Friday, September 12, 2014

Almost a Dynasty: 1900's Detroit Tigers

What actually makes a sports dynasty?  Obviously a team needs to be successful for a continuous amount of time.  Every sport has that one iconic dynasty that fits the Dynasty category.  The NBA had the Boston Celtics who won nine out of ten championships.  The Montreal Canadiens won 7 of nine Stanley Cups (including six straight).  The NFL had several dynasties including the 49'ers, the Steelers, the Cowboys and, most recently, the Patriots.  Baseball itself has had the Yankees dynasties in several incarnations including the 1930's, 1950's and 2000's.

So what actually makes a team a dynasty?  There can, of course, be several definitions since there are varying levels of success.  A team can dominate their division for a decade but be bounced out in the first round of the playoffs year after year.  We could of course consider that to be a divisional dynasty but you wouldn't call it an overall baseball dynasty.  So let us set the parameters for this series of articles.  A dynasty, for our purposes here, is a team that wins multiple World Series championships (above two as back to back is nice but not a dynasty) within a given amount of time.  That being defined, this series will explore those teams that may have been a divisional or league dynasty but for whatever reason could not get over the hump to that World Series dynasty.

This series will show an array of near dynasties.  Some are teams that made the World Series year after year but fell short.  Others will be teams that competed right down to the end of the regular season year after year just to be beaten out.

So let's get started with the first "almost dynasty" the game saw: The Detroit Tigers of the 1900's.

The Detroit Tigers, B.C (Before Cobb) (1901-1905):
Creating a team out of nothing is different today than it was then.  Today there is a talent pool that exists.  Players are designated as unprotected or protected and the unprotected talent is dumped into a player draft for an expansion team.  The formation of the American League was not a civilized agreement between the two leagues to share players so that a competitive balance could be maintained.  It was a cut throat fight for survival.  The American League needed established stars with seat filling power to succeed.  The National League had those players and they were not about to allow them to walk across the street to the rival league and they sure as hell were not going to hand over a list of talent for the new league to pick from.

So what did the American League do?  They stole players.  There was no minor league farm system to feed the big league club.  There was no amateur draft.  There was very little sophistication to the scouting system.  The scouting system was usually that the team heard from someone who heard from someone who might have seen a guy play and thought he was good against non-major league caliber players.

With the birth of the American League the teams needed stars.  The Detroit franchise was no different.  Of course the team had existed as a minor league Western League team but who the hell would want to go see a minor league team calling themselves Major League?  Just because you called yourself a Major League didn't actually make you Major League.

While the Athletics stole Napoleon LaJoie and the Red Sox poached Jimmy Collins and Cy Young, the Detroit franchise got some quality players of lesser fame.  The Tigers grabbed Doc Casey and Joe Yeager from Brooklyn and Kid Gleason (he'll be in next week's article too) from the Giants.

The big signing for Detroit that year was Jimmy Barrett, the star outfielder of the Reds.  Barrett had just finished his first full year with Cincinnati in 1900 and had hit .316 with 5 Home Runs (not bad for the time) and was among the league leaders in Stolen Bases, base hits and runs scored.  It was a big "get" as Barrett seemingly had a tremendous career ahead of him.

The Tigers organization got off to a grrreat start in the premier AL season.  They won their first 5 games and 11 of their first 15.  After 15 games the Tigers were tied for first with Chicago, with Baltimore and Boston not far behind.  As late as May 24 they were still tied for first.  The summer months saw them fall out of the race and beginning with June's 10-14 record, they would not have another month with a winning record until September's 16-10 finish.  The team finished with a winning record (74-61) and finished a respectable third place.  They were 8.5 games behind the league champion Chicago (4.5 behind second place Boston).  There was no World Series so Comiskey and the White Sox were the Champs.  Barrett's numbers were not what they were in Cincinnati but he did have some success.  Although Cy Young and Iron Man McGinnity seemingly led the league in every pitching category, Detroit's pitchers were the core of their success.  Roscoe Miller seemed to be their ace with a 23-11 record but Ed Siever at 18-14 also played a big part in the team's success.

