The Detroit Tigers Reader

The Detroit Tigers Reader

by Tom Stanton

From the author of The Final Season and The Road to Cooperstown, a collection of essays, articles, and letters celebrating the great moments and personalities of Detroit's rich baseball history
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From the author of The Final Season and The Road to Cooperstown, a collection of essays, articles, and letters celebrating the great moments and personalities of Detroit's rich baseball history

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University of Michigan Press
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6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.60(d)

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The Detroit TIGERS Reader

The University of Michigan Press

Copyright © 2005 Tom Stanton
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-472-03017-0

Chapter One

I found this letter in the library of the National Baseball Hall of Fame. It was written in January 1902 by W. H. Cobb, school superintendent of Franklin County, Georgia, to his son, Tyrus, then fifteen years old, who was visiting relatives in North Carolina. Within two years, the elder Cobb would be dead, shot-in an accident, reportedly-by his wife, Ty Cobb's mother. A year later, Cobb would debut with the Tigers.

1902 W. H. Cobb


Tyrus, Dear Boy -

The first snow of the year of account is down today. It is two inches I reckon. It is all of a round fine hail, not a single feathery flake. Some lodge on the limbs of the trees. Our wheat and oats have stood the winter all right. Wheat is up nicely. We are all snowed in today, principally on account of the cold weather.

Hardly a sound has been heard today. It is nearly six o'clock. I knew the past cold weather would furnish you with some fine scenery up there and I am glad you have been receptive of its austere beauty and solemn grandeur, as to color, sound, and picturesque contour or outline. That is a picturesque and romantic country with solitude enough to give nature a chance to be heard in the soul. The presence of man and the jargon of artificiality and show do not crowd out thegrand aspect of God's handiwork among those everlasting hills covered with its primeval forest, nor hush the grand oratorios of the winds, nor check the rush of her living, leaping waters.

To be educated is not only to be master of the printed page but ... able to catch the messages of star, rock, flower, bird, painting and symphony. To have eyes that really see, ears that really hear and an imagination that can construct the perfect from a fragment. It is truly great to have a mind that will respond to and open the door of the soul to all the legions of thoughts and symbols of knowledge and emotions that the whole universe around us brings to us.

Be good and dutiful, conquer your anger and wild passions that would degrade your dignity and belittle your manhood. Cherish all the good that springs up in you. Be under the perpetual guidance of the better angel of your nature. Starve out and drive out the demon that lurks in all human blood and [is] ready and anxious and restless to arise and reign.

Be good.

Yours affectionately, W. H. Cobb

In the autumn of 1909, Detroit found itself in its third consecutive World Series. But despite high expectations, the Pittsburgh Pirates, like the Chicago Cubs of 1907 and 1908, denied the Tigers the championship. This editorial, reflecting the city's disappointment, appeared on the front page of the Detroit Free Press.

1909 Detroit Free Press


'Tis a sad, sad tale to relate, this story of the crowd of Tiger and Pirate fans that thronged the streets last night. Needless to say there were countless numbers of the former who employed the time-honored method of driving away remorse-that of drowning it out.

Mingled with the cheering Pittsburgh fans and the saddened Tiger fans, who tried hard to appear indifferent, there were scores of street merchants. Time was, before the last trouncing, when the team Tiger emblems seemed appropriate. Last night, harsh as it did sound, everybody was talking of the cut-rate prices of Tiger "souvenirs."

Pittsburgh rooters lost no time making themselves prominent. Hundreds of them apparently decided to remain in the home of their late foes, just to flaunt their banners in the faces of Detroiters, digging up the unhappy reminder of the awful smearing of the whitewash.

Even the poor sidewalks and pavements were forced to suffer under coats of whitewash, spread in such manner that it read very clearly, "Pittsburgh 3, Detroit 0."

Those Pittsburgh banners which heretofore were worn with a modest appearance shone like street lamps on the lapels, sleeves, hats and canes of followers of the Smoky City athletes. Tiger banners there were, but many took the trouble of attaching them to a very inconspicuous portion of their wearing apparel-the shoes.

Outside of those who sought relief from their sorrow or tonic for their waning enthusiasm to such an extent that they were no longer able to navigate independently, the police had little trouble with the last demonstration from baseball bugs.

No extra force was required to patrol the streets, and few enthusiasts succeeded in rooting themselves to the Bastille.

It was a mournful, "it's all over, dust unto dust" crowd that filed out of the ballpark after the Pirates had finished twisting the Tigers' tails.

The coppers looked sour, the girls snappish and sad, the rooters crushed, and even the smiles on the faces of the real "sports" were wan and stingy.

