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1901: In the Beginning...

The Birth of Red Sox Nation


old logo As hard as it may be for their partisans to believe today, there was indeed a time when the Boston Red Sox did not exist. This flaw in the national culture was corrected in 1901.

- Donald Honig

It was in 1901 that Ban Johnson, the president of a small but successful group of mid-western minor league teams known as the Western Association, declared his circuit a major league. The National League had formed in 1876. It consisted of twelve teams, had a salary cap of $2,400 per year, and charged fans 50¢ to attend games. Johnson originally planned to open with his former Western Association teams in Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, Buffalo, and Milwaukee, as well as newly-relocated teams in Washington, Baltimore, and Philadelphia. When the National League owners refused to acknowledge his new league, he decided to compete directly in more National League cities. Fortunately for generations of New Englanders, he chose to move his Buffalo team to Boston.

The owner of the new Boston team was Charles W. Somers, a millionaire who also invested in the teams in Chicago, Cleveland, and Philadelphia. They played in the Huntington Avenue Grounds, today part of Northeastern University. The park was constructed in less than two months. The stands were made of wood, and fire was a constant threat. The park seated 7,000, but crowds were also permitted to stand in the outfield behind ropes. (And with the center field fence 530 feet from home plate, there was plenty of room for them there!) Games cost only 25¢, and fans quickly began supporting the new team. Even that first year, attendance was better at their games than for Boston's National League team. (Both teams were originally referred to simply as the Bostons, but to differentiate the two teams, they came to be called the Americans and Nationals. Other nicknames, like Pilgrims, Somersets, or Puritans, were invented by the press but not used by the teams themselves or the fans.)

Jimmy Collins Ban Johnson presided over the transactions of his new league. For the American League to survive, it was vital that his teams in cities with existing National League teams do best, so he gave the Chicago, Philadelphia, and Boston teams the "rights" to signing the best National League players. The Boston Americans were able to lure a number of stars away from the National League by offering salaries as high as $4,000. John "Buck" Freeman, Ted Lewis, Chick Stahl, and Jimmy Collins were four ex-Boston Nationals who played for the Americans in their inaugural season. Freeman was a power-hitting first baseman, who led the team in hitting that season. He also led American League first basemen with 36 errors, and was later moved to the outfield where he would be less of a fielding liability. Lewis was a right-handed pitcher who had won 26 games for the Boston Nationals in 1898. Stahl, the center fielder, would later manage the team.

Jimmy Collins was heralded as baseball's best third baseman. He was adept at fielding bunts barehanded and turning them quickly into outs, a skill much appreciated in the dead-ball era. In addition to playing, he was the team's first manager, and also had the ability to sign players to contracts. He had led the National League with 15 home runs in 1898, and remained a solid hitter in the American League.

The Americans were also able to snare the greatest pitcher of the day, Denton True "Cy" Young. Young had been pitching in St. Louis, but he didn't like the heat, and welcomed the chance to play in a cooler climate. He had been pitching since 1890, and had won 20 or more games in nine of those eleven seasons. He had already won 286 games, more than half of his all-time record 511 career wins. Young threw a fastball and a couple of different curveballs, and was very durable, often pitching on one or two days' rest. Lou Criger was Cy's favorite catcher, and he also came to Boston from St. Louis. Criger was no offensive star, but was an excellent defender. He was able to throw out runners such as the speedy Ty Cobb with ease. Legend has it that one day Cobb had had enough. He told Criger that the next time he got on base, he would steal all the way around - and sure enough he did, stealing second, third, and then home. ("I'll be damned," said Criger.)

Cy Young The 1901 Boston Americans also featured second baseman Hobe Ferris, shortstop Freddy Parent, right fielder Charlie Hemphill, left fielder Tommy Dowd, catcher Ossee Schreckengost, and pitchers George Winter, Fred Mitchell, and Nig Cuppy. They trained for a month in Charlottesville, Virginia, (batting and fielding practice in the morning, and hikes through the woods in the afternoon) before playing their first game on April 26 in Baltimore. Win Kellum started the first game, and they lost, 8-6. They had a 5-5 record by the time they played their first home game on May 8, 1901.  11,500 fans packed the ballpark to see Cy Young and his team beat Philadelphia 12-4.

