If the National League and American League decided to play a World Series a year earlier, it would have featured the American League Champion Philadelphia Athletics against the National League Champion Pittsburgh Pirates. The World Series winner would have come out of the state of Pennsylvania, with manager Connie Mack trying to counter the best player on the field, Honus Wagner. HOF player/ manager Fred Clarke would lead the Pirates, who had just finished winning their second out of 3 straight NL Pennants. The Athletics themselves had just won their first ever AL Pennant, also the first for Mack as a manager.
The Athletics won their league by 5 games over the St Louis Browns, finished 6 and a half ahead of the Boston Americans and 8 games ahead of the Chicago White Sox. The Athletics won with the strength of their pitching, led by Hall of Famers Eddie Plank (20-15, 3.30) and Rube Waddell (24-7, 2.05). OF Socks Seybold set the American League record in home runs for a season with 16, a record that would last until Babe Ruth hit 29 in 1919 for the Red Sox. 3B Lave Cross would drive in 108 runs without hitting a home run, hitting .342 for the season. Also making appearances on the 1902 Athletics were future Hall of Famers Napoleon Lajoie and Elmer Flick. 1B Harry Davis hit .307, 6, 92 with 42 doubles to pace Philadelphia.
The Pirates also had a good group of starting pitchers led by Jack Chesbro (28-6, 2.17), Deacon Phillippe (20-9, 2.05) and Jesse Tannehill (20-6, 2.95). Phillippe started out his big league career with five straight 20 win seasons, his forth was for the 1902 Pirates. Tannehill would later be an integral cog in the 1904 Boston Americans rotation, a team that would win the AL Pennant. Ed Doheny, whose difficult life I have discussed in Bases Empty Blog, won 16 games for the Pirates, just a season after leaving the New York Giants.
There was no doubt that the Pirates were the best team in the NL. They went 103-36, finishing with an astonishing .741 winning percentage. The Brooklyn Superbas finished in 2nd, 27.5 games out of 1st place! Tommy Leach led both the Pirates and the National League with 22 3Bs and 6 HR.
If the Athletics were going to compete in this series, they would have needed to get superior performances by Plank and Waddell. Waddell did have one of his best seasons, so while Plank vs Chesbro may have been a wash, Waddell would have had a distinct advantage over either Phillippe or Tannehill. The Pirates, similar to most NL teams, played small ball, stole bases and advanced runners very well. This would have allowed them to be able to take home a couple runs against even the most dominant of pitchers.
My outlook on this series would have predicted an easy win for the Pirates. The Athletics, of course, would get better over the next several seasons, but I don't think this team could have competed with the mighty Pirates. In a best of 9 series, I would take the Pirates in 6. The only reason I would not predict a sweep is that I feel either Plank or Waddell would have thrown a shutout or gem, giving the Athletics a win. If the Pirates had won, they would have now won 6 World Series Championships. The Athletics would be winners of 10 World Series had they found a way to pull out the 1902 Fall Classic in an upset.