The atmosphere of melancholy already had percolated throughout the city, through the medium of numerous scoreboards, and the mourners from the park and the mourners from downtown had no need to mingle words.

Copyright 1909, Detroit Free Press.

Years ago, Ernie Harwell pulled from the garbage of Tiger Stadium and saved for posterity books of carbon letters written by Frank Navin, owner of the Detroit Tigers. The letters are held in the Detroit Public Library's Burton Historical Collection. This one touched me. Navin was not known for his warmth, but some radiates from this note to catcher Charles Schmidt. Navin's brother Tom had recently died, which might explain the tone of the letter. Schmidt's baseball-playing days ended later in 1911.

1911 Frank Navin


Friend Charlie:

I received your signed contract this A.M., and am very glad you signed it without any argument. It made me feel very good.

I will be in the South when the club is training, and I want to get you and [manager Hughie] Jennings started off alright. I want you to forget whatever little misunderstanding has occurred in the past, and I am sure Jennings will do the same. We are going to have a different kind of a ball club this year than we had last year.

Charlie, you must not expect to do all the work on the club behind the bat because the club has to have three catchers. There is no getting away from that. We must give them a fair amount of work to do because if you were to get hurt after doing all the catching we would be in bad shape for catchers. You can see that by the [Jimmy] Archer case. He did not get the work he should have had, otherwise he would have developed into a better catcher. We know what you can do, but we do not know what the others can do. For that reason you must get the idea out of your head that you should work every day and not be sore when Jennings works other catchers.

I am going to the training ground to see you and get you fixed up. You are an easy fellow to get along with and so is Jennings for that matter and we must all start off with the right foot forward this season. If we do that, in my opinion, we will give everyone a tough game, especially if we are able to develop a couple of pitchers, and we will get another chance at the World Series money in the fall.

I am very sorry you wrote the communication you did to the paper because it gives people an opportunity to holler when the club is going bad. You know the fans in Detroit are a funny lot. They want us to win all the games, and as soon as we do not they think I have told the boys not to. During the World Series games, when we played Pittsburgh, all the fans said I gave the boys orders not to win the games because I was betting on Pittsburgh.

I think you are laboring under the false impression when you state you are not appreciated. You are receiving as big a salary as any catcher in the American League, and that shows some appreciation. Charlie, life is too short to be worrying about troubles that cannot be avoided. We are not here long enough to keep on continually arguing just for the sake of an argument. I feel sure we will get started on the right path this season, and that you will be happy and contented again before the opening of the season.

With kindest regards to Mrs. Schmidt and the children and yourself, I am

Yours Truly, Frank J. Navin

Navin Field, which would later become Briggs Stadium and then Tiger Stadium, opened on April 20, 1912, days after the sinking of the Titanic. The grand cement and steel structure stoked civic pride, as is evident in this Detroit story on the first regular-season game played in the new park.

1912 E. A. Batchelor


There will be no further talk to the effect that Detroit isn't a good baseball town, and it probably will be several weeks before anyone informs us again that the franchise is shortly to be transferred to some other city. Nearly 26,000 fans, of whom 24,384 paid cash for the privilege of attending, proved yesterday afternoon not only that the City of the Straits is a good supporter of the national pastime but that it is one of the very best in the entire country.

Incidentally, the Tigers demonstrated that they are the sort of a ball club which deserves patronage. In spite of the baneful effects of much preliminary celebrating in which the Jungaleers nearly were killed with kindness, they wrenched a 6 to 5 victory from Cleveland after eleven innings of battling that had the fans chewing their finger nails and whooping themselves hoarse throughout the afternoon.

Only five cities in the country, New York, Chicago, Boston, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, have turned out larger crowds than that which honored the dedication of the splendid concrete stadium known as Navin Field. There were more people inside the gates than the entire population of Battle Creek as shown by the census of 1911 and only eight cities in the state have as many inhabitants as there were fans within the concrete walls of the Tigers' new home.

Every seat was taken and thousands stood around the borders of the outfield, necessitating group rules which limited the length of any hit to two bases. The assemblage was just as enthusiastic as it was big, too, and there were abundant opportunities for shouting, as the game was one of those desperately fought affairs in which each side has numerous chances to win and peril often is averted only by splendid fielding or nervy pitching or both.

George Mullin, without whose presence in the box no opening celebration in Detroit would be complete, covered himself with glory in a desperate duel with Van Gregg, star southpaw of the Davis stable. Time after time, the big fellow pitched himself out of holes from which escape had seemed impossible. To crown it all, he sent [Owen "Donie"] Bush home with the winning run, a single to short doing the work after two Tigers had perished in the eleventh. Little Ownie's hit, followed by one from the bat of the sturdy [Oscar] Stanage, paved the way for Mullin's victory-bringing trump. Cleveland's total of twelve men left on bases is in itself a striking testimonial to George's fearlessness in the many cases.