Fans took quickly to the new team. Games were cheaper, and several of their favorite stars had moved across town from the National League team to the Americans. They believed that the Nationals' management had been underpaying their favorite players, and were happy to see them on a new team. The most vocal fans of Boston's Americans were the Royal Rooters. They were a group several hundred strong, led by Michael T. "Nuff Ced" McGreevey. McGreevey owned the Third Base Saloon, which got its name because, like third base, it was the last stop before home. He earned his nickname by shouting "'Nuff said!" to end barroom disputes. The saloon was Boston's original sports bar - it was decorated in a baseball theme, with pictures of the players, and a scoreboard on the outside wall. Nuff Ced befriended several of the players, and even took infield practice with them a few times. He led a raucous group of fans at every game, and embarked on road trips with the team. Today's Red Sox have the K-Men, but Nuff Ced McGreevey and the Royal Rooters were the founding fathers of Red Sox Nation.

WLPct.GB
Chicago8353.610 — 
Boston7957.581 4 
Detroit7461.548 8½ 
Philadelphia7462.544 9 
Baltimore6865.511 13½ 
Washington6173.455 21 
Cleveland5582.401 28½ 
Milwaukee4889.350 35½ 
The 1901 team gave them a lot to cheer about. Having lured several National League players over, they out-performed the city's National League team. Buck Freeman was the team's best hitter, leading the league with a .345 average, and adding 114 RBI and 12 home runs, which was only two less than the league's leader, Napoleon Lajoie. Player-manager Jimmy Collins hit .332 with 42 doubles and 16 triples. Pitchers Ted Lewis and George Winter each won 16 games, but Cy Young led the league with a 33-10 record, 158 strikeouts, and a 1.62 ERA, just the sort of stats you'd expect from a Cy Young Award winner. (Until 1904, teams played only 140 games - or less, if there was bad weather - making his 33 wins that much more remarkable.)

Perhaps in a foreshadowing of seasons to come, the Boston Americans got off to a good start and stayed in the pennant race all season long. They were a strong-hitting team, leading the league in home runs, but ultimately finished in second place, their record of 79-57 leaving them four games behind Chicago. The Nationals finished fifth in their league, at 69-69. From that season on, Boston was an American League town.


The 1901 Boston Americans - Hitting

                      AB    BA    H   2B  3B  HR   R   RBI  SB   PO    A   E
_____________________________________________________________________________

1B  B. Freeman        490  .345  169  23  15  12   86  114  17  1279   55  36
2B  H. Ferris         523  .250  131  16  15   2   68   63  13   359  450  61
3B  J. Collins        564  .332  187  42  16   6  109   94  19   203  328  50
SS  F. Parent         517  .306  158  23   9   4   87   59  16   260  446  63
LF  T. Dowd           594  .268  159  18   7   3  104   52  33   302   12  20
CF  C. Stahl          515  .309  159  20  16   6  106   72  54   277   12  13
RF  C. Hemphill       545  .261  142  10  10   3   71   62  11   188   22  17
C   O. Schreckengost  280  .304   85  13   5   0   37   38   6   301  102  30
C   L. Criger         268  .231   62   6   3   0   26   24   7   380  110  16


Pitching

                 W   L   Pct.  ERA   G   GS  CG  SHO  IP     H   BB   K
________________________________________________________________________

P  C. Young      33  10  .767  1.62  43  41  38   5  371.1  324  37  158
P  T. Lewis      16  17  .485  3.53  39  34  31   1  316.1  299  91  103
P  G. Winter     16  12  .571  2.80  28  28  26   1  241.0  234  66   63
P  F. Mitchell    6   6  .500  3.81  17  13  10   0  108.2  115  51   34
P  N. Cuppy       4   6  .400  4.15  13  11   9   0   93.1  111  14   22


Also see

Complete statistics for the 1901 team at baseball-reference.com

1901 game log at retrosheet.org


A couple of things strike me about these stats: The number of errors is amazing. (Of course, gloves were different and Joe Mooney wasn't the groundskeeper yet.) And with the pitchers throwing as many innings as they did, you'd expect them to have a lot of wins and complete games. But see Cy Young's stats next to some of his fellow deadball era pitchers, and he's still head and shoulders above the rest - 33 wins, 371 innings, and only 37 walks!



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