The First World Series

The First World Series

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As Major League Baseball is about to embark on their annual World Series, many sports fans may not realize that the first use of the term “World Series” was in reference not to baseball but to professional football. 

In 1902, the manager of Madison Square Garden, a New York promoter named Tom O’Rourke, was looking for a way to fill his arena on New Year’s Day, 1903. He came up with the idea of playing a series of indoor football games, the winner of which, he declared, would be the world champion.

O’Rourke promoted his tournament, which kicked off on Dec. 28, 1902, as pro football’s “World Series.” Thus, strictly speaking, America’s first “World Series” was actually a pro football game. Ten months later, on Oct. 1, 1903, MLB played its first modern World Series game.


Major League Baseball’s first World Series game occurred on Oct. 1, 1903 when the Boston Pilgrims defeated the Pittsburgh Pirates 7-3 in Boston, Mass. The game occured ten months after pro football's "World Series."

The best pro football teams in 1902 had been the Phillies and Athletics of Philadelphia, the Stars of Pittsburgh, and the Red and Blacks of Watertown, New York. Unfortunately, O’Rourke was unable to get any of those teams to participate in his hastily scheduled tournament.

However, players from both the Phillies and Athletics got together and formed their own team that became known as the “New York” team. The other teams accepting O’Rourke’s invitation included the Orange, New Jersey Athletic Club; the Warlow Athletic Club; the New York Knickerbockers; and the Syracuse Athletic Club. O’Rourke’s plan was to set up a schedule that would allow the favored hometown Knickerbockers to play the neighboring Orange Athletic Club in the final Championship Game.

This, he thought, would guarantee the best attendance and resulting gate receipts on New Year’s Day. Hoping to eliminate the weaker teams early, O’Rourke scheduled the Syracuse and “New York” teams to open the series and play pro football’s first indoor game on Dec. 28.

O’Rourke incorrectly assumed “New York” would defeat Syracuse and then the stronger Knickerbockers would defeat both the weak Warlow Athletic Club and then the “New York” team. What the promoter did not count on was Syracuse loading up with “ringers” from other teams, including the entire backfield of the powerful Watertown Red and Blacks. The bolstered Syracuse A.C. not only won its opener 5-0, but also clobbered the Knickerbockers and Orange Athletic Club by 36-0 scores and claimed the 1902 indoor World Championship.

Caption: The full uniform worn by Harry Mason, a fullback for the Syracuse Athletic Club, during the 1902 indoor “World Series” championship game is on display at the Hall of Fame in Canton.

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