The esteemed John Thorn, MLB’s official historian for good reason, recently penned (is anything actually penned anymore?) an article titled “The House that McGraw Built” – meaning the Yankee franchise. In contrast though, I see the franchise’s genesis as a product of Ban Johnson and Clark Griffith’s efforts.
John McGraw with all his bluster and vindictiveness was more an impediment to the development of the American League than an impetus. His “contribution” was more the destruction of the Baltimore franchise than the erection of one in New York City. Baltimore’s fair-haired friend in the end helped erase the city from major league maps for over a half a century. Similarly, he would consciously set out to destroy the fledgling club in New York.
The following multi-part article is pulled from my biography of Clark Griffith, examining the formation of the New York Highlander and Griffith’s near solo effort in running the franchise through its first half-decade.
Part 2 of 4
1903 to 1904
The new club, initially called the Americans, departed for spring training in mid-March 1903. Opening Day was set for April 22. They spent most of their time in Atlanta and New Orleans playing the Crackers and Pelicans, respectively, of the Southern Association. The New York newspapers were initially hostile to the new ball club. Freedman still had some connections after all. Griffith hired reporter Jim Bagley to travel with the team and remit stories back to several Gotham dailies. Clark also paid sports editor Jim Price of the New York Press to cover the southern trip. Bagley’s stories proved sufficiently entertaining that the city’s main papers were forced to pick up coverage of the Americans. The American League was now legitimate in New York.
Meanwhile, Farrell tapped his Tammany connections to have a ballpark built. Demolition and construction cost $200,000 and another $75,000 for the park itself. Blasting didn’t even begin until March 18. It took five hundred men working day and night to complete the job before Opening Day, well nearly complete at least. The grounds were a mess, leveling proved a nightmare. The ballpark sat atop a hill, requiring a lot of dynamite to make headway. Overseeing matters, Griffith amassed a collection of arrowheads and 1776 vintage grapeshot and canisters during the digging. The field became known as Hilltop Park after an initial christening as American League Park. Along the same lines, the team itself eventually adopted the moniker Highlanders.
The season opened with the construction incomplete. There was no roof and 5,000 folding chairs were needed to make up for an unfinished grandstand and bleachers; but, seating was available for about 16,000. The field was the biggest problem. The infield was nicely rolled but the New York Times described the outfield as, “rough and ragged.” Ropes circled the field marking ground-rule double territory. There would be no triples or homers unless the ball left the entire grounds. Keeler had little room to cover in right since most of it was cordoned off. The ground there proved particularly troublesome to level. It was a sinkhole and never really settled until 1904. Keeler was used to uneven grounds as his groundskeeper in Baltimore deliberately left a hill in right field. Keeler could deftly manage the protrusion but it wreaked havoc with visiting outfielders.
Griffith made his first start on the mound on April 27. However, the day belonged to Connie Mack’s newest find out of Dickinson College via the Carlisle Indian School, Chief Bender. The Chippewa Indian shutout Griffith’s men 6-0 in his first major league start. Opening Day in New York took place on April 30. Ban Johnson tossed the ceremonial first pitch before a crowd of 16,243. Jack Chesbro won the first game at American League Park 6-2.
The Highlanders became the victims of unmerciful heckling through the first weeks of the season. Griffith suspected that new Giants’ owner John Brush and McGraw were behind the outbursts. Farrell dealt with the problem the way he knew how. He had some Tammany cronies knock the hecklers around a little. They confessed to working for Brush and were permanently chased from the field.
Griffith defeated the A’s Eddie Plank on May 6, 6-1. After giving up a couple hits in the ninth, he was ejected for kicking and abusive language by umpire Tommy Connolly, his first of the year, after Connolly gave an Athletic a ground rule triple. Once again, Johnson issued warnings to all his managers and players about rowdy behavior. Both Griffith and Boston manager Jimmy Collins were suspended for three days to kick the season off. Keeler oversaw the club in Griff’s absence. The National League also started tightening the belt in relation to excessive behavior. Honus Wagner was suspended for three days for “threatening to strike Umpire [Bug Holliday].”
