The American League would come into being for the 1901 campaign, which despite the fact that the two leagues would not meet during the season had a direct effect on the Pirates and their run at the pennant.
After finishing only 4.5 games behind Brooklyn in 1900, the Superbas, Brooklyn’s name before the Dodgers came into vogue, would lose three key players to the new rival league when pitcher Joe McGinnity, 29-9 in 1900, went to Baltimore, third baseman Lave Cross, who hit .293 with a league high .943 fielding percentage, was off to Philadelphia and center fielder Fielder Jones, .310, signed with the Windy City’s entrant in the new circuit. The Pirates went untouched by the American League, which led the Pittsburgh to a 12 game turnaround, beating Brooklyn by 7.5 games for their first title.
Things did not start off so smooth for the Bucs in 1901. After losing to the Reds on June 1st, 4-3, following a disputed call by umpire Bert Cunningham, whom the Pirates got in the famous Louisville trade and then proceeded to cut. Cunningham ruled Kitty Bransfield out at first costing the Pirates the tying run to end the game resulting in 2,000 fans storming the field at Exposition Park. Pittsburgh stood at just 16-15 at the time, 3.5 games off the pace in fourth place. They immediately went on a 13-2 streak, culminating with a 7-0 win against the Giants on June 20th, a game in which Honus Wagner became the first player in the new century to steal home twice in one game, to seize the top spot as they never looked back holding first place the rest of the way, except for a short time on July 4th.
Some other notable moments during the year occurred on July 1st, when the Bucs were shutout by the Phillies 1-0, a game which would mark the only time in the season where Pittsburgh would be shut out, a 20th century National League record. Another important moment was on September 27th which became one of the most memorable days in the short history of the franchise to this point as Deacon Phillippe tossed the Pirates past Brooklyn 5-4 to clinch the pennant.
Five Pirates would hit .300 as Wagner .352 4th in the NL, Ginger Beaumont, .332, Fred Clarke, .324, Left Davis, .313 and Tommy Leach .305 all went over the mark. Wagner would lead the circuit in RBI’s with 126.
On the mound, Phillippe, 21-12-2.22, Jack Chesbro, 21-10-2.38, Jesse Tannehill, 18-10-2.18 and Sam Leever, 14-5-2.86, proved to be the best starting rotation in the league as they combined for a league low 2.58 ERA. Tannehill and Phillippe would go 1-2 for the ERA crown.
1901 would be a memorable campaign, the beginning of the greatest 3-year swing in the clubs history.
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- Deacon Phillippe, Exposition Park, Fred Clarke, Ginger Beaumont, Honus Wagner, Jack Chesbro, Jesse Tannehill, Kitty Bransfield, Sam Leever, Tommy Leach