The Yankees and their humble beginning
Way before George Steinbrenner and all those pennants and World Series championships, they were the third team in town and played in a league known as the 'junior circuit.' This was before 'the house that Ruth built'; in fact it was before the Babe himself. And they weren't even called the Yankees at the time.
The franchise that is the most successful in all of sports started out as the Baltimore Orioles in 1901 in the upstart American League, which was a rival of the established National League. Two years later, a mere $18,000 fetched the team and it was relocated to New York. They played their home games at an all-wood ballpark on 168th street and Broadway in Washington Heights that was built on one of the highest points in Manhattan. Because of this unique aspect, the place was called "Hilltop Park" and the team was nicknamed the Highlanders.
The first home game was played there on April 30, 1903. Capacity was 16,000 seats plus room for an additional 15,000 fans for standing room. One must remember in that era, fans were allowed to stand along the outfield fence and the foul lines. The center field fence was a vast 542 feet from home plate. Dimensions changed frequently over the years, which was standard in the early days of baseball.
That first season in the Big Apple, the Highlanders finished with a 72-62 record, good enough for fourth in the AL. They were managed by Clark Griffith, who also went 14-11 as a starting pitcher. The team was led in hitting by outfielder "Wee Willie" Keeler, who hit .312 as he was nearing the end of his career. Outfielder Herm McFarland led the team with five home runs, another strange stat from the 'dead ball' era. Second baseman Jimmy Williams led the way with 82 RBI. Jack Chesbro was their top pitcher, going 21-15 with a 2.77 ERA.
Some of the more famous Highlanders were Hal Chase, Roger Peckinpaugh, and Wally Pipp, who would become part of folklore when Lou Gehrig took over first base from him in a game years later.
The rivalry between New York and Boston started in 1904 when the Highlanders just fell short of capturing the American League pennant. The aforementioned Chesbro had an unbelievable season, finishing 41-12 with a 1.82 ERA. But he will always be remembered for throwing a ninth inning wild pitch that lost the pennant on the last day of the season against the Boston Pilgrims, who later changed their name to the Red Sox.
It is debated on when the team first became known as the Yankees. Some say they were the Highlanders until the end of the 1912 season. They shared the Polo Grounds with the National League New York Giants from 1913-1922. Others argue that they used their original name for 15 years. It was also common practice to call the teams either 'Americans' or 'Nationals', depending on the league they participated in. Either way, the team's best early seasons were 1904 (92-59), 1906 (90-61) and 1910 (88-63), finishing second each time. They finished last in the eight-team AL two times from 1904-1912 (51-103 in 1908 and 50-102 in 1912) and finished in the 'second division' (from fifth to eighth) every year besides the three runner-up years. Not exactly memorable years for the proud franchise, but you have to start somewhere.
Everything changed once the team purchased Babe Ruth from the Red Sox on January 3, 1920. To show a quick comparison, they finished in third in 1919 with an 80-59 record. The first season with Ruth, 1920, they again finished in third, but improved to 95-59. In both 1921 (98-55) and 1922 (94-60), they won the AL pennant but lost the World Series to the Giants. They put it all together in 1923, beating the same Giants in the Fall Classic for the franchise's first championship after finishing the regular season at 98-54.