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When Boston Won the World Series

By Bob Ryan

Running Press

200 pages, $18.95


Come October, the Boston faithful will raise their glass to "Tessie" and thank her for bringing home the goods.

In other words, Red Sox fans will celebrate a World Series.

It's doubtful they will be celebrating the 2003 World Series, although some geniuses on ESPN radio predicted before the start of the season that the Red Sox would win their division. They obviously hadn't seen the bullpen yet.

No, this World Series is already in the bag. (Insert Buckner joke here).

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the October Classic. It was a seemingly unbalanced matchup between the National League's perennial power squad, the Pittsburgh Pirates, and the two-year old upstarts from the fledgling American League, the Boston Americans, also known as the Puritans, the Pilgrims, the Plymouth Rocks and the Somersets (after their original owner, Charles Somer). The team became the Red Sox in 1907.

The years, months and days leading up to the first modern-day World Series, and the best-of-nine series itself, are reconstructed in loving detail by controversial and award-winning Boston Globe sports columnist Bob Ryan. The author could never have written "When Boston Won the World Series" without the Globe's microfilm machine, and his very own muse -- Timothy Murnane.

As the Globe's baseball editor at the time, Murnane brought the 1903 World Series to life with his flourishing prose, much of which is reprinted in Ryan's nifty little book. The games that Murnane watched a century ago are essentially the same as the games we see today as far as the rules.

Another fact as true today as it was 100 years ago is that Boston is absolutely crazy about its Red Sox. As Ryan puts it, "The irrefutable fact is that Boston became an American League city as soon as the first game was played in 1901. It didn't hurt that the Americans impressed the fans by charging a quarter for entry, as opposed to the Nationals' fee of fifty cents, but there was more to it than simple economics. Almost from the moment of their inception, the Americans became the 'In' team in town."

In fact, Red Sox fans, known as "cranks" back then, outnumbered Boston Braves fans by a two-to-one margin that first year.

Buffalo can take some credit for Boston's infatuation with its new team. The most popular player with the Boston Americans was the third baseman, and the man picked to manage the team, Jimmy Collins. Collins, the son of a Buffalo police officer, was born in the Queen City in 1870.

Collins played for Buffalo of the Eastern League before breaking into the big leagues in 1895. His place in the Hall of Fame was sealed while playing for his first team, Louisville, of the National League.

Collins figured out a way to field bunts that were frequently used in the era of the dead ball. He would charge toward the plate, catch the ball with his bare hand and then throw to first while still running.

In short, Collins revolutionized play at third. He was already a legend when he signed with the Boston Americans. (A little-known fact is that American League founder, Ban Johnson, was an ant's eyelash away from establishing a team in Buffalo before he changed his mind at the last minute and put the franchise in Boston.)

As if Collins wasn't enough, the new Boston squad boasted 36-year-old Cy Young. The man who would become the greatest pitcher of all time "had reached iconic
status in the game by 1903, and he was far from finished, even if he was getting a bit on the portly side," writes Ryan.

The Pirates had their own icons, notably the great shortstop Honus Wagner. How would this young Boston team stack up against the "superior" Pirates?

It was nip-and-tuck until Game 5, when Boston's Royal Rooters, for some unknown reason, started singing a ditty called "Tessie." The song so grated on the nerves of the Pirates and their fans that the Pittsburgh wheels started to fall off. The end came in Game 8, and Murnane was in peak form describing the action.

"How (Boston pitcher Bill) Dinneen did rip that black ball over the plate! Three times did Wagner try to connect, but not a sound from the rooters until the last swing, which nearly carried him off his feet, proclaimed the downfall of the mighty men and his nine."

Boston would go on to win four more World Series through 1918. The core of that championship team was traded to the Yankees. They're a team in New York City.

Carol Crissey Nigrelli is the former Carol Jasen, co-anchor of Channel 4 News.