The team did little to improve themselves for the 1902 season.  It showed in the standings.  May 24th seemed to be the important day for the 1902 Tigers, as it had been in 1901, as it was the last day the Tigers were tied for first.  The drop off from there was much more drastic this year.  The Tigers lost 13 of 20 and fell to 5th by mid June.  They would not climb any higher than that and they would actually get much worse.  They would lose 8 straight from July 6- July 15.  That wasn't even their worst.  They would lose another 11 straight (and 18 of 20) in a terrible stretch of August and another 9 of 10 in late September .  They spent a great deal of time in last place and would finish 30.5 games out of first place in 7th place.  The team that finished behind them was the Baltimore Orioles who had lost half of their team to the National League half way through the year.  Barrett again had a decent season but he was far from the player they expected when they stole him from the Reds.Miller (6-12) and Siever (8-11) were ineffective for much of the year and the pitching was terrible as no Tiger hurler had a winning record.  There was some hope as a young pitcher named George Mullin showed some promise.

It was clear something needed to happen to improve this team.  At times you can look back at a move you thought was insignificant but turned out to be the beginning of something special.  The puzzle piece may look like just a gold corner piece but when all the pieces are in place you can see the whole picture of the trophy. The war between the two leagues continued into a third season and as the American League became more successful they had the opportunity to offer more money and more stars were willing to jump leagues. This is how Detroit landed their first bona fide star: Sam Crawford.

Crawford did it all.  He had good speed, hit tremendously, fielded like a gold glove outfielder and had some of the best baseball instincts in the game.  Crawford had played for the Reds since 1899 and had made an immediate impact on the Detroit team.  In addition to adding Crawford for the 1903 season, Pitcher Wild Bill Donovan, who had won 25 games for Brooklyn just two seasons prior, jumped to Detroit.  These two players along with George Mullin were the first three pieces of what would eventually become the Tigers' almost dynasty but you would be hard pressed after the 1903 season to say you saw it coming.  The 1903 cats started at 6-2 before losing 6 straight (and 8 of 9)  By August 30th they were 15 1/2 games behind the league leading Red Sox and would finish the year in 5th place, 25 1/2 behind the team that would win the first ever World Series.

Few major moves were made between the 1903 and 1904 seasons but one trade would pay dividends in the future.  In January 1904 the Tigers traded Billy Lush, an aging and diminishing outfielder, to the Cleveland Naps for "Twilight" Ed Killian.  Another piece of the almost dynasty was now in place.  The 1904 season, however, was a disaster.  The team fell into seventh place during an 8 game losing streak and never climbed higher than sixth the rest of the year.  They finished in 7th place, 32 games behind the leader.  Although pieces were in place to build a winner there was still work to be done. Help was on the way and wherever that help went chaos followed in his wake.

The Peach Ripens (1905-1906)
The Tigers signed a young native of the Springwell section of Detroit to pitch in the 1905 season.  He would pitch in only three games that year, going 1-1, but Eddie Cicotte would have a big impact on next week's "almost dynasty".

The morning of August 23rd saw the team in 6th place, 15 games out of first.  The next day the team signed a kid from Georgia that would forever change the face of Tigers' history and baseball history.  The young man had been playing for Augusta in the South Atlantic League when he was finally offered a contract  for the big leagues.  He signed on Thursday, August 24th.  He would make his debut a week later. He had to stop home in Georgia for his father's funeral first.  What should have been a triumphant moment for Tyrus Raymond Cobb was a dark and tragic one instead.  The treatment that rookie's receive at the hands of veterans' made his mood only darker. All rookies were taunted, teased, treated like dirt.  They all took it as part of the experience, something everyone went through.  Cobb took it personally.

When Cobb made his debut of August 30th, the Tigers were still in 6th place.  From that point on they would go 26-14 and although they were never really a factor in the pennant race, they finished third.  Cobb would not be the factor in that turn around but his potential was there and his determination was increased.  He promised himself that when the dust had settled, the veterans who had harassed him would be forgotten and Ty Cobb would be on top.  The player that topped that list for Cobb was Matty McIntyre another outfielder.

The pieces were mostly in place now.  Heading into the 1906 season, Outfielder Davvy Jones was added to the roster, as was Catcher Boss Schmidt.  With Jones, Cobb, Crawford and Matty McIntyre it was a crowded outfield.  The man who became expendable was good old Jimmy Barrett.  He had played a total of five years with Detroit, hit .292 and stole 92 bases during those years but he never quite led the Tigers the way it had been envisioned.  On May 9, he was sold back to the Reds.  With Crawford an established star in the league, that left three outfielders to fight for two spots and fighting was something Cobb excelled at.

