The Boston Pilgrims Never Existed
In reading accounts of the 1903 World Series, I so often came across the team name "Boston Pilgrims" that I accepted this on faith as one of the names by which the team was known. I even used it myself, presenting it as fact (see page one of TALES FROM THE RED SOX DUGOUT.)
I find that I helped perpetuate a myth. That's all it appears to be: a myth.
The official name was (perhaps) the Boston American League Ball Club, if we are willing to go by the team name provided for the signature line on the contract to play the World Series which was signed by the Pittsburgh Athletic Co. and the Boston club on September 16, 1903.
I cannot find any contemporary indication that the Boston American League baseball club was ever known as the Pilgrims in 1903.
It's a fairly widespread myth, though, which has taken on the appearance of fact. Late in 2002, a quick survey of key baseball websites finds the American League entry in the 1903 Series almost always termed the "Boston Pilgrims." Among these sites are those of Major League Baseball and baseball-reference.com.
There also exists a number of standard baseball reference books. TOTAL BASEBALL has always been my favorite. Unfortunately, the 7th Edition describes the Boston Pilgrims as facing the Pittsburgh Pirates on page 280. No wonder I used the name when writing and while proofreading TALES FROM THE RED SOX DUGOUT. No wonder other researchers do the same.
The Pilgrims keep cropping up. Burt Solomon's THE BASEBALL TIMELINE (2001), produced in association with Major League Baseball, consistently refers to the "Boston Pilgrims." The Sporting News book BASEBALL, edited by Joe Hoppel, which was also published in 2001, says the 1903 World Champions were "the Red Sox (also known as the Pilgrims, Puritans and Americans.)"
I've scoured the Boston newspapers of the day, though, and find nothing which even suggests that there was a team known as the Boston Pilgrims in 1903. Or, for that matter, the Puritans. They're both wonderful names, but I can't find even a shred of evidence that they were names used by anyone in Boston at the time.
The team was also not named the Boston Americans. That was perhaps the most common nickname - to distinguish it from the older N.L. club in town - but "the Bostons" was a nickname used interchangeably and about as often in the contemporary press.
The Boston Red Sox might be in a position to know. They have a website, but according to their site the team was always named the Red Sox, from their founding in 1901 right up to the present! They should know better than that.
The Red Sox actually do know better. The Red Sox Media Guide, for example, details the story of how the team first became known as the Red Sox, though in the process gives the incorrect impression that the team was known as the Red Sox during the 1907 season. [See page 282 of the 2003 Media Guide.] It was not until the following year, 1908, that players donned red hosiery and played under the name "Red Sox." Despite this awareness, though, the Media Guide is internally inconsistent. On page 340 of the same edition of the Media Guide, the name Red Sox is applied to the 1903 club. On the cover of the 2003 Media Guide, however, the "Boston Americans" are recognized.
The Library of Congress website, by contrast, seems to get it right: "On October 1, 1903, the Boston Americans (soon to become the Red Sox) of the American League played the National League champion Pittsburgh Pirates in the first game of the modern World Series. Pittsburgh won the game by a score of seven to three, but lost the best of nine game series to Boston, five games to three."
Last things first. As mentioned above, the Red Sox Media Guide provides the 1907 date as the first for the "Red Sox." Describing them as adopting that moniker in 1907 would seem to imply that the team was known as the Red Sox during the 1907 season. They were not. That began with the 1908 season.
Glenn Stout and Dick Johnson in RED SOX CENTURY, the most definitive history of the team, report that Boston's A.L. team owner John I. Taylor made the decision to name the team the "Red Sox" on December 18, 1907 and first ordered new uniforms with bright red stockings on that date from Wright and Dixon, the sporting goods supplier. Stout and Johnson then quote the reaction of both the Boston Journal newspaper and The Sporting News. Tim Murnane, writing in The Sporting News, said, "Well, what do you think of that? The Boston Americans have a new name...the 'Red Sox.'"