On Sunday May 17, the Indians and Highlanders played in Columbus, Ohio to skirt Cleveland blue laws. Addie Joss topped Griffith 9-2. Dave Fultz declined to play on God’s day, as he would his entire career. In St. Louis on the 23rd, Griffith defeated the Browns 3-1 on two hits. He also placed a double and scored. With the team in seventh place in June, Highlanders’ president Gordon threatened Griffith’s job if he didn’t right the ship. So to add some punch, Griffith first sought a trade for Delahanty from Washington but that was a no go. He then set his sights on 28-year-old shortstop Kid Elberfeld who was unhappy with his employers in Detroit. He first contacted manager Tigers manager Ed Barrow but he was asking too much. Instead, Clark went directly to Tigers’ owner Sam Angus who accepted shortstops Ernie Courtney and Herman Long for Elberfeld who then joined the Highlanders on the 13th.
Griffith tossed the first shutout in Yankees’ history on June 16, a 1-0 victory over Comiskey’s boys in front of a hometown crowd of 2,130. Chicago’s Doc White was just as impressive giving up an identical six hits but losing on a sacrifice fly by Jimmy Williams in the fifth inning, which scored the pesky Keeler. The Highlanders were shutout by Joss eight days later. Griffith won 2-1 on a six-hitter in St. Louis on the 30th. He also placed a couple of singles.
In July, the Giants threatened the peace agreement by contesting the transfer of Elberfeld to their American League rival in New York. Legal injunctions were sought and tensions heightened yet again. The problem lie in the assignment of players after the peace agreement was penned in January. The Giants were miffed at losing out on George Davis, Ed Delahanty, Elberfeld, Dave Fultz and Napoleon Lajoie, all men they believed would be joining the club in 1903. The Giants viewed the Elberfeld trade as a personal affront. They saw it as a direct American League action to siphon fans from the Giants to the cross-town Highlanders. The team’s new owner John Brush approached National League president Harry Pulliam about derailing the peace agreement.
To appease Brush, Pulliam sent a letter in late June to Ban Johnson charging the American League with violating the “spirit” of the peace agreement. The actual letter of the pact wasn’t violated since Elberfeld was assigned to the Tigers who could dispose of him in any way they pleased. Brush also asked and received permission from Pulliam to field shortstop George Davis, a disgruntled player assigned to the White Sox. Davis, property of an American League club, actually played for the Giants on June 26. National Commission chairman Garry Herrmann, himself a National Leaguer, was livid, writing a letter and publicly questioning Pulliam’s motives and actions in violating the peace agreement. It was surely a lapse of judgment on Pulliam’s part and perhaps an identifying characteristic when it came to dealing with the New York owner.
Comiskey quickly obtained two injunctions in the Davis case. In all, Davis appeared in only four games for the Giants before sitting out the rest of the season and then joining the White Sox in 1904. Brush kept harping on the losses of Elberfeld, Davis and Delahanty. On July 10, he obtained a temporary injunction preventing Elberfeld from playing with the Highlanders. It was five days before the New York Supreme Court dissolved the baseless injunction, allowing Elberfeld to rejoin his club.
The vindictive saga of 1903 repeated itself the following season as Brush and McGraw once again stood in defiance of the best interests of Major League Baseball. With the Highlanders driving for the pennant in 1904, they refused to enter into post-season play. Their hatred of the American League far outweighed any sensibilities to the contrary, even a considerable financial windfall.
It obviously took Brush and McGraw longer to accept the peace between the leagues than all others involved. That is clearly evident by their refusal to participate in the 1904 World Series and an intercity series in 1903. Similar contests had already been set, and were profitable, in Chicago, Philadelphia and St. Louis. And, of course, the Pittsburgh Pirates and Boston Americans were destined to make history in October. Sarcastically, Brush declared to the New York Times, “I do not care to recognize the American League in New York. I do not know who these people are.”
On July 20, Griffith topped Joss 7-3 and did the same to Bender eleven days later, 3-1. On August 9, Griff sent a challenge to John McGraw of the Giants to play a postseason seven-game series, but was rebuffed. Sticking to their guns, the Giants didn’t officially recognize the American League. Griffith then shut down St. Louis, 6-1, on August 20 and Chicago, 6-5, three days later. On September 1, he topped Plank again 5-1. On the 9th, Clark tossed his second and last shutout of the year, a 4-0 gem over Philadelphia and Bender. Griff had been hounding Browns’ manager Jimmy McAleer for muscular outfielder John Anderson since early in the season but was continually denied in trade discussions. That changed when Anderson booted a ball in late September and McAleer finally agreed to the trade. It was consummated at the end of the season on October 6.
