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Baseball's Second Inning: Giants of the Diamond"
Goodbye dead-ball era.
I binge-watched all the innings and wrote notes. So, the blogs will come out a little after I watch them. Oh well, it is tough trying to build a media company alone.
The second inning of Ken Burns’ epic documentary "Baseball," aptly named "Something Like A War," chronicles the dramatic developments in America's national pastime from 1900 to 1910. This era was marked by the rise of notable figures such as Ty Cobb, Christy Mathewson, and Honus Wagner, who dominated the field and captured the public's imagination. I will give a quick intro for these three for those of you who do not know them.
Ty Cobb, known as "The Georgia Peach," emerged as one of the game's most extraordinary yet controversial figures—his aggressive style, characterized by a win-at-all-costs attitude, both shocked and thrilled fans of the time. Cobb’s ferociousness was offset by his incredible skill, earning him a reputation as perhaps the greatest hitter in baseball history. Of course, movies, books, and word of mouth have changed the public perception of Cobb over the past century. Personally, he is my favorite player of this era and everyone should read more about him. Just avoid the film “Cobb” as it is marred with inaccuracies.
In contrast to Cobb's fiery character, Christy Mathewson, the "Christian Gentleman," was revered as much for his gentlemanly conduct on the field as his skill on the pitcher's mound. With an astounding career ERA of 2.13 and a record of 373 wins, Mathewson became a beloved figure, exemplifying sportsmanship in the increasingly commercial and competitive world of baseball. He won the pitching Triple Crown twice and would win the 1905 World Series with the Giants, where he put on one of the best post-season performances in MLB history.
Honus Wagner, nicknamed "The Flying Dutchman," was another titan of this era. As a shortstop for the Pittsburgh Pirates, Wagner's all-around ability at batting, fielding, and base running set him apart. He was one of the first five players inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, alongside Cobb and Mathewson. Most today probably know him more for his T206 card that, outside of the 52 Mantle, is the most coveted card in baseball history.
Beyond the players, this decade also witnessed seismic shifts in baseball’s landscape. The formation of the American League in 1901 led to a fierce rivalry with the older National League, culminating in the first World Series in 1903. During this decade, the World Series quickly established itself as the pinnacle of professional baseball competition. After the inaugural 1903 World Series, won by the Boston Americans against the Pittsburgh Pirates, the championship took a hiatus in 1904 due to a bitter rivalry between the American and National Leagues. This was led by John McGraw and his distaste towards Ban Johnson and the American League. In reality, he was afraid of losing to Boston as the Pirates did in 1903. This robbed Boston of another World Series title. So, I believe there should be an asterisk in the record books.
However, the World Series returned in 1905 with the New York Giants, led by the stellar pitching of Christy Mathewson, triumphing over the Philadelphia Athletics. Mathewson's performance was legendary; he pitched three shutouts in the series, securing the Giants' victory.
In 1906, the series saw one of the greatest upsets in baseball history when the Chicago White Sox, dubbed the "Hitless Wonders" due to their weak batting average, overcame the dominant Chicago Cubs, who had posted a record-breaking win total in the regular season. This series was especially notable for being a cross-town rivalry, adding to its fervor and significance.
The years 1907 and 1908 were dominated by the Chicago Cubs, who, under the leadership of player-manager Frank Chance, won back-to-back World Series titles against the Detroit Tigers. These victories marked the pinnacle of the Cubs' early success, a high point that would not be repeated for over a century.
The decade culminated in the 1909 World Series, where Honus Wagner's Pittsburgh Pirates emerged victorious over Ty Cobb's Detroit Tigers. This series was particularly memorable for pitting two of the era's greatest players, Wagner and Cobb, head-to-head. Cobb would finish his career as the best player to never win the World Series.
The second decade of the 20th century was a pivotal era for baseball, filled with larger-than-life personalities, intense rivalries, and unprecedented change. The close of this period signaled the end of the "dead-ball era," a time characterized by low-scoring games and a focus on strategy over power.
The early 20th century saw the birth of some of baseball's most iconic stadiums. In 1909, two iconic ballparks opened their doors: Pittsburgh's Forbes Field, one of the first steel-and-concrete stadiums, and Detroit's Bennett Park. Both parks were home to their respective city's teams during the thrilling 1909 World Series. Shibe Park, which opened in Philadelphia in 1909 as well, was another innovative concrete-and-steel stadium, heralding a new era of ballpark construction that moved away from the wooden grandstands of the past. These early stadiums became revered sites where fans could gather to witness the unfolding drama of baseball. As Burns' documentary transitions into the third "inning," we prepare to embark on the tumultuous journey through the 1910s. The upcoming era, marked by the continued rise of stars like Babe Ruth, would drastically transform the sport as power-hitting began to take center stage.
As baseball entered the 20th century, its popularity among the American public grew exponentially. The rise of professional leagues and star players, along with the burgeoning media coverage, saw the game solidify its position as the national pastime. Fans flocked to stadiums, engaging in early forms of the traditions we see today - from singing along to tunes played on the field organ(“Take Me Out To The Ball Game” is written in this decade), to enjoying a hot dog during the seventh-inning stretch. Collecting baseball cards, first included as marketing materials in cigarette packs, became a popular hobby. Additionally, the sport began to influence the American language and daily life, with phrases like "out of the ballpark" and "touch base" entering common parlance.
The end of the second inning, much like the end of the decade it encapsulates, serves as a poignant farewell to the old ways of baseball, ushering in an era of transformation both within the sport and in American society at large.