American League fans enjoyed the first of many Boston-New York pennant races in 1904, with the New York Highlanders remaining in contention all year long largely because of Jack Chesbro, who compiled one of the most amazing seasons in A.L. history. The Hall of Fame right-hander established a 20th century record by winning 41 games (he finished the year 41-12), making 51 starts, and throwing 48 complete games. Chesbro also compiled a 1.82 ERA, struck out 239 batters, and tossed 455 innings. His extraordinary performance enabled the Highlanders to enter the season’s final week with an opportunity to overtake the Americans for first place.
New York faced Boston in a critical four-game series at season’s end, with the A.L. pennant at stake. Chesbro defeated the Americans in the first contest, giving the Highlanders a slim half-game lead. Boston won each of the next two games, though, re-taking first place by a 1 ½ game margin. Chesbro returned to the mound for the series finale, pitching his team to a 2-2 tie heading into the top of the ninth inning. However, he uncorked a wild pitch over the head of catcher Deacon McGuire during that frame that enabled the Americans to score the game-winning and pennant-clinching run. New York had to settle for a close second-place finish, ending the year 1 ½ games behind the pennant-winning Americans, who finished the campaign with a record of 95-59.
Yet, while Boston and New York battled each other down to the wire for the league championship, it was fourth-place Cleveland that featured the junior circuit’s best offense and its top hitter. Napoleon Lajoie led the American League with a .376 batting average, 102 runs batted in, 208 hits, 49 doubles, a .413 on-base percentage, and a .552 slugging percentage. Pitcher Addie Joss also had a big year for Cleveland, winning the ERA title with a mark of 1.59.
Meanwhile, flame-throwing left-hander Rube Waddell performed exceptionally well for the fifth-place Athletics, who finished 12 ½ games behind the Americans in the standings. In addition to winning 25 games and compiling a 1.62 ERA for Philadelphia, Waddell struck out 349 American League batters. His strikeout total remained the major league record for more than six decades, and it continues to rank fifth on the all-time list.
The following A.L. players also distinguished themselves over the course of the 1904 campaign:
• Cy Young threw the 20th century’s first perfect game during a 3-0 victory over the A’s and Rube Waddell on May 5.
• Philadelphia’s Harry Davis led the American League in homers (10) for the first of four straight seasons.
• Cy Young allowed only 29 walks in 380 innings. He also led the major leagues with 10 shutouts.
• Boston's Bill Dinneen pitched an American League season record 337 innings without being relieved.
• Jesse Tannehill of Boston threw a no-hitter against the White Sox on August 17.
- Addie Joss, American League, Bill Dinneen, Boston Americans, Cy Young, Deacon McGuire, Harry Davis, Jack Chesbro, Jesse Tannehill, Nap Lajoie, New York Highlanders, Rube Waddell