On “Shoot Straw Hats” day, September 1, the club was traveling by ferry to Philadelphia. Griffith and boys ran amuck attacking all the passengers and tossing their hats overboard. The Highlanders never threatened for the league lead the entire season; but, they did come on in the second half to land in fourth place with a 72-62-record. Clark secured his job with Gordon. The club drew 212,000 to Hilltop Park, less than half of the Giants’ 580,000 patrons. On the mound, Griffith won fourteen games and placed on the leader board in his customary control categories of fewest hits per game and WHIP. It was a bit of a struggle on the mound considering that he received about 24% less run support than the average league pitcher. Griff still put in the innings, 213 for the second straight year. The next two seasons, his final major contributions on the mound, he contributed about 100 innings each year.
Clark umpired the final two games of the season against Detroit, making him the only Hall of Famer to umpire in three different major leagues. In 1891, he worked behind home plate on August 13 in an American Association game between Boston and Cincinnati. He umpired at first on July 27, 1894 in a National League contest pitting Chicago and Cincinnati. He did the same the following year on May 31 with his Colts taking on New York. In the American League on September 28, 1903, Griffith umpired at first but was behind the plate the following day. Obviously, all his work in blue was as a substitute, filling in for absent arbiters.
Detroit Tigers’ owner Sam Angus put the team up for sale at the end of 1903. The story broke on November 8 that Griffith was in Detroit offering the owner $40,000 for the franchise. However, Angus was said to be holding out for $45,000. Ban Johnson confirmed the existence of the offer but he disputed the dollar figures. Clark didn’t have a solid financing plan at the time; he just wanted into the ownership ranks. He was quickly eliminated from the bidding. As Johnson said, “Griffith will have to be with New York next season, and besides that, I understand that the persons he was depending on to help him out with the financial part of the transaction have dropped out.”
Griff’s first taste of ownership actually came in the Eastern League. With Ed Barrow and Frank Farrell, Clark purchased the Montreal franchise on February 27, 1906. He put up $6,000 of the $20,000 purchase price with Farrell as the main stockholder. The men held onto the club through 1907. The club served as an unofficial farm club. Men like Louis Leroy were first stationed there before joining the Highlanders.
Before departing south for spring training in 1904, Griffith made two acquisitions. On February 21, he purchased longtime backstop Deacon McGuire from the Tigers. Of particular note, McGuire began his career sharing the catching duties with Fleet Walker, the first acknowledged African-American player in major league history, in 1884 with the Toledo Blue Stockings of the American Association. Out hitting McGuire by 78 points, Walker’s major league career was over at season’s end while McGuire’s would see another twenty-five springs. To round out his rotation, Griffith acquired fellow Bloomington native Jack Powell from the Browns for Harry Howell.
Clark arrived in Atlanta on March 9 to kick off the spring. The club also traveled to New Orleans before returning to New York on April 8. One of the hot issues of the spring stemmed from the Giants and Dodgers insistence on opening in New York City on the same date as the Highlanders. Griffith threatened to rewrite his entire schedule to oppose the Giants head-to-head all season if they didn’t reschedule Opening Day at the Polo Grounds. The National League acquiesced, opening in Brooklyn instead.
The Highlanders opened the season on April 14 with Jack Chesbro out dueling Cy Young of Boston 8-2. The year belonged to Chesbro; he carried the club almost single-handedly all summer. He started 51 games and completed 48 of them, amassing 454 innings and four relief appearances along the way. He posted 41 victories for New York against only 12 losses and notched a 1.82 earned run average. Chesbro’s start, win and complete game totals are all twentieth century highs.
The key to Chesbro’s 1904 season was his newfound spitball. Chesbro saw Elmer Stricklett use the pitch in a spring training game. Stricklett wouldn’t share his secret but Chesbro began tinkering with it anyway. Problem was, Griffith wouldn’t allow the pitch to be used in a game. However, after Chesbro alternated wins and loss for a slow start and a 4-3 record, the manager cut him loose on May 14. Chesbro won his next fourteen starts.
The newly acquired Powell also added 23 victories for the Highlanders. After watching the pair all summer, Boston Globe reporter Tim Murnane wrote an article declaring that the spitball was revolutionizing the game. The Old Fox helped usher in a new era. Griffith, himself, was backing off the mound at age 34. He only started eleven games in 1904 and five of those were designed to give his staff a breather, being the day after a doubleheader or the second game of one. He only tossed 100 innings in 16 games for a 7-5-record. For his career, Griff was the most active pitcher-manager in baseball history. He toed the rubber in 146 games that he also managed, by far the most. The other top four in order are Monte Ward, 117, Al Spalding, 61, and Kid Nichols, 36.
