Why 1910 Matters

Since April I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time running all over the 1910 baseball season. Part of that is simply because it was 100 years ago and a centennial is worth remembering. It’s also because the season is interesting in itself. But primarily I’ve been focusing on the 1910 season because it is a watershed season for Major League Baseball. There are a lot of reasons why. Here are some in no particular order.

1. The appointment of Hal Chase as manager of the Highlanders (Yankees) is not, for managerial purposes, all that important. What is important is the ability of the owners and the National Commission (which ran baseball before Judge Landis) to look the other way when it came to gambling in the big leagues. Failure to crack down on this sort of activity meant that it was going to get worse and that eventually something like the Black Sox scandal was bound to occur. The players likely to participate in this kind of thing now had proof that not only were the powers that be not going to do anything about gambling,  but might actually reward a player if the situation was right. I don’t want to compare it directly with the steroid situation of the 1990s, but it does seem that Malamud was right, we really don’t learn from our mistakes (The book “The Natural”–not the movie–has this as one of its central themes.).

2. During the 19th Century the National Association, the Union Association, the American Association, and the Player’s League had all existed, as had the National League. By 1892 they were all gone. Only the American Association survived 10 seasons, and by the tenth was on life support. By contrast the American League, founded in 1901, was now ten years old and flourishing. The 1910 season marked a decade of success both as a business and on the field. Frankly, baseball had not had this kind of stability in its history. Ban Johnson had managed to create a new Major League and made it work. By 1910 there was no question the AL was here to stay and that the National League finally had a partner co-equal to it. 

3. The Athletics had created the first successful AL dynasty. From league founding in 1901 through 1910, four teams won all the AL pennants: Chicago (1901, 1906), Philadelphia (1902, 1905, 1910), Boston (1903-1904), and Detroit (1907-1909). None of the pre-1910 teams created a dynasty. OK, Detroit won three years in a row, but was defeated in all three World Series matchups, which is kinda hard to call a dynasty. Let’s be honest, dynasties work, especially if they happen to be your team. Baseball seems to do best in attendance and popularity when there is a dynasty. They give fans both a hero and a villain (depending on whether you like the team or not) and 3500 years of drama tell us that nothing  in entertainment sells like heroes and villains. On top of that, it was easy to like the A’s. Connie Mack was a nice enough human being (except when it came to paying his players–a common problem in the era). You hear very few negative comments about Eddie Collins, Frank Baker, or Stuffy McInnis. And in the case of  Chief Bender, he was a sympathetic figure to many fans because of all the racial riding he took (he was an American Indian). All those things went together to help boost attendance and cash.

4. The Cubs dynasty had come to an end. If one dynasty was born in 1910, another died. The “Tinker to Evers to Chance” Cubs had their last fling in 1910. Between 1906 and 1910 the Cubs dominated the NL. They won four of five pennants (losing in 1909 to Pittsburgh) and two World Series’ (1907-8). But 1910 was the end. In the Cubs Postmortem post I detailed what went wrong, so I don’t intend to do it again. But the loss of the Cubs dynasty is signficant because it allowed for a more wide open NL. If having a dynasty is good for baseball, having two isn’t. One league has to remain open for fans to believe their team has a chance to win. With the death of the Cubs dynasty hope could rise for other teams in the NL, notably John McGraw’s New York team, but also in the next ten years Boston, Philadelphia, Brooklyn, and Cincinnati would also win pennants (as would the Cubs in 1918). The end of the Cubs dynasty also ushered in the beginning of the Cubs mystique as the “loveable losers.” With only sporadic exception, the Cubs have been non-factors in the NL since.  After four pennants in five seasons, the Cubs have won the NL title exactly six times (1918, 1929, 1932, 1935. 1938, 1945). They are now a synonym for “loser”, a tradition that began with the end of the 1910 season.

5 The AL became the dominant league. I said earlier that the reasons 1910 mattered were in no particular order, but this one is last on purpose because it’s the most important. Between 1903 and 1909 there were six World Series matchups. The NL won four (1905, 1907-09) and the AL only two (1903, 1906). By 1910, the AL hadn’t beaten the NL in four years. All that changed in 1910. Take a look at the next ten years, actually 11 because I’m going to ignore the 1919 “fixed” Series. Between 1910 and 1920 inclusive the NL wins one untainted World Series, 1914. And it took a team known as the “Miracle Braves” to do that.  The AL won everything else: Philadelphia in 1910-11, 1913; Boston in 1912, 1915-16, 1918; Chicago in 1917; and Cleveland in 1920. And that kind of dominance continues in some measure all the way to 2010. Here’s the World Series wins by league by decade since 1910 (going from the zero year to the nine year to determine a decade, thus 1920-29, 1940-49, etc.) 1910-19: AL-8, NL-2 (including 1919), 1920-29: AL-6, NL-4, 1930-9: AL-7, NL-3; 1940-9: AL-6, NL-4, 1950-9: AL-6, NL-4, 1960-9: AL-4, NL-6, 1970-9: AL-6, NL-4; 1980-9: AL-5, NL 5, 1990-9: AL-6, NL-3 (and no series in 1994): 2000-9: AL-6, NL-4. In each decade except the 1960s, when the NL actually wins more World Series championships and  1980s when the each win five, the American League has won the more often. I think this is much more significant than the results of the All Star game which saw the NL have along period of dominance in the 1960s and 1970s. I’m not really impressed with winning an exhibition game. So the American League has been the superior league in most of the last 100 years, and that began in 1910.

I’ve enjoyed going over the 1910 season. I learned a lot, some significant, some trivial. I’ve begun to celebrate the players of the era more by having done this, and I consider that a good thing. Hope you enjoyed it.

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2 Responses to “Why 1910 Matters”

  1. William Miller Says:

    Fantastic summary of the 1910 season. I will be spreading the word about this blog-post. I think your point that baseball does well when there is one dynasty is important. Lot’s of people today lament the lack of parity in baseball, constantly complaining about how baseball would be better off if teams like the Yankees, Red Sox, etc. would have a salary cap.
    I see no objective evidence that baseball as a whole would be better off if this were to happen. Many people remember the 1950’s as one of baseball’s most glorious eras. Yet one city, New York (including Brooklyn) basically dominated that decade, except for one or two years.
    Again, great series. I learned a lot. Regards, Bill

  2. vterranova Says:

    Second everything Bill has said above. Your great work and insights shed light on not only the game itself but puts much of what was to come afterward in a perspective that makes clear and obvious the currents that lay undetected below the surface and how they’d effect the sports world in the decade ahead.
    You’ve also helped to bring the game and players(who before existed only as dead rows of numbers in the record book) back to life and rekindle what it might have felt like to be a fan back in those days.

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