There are two points of note here. One, if the team was given this name only in mid-December, it would seem misleading for the Red Sox Media Guide or other sources to suggest that it was their team name for the 1907 season, as opposed to just the last two weeks of December. Secondly, the veteran writer Murnane suggests that the team was known as the Boston Americans up until the time the change was made. Murnane doesn't say the "Pilgrims" have a new name. He says the "Americans" have a new name.
Of course, they could have been the Pilgrims in 1903 and the Americans in 1907. Murnane actually adds more context, when he elaborates, "Ever since Boston became identified with the American League an effort has been made to give the team an appropriate nickname which would sound good in print...but no two writers will agree on any one name. It was consequently up to John I. Taylor to re-christen his bunch and he has done so effectively."
Stout and Johnson, earlier in RED SOX CENTURY, noted what I found in my own reading of the several Boston daily newspapers of this era, regarding both the AL and NL teams in Boston: "Neither team had a nickname, nor would they for several more seasons. Both were simply called 'the Bostons,' although to differentiate between the two clubs, fans, sportswriters, and players commonly began referring to the NL entry as 'the Nationals,' and their American League counterparts as 'the Americans.' Other nicknames, such as the Pilgrims, Puritans, Plymouth Rocks, Somersets (so named after owner Charles Somers), or Collinsmen (after manager Collins) for the AL team and the Beaneaters, Triumvirs, or Seleemen (after manager Frank Selee) for the Nationals, were convenient inventions of the press. Their subsequent use by many historians is misleading. None of these nicknames was ever widely used by either fans or players."
Precisely. In fact, the nicknames were not always convenient inventions - in that both the Boston Nationals and the Boston Americans were sometimes dubbed the Beaneaters! Even within columns by the same sportswriter in the same newspaper, these casual nicknames were changed from day to day.
Late in 2002, I completed a game-by-game chronology of the entire 1903 season, and found that the nickname used most consistently for the AL team - the only one which was really widely used at all - was the "Americans." Their 1902 uniforms reflected this terminology to some extent. Photographs show "B. A." on front of the uniform. This confirms what Tim Murnane reported just a few years later.
Almost all of today's standard reference books list the 1903 team as the Boston Pilgrims, but it's hard to know why - other than that it really is a nice nickname, and a name that sounds good in print is appealing to many people. But the record of the day would indicate that "Pilgrims" was not really used all that often in the press. How often was it used, though, really?
CONTENT ANALYSIS OF BOSTON NEWSPAPER SPORTS COVERAGE IN 1903
The Boston Herald was the biggest newspaper in town in 1903. I decided to perform a content analysis of the game accounts as run in the Herald. A careful survey indicates that the team was indeed referred to by a number of names. On some occasions, more than one team name would be used in a given day's newspaper - sometimes one name would appear in the headline and another one in the body of the text. I counted only one usage per game account.
Assuming that texts were written by reporters closer to the game, and headlines often written by editors, I decided to choose the name as used in the text unless no name was used in the text, in which case I used the name from the headline, if there was one.
I read every game account for the entire 1903 season. There were 9 game accounts where no team name or nickname was used in either the headline or the text.
The content analysis revealed that the name "Boston Americans" was used 57 times, while the term "Bostons" to describe the team was used in 54 game accounts. Interestingly, though, of the 54 game texts where "Bostons" was used in the story, 29 times the name "Boston Americans" was used in the headline or sub-head. The general impression is that the two terms were used fairly interchangeably, though with far more frequency than any other nicknames.
There were 4 game accounts in which the American League team was referred to as the "Beaneaters." There were 2 game accounts in which the only named characterization was "Bostonians" and there was 1 game account that referred to the team as the "Collinsites."
There were a number of other collective phrases used as aggregate descriptors to "name" the team. These were:
the Boston side
men from the Hub
the Boston team
the local team
and, of course, simply "Boston"
In early September 1903, when the American League pennant seemed within their grasp, there were a couple of stories which referred to them as the "coming champions" (the sportswriters of the day were not snakebit, the way Red Sox fans have learned to become) and, once they clinched, there was at least one story referring to them collectively as the "American League champions."