He won the starting assignment and took the league by storm.  He may not have had the impact as a rookie that someone like Joe DiMaggio would have in immediately leading his team to a pennant but Cobb certainly  put the fighting spirit into the Tigers.  Fans in Detroit may not have come out in droves to see the Tigers in 1906, and their 6th place finish certainly would not have excited many for the 1907 season but there was something happening here that many overlooked.  They did so at their own peril.

The Almost Dynasty (1907-1909)
The Tigers made only one move in the off season, picking up Cleveland's First Baseman Claude Rossman.  He was not a player that struck fear in the heart of an opponent.  He didn't need to be.  The 1906 season had been a learning experience for Ty Cobb and for all of the Tigers.  They had learned to play together.  Cobb and Crawford were not the best of friends off the field but on the field they played like one person.  They could work a hit and run better than anyone.  They used silent commands that even their own teammates could not figure out to call for a double steal that almost always worked.

The American League had ignored the Tigers as a contender for years.  The White Sox, Red Sox and Athletics had dominated the league.  Few even looked in the continuously second division Tigers direction when the 1907 season kicked off.  The Tigers ended June and started July with back to back losses.  They sat in fourth place, 6 1/2 games behind the leaders.  At the top of the league were the Athletics, a surprising Cleveland Naps and the White Sox.  The Tigers were about to pounce.  After sweeping a July 4th double header from the lowly Browns, the Tigers started to creep closer to the front. A 19-9 month put them in second place, just two games out of first.  The top four teams were all within 2 1/2 games of each other.  It wasn't first place, but it was the first time most people could remember the cats being in the race this late in the season.  They climbed into first place by 1/2 game on August 5th but bounced back out a few days later.  It appeared that it had been a nice try but when they fell back to third place, 2 games back, by August 17 with a three game losing streak their critics started saying "I told you so".  In years past this team would have kept falling (or not even been here to begin with) but this was Cobb and Crawford's team  and they would be damned if that would happen now.

From August 24- August 31 the team won 8 straight and they entered the last month of the season in first place, 1 1/2 games ahead of Philadelphia, 2 1/2 ahead of Cleveland and 3 1/2 ahead of Chicago.  There was still plenty of time for the Tigers to choke on the bones of their competitors but these kitties now had claws and they fought the competition with everything they had.

They clung to a slim 1/2 game at the end of play on September 26, just marginally ahead of the Philadelphia Athletics.  Up next on the schedule, after having just finished a trip to Boston, was a three game showdown in Philadelphia.  It was do or die for both.  Connie Mack and the A's were fully expected to declaw the Tigers.  It ended a bit differently.  The Tigers won the first game, putting them up a game and a half.  Worst case scenario they left town only 1/2 game behind, which was still better than expected.  When game two was rained out the plan was to play two the next day.  The A's took a lead into the top of the ninth.  The next three outs could change the  pennant.  With a runner on base Ty Cobb stepped in to the  batters box facing A's ace Rube Waddell.  Cobb launched a two run Home Run to tie the game at 8.  According to legend Connie Mack  was so shocked he fell off the bench and knocked over the bat rack.  Although it didn't win the game it has been said that it won the pennant.  The game remained tied into the 14th when controversy erupted.  Harry Davis hit a fly ball toward Crawford.  Crawford tracked the ball near the crowd (the crowd was so large the overflow crowd stood on the outfield grass) and seemed to settle under the ball.  Then the ball dropped to the ground.  Davis was standing on second in scoring position, poised to score the winning run.  Meanwhile Cobb and Crawford surrounded the umpires and argued vehemently.  After a few moments the umpire pointed to Davis and held a fist in the air.  Now it was Davis's turn to erupt.  The call was crowd interference.  Turns out one of the police in the outfield to keep order had scrambled to avoid Crawford, causing him to drop the ball, or so they said, and so the game continued tied.  Into the 15th.  The 16th. The 17th.  In the days before night games and stadium lights, it was too hard to see.  So the umpires ended the game in a tie.  The final game was cancelled and the lead in the standings  remained the same.  The Tigers had only seven games left and they were all against the league doormats.  They won five straight and took the pennant.

Their opponent in their first ever World Series was an angry group of Cubs with something to prove.  The Cubs had won 115 games in 1906 only to lose the series in five to their crosstown rivals.  Now they were back in the World Series and had no interest in taking an opponent lightly.  Game 1 ended in a 3-3 tie after a bizarre bottom of the 9th.  (Even more bizarre there had been questions before the Series on what would happen to the player's shares if one of the games ended in a tie.  Turned out it would go in the player's favor leading to rumors about the bizarre ninth inning being fixed to pad the players' wallets).

