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Tuesday, October 20, 2020

1907: Detroit Tigers inaugural appearance in the Fall Classic

When the American League was formed in 1901, Major League Baseball came to Detroit. As a charter member of the league, the Detroit Tigers went for six years without finishing above third place in the eight-team league; never once finishing closer than eight-and-a-half games out of first. In those first six years, the Tigers’ average attendance hovered around 203,107. Only in 1901 did they rank in the top half of the league in attendance, most years never rising higher than sixth. 

Then came 1907. 

The Detroit Tigers of 1907 boasted names like twenty-year-old Ty Cobb and wily veteran “Wahoo” Sam Crawford patrolling the outfield while Ed Killian and George Mullen set the tone on the mound. According to Baseball-Reference, the Tigers spent the first half of the season treading water. On July 17th the Tigers dropped a game to the Washington Senators 13-2, placing them 7.5 games back of first place, and sitting at 42-32 on the year. Over the next 76 games, they won 50 of them (.658 winning percentage), to finish the year 92-58, and in first place for the first time in club history. 

Back and forth the boys wearing the Old English D went with the previous year’s AL champion, the Philadelphia Athletics. For how well they played in the latter part of the season, as late as September 15th they remained three games back, with only 18 games left to play. Nine days later they took over first place, never to relinquish it again; capturing the first American League Pennant in club history and earning the team’s first trip the World Series against the Chicago Cubs. They finished the year with a total attendance of 297, 079.

The matchup with Chicago would not be the easiest mountain to summit. If they were going to win the club’s first World Series, they were going to have to earn it. These Tigers were meeting a buzz saw in the form of the Cubs, winners of consecutive National League Pennants (1906-1908), and eventual two time World Series Champs (1907-1908). To put his into perspective, the year prior, in 1906, the Cubs won 116 games, which FiveThirtyEight ranks as the second greatest team in baseball history, according to Elo ratings — and much of their roster was the same in 1907.  

The Tigers faced four pitchers in the entire series — that is not a typo. These pitchers in the 1907 regular season combined for a total ERA of 1.45. In the series against Detroit, they allowed a total of four earned runs in 48 innings pitched, for a whopping 0.75 ERA.

In the first game atWest Side Grounds the boys from Detroit took a late lead, when Sam Crawford singled to rightfield, scoring two runs, pushing Detroit’s win probability from 40% to 83%. Crawford then advanced to third on an error by third baseman, Harry Steinfeld, eventually coming in to score. The 3-1 lead for the Tigers lasted one inning, and it was the last time they would score more than one run in any of the remaining games.

The Cubs eventually tied Game One in the bottom of the ninth on a couple of errors made by the Tigers defensively. Both teams remained tied through 12 innings and the game was eventually called for darkness, becoming the first World Series game to end in a tie since the two leagues decided to host the event annually. 

The momentum the Tigers found in that eighth inning of Game One was never truly replicated in the following games. In Game Two they lost 3-1, scoring in the second inning but then goose egging the last seven. Game Three was a 5-1 blowout taking an 0-2 deficit with them back to Detroit and Bennett Park. 

The inaugural World Series game hosted at the hallowed corner of Michigan and Trumbull left much to be desired for Detroit and their eager fans. Their team jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the fourth inning when Claude Rossman singled home Ty Cobb. In the next half-inning, the Cubs took a 2-1 lead and never looked back. The home team finished with just the one run on five hits, falling behind three games to none, 6-1. 

On October 12, 1907, fans filled into Bennett Park hoping their Tigers could take one game of the Series. On this day, however, that was not to be. The good guys were blanked by Mordecai Brown, 2-0, handing the Chicago Cubs their first World Series Championship in their 31-year history. 

The story of the 1907 World Series was pitching. The Cubs four pitchers surrendered six runs (four earned) in 48 innings, while the Tigers hurlers allowed 19 runs (11 earned) in 46 innings pitched. The Cubs pitching held the great Ty Cobb to a mere .200 (4-20), allowing him to only score one run — and what’s more impressive, not a single stolen base for the Georgia Peach. One of the offensive performances that stood out was Claude Rossman, who hit .450 (9-20), a triple, two RBIs, and a walk. Davy Jones, the Tigers left fielder, was the only other Tiger position player to hit over .300. 

In the seventh year of their existence, the Detroit Tiger had reached the Promised Land, only to come up short. In 1908 they would return many of the same faces to their lineup and fans were starting to take notice. In 1907, they welcomed 297,079 fans through the gates at Bennett Park. In 1908 that number shot up over 450,000. Baseball was alive and well in Detroit and we haven’t looked back since.

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