How many times was this team referred to as the "Pilgrims" or "Boston Pilgrims" in the Boston Herald? Not one time.
SAMPLING OF OTHER BOSTON NEWSPAPERS
One might conclude from this reading of the Boston Herald that there was no 1903 Boston team called the Pilgrims, or that for some perverse reason the Herald chose to ignore the name. I didn't want to have to read every game account in every other daily Boston newspaper, but I decided to sample them. I looked at four other daily newspapers and read each of their game accounts for the month of September 1903. I picked the last month of the season, figuring that coverage would be fuller as the season progressed and as it became clearer that Boston's American League team - whatever it was called - would become the champions. I read each day's September 1903 coverage (whether there was a game or not) in the Boston Post, the Boston Globe, the Boston Journal and the Boston Record.
The Boston Post results were as follows:
Boston Americans - 16 games
the Collins team - 5 games
Bostons - 3 games
Boston - 3 games
Collinsites - 1 game
the Collins boys - 1 game
the champion Boston nine - 1 game
There were several times that the "Boston Americans" were mentioned in the headline, but not in the story. Sometimes the only mention was in the headline, while otherwise the team was listed as "Boston." As I read the Post, I counted such occurrences as "Boston Americans." More often than not, the headline read "Americans" but the text simply referred to "Boston" as a collective entity, as in "Boston played a good game today...."
Other teams, such as the Senators, White Sox, Athletics, Browns and Highlanders were referred to by nicknames or by city name (e.g., the Detroits.) Even when the Post used the term "Americans" in their headline, though, it was clear in the accompanying text that they more formally referred to the team as "the Boston American League club."
The Post typically termed the other league's Boston entry as the Boston Nationals. When describing the upcoming World Series, the September 1903 Post referred to the Pittsburg National/Boston American series. (1)
How many times was this team referred to as the "Pilgrims" or "Boston Pilgrims" in the Boston Post? Not one time.
Analysis of the Boston Globe's daily coverage produced the following results:
Boston - 18
Americans - 6
Bostons - 1
Collins' men - 1
Bostonians - 1
the Boston boys - 1
There were two days where I could not find any mention at all of the team - and they were both in the final week of the season. The Globe seemed to be very cautious in giving the team any nickname at all. As we can see, the use of the city name alone was the predominant usage. I tried to err in favor of finding a team nickname. If one story used "Boston" two times and "Boston Americans" two times, I would tend to "award" that game story to the "Boston Americans" tally. In most instances, there was no decision to be made, in that mixed messages as to a team name were not conveyed.
How many times was this team referred to as the "Pilgrims" or "Boston Pilgrims" in the Boston Globe? Not one time. Anyone begin to detect a pattern here?
The Boston Journal had very good coverage of ballgames, too. They often followed the practice of putting the nicknames of other teams into quotation marks, e.g. "Senators" and "Tigers." The content analysis in the Journal showed:
Boston - 12
Bostons - 7
Americans - 2
Collins' men - 1
the Collins team - 1
Boston American club - 1
champions - 1
no reference - 5
Interestingly, a few days after Boston clinched the pennant, the Journal began to refer to the team in the headlines as the "champions," though only once did the story text apply that designator.
The Journal also included a column composed of quotes from fans on how they rated their team's chances, but not a single fan referred to the Pilgrims, either.
How many times was the team in question referred to as the "Pilgrims" or "Boston Pilgrims" in the Boston Journal? Not one time.