The Tigers struck first in Game 2 with a second inning triple by Rossman and a single by Catcher Freddy Payne.  The lead didn't last long.  The Cubs had three straight singles and a walk in the second to tie the game.  The teams traded turns in stranding base runners for two innings. It was constant tension.  Double plays, hit batters, everything but runs scored.  The Cubs opened the 4th with a single. A sacrifice bunt from Jack Pfister advanced the runner.  With a runner on second Jimmy Slagle singled, giving the Cubs the lead.  Slagle then stole second and scored on a double by Jimmy Sheckard.  That quickly the Cubs had a 3-1 victory and a lead in the series.  The Tigers' stars (Cobb and Crawford) were a combined 1-7 with a hit by pitch.

Game 3 quickly got out of hand for the cats  They did not get a base runner until the top of the 4th, an infield single.  The Cubs scored first in the second inning.  They scored three more in the bottom of the 4th for a 4-0 lead.  Two Tiger singles in the 5th were wasted by a double play and the Cubs dominated the Bengals.  It was a 5-1 win and 2-0 series lead.  Crawford drove in the only Tiger run and was hitting .308 in the series. Cobb, however, was 1-4, dropping his average to .167.  Johnny Evers was hitting well over .450 for the Cubs.

The Tigers needed a win badly in Game 4, the first ever World Series home game in Detroit.  The Cubs had two singles and a stolen base in the top of the first but a caught stealing saved the Tigers for the moment.  The home town team had something to cheer in the 4th when Cobb tripled and scored on a Rossman single.  Suddenly the Tigers had life.  Fans started to think positively.  If they win today the Cubs are only up one game.  They could win the next two at home and still have a chance.  It didn't last long.  Evers led off the 6th with a ground ball to short and it looked like they had finally gotten him out, until Shortstop Charley O'Leary made an error on the ground ball.  A walk, a sacrifice and a two run single by the pitcher gave the Cubs the lead.  They added to it in the 7th with three runs on two hits and an error.  The Cubs took control of the series with 6-1 win.

It was basically over at this point, although they had to play one more game.  The Tigers  fought hard.  No team had ever been swept in the World Series and the Tigers didn't want to be the first.  The Cubs scored in the first and second to take a 2-0 lead.  It would holdup.  The Tigers would not.  Claude Rossman would hit .450 for the five games (including the tie game).  No other Tiger hitter would be even close.  Crawford hit .238.  Germany Schaefer .143.  Boss Schmidt .167.  And Cobb?  The man who had energized the team all year hit just .200.  He was the missing man.  Clearly it was more than just Cobb that had caused the poor performance against the Cubs but it was Cobb who took the blame.  The Tigers had missed their first chance to stake a claim to the first dynasty of the World Series era.

Cobb went home and worked hard all winter long in Georgia.  The Tigers, feeling confident after their first World Series appearance, came back nearly unchanged.  No team had repeated as American League World Series representatives and when the Tigers started off at 3-9 and fell to the bottom of the league there was little to indicate that would change.  After a 17-7 May they were at the top of the league.  It was an up and down season.  While the Cubs, Giants and Pirates fought back and forth in what would eventually end up with Merkle's boner, the Tigers, White Sox and Indians battled right down to the end themselves.  Cobb would anger his team mates when he disappeared for five games in mid season to get married.  The problem was he didn't tell any of his team mates or the management his plans and so in the middle of a pennant race the best player in baseball disappeared.

Cobb's relationship with his team mates was like an exposed nerve.  The slightest movement could lead to unspeakable explosions of pain.  He had fought, physically and verbally with nearly every team mate but the key antagonist seems to have been Matty McIntyre.  The worst part of that relationship was that they played side by side.  "Why should I help that no good, son of a bitch?" was McIntyre's response to his managers question of why it was that he never seemed to hustle on balls hit between the two in the outfield.  Cobb felt the same and routinely threatened McIntyre with bodily harm.

The White Sox' Ed Walsh won 40 games in 1908 but his  loss in his attempt to get 41 in the last series of the year with the Tigers gave Detroit their second trip to the World Series.  It would be years before baseball would see another pair of pennant races this close.