In two of the overtime innings, Detroit's chances to win weren't rated very high but Mullin's nerve was equal to the emergencies and he escaped unscathed when wholesale disaster seemed imminent.

In the tenth, one of the foes reached second base with [Ted] Easterly, a dangerous hitter, at bat. Maumee George was far too crafty to take a chance on the Cleveland backstop and purposely passed him, this strategy bringing up Gregg, who is as poor as a sticker as he is great as a pitcher. An inning later, Detroit was in even more desperate straits, Cleveland getting men on third and second with only one out and the ferocious [Larry] Lajoie at bat. Fortunately it was possible to dispose of Larry by forcing him to accept a pass, a gift that he received with very bad grace. Then Mullin went to work and got the side out on a force play at home and an easy roller to himself. Rather than risk getting into any more such pinches big George decided to wind it up in the Tigers' half of this inning.

Gregg was a foeman worthy of the Tiger veteran's steel. Like his conqueror, he often was in trouble and only his ability to pitch great ball in pinches enabled him to prolong the contest to its overtime limit. The young left-hander was unfortunate in that the Jungaleers bunched their hits on him in four innings, getting three in the first, two in the third, three in the eighth and three in the eleventh. As there was scoring in all of these periods it will be seen that the Tigers got rich return for their labors.

Each side made an even dozen hits. Mullin passed four men, two of them purposely, while Gregg let three escape without intending to do so. In fielding the Naps had it on us considerably, making but two errors while Detroit is charged with five. There were, however, a number of bad plays on the Naps' infield which do not show in the tabulated list of stumblings. [Terry] Turner several times was too ambitious and, by deflecting bounders, spoiled plays that [Ivy] Olson probably would have made if let alone. The veteran "Topsey's" mistakes in judgment usually came in pinches, too.

Naturally much of the interest of the fans centered around the work of [Ossie] Vitt and [Baldy] Louden, the only strangers in the Tiger lineup. In the case of Vitt everybody went home fully convinced that the club has picked up a very rare jewel among athletes. The "little" fellow from San Francisco got three clean hits, scored two runs and did himself proud in the field. His success won him thousands of friends and toward the latter part of the game he was given an ovation every time he went out to his position.

Louden didn't do so well, though his two sacrifice hits had a very useful place in the day's attainments. He failed to get a hit, but took good care of six fielding chances, including a couple of difficult ones.

Baseball's brightest luminary, Tyrus R. Cobb, of course, could not let an opportunity of displaying his charms to 26,000 persons pass so he put on the whole show with a few interpolated numbers for good measure. A whole column could be written on the Peach's performance alone and even a bare list of his feats takes up considerable space. He got two hits, stole two bases, including home, failed by a very small margin in an attempt to perform his favorite stunt of scoring from second on an infield out and made two catches in center field that were easily the defensive features of the game.

In the first inning, Ty and Sam Crawford twice worked the double steal, the first time with third and second as their goals and the next with the plate as the point assailed by the flying Georgian. The steal of home was as clean as a whistle, Easterly being unable to grab Gregg's high pitch and apply it to the Cobb person until he had slid safely across the rubber.

In weight of slugging that king of main-strength club artists, Sam Crawford, was the day's best bet. Two singles and a double, which would have been a triple at least and probably a homer but for the restricting ground rules, were Sam's contributions to the crowd's happiness. As already mentioned, he followed hard on the heels of Cobb in two double thefts in the same inning.

Larry Lajoie showed himself to be an athlete for whom vast and hostile throngs have no terrors. He played a beautiful fielding game and was on the bases five of the six times that he faced Mullin, twice on errors, once when Mullin walked him purposely and twice on clean hits, the second of which was a double into the left field crowd. Joe Jackson, Cleveland's other first magnitude star, didn't do anything startling, making only one hit. Twice he was thrown out on the infield and once lifted an easy fly while the other two times up he got four balls.

Detroit's errors were particularly costly, three of the Naps' runs being directly due to them, while four men reached first base either on fumbles or bad throws. The grounds are in rather bad shape as might be expected, so it is unjust to criticize fielders too harshly. The Tigers have had no more chances than their adversaries to learn the lay of the land and that they are assessed more misplays is due to bad luck more than anything else.


Excerpted from The Detroit TIGERS Reader Copyright © 2005 by Tom Stanton. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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