"Shoeless" Joe Jackson Crossing Home Plate

From Dead Ball to Live Ball

1900 - 1919

"The game of baseball is a clean, straight game, and it summons to its presence everybody who enjoys clean, straight athletics."

William Howard Taft, 1910

From Dead Ball to Live Ball

1900 - 1919

The first two decades of the 20th century are often called the "dead ball" era because both major leagues used a loosely wound ball that was extremely difficult to hit for distance. Pitching and defense dominated, and hitters scratched and clawed to build a run or two. In most years, the composite Major League earned run average was less than 3.00, and in 1908, NL pitchers combined for a 2.34 ERA while American League hurlers posted a 2.39 mark. Double-digit home run hitters were rare, and the most exciting player of the era was Detroit outfielder Ty Cobb, who hit a lot of singles, stole many bases, and played in a ferocious style that infuriated the opposition. Cobb dominated the American League, winning twelve batting titles in thirteen years before ending his career with a still-record .366 batting average.

In 1901, Ban Johnson’s Western League morphed into the American League while achieving major league status. By 1903, with the American and National Leagues in place, the face of Major League Baseball was fixed for decades. In fact, the sixteen Major League teams established by 1903 would play in the same ten cities until the Boston Braves moved to Milwaukee a half-century later.

Two of the best teams of the early 1900s were the Boston Red Sox and the Chicago Cubs, better known in the latter part of the century for long streaks of futility. Boston won the first American League-National League World Series in 1903 and added titles in 1912, 1915, 1916, and 1918. The Cubs appeared in four Series (three in succession from 1906-1908) and won twice. Connie Mack’s Philadelphia Athletics won three of five Series, as Mack built great teams, sold his stars for a profit, and built new teams that were just as good.

In 1914, the two major leagues faced competition from the Federal League, whose well-capitalized owners established franchises in several American and National League cities and signed a number of their players. Again, three leagues proved one too many, and attendance dropped significantly for the two established circuits. After two seasons, the Federal League folded and sued the other leagues for conspiring to monopolize baseball. The anti-trust suit was initially upheld but went on appeal to the Supreme Court, where Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes ruled, "The business is giving exhibitions which are purely state affairs" and not interstate commerce as defined by the Sherman Act.

The year 1914 would prove to be pivotal for another reason. On July 11, a big, strong 19-year-old left-handed pitcher named George Herman Ruth made his debut with the Boston Red Sox. The youngster, nicknamed “Babe,” had cut his teeth on the fields of the aptly named Boys Industrial School, an orphanage in Baltimore. Though starting his career as an outstanding pitcher, Ruth’s hitting would eventually change the game dramatically. By the end of the decade, the Babe would switch to the outfield and almost single-handedly transform the dead ball era into the live ball era, swatting 29 home runs in 1919, his last year as a Red Sox player, and an unimaginable 54 the following year after Harry Frazee, the cash-strapped Red Sox owner, shocked the baseball world by trading Ruth to the New York Yankees. It did not take the owners long to realize that the fans liked the excitement of the home run, so they began to institute changes to aid offensive production, including the use of a more resilient baseball. Thus, the "live ball" was born. Attendance, which had declined from 7.2 million in 1909 to 6.5 million in 1919, soared to 9.1 million in 1920.

Unfortunately, 1920 ended on a sour note for the National Pastime when gambling, the game’s hidden nemesis for decades, revealed itself in a spectacular way. As the season ended, eight members of the 1919 Chicago White Sox, forever dubbed "the Black Sox," were charged with throwing the previous year’s World Series. The game took a beating in the press, and the National Pastime was shaken to its core. To stop the bleeding, even though the eight indicted players, including the hugely popular “Shoeless” Joe Jackson himself, were exonerated in court, all were banned from baseball for life by the newly appointed commissioner and former federal judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis. While Babe Ruth created excitement on the diamond, Judge Landis polished the game’s administrative apparatus and brought it much-needed credibility, launching baseball into its first Golden Age of the 20th century.

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  • 1900

    The Western League is renamed the American League and reorganized with new franchises established in four cities. The new American League requests recognition as a major league but is refused by the National League.

  • <p>1900 New York Giants, cover of <i>Golden Hours...
  • <p>Nap Lajoie photograph</p>
  • 1901

    Philadelphia Athletics star Nap Lajoie hits .426, the highest in American League history. With 14 home runs and 125 RBIs, Lajoie captures the AL’s first Triple Crown.

