame,” and somehow, that doesn’t sit right.
As for the Yankees, there was turmoil in the manager’s office as the season drew to a close. Hal Chase, the gifted first baseman and the team’s most popular player, was thought to have been “laying down” from time to time, perhaps covering his gambling wagers, and craftily engineering Yankee losses in the process. The team’s manager, George Stallings, came out and frankly said it was so! Team co-owner Frank Farrell summoned Stallings back to New York in the middle of a road trip to discuss it – leaving Chase, of all people, in charge. By the time the dust had settled, Stallings was out, and Chase, just 27, was the new manager, winning 10 of 14 to close the season, including the last five in a row.
And so The New York Inter-League Series began on Thursday, October 13, four days before the World Series. 24,398 headed for the Polo Grounds proving that interest was indeed, enormous. The great Christy Mathewson, already a 263-game winner at 29, started for the Giants. All four of his appearances in this series would, alas, be in the Polo Grounds; he never did take the mound at Hilltop Park.
Russ Ford got the start for the Yanks. Ford was a 27-year old rookie righthander, born in western Canada, who won 26 games, a rookie record to this day. While he was a great sensation, he was also a skillful practitioner of the “emery ball,” an illegal pitch involving the scuffing of the baseball with an emery board. He told everyone it was a spitball, which was still a legal pitch. After two years, the rest of the league caught up with him, and his promising career went south in a hurry. But for 1910-1911, he was a sensation, and his 209 strikeouts in 1910 ranked third in Yankee history for a single season until tied by Whitey Ford (no relation) 51 years later.
The excitement for the opener was enormous, as the fans cheered players from both teams. McGraw waved his cap at the boisterous fans, and as Chase, the last to appear on the field, walked by the stands, “they shook with the applause.”
“At every season’s end since the American League established a team on the Hilltop, the fans of Gotham have begged and prayed for the Giants and the Yanks to clash,” wrote the Times correspondent. “The collision didn’t arrive until yesterday, and the explosion which followed went thundering over Manhattan Island from one end to the other.”
Bill Klem and Billy Evans, future Hall of Famers both, were selected to umpire these games instead of the World Series, an indication of how the league officials felt.
As for Mathewson, he was as “up” for this contest as for any he ever pitched and hurled a 5-1 victory, with 14 strikeouts and no walks, the Giants pulled it out with four in the eighth.
The second game, on an Indian Summer Friday, October 14, saw the action move up on the Hilltop, the first “post-season” game ever played there. 10,565 turned out to the rickety wooden park with the picturesque view of the Hudson River and the setting sun over the New Jersey Palisades, as the Yanks, dashing in their “colonial cream” uniforms, scored two in the last of the ninth for a literal walkoff, winning 5-4 behind Jack Warhop. The winning run scoring on a bases-loaded walk to Chase issued by Hooks Wiltse, whose brother “Snake” had been an original 1903 Highlander. Wiltse was so frustrated with umpire Evans’ calls, that he threw his glove down in disgust as the fans mobbed Chase on the field in celebration. Watching to make sure Hal touched first base was Giants first baseman Fred Merkle, whose “bonehead play” of not touching second on a walkoff win two years before, had cost the Giants a pennant.
The third game, on Saturday the 15th at the Polo Grounds, was a 6-4 win for the Giants in the now autumn chill, with 27,766 looking on as Mathewson made a rare relief appearance in the seventh for what would today be called a save. The attendance was bigger than for any World Series game that season. Yankee batters Jimmy Austin and Bert Daniels were each fined $25 by Klem for arguing balls and strikes, an umpire prerogative at the time. This time, the fans of both clubs seemed more partisan and less polite, cheering sarcastically whenever a rival made an out.
Game four, at Hilltop, was a 5-5 tie halted by darkness shortly after 5 PM, as 13,050 turned out for a Monday afternoon match (no Sunday baseball was allowed), on the day the World Series began in Philadelphia.
Game five, on Tuesday at the Polo Grounds, saw Mathewson win 5-1 over Ray Fisher, who would later enjoy a 38-year career as baseball coach at the University of Michigan. (Fisher, the last survivor of this series, attended the Yankees Old Timers Day in 1982 at the age of 94, shortly before his death). A crowd of 15,353 saw home runs hit by the Giants captain Larry Doyle and left fielder Josh Devore, who each had two in the Series, the only ones hit. The win put the Giants up 3 games to 1, now one win short of the “Manhattan championship.”
Game six was back at the Hilltop on Wednesday, October 19th, with Jack Quinn, in third inning relief of Jim “Hippo” Vaughn, using his spitball to stop the Giants 10-2 before 7,462 cold weather fans, who saw the Yanks score eight in the second inning. Quinn, who had two tours of duty for the Yankees, would become the only Highlander to ever see the promised land, pitching in the Yankees first World Series in 1921.
Following a rainout, the seventh game, at the Polo Grounds on the 21st, proved to be the finale, as Mathewson, with the extra day of rest, won for the third time, just as he had done in the 1905 World Series, when he pitched three shutouts. Only 4,439 braved the November-like weather this time, witnessing the 6-3 Giants win, with Doyle hitting a 3-run homer for the winners.
The Yankees came closest in the 7th inning when Charlie Hemphill lined one down the right field line that rolled under the parked car of Giants owner John Brush. He circled the bases, but the umpires called it a ground rule double.
Umpire Evans reflected that the key to the Series was the Yankees loss through injury of catcher Ed Sweeney in game one, which made Ford a less effective pitcher in the series, throwing fewer “spitballs” than he ordinarily did.
For their efforts each Giant took home a winner’s share of $1,110.61, and each Yankee took home $706.76, all based on just the first four games attendance.
Shortstop John Knight led the Yanks with a .391 average; player-manager Chase batted .345 with 3 doubles and a triple, and Hemphill hit .333. Third baseman Jimmy Austin, who Chase batted ninth in the lineup behind the pitcher, responded with a .296 series. For the Giants, Devore hit .414, Doyle .379, and Devlin and Merkle each batted .375.
The Giants went to the World Series in 1911, 1912 and 1913, so the Manhattan Series was on hold. It was revived in 1914 when both teams shared the Polo Grounds, the Giants winning in five games, with no crowd over 14,000. The Giants were still the dominant team in town, but this revival lacked the thrill of the 1910 event and wasn’t attempted again.
And the Yankees glory days were, of course, still to come.