The Pirates would begin defense of their inaugural NL crown on April 17th in St Louis as Deacon Phillippe shut out the Cardinals 1-0, unlike the prior season, Pittsburgh caught fire from the beginning with a 30-6 record by the end of May.
The hot streak would make St Louis owner Frank DeHaas look bad as he bet Pittsburgh $10,000 in early April that they would not repeat as NL Champions. Not only would he lose, he would be embarrassed.
The Bucs not only repeated as National League Champions, but also in the process, set themselves up as one of the most dominating teams in the history of the national pastime. Their .741 Winning percentage is the second best all-time next to the .763 mark that the 1906 Cubs put up and well ahead of the 1909 Pittsburgh club, who had a .724 winning percentage. Their overall run differential per game (runs scored minus runs given up) of 2.36 is the most dominant in the annuls of the sport next to two powerhouse clubs in the city that doesn’t sleep, the 1939 and 1927 New York Yankees. In National League history, the 2.36 mark is a figure that has never been topped.
So superior was this team that they led the NL in Runs, 775 which is a full 142 more than the number two team, Hits Doubles, Triples, Batting Average, On Base Percentage and Slugging, as well as on the pitching side, shut outs, least walks, strikeouts, opponents on base percentage and most impressively, least home runs given up, which were 4, a major league record that certainly will never be broken.
How did this club get to this point? Some historians feel that when Ban Johnson went on his raids of the National League when forming the new American League, he left Pittsburgh alone in an effort to make them a superior team, crushing their competition to make what amounts to a poor pennant race, detracting interest from the league and in essence poor fan support for the senior circuit. While this theory is intriguing, there is not a lot of substantial evidence to necessarily support it as apparently Johnson did try and pursue Pirate players earlier on.
Another theory that is bantered around is that Pirate boss Barney Dreyfuss was a good owner, who when faced with the threat of the rebel league, gave his good players competitive contracts to sign and demanded their loyalty. He also bought up land around the city to prevent the American League from building a stadium and putting a club in the Steel City. While there were not many players that abandoned Dreyfuss until this point, several key members would eventually make the move the following season, which is fully chronicled in the sidelight below. Despite what was about to happen, for the time being, all seemed perfect in Pittsburgh, well maybe not completely perfect, but close to it.
Not all good things would happen to the Pirates this season as starting right fielder Lefty Davis, hitting .280 at the time, would break his leg sliding into second base and be lost for the season on July 11th during a 6-3 victory over New York. Davis, who had a very promising beginning to his career would never be the same after the injury, (ala Rennie Stennett), hitting only .234 after coming back, 53 points under his pre injury career mark.
With the pennant long since decided and the season winding down to an end, one of the strangest moments in the history of the franchise occurred on October 4th, the season finale. The Pirates were going for a record 103rd win against the fourth place Reds who were 33 games out at the time. It was a rainy day in the Steel City and with nothing to play for, Cincinnati just wanted to cancel the game and go home. Pittsburgh owner Barney Dreyfuss insisted on playing, so an irritated Reds manager, Joe Kelley, sends his players in positions they weren’t accustomed to. A rookie pitcher by the name of Rube Vickers would set a major league record of 6 passed balls while behind the plate as former Allegheny great Jake Beckley, normally a first baseman, was the starting pitcher. The Pirates of course got their record setting victory, 11-2, in the mockery, as Dreyfuss would refund the ticket price to all 1,200 fans that braved one of the games most embarrassing moments.
Individually, the club was also very prevailing as Beaumont won the batting title at .357, while Clarke, .321, Wagner, .329, and Kitty Bransfield, .305 all broke .300. Tommy Leach slumped to .280 but led the NL in homers with 6, the lowest mark at the time since 1887. Wagner, who stole second, third and home in a game on August 13th, won a second consecutive RBI title at 91, with Leach right behind at 85.
The mound corps were led by the greatest season a Pirate hurler had in the 20th century, Jack Chesbro and his league leading 28 win, 6 defeat, 2.17 ERA campaign. Phillippe and Tannehill both topped 20 wins with 20-9-2.05 and 20-6-1.95 seasons respectively.
Again the Bucs would end the season with the NL Crown and nobody left to play, that would end the following season when both leagues would agree to have their champions meet in what we refer to today as……………. the World Series.By Pirates Encyclopedia
- Barney Dreyfuss, Deacon Phillippe, Fred Clarke, Ginger Beaumont, Honus Wagner, Jack Chesbro, Jake Beckley, Jesse Tannehill, Kitty Bransfield, Lefty Davis, Tommy Leach