Coming off one of the greatest year in franchise history, the Pirates would start off the 1903 season in grand fashion, sweeping Cincinnati in a four game series in the Queen City. Although the start was impressive, there would be no 30-5 record after the first two months like the previous campaign as Pittsburgh fell to 22-16, good for only third place before the pitching staff would take control of the situation.
When Fred Clarke took a few days off starting on June 2nd, apparently needing to recover from a nervous breakdown, no one could have assumed the Bucs would go on a record setting streak over the next week that would begin their ascent up the NL Ladder into first place. Starting with Deacon Phillippe’s 7-0 shutout of the Giants that day, Pittsburgh pitchers would go on to record six consecutive shutouts, outscoring their opposition 32-0 in the process.
The 56 inning scoreless streak was not broken until June 9th when Kaiser Wilhelm gave up a run in the fourth inning of a 7-3 victory over Philadelphia. Although the scoreless streak was over, the Pirates would run up 15 wins in a row, putting them in first place, a position they would not relinquish the rest of the season.
While physical injuries did not really hamper the Pirates in 1903, mental problems would as pitcher Ed Doheny, who had been 32-12 over the past two seasons, began an odyssey on July 29th, when he left the team to go home because he was convinced he had been followed by detectives. The situation would eventually lead him to an insane asylum and ended his fine 9-year major league career.
After returning on August 15th, Doheny eventually had to be taken home to Massachusetts by late September as he still suffered from severe paranoia. He would ultimately attack his male nurse with a poker and be sent to the asylum. His absence would prove very costly to the Pirates within the next few weeks as they would represent the National League in the first World Series.
Yes the Pirates after three consecutive National League Championships, the last of which they clinched on September 19th when they defeated Brooklyn 12-10, had the opportunity to prove once and for all they were the best team in the land when Dreyfuss signed an agreement on September 18th with Boston of the American League for a best of nine world championship series, AKA the World Series.
Unfortunately injuries, the departure of Doheny and that damn song Tessy, cost the Pirates the championship as Boston upset Pittsburgh 5 games to 3 to win the title (the first World Series will be gone into more depth in the post season chapter).
Despite the disappointing finish, it was still a banner year as Honus Wagner won his second batting title with a .355 average as he finally took over the shortstop position for good. He finished second in RBI’s with 101. Fred Clarke, .351 and Ginger Beaumont, .341 also had great seasons.
If there was an MVP on the team, it would probably be Sam Leever as he went 25-7 with a league low 2.06 ERA. Unfortunately Leever, who was also a champion at skeet shooting, hurt his arm while practicing with the rifle and did not perform well against the American League champs because of it. Phillippe also had a strong campaign going 24-7 with an ERA of 2.43. Those performances were essential with the losses of pitchers Jesse Tannehill and Jack Chesbro to the rival American League.
Yes 1903 was a banner year, although unfortunately, it would be the last of the dynasty, as John McGraw, Christy Mathewson and the Giants would knock them off their perch in 1904, all the way down to fourth.
Regardless of that it truly was a spectacular run, the greatest Pittsburgh has ever seen.By Pirates Encyclopedia
- Deacon Phillippe, Ed Doheny, Fred Clarke, Ginger Beaumont, Honus Wagner, Jack Chesbro, Jesse Tannehill, Kaiser Wilhelm, Sam Leever