The war between the American and National Leagues intensified in 1902, with the main battles taking place in Baltimore, Philadelphia, and St. Louis. John McGraw’s career in the junior circuit ended almost before it began, as the pugnacious Baltimore Orioles player-manager and noted umpire-baiter clashed repeatedly with Ban Johnson over on-field behavior the A.L. President considered to be detrimental to the fledgling league. After infuriating McGraw one year earlier by suspending him for verbal abuse of an umpire, Johnson turned league officials loose on the contentious one, making him essentially a marked man.
During an early-season contest, umpire Jack Sheridan watched as Boston’s Big Bill Dinneen hit McGraw with pitches on five separate occasions. Each time, Sheridan refused to award McGraw first base, claiming that the latter made no attempt to get out of the way of the pitch. Finally, Sheridan added insult to injury by ejecting McGraw from the game. The league backed up its umpire and suspended McGraw for five more days.
McGraw, though, gained a measure of revenge against Johnson later in the season, enlisting two National League owners to secretly buy up a controlling interest in the Orioles’ stock. The owners then released virtually the entire roster, which included stars Joe Kelley, Roger Bresnahan, and Joe McGinnity, enabling the team’s players to be picked up by the New York Giants and the Cincinnati Reds. Shortly afterward, the Giants named McGraw their manager, prompting an irate Johnson to take control of the Baltimore franchise and subsequently move it to New York to compete with McGraw’s Giants. Renamed the “Highlanders” in 1903, the franchise eventually became known as the New York Yankees.
Meanwhile, the battleground moved from the boardroom to the courts in Philadelphia, as Napoleon Lajoie’s former team, the Phillies, obtained a ruling from a Pennsylvania judge prohibiting the star from playing for any other team within the city’s boundaries. Philadelphia A’s manager Connie Mack circumvented the National League’s strategy, though, by dealing Lajoie to Cleveland. Lajoie remained with Cleveland for a dozen years, prompting the team to change its name to the “Naps” in his honor, before later changing its name again to the “Indians.” However, he had to avoid the jurisdiction of the Pennsylvania courts by skipping Cleveland's away series in Philadelphia for the remainder of the 1902 season.
Spurred by the success experienced by its teams located in Chicago, Philadelphia, and Boston, the American League moved its Milwaukee franchise into another National League market, St. Louis. Renamed the “Browns,” the new team promptly raided the St. Louis Cardinals' roster for most of its stars, including Jesse Burkett, Bobby Wallace, and Jack Powell.
The senior circuit received yet another blow when slugger Ed Delahanty defected from Philadelphia to Washington, where he promptly won the American League batting title with a mark of .376. He also led the league with a .590 slugging average.
Amid all the turmoil, the Philadelphia Athletics captured the American League pennant, finishing the season with a record of 83-53, five games ahead of the second-place St. Louis Browns. Third baseman Lave Cross was Philadelphia’s best player, placing among the league leaders with 108 runs batted in, a .342 batting average, 191 hits, and 39 doubles. He received a considerable amount of help from Topsy Hartsel, who led the league with 47 stolen bases, 87 walks, and 109 runs scored, and from Socks Seybold, who topped the circuit with 16 home runs.
However, the American League’s top performer in 1902 was Cy Young, who helped Boston finish in third place, just 6 ½ games behind the A’s. Young led all A.L. pitchers with a record of 32-11, 384 innings pitched, and 41 complete games, and he also placed among the leaders with a 2.15 ERA and 160 strikeouts.
The following A.L. players also distinguished themselves over the course of the 1902 campaign:
• Cleveland rookie Addie Joss topped the American League in shutouts with five.
• By leading the American League with 16 home runs, Philadelphia’s Socks Seybold tied Sam Crawford's 20th-century record.
• George Davis of the Chicago White Sox established a new record for shortstops by compiling a .951 fielding average. Davis also became the first switch-hitter to accumulate 2,000 hits.
• After an erratic showing in the National League, Philadelphia’s Rube Waddell posted a record of 24-7 and topped the junior circuit with 210 strikeouts.
• In his American League debut, Danny Murphy of the A's went 6-for-6 vs. Cy Young.
• Chicago's Nixey Callahan threw a no-hitter against the Detroit Tigers on Sept. 20.
• Sam Mertes of the White Sox played all nine positions in the field at one point or another during the season.
• Detroit's Ed Siever led the league with a 1.91 ERA, becoming in the process the first ERA leader to post a losing record.
• Red Donahue and Jack Powell led the second-place Browns with 22 wins apiece.
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- Addie Joss, American League, Ban Johnson, Bill Dinneen, Bobby Wallace, Connie Mack, Cy Young, Danny Murphy, Ed Delahanty, Ed Siever, George Davis, Jack Powell, Jack Sheridan, Jesse Burkett, Joe Kelley, Joe McGinnity, John McGraw, Lave Cross, Nap Lajoie, New York Highlanders, Nixey Callahan, Philadelphia Athletics, Red Donahue, Roger Bresnahan, Rube Waddell, Sam Crawford, Sam Mertes, Socks Seybold, St. Louis Browns, Topsy Hartsel