After two years of turmoil and constant bickering, the American and National Leagues finally made peace prior to the start of the 1903 campaign. Having rejected the senior circuit’s offer to form another 12-team league, A.L. president Ban Johnson agreed to adopt the modern two-major league format. The new National Agreement also set up a National Commission consisting of League presidents Harry Pulliam and Ban Johnson, as well as Johnson-ally Garry Herrmann. This arrangement made Johnson the most powerful man in all of baseball for much of the next two decades. Other points of the Agreement included the American League’s adoption of the foul-strike rule and the National League’s acceptance of an American League franchise in New York.
The Baltimore Orioles served as the precursor to the junior circuit’s new team in New York, with Johnson arranging for Frank Farrell and Bill Devery to purchase the struggling franchise and subsequently move it to Manhattan. Farrell and Devery quickly secured a piece of land situated on Broadway, between 165th and 168th streets, and hastily constructed a ballpark that they named Hilltop Park, since it sat on one of the highest points in Manhattan. The stadium’s location also prompted the nickname Highlanders to be affixed to the team. The owners then raided the rosters of several National League clubs, securing the services of Hall of Fame outfielder Willie Keeler from Brooklyn, star pitcher Clark Griffith from Chicago, and fellow standout hurlers Jack Chesbro and Jesse Tannehill, both from Pittsburgh.
The acquisitions made the Highlanders an extremely representative team in their first year in the junior circuit. They finished the campaign in fourth place in the American League, with a record of 72-62. Nevertheless, they failed to contend for the league championship, since the Boston Americans ran away with the A.L. flag by posting a mark of 91-47 that placed them 14 ½ games ahead of runner-up Philadelphia. Boston topped the circuit in both runs scored and fewest runs allowed. Outfielders Patsy Dougherty and Buck Freeman led the team on offense. Dougherty batted .331 and led the league with 107 runs scored and 195 hits. Freeman finished first in the league with 13 home runs and 104 runs batted in. Meanwhile, Cy Young anchored Boston’s pitching staff, leading the league with a record of 28-9, 341 innings pitched, 34 complete games, and seven shutouts, and placing among the leaders with a 2.08 ERA.
A list of other outstanding performers and notable events around the league follows:
• Boston won the first modern World Series.
• Cleveland’s Nap Lajoie led the American League with a .344 batting average and a .518 slugging average.
• Philadelphia’s Rube Waddell established a new post-1893 record by striking out 302 batters.
• Washington's Ed Delahanty fell to his death from a railway trestle.
• The first moving picture of a game was made, featuring Cleveland's Nap Lajoie and Harry Bay.
• The pitcher's mound was restricted in height to no more than 15 inches.
• Detroit’s newly appointed player/manager Win Mercer committed suicide in the preseason.
• Rube Waddell pitched a four-hitter vs. New York on August 1 -- Kid Elberfeld collected all four hits.
- American League, Baltimore Orioles, Ban Johnson, Bill Devery, Boston Americans, Buck Freeman, Clark Griffith, Cy Young, Ed Delahanty, Garry Herrmann, Harry Bay, Harry Pulliam, Hilltop Park, Jack Chesbro, Jesse Tannehill, Kid Elberfeld, Nap Lajoie, New York Highlanders, Patsy Dougherty, Rube Waddell, Willie Keeler, Win Mercer