The First Yankees-Red Sox Game Ever
May 7, 1903
As anyone who has ever worn a Red Sox cap to Yankee Stadium knows, the fiercest rivalry in all of baseball thunders between Beantown and the Big Apple. But too often (at least for Red Sox fans) the Yankees have come out on top. It is known as “The Curse of the Bambino” — since the day Boston owner Harry Frazee sold Babe Ruth to the Yankees in 1920, the Yankees have won twenty-four championships. The Red Sox have won none.
Perhaps today’s anniversary will act as a salve for Boston’s wounds. Ninety-six years ago, these two proud franchises met for the first time, under far different circumstances. Boston was the swaggering giant, a talented team that would finish the season with the first championship in club history. New York would end up in fourth place, 17 games back.
1903 was an important year in baseball history, for it marked the dawn of baseball’s now-familiar two-league system. The American League was still in its infancy, but after two turbulent seasons of open hostility Ban Johnson‘s upstart league began to win the respect of the more established National League. As part of a truce reached after the 1902 season, the AL agreed to stop raiding NL rosters; in return, the NL allowed Johnson to import a struggling club from Baltimore to challenge John T. Brush‘s Giants for a share of the New York market.
The team became known as the Highlanders, and later, the Yankees. Its stars were pitcher Jack Chesbro (who had defected from Pittsburgh), outfielder “Wee Willie” Keeler (from Brooklyn) and 37-year-old shortstop Herman Long, who had spent most of his successful career with Boston’s NL club.
Talented as they were, New York was no match for the star-studded Boston squad, then known as the Pilgrims and sometimes, the Puritans. Manager Jimmy Collins played third and anchored a balanced attack. The legendary Cy Young led a strong rotation that also featured Bill Dineen and Long Tom Hughes, each of whom would win at least 20 games in 1903. Boston led the league in ERA, batting average and runs scored; by mid-summer it was clear that they would win the pennant.
The first meeting between the two teams was held at Boston’s Huntington Avenue Grounds. The game marked the return of local hero Herman Long to the Boston area; as a small honor, the durable shortstop received a diamond pin. Long responded with two errors, as his Highlanders fell to the Pilgrims 6-2.
Much of the fault fell to New York hurler Snake Wiltse, whose pitching talents never matched that of his younger brother, Hooks, who later starred with Christy Mathewson on the New York Giants. Snake had surrendered more hits than any pitcher in the AL the previous season; against Boston, he allowed 13. “Until the seventh inning was reached clever fielding by the visitors had kept the Boston score to three runs,” wrote The New York Times, noting that Wiltse “was batted even more freely than the score would indicate.”
Dinneen, on the other hand, pitched well for the locals. The only Boston starter without a hit, “Big Bill” scattered six hits and struck out five, backed by a home run from Hobe Ferris and two triples off the bat of Chick Stahl.
The Red Sox went on to win the first-ever World Series that season over Fred Clarke‘s Pittsburgh Pirates. The following year, Boston edged New York on the last day of the season when a Jack Chesbro wild pitch in the ninth inning scored Lou Criger and gave Boston their second pennant in as many years. The club became the “Red Sox” in 1907 and went on to add four more World Championships between 1912 and 1918, adding a power-hitting pitcher named Babe Ruth. Meanwhile, the Yankees struggled, unable to win a pennant until Frazee came calling with an offer they couldn’t refuse.
Most of the participants in that historic first game were out of baseball when the Babe Ruth sale broke Boston’s heart. (One who remained in the game was Dinneen, who became an umpire in 1909 and was behind the plate when Ruth smacked his sixtieth home run in 1927.) Only a handful lived to see the Yankees’ remarkable dynasties of the 1940s and 1950s, and all had passed away by the time Bucky Dent‘s home run in the seventh inning of a one-game playoff ended Boston’s playoff hopes in 1978.