The last Boston newspaper I read for September 1903 was the Boston Record. The Record always presented a header over its league standings. THE AMERICANS' RECORD was the box title for the A.L. standings and WITH THE NATIONAL LEAGUERS for the senior circuit. As to daily coverage of the Boston entry in the American League, the Record's stories broke down in these quantities:
Americans - 11
Boston - 6
Collins and his pets - 1
Collins and his charges - 1
Jimmy Collins' men - 1 (the same story also referred to "the Boston boys")
Boston American League baseball team - 1
no reference - 2
How many times was this team referred to as the "Pilgrims" or "Boston Pilgrims" in the Boston Record? Not one time.
One might note, parenthetically, that the name "Puritans" also never appeared once in any of the daily newspapers sampled.
A survey of these five major daily newspapers in Boston in 1903 failed to turn up even one reference to the alleged "Boston Pilgrims." Where did this name come from? Agreed, it's a nice name, but it doesn't seem to have been this team's name. When a paper like the Journal included a column composed of quotes from fans on how they rated the team's chances in the 1903 World Series, not a single fan referred to the team as Pilgrims. The only reference I've yet found for the "Pilgrims" shows up in a Boston Journal article in December 1907 - well after the 1903 season was concluded.
SAMPLING OF OTHER NEWSPAPERS FROM CITIES WITH AMERICAN LEAGUE TEAMS
I also read every September 1903 game account in newspapers from three other cities which hosted American League baseball teams. I read through the daily coverage provided by the Chicago Tribune, the New York Times and the Washington Post.
The Chicago Tribune typically used the straightforward designation "Boston" in its game stories. No other name was used more than once - except for the name "Beaneaters" which was used in three accounts. In addition, the Tribune described the team as Collins' aggregation, Collins' men, the American, the Bostons, the Bostonians and also, in one instance, the Plymouth Rocks.
The New York Times never really used any designation other than the city name: Boston. In accounts datelined from Boston itself, game stories would sometimes referred to "the local baseball team," "the local men" or, in one case, "the local Americans." After clinching the championship, the Times once referred to the Boston club as "the new American League baseball champions."
More than half the time, the Washington Post also simply used the city's name to describe the team. The Post, like the Tribune, employed "Beaneaters" (four times); they used "Americans" twice and "champions" twice.
In general, the feeling I was left with was that the team really did not have any name, nor did it have a common nickname. Even though the team was often described as the "Boston Americans," that was more often in the headlines than in the story. Even then, one did not get the impression that this was meant to be taken as the name of the time; it seemed more simply a way to distinguish the column presenting the AL team's coverage from that of the NL team's.
Though it's convenient (and enjoyable) to have team nicknames, I believe that, in this case and the team's 1902 uniforms notwithstanding, it would be inaccurate to state definitively that the team nickname was the "Americans" - the designator "Bostons" was used as often. Probably we are better off concluding that the team really had no nickname until "Red Sox" became established prior to the 1908 season.
All in all, the team was described in newspaper columns as "Boston" or "the Bostons" and, when more clarity was necessary, the "Boston Americans." The Boston Pilgrims, though, never existed, not in the minds of the sportswriters, nor in the minds of the fans (as best we can tell).
Over the course of 2003, as we begin to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the first World Series, hopefully many websites and standard reference sources will begin to effect changes to correct the historical record.
As a result of this research, STATS Inc. has agreed to change its data, as has baseball-reference.com and the Baseball Almanac. The Pittsburgh Pirates have already corrected their website. Over time, the names Pilgrims and Puritans will probably tend to disappear. It seems like sort of a shame, because someone once went to the trouble to invent these more colorful nicknames and they caught on. History is often rewritten, but there is merit to sticking more closely to contemporary facts. There is a fascination in reading these 1903 sportswriters, how they covered games and how they occasionally labored to find alternative nicknames to describe these early teams that awkwardly lacked more formal names or nicknames.
(1) Pittsburgh was typically spelled without the "h" in 1903. As Louis Masur notes in Autumn Glory, the United States Board of Geographic Names dropped the "h" between 1890 and 1911.
Bill Nowlin is the author of MR. RED SOX and other books tied to the Red Sox. This article first appeared in a Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) publication. For those who have questions or would like more information, please contact Bill by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.