From 1901 until 1906 the Detroit Tigers never finished higher than third place in the American League. Then, from 1907-1909 they treated the best baseball fans around to October baseball. Their first World Series appearance in 1907, did not go well; they were essentially swept out of the North Side of Chicago by the Cubs, losing the series 4-0-1. However, when September of 1908 rolled around, the Tigers were in a prime position to repeat as American League champs and a date with the powerful Chicago Cubs once again.
Both teams needed a late-season surge in order to capture their respective pennants. The Tigers, who were a half-game back of the Cleveland Naps as late as September 25th, rode a 10 game winning streak to the pennant, clinching by only half of a game. The Cubs faced a similar fate, falling a half a game behind the Pittsburgh Pirates as late as September 30th. They won out, clinching the National League Pennant by one game. This set the rematch of the previous year’s World Series.
Interestingly enough, many around baseball expected the Detroit Tigers to head back to the World Series. Not only that, they expected them to bring home the trophy. In a Sporting News article from September 12, 1908, former New York Highlander manager, Clark Griffith picked Detroit to win the AL pennant and World’s Championship. He said,
“Jennings has about the finest base ball [sic] team ever gathered together. To my mind, there is nothing in either league that classes with the Tigers. I believe that the – American League champions are 50 percent, stronger than a year ago. Just look at the way that bunch is hitting. Rossman is playing a rattling good game at first base, and he is hitting like a demon. And you cannot find two better clouters or all around players than COBB AND CRAWFORD.”
The Tigers proved Griffith a prophet on the pennant, but making him true on his prediction parlay would be another tall task.
Game 1: October 10, 1908
As Saturday, October 10, 1908, rolled around the Detroit Tigers made their way to Bennett Park to host the Chicago Cubs in the first game of the World Series. In front of 10,812 fans filling the seats at the Old Corner, the Tigers sent Bill Donovan to the mound to face off against Cubs righty, Ed Reulbach. The home team jumped out to a quick 1-0 lead after Ty Cobb singled home Matty McIntyre. With Killian on the mound and his career 2.38 ERA, the home team was feeling good.
However, the reliable lefty broke down in the top of the third inning surrendering three runs while only recording one out. This was the last moment Killian ever had in the World Series. By the end of the third inning, the Northsiders had taken a 4-1 lead over the hometown team, and the fans began to rustle.
It was much the same as it had been the year previously. Almost as if the 1908 Series had taken a page right out of 1907’s playbook, The Tigers gave their fans hope, only to squash those moments of joy in the later innings.
After the seventh inning the Tigers closed the gap to a score of 5-4, and by the end of the eighth inning were leading the Cubbies, 6-5. Without committing a single error — though they committed three in the entire game — the Cubs put up a five-spot on the Tigers to take the Game One victory, 10-6. The series then switched settings to Chicago’s West Side Grounds, in a very weirdly scheduled Fall Classic.
Game 2: October 11, 1908
If the fortunes were bad for the Tigers in Game One, Game Two offered little reprieve. The team was tasked with facing righty Orval Overall (not a made-up name) and his stellar 1.92 ERA. This was the same Overall who just the year before had thrown 18 innings in the Fall Classic against the Tigers and relinquished merely two earned runs. 1908 would be no different.
A pitcher’s duel erupted at West Side Grounds on the afternoon of October 11th, with both Overall and Bill Donovan of the Tigers blanking opposing hitters through seven innings. This matchup was something modern-day “pace of players” dream of, neither pitcher allowing a hit until the top of the fifth, with only one previous base runner. The game lasted all of an hour and a half.
In the end, the Cubs pushed across six runs in the bottom of the eighth inning, with Overall giving back one in the top of the ninth, as the Cubs secured their second victory of the series, halfway to repeating as Champions.
Game 3: October 12, 1908
Monday, October 12, 1908, should be a date Detroit fans have impressed on their memory. For, it is the date that the Detroit ball club won their first game in the World Series in franchise history. The Tigers jumped out to a quick 1-0 lead on a Cobb single, his first of four hits and two RBIs on the day. Though that lead wouldn’t last long.
By the end of the fourth inning, the Cubs had rallied back to score three runs, taking the 3-1 lead, on three unearned runs when the Tigers committed two errors in the inning. Tigers pitcher, George Mullin, battled, however, surviving four errors on the day, yet keeping the team in the ballgame. Eventually, the Tigers got to Cubs pitcher, Jack Pfiester for five runs in the fifth inning, tacking on two more in the eighth, and claiming their first victory in two World Series.
Now, only down two games to one, the Series was headed back to Detroit, maybe their luck would be different this time?
Game 4: October 13, 1908
The taste of victory was only meant to last so long, and for the 1908 Detroit Tigers, it faded within 24 hours. As Monday flipped to Tuesday, and Game Three changed to Game Four, the Tigers took the field at Bennett Park hoping to tie the series. Their foe this day was Mordecai Brown, and his 1.47 ERA in 312.1 innings pitched in 1908.
For all the run-scoring that the Tigers did on Monday, this Tuesday their bats were awful quiet. Brown threw a complete game shutout, only allowing the Tigers four hits in the contest. The Cubs took a three-games-to-one lead after winning the fifth game 3-0.
The Cubs were one game away from repeating as champs, while the Tigers were in danger of being first runner-up for the second consecutive year.
Game 5: October 14, 1908
Game Five of the 1908 World Series was a rematch of the Game Two pitcher’s duel and nearly followed the same script. Another crisp and quick hour and twenty-five-minute contest, the first elimination game of the Series. Unfortunately for the Detroit faithful, there would be no Game Six.
For the second time in four days, Orval Overall (again, not a made-up name) was just a little bit better than his counterpart Bill Donovan. The Cubs banged out two runs on 10 hits, while the Tigers once again were shut out, only collecting three hits.
For the second time in two years, the Cubs were World Champions. For the second time in two years, the Cubs won that Championship in front of Detroit’s fan base. These two teams would meet again in the Fall Classic over the years. However, this win on October 14, 1908, was the last time the Cubs were World Champs for 108 years.
They made the World Series a handful of times between 1908 and 1945; yet in 1945, when they squared off with the Tigers again, it would be their last World Series appearance until 2016. It was their matchup with the Tigers that led to the infamous “Curse of the Billy Goat,” but that is a story for another day.