The Tigers scored first in Game 1 of the 1908 World Series, which again opened in Chicago.  The joy of thinking the Cubs would fall in line with Detroit's plans was quickly changed.  The game went back and forth. The Cubs took a 5-1 lead into the 7th but Ed Ruelbach suddenly lost his control.  A three run inning cut the Cubs' lead to 5-4.  The Tigers got two more in the 8th (thanks to two errors) to take a 6-5 lead.  Johnny Evers grounded to first to start the inning and with just two outs left the Tigers breathed a sigh of relief, two outs too soon.  Six straight singles, a double steal and another single later the Cubs led 10-6 and went on to take Game 1. Joe Tinker, Johnny Evers and Frank Chance picked up where they had left off the year before.  In Game 1 the three were a combined 5-13, scored 4 runs, drove in 2 and stole 4 bases.  It was a devastating loss for Detroit.

Game 2 was a great pitcher's duel.  Neither team could get a man on base, let alone score.    Entering the bottom of the 8th Wild Bill Donovan had allowed only one hit.  Things fell apart in the bottom of the 8th.  The big hit was Joe Tinker's two run Home Run but it was not the only hit.  It was a 6 hit, 6 run inning and the Cubs took Game 2.

Game 3 was again crucial for Detroit.  The man the Tigers had counted on to be the man the last two post seasons showed up.  The Tigers scored first on a Cobb RBI single in the first but three Tiger errors in the 4th gave the Cubs a 3-1 lead.  The Tigers faithful had seen this movie before.  They were sure it would be the same until the Tigers scored 5 in the sixth inning.  When the dust settled the Tigers had actually won their first ever World Series game to cut the series lead to 2 games to 1.

Game 3 was the last offensive explosion of the year for the Tigers.  The Cubs would shut them out in the next two games to win their second straight World Series.  The Tigers had now established themselves as the best team in the American League, head and shoulders above any team the league had ever seen, yet their dynasty was non -existent.  They were 0-2 in the World Series.  Cobb had certainly done better this year and it was much more competitive than the year before.  Had a few things gone differently, a few hits in tight situations, a few less errors, and they could have been World Champions, twice.

The Last Best Chance (1909)
The Tigers again made few moves during the off season, although they appear to have considered Claude Rossman at First Base their weak link and they looked to improve at that position.  Where they did add a player was at the opposite end of the infield at Third Base.  They purchased the contract of George Moriarty from the New York Highlanders.

The team got off to a quick start in 1909, winning their first five.  By July 25 they had not fallen out of first place for even a single day and had built a 7 1/2 game lead. They quickly squandered that and within a week the red hot A's had cut the lead to 2.  A week later they were tied with the A's.  By  the last week of August they had fallen from first place.  It was on August 13 that the panic truly set in and the Tigers made a few roster moves.  They sent utility man Red Killefer and Second Baseman Germany Schaefer to the Senators for Second Baseman Jim Delahanty.  Delahanty was one of five brothers (Ed, Joe, Frank, Tom and Jim) who played Major League Baseball.  Ed had been the most successful, but also the most tragic.  He had fallen from a moving train passing over Niagara Falls (stories vary over whether he killed himself or fell accidentally while drunk).  Jim was a solid addition.  On August 20, with Claude Rossman hitting just .260, the Tigers finally made the decision they had struggled with in the off season and traded Rossman to the St.Louis Browns for their first baseman Tom Jones.  What they got out of Jones was similar to what they had gotten out of Rossman, nothing spectacular, but the defense seemed to be the real upgrade.  With Delahanty they got a veteran presence, a defensive improvement over Schaeffer and a man with a knack for key hits.

Detroit caught fire and just as quickly as the recent swoon had started, it ended with a 14 game win streak.  Suddenly the lead was right back up to 5 with just a few weeks away.  Things seemed to be rolling and the team seemed to be clicking.  But this was the Tigers of Cobb and Crawford and it wouldn't  be a season if there wasn't some form of Cobb infused drama and it happened just as the 14 game streak was ending.  As the story goes, Cobb returned to the Cleveland hotel where the team was staying and decided to take the elevator up to his floor. He was told by the elevator operator, an African American gentleman, that the elevator did not operate at that hour.  While any normal human would have just taken the stairs, Cobb's response was to physically attack the man.  He would not be told by an inferior that he could not do something he wanted to do and he began pummeling the man.  A security officer near by jumped in to help the man and things got even worse.  Cobb pulled a knife on the security officer and stabbed him several times.  Two more employees pulled Cobb off the man but he was severely injured.  Criminal charges and civil charges were filed against Cobb as the team left town. Earlier in the year he had been threatened with a lifetime ban after spiking Frank "Home Run" Baker of the A's in an ugly incident at Third Base.  In Al Stump's Biography of Cobb he wrote "in numerous ways, Cobb's 1909 season was the most brilliant yet reprehensible any player ever lived through."Despite the distraction, something his teammates were getting all too familiar with (and tired of) the Tigers went on to win the American League by 3.5 games.

