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When was the first ever ‘Subway Series’?

Every Friday I’ve been releasing ‘A Brief History’ podcast about the Yankees. It started as a way to stay sane during quarantine, but evolved into something that I look forward to researching each week.

The most recent episode is part one of two. The Subway Series, Part I covers the great New York baseball rivalries starting at the turn of the 20th century, all the way up to the early 1950s. In there lies the first ever All- New York World Series — in other words, the first “Subway Series.”

Yankees-Giants Rivalry

Yanks-Dodgers is thought of as the more classic New York baseball rivalry because of their numerous match-ups in the 1940s and ’50s, as well as recognizable star power — Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Jackie Robinson and Duke Snider, to name a few. But before the Dodgers’ “Wait ’till next year” tradition was born, the Giants were the Yankees’ biggest cross-town rival.

After the Yankees — then called the Highlanders — moved to New York in 1903, they shared a ballpark with the Giants on two different occasions. The Giants played at Hilltop Park when the Polo Grounds was undergoing renovations, and the Yankees played their home games at the Polo Grounds for many years before they finally built a field of their own in the early 1920s.

Just as the Giants were getting sick of the Yankees sharing their home turf, the two teams would play for the championship three consecutive years starting in 1921.

The Giants defeated the Yankees 5-games-to-3 in 1921. That is not a typo… The World Series was best of nine from 1919 through 1921.

Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis was interested in shortening the series to make it more appealing to the public. By the end of the ’21 series attendance dropped by about ten thousand, indicating fans were uninterested in such a long series.

The National League President disagreed with this decision, saying the All- New York series was “certain to be the exception.”

He would eat his words.

1922 was back to being best of seven but lopsided in the Giants favor as they defeated the Yankees 4-0-1. Yup… Game 2 ended in a tie when umpires called it due to darkness after 10-innings.

Fans were unhappy with this result as well, throwing bottles and seat cushions on the field in protest.

But 1923 would be the beginning of a new age for the Yankees, who were set to open their new stadium.

When both stadiums stood, you could walk between Yankee Stadium and the Polo Grounds in just under 20 minutes across the Macombs Dam Bridge.

The ’23 series was the first ever “All- New York” series played in separate ballparks. It was the inaugural season of Yankee Stadium and the Yankees got revenge on their former landlord, beating the Giants in 6-games for their first championship.

The Subway Series

Technically, the 1921, ’22, and ’23 World Series were the first ever “Subway Series,” however they were not called that at the time.

The first two were called the “Battle of Coogan’s Bluff.” Coogan’s Bluff is a promontory (fancy word hill) at the site of the Polo Grounds. The 1923 Series was dubbed the “All- New York World Series” by the media. Not the most clever of nicknames…

Another phrase that multiple papers around the country printed was the “Nickel World Series” or the “five cent World Series” because that was the subway fare from 1904-1948.

By the late ’20s the phrase “Subway Series” was used by the media to describe an All- New York World Series between the Yankees and either the Giants or Dodgers. There were a few teases in 1927 and ’28, but the public would have to wait until 1936 before they could ride the subway to all 7 World Series games again.

The Yankees evened the lifetime score between their rivals, beating the Giants in the 1936 World Series. It was notable for a few reasons: one, it was the first World Series the Yankees appeared in without Babe Ruth; two, it was Joe DiMaggio’s rookie season; and three, it was the start of 4 consecutive Yankees championships through the 1939 season — the first two coming against the Giants which gave the Yankees a 3-2 lifetime series advantage to that point.

In ‘37 the Yankees played flawlessly, winning the championship in 5-games and were the first team in history to not commit an error in the World Series.

1937 would be the last time the Giants and Yankees played in the Fall Classic until 1951, but finally in the ‘40s “Dem bums from Brooklyn” started to show up.

Podcast – A Brief History: The Subway Series, Part I