Seeking his third consecutive pennant with Brooklyn in 1901, manager Ned Hanlon instead was overwhelmed by a Pittsburgh team that had not been similarly decimated by AL raiders. Hanlon, before 1901, suffered the defection of Fielder Jones, Lave Cross and Joe McGinnity. Unable to replace the three stars, Brooklyn sank to third place while the Phillies advanced a notch to the second spot. Neither club, though, could pose much of a challenge to the Pirates, who would soon emerge as the first dynasty of the new century.
In 1901, Pittsburgh lost only one player of consequence to the upstart AL -- third baseman Jimmy Williams -- and pilot Fred Clarke more than replaced him with Tommy Leach. Rookie Kitty Bransfield seized the first base job, and another newcomer, Lefty Davis, took over in right field alongside Ginger Beaumont in center and Clarke in left. This combination proved lethal, giving the Pirates an outfield with a combined average above .300. Honus Wagner, meanwhile, found a new niche at shortstop after incumbent Bones Ely was permitted to take his .208 batting average to the AL. With Deacon Phillippe winning 22 games, Jack Chesbro 21, and Jesse Tannehill chipping in with 18 victories and a league-leading 2.18 ERA, the Pirates hardly missed fractious Rube Waddell, the 1900 ERA champion, who was sold to the Chicago Cubs in May. Attaining first place on June 16, Pittsburgh remained there the rest of the way but had to subdue a late threat from Philadelphia before claiming the first NL pennant in the city's history.
The AL, in its fledgling season as a major league, also had a tight race into September. Led by 33-game winner Cy Young, slugging first sacker Buck Freeman, and third baseman-manager Jimmy Collins, its three prize thefts from the NL, Boston had the inside track on the first AL major-league pennant. But a late slump by pitchers Ted Lewis and George Winter opened the door for the Chicago White Sox to cop the honor under Clark Griffith, who had been swiped prior to the season from the crosstown Cubs by Sox owner Charlie Comiskey. Comiskey had also managed the Sox to the AL flag in 1900 when the loop was still a minor league. He later opted to give up the reins to focus on the front office because he believed the dual role would be too burdensome with the AL now endeavoring to achieve major-league status.
With the two leagues at loggerheads, a postseason clash to settle bragging rights for the 1901 season was still a pipe dream.
-- David Nemec & Saul Wisnia
Baseball: More Than 150 Years
Baseball: More Than 150 Years, David Nemec & Saul Wisnia
Copyright 1997 by Publications International, Ltd.
Published by Publications International, Ltd. (Lincolnwood, IL), 1997
available at ABEBOOKS