Their opponent this year was the Pirates.  It was a face off of the legendary Ty Cobb vs the legendary Honus Wagner.  Neither had ever won a World Series, although the Pirates' participation in the inaugural World Series seemed ages ago at this point. Authors David Finoli and Bill Ranier did a great job of documenting the public's interest in the match up in their book When Cobb Met Wagner: The Seven-Game World Series of 1909.  It was viewed as good vs evil.  The saintly, beloved Wagner vs the hated demon Cobb.  The perception of the contrasts can be seen in the World Series promotions of the day.  Wagner is drawn as calm, smiling almost relaxed.  Cobb is pictured angry, aggressive and snarling.

On October 8 the Series opened.  Still fearing arrest in Ohio for the previous month's hotel attack, Cobb had to take train routes that would keep him out of the state.  While his Tiger teammates took a train straight into Pittsburgh Cobb traveled by connections and stop overs.  His teammates, mostly Crawford and Matty McIntyre, were furious with Cobb for the distraction.  They had been through this twice before and they wanted nothing more than to come out of this World Series a winner.  They felt the Cobb issue was just the sort of thing that could cause their superstar to lose focus on the enemy Pirates.

The Pirates surprised a lot of people by starting a young Babe Adams in Game 1.  It was the right decision.  4 Tiger errors and 8 Tigers left on base gave the Pirates a 4-1 win.  Two hit batters by Tiger pitching led to some testy feelings and set a tone for the Series.

The Tigers had been through this before.  They did not want to repeat history for a third time but the Pirates made it look easy by scoring two quick first inning runs in Game 2.  The Tigers could have accepted their fate as a three time loser.  Instead they came out swinging.  A two run double by Boss Schmidt in the 2nd inning tied the game.  Two innings later they scored three runs on 2 hits and an well as a steal of home by Cobb gave them the lead and they wouldn't look back.  They tied the series at one game each with a  7-2 win.

The series moved to Detroit for Game 3.  While the Tigers returned directly,  Cobb again had to take his roundabout trip.  The two teams faced off again on October 11.  The series was tied but the Pirates offense wasted no time in changing that.  4 Pirate hits helped by 3 Tiger errors led to a 5-0 lead for the Pirates after just a half inning.  Detroit would continue to boot the ball around and wind up with 5 errors in the game.  Meanwhile,  the Tigers continued to fight against the fear of losing another World Series.  In the 6th the Tigers grouped 5 hits and a Pirates error to plate 4 runs cutting the lead to 6-4.  The Pirates would add two more in the top of the 9th and would be glad they did. The Tigers scored a run in the bottom of the 9th cutting the lead to 8-5.  With Cobb on second, Donnie Bush on third and only one out, Crawford stepped up to the plate.  A base hit would cut the lead to one and would give the Tigers momentum.  Instead, a ground ball out scored one and moved Cobb to third.  The score was now 8-6 and Jim Delahanty was the Tigers' last hope for the day.  They needed to score Cobb from third and extend the inning.  Already with some key hits, Delahanty was someone Tigers fans would have wanted at the plate.  He made solid contact and sent a line drive to left field.  The way fielding had gone in the first three games, nothing was sure.  Cobb was tearing down the line on contact.  Delahanty was running hard out of the box hoping for extra bases.  Instead, Pirates Outfielder Fred Clarke moved over and caught the ball ending the game.  The Pirates now led the series 2 games to 1.