On Opening Day in Philadelphia, April 21, Griffith had a run-in with a photographer. The photographer asked if he could get a team photo but a ceremonial parade was about to start. When Griffith refused to line his men up, the man became belligerent, shouting several “offensive epithets” at the manager. Griffith clocked the man, giving him a “badly bruised face.” A warrant was issued for the manager but he settled the matter for $4.50, though the photographer wanted a full $5.
Despite assurances to the contrary, several Brooklyn Dodgers and Phillies were arrested on April 24 for playing a game on a Sunday in New York City. The 13,000 in attendance paid 25, 50 or 75 cents for a program that supposedly denoted their seating assignments and, thus, was not an admission fee. City officials were not fooled. Blue laws were repealed in New York in 1919.
Griffith made his first start on May 27 and the rust was evident. He surrendered 13 hits, a wild pitch and hit two batters in a 7-5-loss to the A’s. He straightened himself out on June 12 before a huge Sunday crowd in Chicago; allowing six hits and striking out five, Griffith shutout Comiskey’s men 2-0. He also placed a double and a sacrifice. The New York Times raved, “Griffith used every trick known to the game, never putting the ball across the middle of the plate. He worked every corner and edge with a wonderful control, supplemented with knowledge of every batter’s weakness.”
On the 17th, Clark shipped Bob Unglaub to Boston for left fielder Patsy Donovan. On June 22 Griffith defeated Washington 11-6 and again topped Rube Waddell, 5-2, in the second game of a July 4-doubleheader. However, Cleveland crushed Clark 16-3 on the 13th. He righted himself with a 3-1 three-hit victory over George Mullin and Detroit on Sunday July 17 before losing his next two starts. Pitcher Al Orth was acquired from Washington on July 20 and won eleven games for the Highlanders over the second half of the season. By the end of the season, Orth was tossing the spitball as well; he particularly admired its sharp break. He used it extensively in 1905 as well, posting eighteen victories. The following season he won a stunning 27 games.
Griffith frequently battled Farrell throughout his tenure in New York over administrative issues. With the team bouncing between second and third place in late July, Farrell approached Cubs manager Frank Selee, offering him a substantial boost in income to manage the Highlanders. Selee declined, using the offer to coax a raise out of his boss, Chicago president Jim Hart. When the story broke on July 25, Clark said he knew Farrell was in consultation with Selee but was misled to believe that the owner was working as an agent for Ban Johnson trying to lure Selee for another American League club.
Griffith and the American League were battling a war of words with the Giants. On July 27 John McGraw announced, “The Giants will not play a postseason series with the American League champions. Ban Johnson has not been on the level with me personally, and the American League management has been crooked more than once.” McGraw and Giants’ owner Brush were reigniting their feud with the new league. It was their feud; nearly all other participants came to terms with the new structure of Organized Baseball. Of particular concern to the Giants was that the Highlanders were in the race for the American League flag until the last day of the season. History shows that indeed no World Series was played in 1904 because of the Giants’ animosity. Brush soon became conciliatory after incurring the ire of the entire baseball community for canceling the marquee series. To exact some measure of revenge, Griff sat on Philadelphia’s bench during the opening game of the 1905 World Series.
Griffith was at it again on August 8 in Cleveland. In the fourth inning of a 9-1-loss umpire Silk O’Loughlin called John Ganzel and Dave Fultz out on disputed plays. Clark jumped into the middle of the fray and, with Fultz, was ejected. The pair refused to leave the field. A police officer was summoned to escort the men from the grounds. Ban Johnson once again suspended the manager. Soon after, The Sporting News blasted Griffith for his continued beefs with umpires and his wild statements to the press. “The heaviest handicap of the Highlanders is the senseless kicking that its manager does and encourages his players to engage in…Griffith discusses his ‘complaints’ against the officials of the American League with the newspapers, pronounces the umpire, who has disciplined him incompetent and with amazing effrontery declares that he will never again be permitted to enter ‘my’ park…Griffith’s services to the American League are held in high appreciation, but his conduct on and off the field has given rise to scandals, which has affected its prestige with patrons. It is high time for him to be taught that umpire-baiting is a handicap and not a help to an American League team.” Clearly, Griffith took his time adopting Johnson’s full vision for the American League. Of course, Johnson, an administrator, wasn’t on the field battling for a pennant everyday either.
