If the current labor strife between baseball owners and players stretches long enough, it could endanger the World Series. And if that happens, it would not be the first time a baseball season ended without a championship series.
Ninety years ago, the World Series was abandoned, dropped abruptly at the whim of John McGraw, manager of the New York Giants, who simply decided he would not allow his team, his Giants, to participate.McGraw had his reasons and they involved the most basic of emotions - ego, power and revenge. The target of his ire was Ban Johnson, a former sports writer, who dreamed up this new-fangled idea called the American League.
Baseball at the turn of the century in America was not exactly an orderly operation. The National League, formed in 1876, was reasonably successful and not interested in Johnson's suggestion that it recognize a new league.
NL executives ducked a meeting with Johnson, so enraging the entrepreneur that he decided to go ahead with his league and raid the NL for players. The NL had a salary ceiling of $2,400 for its players and Johnson ignored the barrier - it wasn't called a cap then - staging player raids. Among those lured away were pitchers Cy Young and Joe McGinnity, infielders Nap Lajoie and Jimmy Collins and a gruff third baseman named John McGraw, imported to manage the Baltimore franchise.
Soon they were followed by some of the marquee players of the day - Ed Delehanty, Wee Willie Keeler, Jack Chesbro and Wild Bill Donovan. Johnson's new league was making a significant impact.
The National League was not about to stand idly by. If it was war the AL wanted, it was war the AL would get. The Nationals fought back and the first target was McGraw, who had made no friends in the AL because of his combative style and constant bickering with umpires. What's more, Johnson almost always backed the umps, widening the schism with McGraw. When the New York Giants came calling, McGraw skipped Baltimore in midseason and took four players, most notably McGinnity and catcher Roger Bresnahan, with him.
The player raids worked for the AL, which drew 2,206,454 in attendance in 1902, over 500,000 more fans than the NL's 1,683,012. The NL, seeking an accommodation that it had previously avoided, offered to take in four AL clubs, creating a single, 12-team league. Johnson was not interested, but did agree to peace terms, a sort of separate but equal doctrine that promised an end to player raids.
Still, the old animosities existed. When Pittsburgh won the NL pennant in 1903, owner Barney Dreyfuss cavalierly challenged Boston, champions of the AL, to a postseason showdown. Henry Killilea, Boston's owner, was intrigued by the idea and, with Johnson's blessing, accepted.
There was one caveat. Johnson warned Killilea that his team must win. Boston prevailed in the best-of-9 series, much to the delight of the upstart AL and the consternation of the established NL.
No one was more annoyed than McGraw. He still disliked Johnson and was not amused when the AL placed a new franchise in New York to rival his Giants. The Highlanders would evolve into the Yankees, the most successful franchise in sports history, but in 1903 they were just another needle in McGraw's side, a condition the man they called Muggsy, did not enjoy.
In 1904, McGraw's Giants soared to the top of the NL, winning 106 games and capturing the pennant by a fat 13 games. Boston repeated in the American League and prepared for another showdown.
Not this time.
McGraw would have none of it. There would be no World Series - he called it "a haphazard box-office game with Ban Johnson and Company" - no chance to diminish what his team had accomplished.
The get-even snub was not a popular position, not with the fans, who accused McGraw of cowardice, and not with other owners, who sensed a major promotional opportunity with the potential for lucrative extra income slipping away.
With the blessing of the two league presidents, the World Series was restored in 1905 and it has been in place ever since.