The series had been punctuated to this point by the poor fielding of the Tigers and the poor bat work by Cobb and Crawford.  Although he had some hits, including an RBI double in the Game 3 ninth inning rally, Cobb was  hitting only .273.  Crawford was even worse at .154.  The Tigers offense was coming from lead off man Davvy Jones, Shortstop Donnie Bush and Delahanty.  Unfortunately, Bush and Delahanty were giving away almost as many runs as they were creating with their poor fielding.  The Tigers, in their third World Series, had never led a series.  If  they were to finally win this they would need to string some post season wins together.  There was no better place to start than at home in Game 4.  George Mullin started for the Tigers.  He had suffered through arm injuries all season long but this day he either felt no pain or just ignored it, holding the Pirates to only 5 hits.  The errors that had plagued the Tigers to this point were forgotten.  The fielding woes, however, shifted to Pittsburgh.  The Pirates made 6 errors (they had more errors than hits in the game) and the Tigers scored five runs.  The series was tied again at 2 games each with three games left to play.

It was back to Pittsburgh for Game 5 and again Cobb took a round about way of getting there.  Some started to see the wear tell on Cobb's face and he seemed to be exhausted.  This series was becoming exhausting for everyone.  The longer the series went, the more tense it got.  Every run could be the one that tilted the series one way or the other.  Every error could be the one that cost a team the glory.  This group of Tigers had the extra pressure of two previous failed seasons.  The papers were filled with stories of the power of Cobb, Crawford and Delahanty.  If the Pirates hadn't learned it yet, the Tigers lead off hitter Davvy Jones was just as dangerous.  He proved it in the top of the 1st inning with a lead off home run to center field.  Despite this being in the dead center of the dead ball era, this series was high scoring.  This game would follow the trend and the Pirates erased the Tigers lead in the bottom of the first.  They would add runs in each of the next two innings but the Tigers would tie it up again with two in the 6th.  Just like the Series, this game was back and forth.  It was in the bottom of the 7th that the game changed.  With one out and two on, the Pirates struck.  Fred Clarke cleared the bases with a three run Home Run.  The Pirates would add one more before the inning ended.  The Tigers tried to fight back and when Crawford hit a Home Run, Tiger fans hoped he was finally coming out of his poor performance.  They would not get any closer and the Pirates would win Game 5 by an 8-4 score, taking a 3 games to 2 lead for the series.

Pittsburgh was now one win away from winning it all.  The Tigers were one loss away from having nothing to show for the last three seasons.  Pirates batters wanted to end this thing now and they got it started the right way with four straight hits, including a two run double from Wagner, giving them a 3 run lead before an out was recorded.  Crawford, showing signs of life, got the Tigers a run in the bottom of the inning with an RBI double.  A two run fourth tied the game again and the Pirates had a fight on their hands.  The Tigers scored two more making it 5-3 heading into the 9th inning.  If they held on they would force the first ever deciding game.  If they gave the game away, the Pirates would be World Series champions.  Tigers fans were confident entering the 9th with a lead.  The confidence was soon shaken.  Two straight singles and an error scored a run for the Pirates.  There were runners on the corners, no one out with the season in the balance.  Things looked bleak for the Tigers.  The Tigers made some defensive adjustments before the next batter, a move that would pay off.  First Baseman Jones had been severely injured on the previous play, knocked out cold to be precise, so Sam Crawford moved to first base, replacing Jones.  Catcher George Gibson stepped in to bat.  He didn't need much to tie up the game and when he made contact Tigers fans held their breath.  The ball was hit on the ground to Sam Crawford at first.  Bill Abstein tore down the line from third.  Crawford had to make a decision and it was one that could change the way this series went.  He could try to turn a double play, allowing the run to score but giving the Tigers two outs with the bases empty.  Or he could gamble and go home, hoping to beat Abstein and keep the lead.  He made a quick decision.  He threw home.  Abstein was out, the lead was in tact but the danger was still on the base paths.  The fate of the season was in the bat of Ed Abbatichio of the Pirates, pinch hitting for the pitcher.  With two strikes Abbatichio swung through a pitch.  For some reason Chief Wilson, the runner on second, broke for third.  It was a useless attempt.  He could have scored just as easily from second on a clean base hit.  Instead, he was out on a steal attempt.  Double play.  Threat over.  Game over.  Tigers' season saved...for now.

No World Series had ever gone to a seventh deciding game before. The build up around the country was tremendous.  As the teams prepared for the big game there were other events going on around the world.  President Taft accepted the resignation of the US Ambassador to China and the President of Mexico was given the key to the city in El Paso, TX.  In Tennessee, Alabama and South Carolina there were reports of entire towns being destroyed by violent storms.  27 were confirmed dead with the death toll "expected to reach 50" and more than $1 Million  worth of damage was done by the storm.  None of that mattered in the cities of Pittsburgh and Detroit. It would end today and no one knew how.