  • <p>Jack Chesbro levytype</p>
  • <p>Cy Young won 511 games in his Major League...
  • 1903

    The National League and American League reach an agreement ending a two-year war. The AL receives recognition as a major league, and the National Commission is established to oversee all "organized baseball."

  • <p>1905 Christy Mathewson Cabinet Card</p>
  • <p>1905 Championship Trophy presented to New York...
  • <p>1905 Invitation for Opening Day at the Polo...
  • <p>1905 Trophy Cup presented to Christy Mathewson...
  • 1903

    On October 1, the first World Series opens at Boston’s Huntington Avenue Grounds. Deacon Phillippe of the Pittsburgh Pirates outduels Boston’s Cy Young as the Pirates win Game 1, 7-3. Boston goes on to win the best-of-nine series, five games to three.

  • <p>1906 Detroit Tigers team photo (Ty Cobb’s...
  • <p>Honus Wagner game-used baseball bat</p>
  • <p>Philadelphia Giants silver albumen studio...
  • 1904

    May 5, the first perfect game in American League history is pitched by Boston’s Cy Young in a win over the Philadelphia Athletics, 3-0.

  • <p>Original pen and ink drawing, Pittsburgh...
  • <p>Honus Wagner Cabinet Card</p>
  • 1907

    An innovator of playing equipment, catcher Roger Bresnahan of the Giants wears the first pair of protective shin guards.

  • <p>This photograph from 1910 shows Ed Walsh, star...
  • <p>This Ed Walsh single signed baseball also...
  • 1907

    The Mills Commission, on December 30, assembled by baseball patriarch Albert Spalding to determine the origin of baseball, reveals its findings that game was invented in 1839 by Abner Doubleday in Cooperstown, New York.

  • <p>Original artwork cartoon showing Nap Lajoie...
  • <p>“Addie Joss Day” All-Star Game photograph from...
  • <p>Addie Joss Cabinet Card, photo by Carl Horner...
  • 1908

    “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” is written by vaudeville star Jack Norworth and set to music by composer Albert von Tilzer.

  • <p>Jake Stahl’s World Series ring from 1912</p>
  • <p>1912 New York Giants signed team baseball with...
  • <p>Ty Cobb and Joe Jackson</p>
  • <p>Ty Cobb game-used bat</p>
  • <p>Joe Jackson’s game-used “Black Betsy” bat</p>
  • <p>Official Federal League baseball</p>
  • 1911

    Popular Cleveland Indians pitcher Addie Joss’ playing career is cut short when he dies of tubercular meningitis at the age of 31. Several months later, the first “all-star” game is organized as a benefit for Joss’ family. The game — featuring Walter Johnson, Cy Young, Eddie Collins, Tris Speaker, Ty Cobb, Joe Jackson, and other stars — raises nearly $13,000.

  • <p>Walter Johnson’s signed photograph in uniform...
  • <p>Ed Reulbach single signed baseball</p>
  • 1914

    Babe Ruth is awarded his first big league contract when the Boston Red Sox purchase the 19-year-old from the Baltimore Orioles minor league club. Ruth, who pitches four games for the Red Sox in 1914, earns a win in his Major League debut.

  • <p>“Timothy Murnane Day” All-Star Team photograph...
  • <p>Mordecai Brown single signed and dated...
  • <p>After Ferdie Schupp helped catapult the New...
  • <p>1917 Chicago White Sox World Series Trophy...
  • 1919

    When the heavily favored Chicago White Sox are upset in the World Series by the Cincinnati Reds, rumors of a fix begin to surface. A year later ringleader Chick Gandil and seven other "Black Sox" players, including Shoeless Joe Jackson and Eddie Cicotte, are acquitted of conspiring with gamblers to throw the Series. All eight players, however, are banned from baseball for life.

Origins of the GameOur National PastimeFrom Dead Ball to Live BallBabe Ruth and the Long BallFrom the Ballfields to the Battlefields

Why is baseball universally considered our National Pastime? Some say the game, at its apex, often achieves something lofty. However expressed, we all can agree that baseball, with its deep American roots, touches us all.



When a baseball player uses the main tool of his trade, the baseball bat, he is gripping the most important single weapon in his arsenal. Each is customized to a certain weight, length, and feel. This exhibit features the bats used by some of baseball’s greats during their professional career.