The World Series was born 110 years ago. So were the New York Yankees, as New York inherited the remnants of the old Baltimore Orioles, a charter member of the new American League that was formed in 1901. A year later the team was headed to last place and bankruptcy. Manager John McGraw jumped to the National League New York Giants to assume the same position and brought some Orioles players with him.
What was left of the Baltimore Orioles became part of the new New York club, named the Highlanders. The name was chosen after a famous British army regiment and the lofty location of the new New York ballpark.
Hilltop Park, a wooden stadium that could accommodate 15,000, was rushed to completion in upper Manhattan along Broadway from 165th to 168th streets.
Many Jewish boys living in New York with Yiddish-speaking and reading parents spent most their free time in good weather playing baseball.
A popular feature of Abraham Cahan’s Yiddish language Jewish Daily Forward was Cahan’s “Bintel Brief” advice column. An immigrant from Russia, who couldn’t understand his son’s fascination with the popular American game, sent the following letter:
“It makes sense to play dominoes or chess. But what is the point of a crazy game like baseball? The children get crippled. Here in educated America adults play baseball. They run after a leather ball like children. I want my boy to grow up to be a mensh, not a wild American runner. But he cries his head off.”
The letter and Cahan’s reply appeared in the August 3, 1903, edition. Cahan’s answer was for all fathers with the same problem: “Let your boys play baseball and play it well,” Cahan advised, “as long as it does not interfere with their education or get them in bad company. Chess is good, but baseball develops the arms, legs, and eyesight. It is played in the fresh air. Let us not raise the children that they grow up foreigners in their own birthplace.”
A Jewish foreigner, Bernard Dreyfuss, developed a love for baseball and would eventually develop the World Series.
Bernard was born and educated in Germany. He apprenticed as a bank clerk before arriving in America in 1882 at age 17. A smallish fellow with a thick German accent, Barney as he became known, made his way to Paducah, Kentucky, to help out at a distillery owned by relatives.
Working his way up from scrubbing barrels to assistant bookkeeper, a bout with illness led a doctor to advise Dreyfuss to get more exercise by playing baseball.
Dreyfuss followed the doctor’s orders, enjoyed playing, and decided to invest in the game by operating a semipro team. In 1888, the 23-year-old Dreyfuss became a naturalized citizen and the distillery relocated to Louisville.
Dreyfuss met Florence Wolf in Louisville and the pair hit it off as both were Jewish and loved baseball. They married in 1894, and five years later they were the major owners of the Louisville club, which was a member of the National League at the time.
When the 12-team National League decided to contract to eight teams, the Louisville club was targeted for extinction. A deal was engineered to allow Dreyfuss to purchase a half interest in the Pittsburgh Pirates and take fourteen of his Louisville players with him. By the time the American League was born in 1901, Dreyfuss was the major owner of the Pirates.
The Pirates topped the National League in 1901 and 1902; however, when the season ended there was no series of games between the best team in each league to determine which one was baseball’s best.
The Pirates were on their way to topping the National League again in 1903 and the Boston club was on its way to clinching first place in the American League. Dreyfuss wrote his Boston counterpart, trumpeting the merits of a series of games between the two leagues’ best teams.
“The time has come for the National League and American League to organize a World Series,” Dreyfuss wrote. “It is my belief that if our clubs played a series on a best-out-of-nine basis we would create great interest in baseball, in our leagues, and in our players. I also believe it would be a financial success.”
Agreement was reached, and the first game of the first World Series took place on Thursday, October 1 in Boston. An overflow crowd of 16,242 packed Boston’s Huntington Avenue Grounds. But Dreyfuss didn’t see his Pirates win 7-3, because the game was on Yom Kippur.
Dreyfuss watched the second game with two guests, the rabbi from Boston’s oldest congregation and the rabbi from Dryfuss’s Pittsburgh congregation. The rabbis saw Boston shut out the Pirates 3-0 to even the Series.
Pittsburgh lose that first World Series, five games to three. But for Barney and his beloved Florence, the disappointment would be followed by success and other firsts.
About the Author: Author, columnist, and lecturer Irwin Cohen headed a national baseball publication for five years and worked in a front office position for a major league team, becoming the first Orthodox Jew to earn a World Series ring. He can be reached in his dugout at email@example.com.
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