This Month in History: Pittsburgh Pirates Compete in the First World Series

By Luke Luedy

Photo Courtesy of: Luke Luedy

The end of summer signifies many things, one of which being the end of the regular season of Major League Baseball. The Pittsburgh Pirates, our team within said league, is capping off the season dismally, with a win-to-loss ratio of 62 to 100 as of writing.  

Yet though they were far from entering into playoff season, the season reserved for teams with a high enough number of wins, this wasn’t the case in the past. In fact, over a century ago, the Pirates came close to winning the most coveted game in all of the MLB: the World Series. 

Starting on the first of October 1903, the Pirates were geared to face up against the Boston Red Sox (known as the “Boston Americans” at that time), in the World Series, baseball’s equivalent of the Stanley Cup or Super Bowl.  

Yet there was a key distinction between the World Series then compared to today. Unlike modern MLB, the World Series at the start of the 20th century hosted a total of eight games, rather than seven. This meant that some championships during the league’s infancy could result in the outcome of a draw, though this never actually occurred. Only in 1905 did the MLB change the World Series to the seven-game series we’re all familiar with.  

The two locations of such historic games were Boston’s Huntington Avenue Baseball Grounds, and Pittsburgh’s Exposition Park, a collective name given to three stadiums across the city. During the World Series, the two juggernauts played specifically at the third stadium. 

While both teams were evenly matched, with Pittsburgh having stronger batting and their opponents with better pitching, the championship was expected to go to the Pirates. Sports analysts and spectators alike expected the eight games to be a breeze for Pittsburgh. According to Baseball Reference, the Pirates finished the regular season with an incredible win-to-loss ratio of 91 to 49, a stark contrast to today’s abysmal ratio.  

With such a record at the time, victory would surely come easily. But on top of the world, the Pirates never envisioned being dethroned. And what would culminate would be one of the most disappointing losses in baseball history. 

Initially, the Pirates started off strong, beating Boston in Game 1 with a comfortable score of 7 to 3. However, the wheels started to come off with Game 2. Pittsburgh didn’t score a single run, leading Boston to score an easy three runs and end the game.  

Not all hope seemed to be lost, however, as the Pirates won both Games 3 and 4 by the skin of their teeth. Yet as fate would have it, these would be the final moments in which Pittsburgh won the series. What followed could be described as nothing but heartbreaking. 

Still riding the momentum of their second win in a row, the Pirates were brutally brought back to reality. Game 5 marked the highest number of runs in a single game in the series, and they did not belong to Pittsburgh. Boston utterly trounced Pittsburgh, ending the game with a score of 11 to 2. Even more gut-wrenching was the fact that the game took place in Exposition Park, leading countless Pirates fans to watch hopelessly as their beloved team was obliterated. 

Tomorrow was another day, however, and Pittsburgh was seeking to make amends for their disastrous showing the game before. Yet though the Pirates did their best to rebound, they still fell back short, with Game 6 ending in their loss, 3 runs to the Americans’ 6. And just as if things could not get any worse, this gap between skill would only become wider. 

With both teams now having an even three games under their belts, the following two games would be crucial. For the Pirates, this was live or die. They needed to just etch out a victory in Game 7 and prevent Boston from winning a third game in a row. Perhaps by doing so they could enter the final game with more confidence. 

Similar to the previous game, Game 7 ended with a similar score of 7 to 3. With Game 8 occurring in three days, the Pirates had one final chance to recoup. After being humiliated for three games, Pittsburgh was determined to not make it a fourth. Even if both teams ended up tying the series with four games won each, Pittsburgh still saw it as a better alternative than losing. 

Game 8 could only be described as the last nail in the coffin. Boston decisively routed their opponent in quick work in three runs, not allowing the Pirates to once again gain even a single. The anticlimactic game was additionally the second fastest game in the 1903 Series, clocking in roughly 95 minutes. Boston had won the championship, and they had done so with ease. 

The Pittsburgh Pirates, considered to be the very best of the MLB, the undisputed dominators of the league, had lost.  

From here on out, the MLB never again saw the Pirates as titans of the sport. Their brief time in the spotlight was snuffed abruptly, and the World Series became a staple of the MLB. A team’s overall prowess was now put into consideration by their total number of World Series wins. And unfortunately, in their over century-long existence, the Pirates have only garnered five such victories. 

But losses can be humbling. At our lowest moments can we gain the drive to get back to our highest.  

And regain their status the Pirates did, as in only a mere 6 years did the Pirates claim their first World Series Championship in 1909 against the Detroit Tigers.  

Though their former glory was forever tainted, the message was clear: the Pirates still had some spark left in them. And over the decades this spark would periodically become a fiery blaze and nab a World Series win, reminding the league why they were once so feared. 

Though in the present that flame seems to be all but extinguished, the Pirates have been through worse. They may have ended the regular season as one of the lowest teams in the MLB, but there’s always next year.  

And as all of us are going through another semester this fall, or even starting our first, it can be easy to get caught up in our mistakes. But that flash of motivation, that spark of success, is present within each and every one of us. It may take a while, but it’ll be rekindled eventually. Success is just around the corner. 

We’ll have to keep our fingers crossed on the Pirates though. 

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