The Last Time There Wasn't A World Series

September 18, 1994|By JOHN STEADMAN

Only once before has baseball pitched a shutout against itself while depriving America of its gala centerpiece, the World Series. On that previous occasion, 1904, it wasn't met with any more approval than it is now in this troubled season of 1994 that finds the game shipwrecked against the rocks of avarice and greed.

The "World Series that wasn't held" 90 years ago happened because of stubbornness, vanity and selfishness (but not financial) on the part of New York Giants' owner John Brush and his field manager, John McGraw.

The World Series, a misnomer in that it decides baseball supremacy in only that part of the world where the Americans play, has been a staple of consistency. When the leaves start to change in autumn and the night air has a bite to it, and while the enjoyment of another summer becomes a fond memory, the World Series takes over the stage for its command performance.

Even among non-interested citizens, those who know how to read a stock market table but not a box-score, there's a sudden desire during the World Series to follow results and argue the outcome.

Yes, the World Series is set apart from all other athletic endeavors because of its tradition and, of course, its heretofore reliable continuity.

The Series had its beginning in 1903. The longer-established National League agreed to send its champion against the best of the upstart American League, which had only been in business three years. What happened was a shock. The Pittsburgh Pirates, a prideful National League club, lost to the Boston Red Sox in a stunning upset.

It immediately damaged the senior league's prestige and granted the American League a feeling of comforting parity. So Brush and McGraw took precautions to avoid a repetition. They plotted to prevent it from happening again.

After the Red Sox qualified by winning the A.L. pennant again in 1904, the Giants' leadership, owner Brush and manager McGraw, refused to play them. They turned their backs and walked away.

There were legitimate charges advanced that Brush and McGraw didn't want to jeopardize their New York club's reputation. So there was no World Series. It was a cop-out and, down through the years, a lone blank space existed for 1904 in the record book.

A champion for 1903, none for 1904 and then a resumption in 1905. And since, , the Series has played on, bands blaring and bunting draped on the facades of ball parks.

The depth of Brush's contempt was exposed in 1904 when he said, "There is nothing in the constitution of the playing rules of the National League which requires its victorious club to submit its championship honors to a contest with a victorious club in a minor league."

Side-stepping a confrontation on the field with the American League may have been Brush's idea of face-saving gamesmanship, but calling his rival a "minor league" enraged fair-minded followers of the game.

McGraw, a third baseman for the dominant Baltimore Orioles of earlier National League wars, could be a belligerent personality, despite the fact he romanced and wed two of Baltimore's most beautiful women.

McGraw in New York became a tyrant, demanding that things be done his way. But Ban Johnson (a McGraw nemesis), president of the American League, and his counterpart, Harry Pulliam, agreed on a World Series for 1905.

Ironically, it was McGraw's Giants beating the Philadelphia A's with a succession of shutouts, three by Christy Mathewson. After that the World Series was never in doubt until it was shut down by major league club owners this past week.

Consider that the World Series has gone on during two World Wars, the Depression, when money was hard to come by, and the influenza outbreak which killed more than 400,000 people in 1918. And let's not forget the Oakland-San Francisco earthquake.

Yes, baseball prevailed, but finally, an insatiable appetite for money exploded out of control and the World Series for 1994 committed suicide -- a casualty of its own selfish ways.

John Steadman is a sports columnist for The Evening Sun.

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