Griffith ran into some more trouble with the law on August 13. Jack Powell ran a $46 tab at a Chicago bar but jumped a train to St. Louis before paying the debt. When Griffith refused to accept a garnishment writ, the police threatened to execute a warrant on the Highlanders and the manager himself.
Griffith pitched a superb game on the backend of a doubleheader on September 6 against Philadelphia. He won 2-1 and surrendered a mere three hits, only one left the infield. Rube Waddell struck out 14 men in the opener that day. Clark lost to Waddell three days later, 5-1.
Nineteen Hundred Four was the first pennant showdown between the Red Sox and Yankees; but, the clubs went by different nicknames at the time. They were within a game of each other through much of September, trading the top spot back and forth. On September 29, the two clubs sat tied atop the leader board. Griffith relieved Orth in the sixth inning in St. Louis on October 3 after the starter suffered arm troubles. The two combined on a four-hit shutout. Clark yielded two of those hits and struck out three batters.
After the October 5 contests, Boston was up a half game heading into a four-game series against the Highlanders to end the season and determine the championship. New York took the first contest on October 7 at home to reverse the standings. In one of the biggest blunders by team executives in history, Highlander owners Farrell and Devery scheduled a football game between Columbia University and Williams College on the 8th at Hilltop Park. Consequently, the baseball clubs hopped a train and head to Boston. The relocation to Boston allowed the insertion of another game into the schedule, a makeup for a previous rainout between the clubs. Contemporary rules only permitted rainouts to be made-up in the city they occurred; hence, October 8 was rescheduled as a doubleheader. Now, four games remained that would determine the pennant, a doubleheader in Boston on the 8th and another in New York on the 10th.
With the home field advantage Boston swept on the 8th to go up by 1.5 games with only two to play. Both towns were in frenzy. New York Governor Benjamin Odell and his staff trekked to Boston to see the contests. On the way home Griffith chartered another train to avoid Odell’s planned celebration. The governor still sent his best wishes for the upcoming contests but slipped in a few zingers for Clark’s avoidance. With their backs up against the wall the Highlanders needed to take both games on the 10th. Over 28,500 ravenous New Yorkers showed up to root the boys on. Unfortunately, they lost 3-2 on a wild pitch by Chesbro in the ninth inning of the first game. Boston won their second consecutive American League pennant.
The Highlanders finished with a 92-59 record. Clark took the club to within a game of winning his second American League flag in four seasons. His men drew 439,000 fans to what was really an inferior ballpark. The Giants attracted 610,000 followers. Ban Johnson’s vision proved a success. With over a 100% increase in patronage, the Highlanders still only ranked fourth in the league in the category. The American League seemingly conquered the world in four short seasons. They became the first baseball league to draw over three million paid admissions.
 Level Playing Fields, Peter Morris, 2007
 Shirley Povich, 33-part series on Griffith, “Clark Griffith; 50 Years in Baseball” for the Washington Post in January and February 1938
 “Pittsburg, 9; Cincinnati, 4,” New York Times, May 9, 1903, p. 7
 “Sends Challenge to Brush,” Chicago Tribune, September 5, 1903, p. 6
 “McGraw Challenged by Griffith,” Washington Post, August 10, 1903, p. 8
 Shirley Povich, 33-part series on Griffith, “Clark Griffith; 50 Years in Baseball” for the Washington Post in January and February 1938
 “Detroit Baseball Team for Sale,” New York Times, November 10, 1903, p. 10
 Sporting Life, March 3, 1906, p. 4, Farrell was the majority owner
 At the time Griffith believed the pitch was inherently dangerous to his catchers. It’s unpredictably would surely lead to hand injuries for his backstops.
 Chicago, Cincinnati and St. Louis permitted Sunday baseball as far back as the 1880s. The others:
Boston 1929 Brooklyn 1919
Cleveland 1911 Detroit 1910
New York 1919 Philadelphia 1934
Pittsburgh 1934 Washington 1918
 “American League; New Yorks shut Chicago team out without a Run,” New York Times, June 13, 1904, p. 8
 The game was played at Wiedenmayer’s Park in Newark, New Jersey with 6,700 in attendance.
 “John McGraw Chronology,” July 27, 1904, baseballlibrary.com
 Actually, the origin of the Yankees name can be traced at least to 1904; however, it was just an informal nickname at that time used by a few sportswriters and fans.