The Birth of Baseball’s World Series

In my talk at Whitney Center in Hamden, Ct., I focused on people from groups disenfranchised by baseball who made major contributions to the game, With the 2014 World Series approaching, the story of an immigrant Jew named Barney Dreyfuss should be told.

Before 1903, many attempts were made by baseball to declare a champion between existing leagues. Leagues were made and disappeared throughout the 19th Century. In 1894, a championship trophy was given to the winner of a best-of-seven-game series between the first and second-place teams in the National League (founded in 1876). This experiment lasted three years and its popularity became the forerunner of the World Series as we know it today.

Barney Dreyfuss was born in Freiburg, Germany in 1865. In 1885, Mr. Dreyfuss came to America to do odd jobs and keep the books for his cousins Isaac and Bernard Bernheim, the makers of I.W. Harper bourbon. He worked so hard he became frail, and a doctor suggested an outside recreation like baseball. Mr. Dreyfuss learned to play second base and later managed an amateur team composed of fellow distillery workers.

Over time, he invested his savings into part ownership of the Louisville Colonels, which entered the National League in 1892.When the league contracted after the 1899 season, Mr. Dreyfuss purchased a half-interest in the Pittsburgh Pirates by negotiating the transfer of the best Louisville players, including future Hall-of-Famers Honus Wagner, Rube Waddell, and Fred Clarke, to the Pirates. In 1900 he obtained full ownership of the Pirates. After a second-place finish in 1900, the Pirates dominated the National League with three straight titles.

With the founding of the American League in 1901, a rivalry between the two leagues was created. The two leagues fought over getting fans and getting players. In 1903, Dreyfuss brokered a peace treaty that recognized the two major leagues. It also instituted a single set of rules, established agreements with the minor leagues, set up cooperative scheduling, and recognized each league’s rights to its own players. To cash in on the peace between the leagues, Dreyfuss forged an agreement with the rival American League which created the modern World Series. Because of his efforts, Barney Dreyfuss was later dubbed the  “Father of the World Series.”

The first World Series was held in 1903 between Dreyfuss’s Pittsburgh Pirates of the National League and the Boston Americans of the American League. The first series was a best of nine-game series. Even though his Pirates lost that inaugural series 5 to 3, Dreyfuss donated his share of the profits to the players, making the checks out to their wives. It was and is the only time a losing team received a higher share than the winners.

Even though the first official World Series was a success, the 1904 series was cancelled. John Brush, president of the National League champion New York Giants, refused to play the Boston Americans. The reason he gave was that the American League was an inferior league. The World Series resumed in 1905 becoming a yearly event ending the baseball season.

The Pirates won their first championship in 1909 by beating Ty Cobb’s Detroit Tigers, and they won again in 1925 against Walter Johnson’s Washington Senators. They lost in 1927 to a Yankees team known as Murderers’ Row.

In 1909 Dreyfuss opened the first steel and concrete stadium called Forbes Field which was the home of the Pirates for 61 years. Dreyfuss worked to outlaw “freak” pitches such as the spitball, and was a vigilant force in ridding the game of gambling. He advocated a clean game on a level playing field, but he never called attention to himself. He owned the Pirates until his death in 1932.

Because of his many contributions to baseball, Barney Dreyfuss was inducted into the baseball’s Hall of Fame in 2008.

Original Comments:

Martin Cobern said…

“Dreyfuss brokered a peace treaty that … instituted a single set of rules” Too bad the AL broke the treaty by instituting the odious designated hitter.

October 20, 2014 04:58:43

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