The Pirates threatened in the first but left 2 men on base.  The Tigers got a base runner in the first when Donnie Bush was hit by a pitch but he was caught stealing to end the inning.  Pirates fans worried when lead off hitter Bobby Byrne left the game.  He had been hit by a pitch to start the game.  With a 0-0 tie and everything on the line, it was no time for the backups to get in the game.  The Pirates would strike first in the second inning and it could have been much worse.  They left three men on base but scored twice.  The Tigers tried to mount a response but a walk and a double became useless when the runners were stranded.  Still, it was only 2-0 and the Tigers had fought back all series long.  The teams traded turns stranding runners in the third with the Tigers pinch hitting for their pitcher in their frame.  The Pirates' fourth inning quieted the crowd even more.  Two walks and two singles gave the Pirates 2 more runs and a 4-0 lead.  Two more stranded runners for the Tigers and the crowd groaned as the Pirates inched closer to a World Championship.  What had been billed as a battle between Wagner and Cobb was being decided by the two stars today.  In his first two at bats (taking us up to the 5th inning)  Cobb would fly out and ground back to the Pitcher.  In Wagner's first three at bats (taking us up to the 5th) Wagner had walked twice and flew out.  It was the top of the 6th that would officially decide the battle and the Series.  The frame opened with a quick out.  Tommy Leach then doubled and Fred Clarke walked bringing Wagner to the plate.  The inning could not have been more symbolic.  These three had been the Pirates core three since before the World Series era.  Now they had the chance to win the city's first World Series title.  Wagner did just that.  He sent a triple into the gap.  As Wagner neared third Crawford made a desperate throw to get an out.  It went wild and Wagner scampered home giving the Pirates a 7-0 lead.  Just as would happen in the Tigers' next appearance, 25 years later in 1934, Tigers fans would need to sit and watch as it all came apart.

The missed chances and the end of the era
The decline came quickly.  As the Tigers "almost dynasty" crumbled, Connie Mack and the Athletics climbed over the ruble and built their own real dynasty.

Crawford would play until 1917 and would continue to put up Hall of Fame numbers.  His 309 career triples are still the most all time.

Jim Delahanty, the man who had so many key hits in the 1909 series, played for the Tigers until 1912.  In 1914 and 1915 he played in the Federal League but did not return to MLB when the Federal League closed up shop.  He would forever live in the shadow of his older brother Ed.

Ty Cobb, the most famous Tiger of all, would play into the 1920's.  He would fight charges that he had conspired with Tris Speaker and Smokey Joe Wood to throw games and would forever be a polarizing figure in baseball history.  Known as one of the greatest players of all time, he was also one of the most hated players in baseball history.  Cobb would make a final desperate effort to win a World Series by signing to play for Connie Mack's Athletics.  They would not win with Cobb.  The year after he left they would go on to back to back World Series wins and a third appearance.

The Tigers' "almost dynasty" was one of missed opportunities.  No American League team had repeated as Champions.  No team had ever lost back to back (let alone three in a row) World Series before.  For decades Cubs and Red Sox fans played the "what if" game while waiting for a Championship.  The Tigers' "almost dynasty" is filled with these.  What if Cobb had played better in the first World Series.  What if Crawford and Cobb could have gotten along, how much better could they have been?  What if they had acquired someone like Delahanty a year or two earlier?  What if Cobb wasn't exhausted from traveling nearly 1400 miles in one week to get what took his team mates a fraction of the time?

While the Tigers' three straight AL Championships are nearly forgotten, what is remembered from this time is the dominance of the Cubs, Athletics and Giants.  The "what if" game is not unique to this team.  As you will see next week, the "what if" game is prominent in the decades that followed.

As mentioned in today's article, the Tigers were the first American League team to win three straight American League pennants.  Who was the first National League team to do the same?

Answer to Last Week's Trivia Question:
The American League was founded by Ban Johnson.  He served as the league president  from the start of the league through 1927.  The National League president when Landis was put into office was John Heydler.  Heydler was a long time part of the NL hierarchy.  He was a personal secretary to long time league president Harvey Pulliam.  When Pulliam committed suicide in 1909 Heydler served as a temporary president.  He took over as a full time president in 1918 and served until  1934.

1 comment:

  1. Great research on the subject. Thank you for the details in the early history of the tigers.
    I should know the trivia answer. I am guessing the Pirates.


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