July 4, 1912: George Mullin tosses first Tigers no-hitter
An aging veteran, who had battled weight problems all season and was placed on waivers a few weeks before was an unlikely choice to hurl the Tigers’ first no-hitter. But that is what George Mullin did on his birthday, no less, as he redeemed himself and mowed down theSt. Louis Browns to make Detroit baseball history.
The Wabash Mauler was a long-time pitching star for the Tigers. In consecutive trips to the World Series in 1907 and 1908 against the Chicago Cubs, Detroit won only one game, Mullin earning that victory. He almost single-handedly led Detroit to the 1909 AL pennant, then won two games in a World Series the Tigers lost to the Pittsburgh Pirates. But by three years later his right arm and his body were showing the wear and tear of baseball.
In June 1912 the team waived Mullin and pitcher Eddie Summers, blaming them in part for the Tigers’ lackluster fifth-place standing. With the waiver request, players were in limbo and waited for a club to claim them. Reportedly, Mullin had his eye on the Cleveland team, which would keep him near his home in Toledo, Ohio.
The 1912 season had already begun to unravel for the Tigers. With the team mired well out of first place, the fans accustomed to the three straight World Series appearances a few years earlier began to show their displeasure. Star outfielder Ty Cobb was publicly critical of the fans, saying the players hadn’t quit on each other, but that the fans had quit on the team. To make matters worse, a few days later Cobb left the dugout during a game and took off his uniform, only to see his batting spot in the line-up make it up to the plate. Manager Hughie Jennings summoned Mullin, also known for his slugging, to pinch-hit for Cobb. Detroit owner Frank J. Navin was very critical of Jennings, saying the team wasn’t motivated and had lost confidence in the skipper. It was against that backdrop that Mullin returned to the team and fired the franchise’s first no-hitter.
While in waiver limbo Mullin worked out to lose weight. When no team claimed him,the Tigers activated him and returned him to the starting rotation. The Tigers won the morning game of the July 4 doubleheader against the Browns, and Mullin was the starter for the afternoon contest. It was his 32nd birthday, according to baseball-reference.com.
Sportswriters covering the game described Mullin as effectively wild. In the first inning he walked a batter and then encountered trouble in the second inning. With runners on first and second and none out, after an error and another walk, the Browns threatened to score.A sacrifice by Willie “Happy” Hogan was foiled when Mullin snared the airborne bunt and fired to Tigers first baseman George Moriarty, hoping to double off the runner. Moriarty then fired a strike to shortstop Donie Bush covering second base, as the Tigers attempted a triple play. However, the base-runner returning to first was called safe, though the runner going back to second was out, for a nifty double play. An infield popout ended the threat.
The third, fourth, and fifth innings were uneventful as the last-place Browns were set down in order. By the end of the fifth inning, the Navin Field crowd sensed that history was being made and became much louder. In the sixth inning the Browns’ Burt Shotton walked. But he was thrown out at second trying to steal and that ended any Browns’ threat. Mullin then retired the Browns in order in the seventh inning.
Earlier that spring, Mullin had told a reporter that he would be the “happiest man in baseball” if he could throw a no-hitter.1 He had come close in the 1909 season, when he tossed a one-hitter against Chicago on Opening Day,the first of 11 straight wins to open the season. In that game the only hit was a bloop single that narrowly evaded an infielder. Mullin had clearly been the ace of the staff in the team’s World Series appearances, but that was far from the club’s mind when they tried to dump him in mid-June.
In terms of mound artistry, this was not a perfect pitching performance for the hurler, but his“lack of control was an advantage rather than a defect. The big curve was just wild enough to keep the aliens guessing and hitting at bad balls,” wrote E.A. Batchelor, the Detroit Free Press sportswriter, who also doubling as the game’s official scorer.2
Between innings, Tigers trainer Archie Tuthill worked on Mullin’s arm, massaging it to keep it loose and ready for more pitches.
The final two innings saw the tenor of the game change. Until then, the Browns had not managed any good swings against Mullin. To lead off the eighth, Mullin threw Jimmy “Pepper”Austin three balls that “were too high, wide or low.”3 Then he sent two down the middle that Austin didn’t even flinch at, for called strikes. The full-count pitch was a “trifle off,” and Austin got a base on balls.4 Pinch hitting for Hogan, Pete “Bash”Compton worked Mullin into a full count. The payoff pitch was a fastball and Compton hit one hard. His blast was headed into the gap between right fielder Sam Crawford and Ty Cobb. “After a hard run” into “far” center field, Cobb caught up with the ball and out number one was recorded.5 Browns catcher Jim “Little Nemo”Stephens then followed Compton’s effort with “another tough fly” that Cobb also ran down for the second out.6 Player-manager George Stovall pinch-hit for the pitcher and got himself out to end the inning.
In the meantime, Mullin was also doing damage with his bat. He wound up with three hits in four at-bats, including an RBI double in the second inning.The Tigers scored single runs in the first three innings off rookie Willie Adams. They exploded for four runs in the eighth inning to lead 7-0, and aDetroit victory was no longer in doubt. Strolling to the mound to begin the crucial final inning, Mullin yelled, “Hey Batch,” and put up three fingers in an effort to confirm that his last at-bat had been ruled a hit and not an error.7 When Batchelor, the official scorer, nodded in agreement, Mullin took his place on the mound for the ninth inning.
The crowd sat quietly, but burst into applause as the outs were recorded. Mullin faced Shotton to begin the final inning.The Browns’ leadoff hitter was considered the fastest man in the league and some feared that any type of ground ball might wreck the no-hit bid. Mullin wasn’t even close with his pitches and the Browns speedster walked on four straight balls. Then rookie Heinie Jantzen hit a rocket to right-center field that Cobb ran down for the first out.
Next up was slugger Joe Kutina, who had hit .374 the previous summer for the Saginaw Krazy Kats of the Southern Michigan League. He was known for being inconsistent, but “hammering the ball” when he did connect.8 The first baseman put up a weak foul ball that Tigers catcher Oscar Stanage corralled in front of the grandstand for out number two. After that grab the crowd erupted like “Niagara,” Batchelor wrote.9
The Browns’ last gasp was rookie shortstop Del Pratt, who took the first two pitches outside for balls. Mullin then laid one over the plate and Pratt took a mighty cut. The ball rocketed off his bat and streaked on a line to left-center field. The Georgia Peach, as he had done twice in the eighth inning, robbed the Browns one last time that afternoon. He snagged Pratt’s drive and Mullin had the Tigers’ first no-hitter.
Mullin was far from perfect that day, walking five while striking out five. But he was good enough for the Tigers to forget about releasing him, or assigning him to the minor leagues. Wabash George, the birthday boy, was for one day, at least, again, the ace of the Tigers’ staff.
This article appeared in "Tigers By The Tale: Great Games at Michigan and Trumbull” (SABR, 2016), edited by Scott Ferkovich. To read more articles from this book, click here.
In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, Retrosheet.org was also accessed.
Detroit News Tribune
New York Times
The Sporting News
1 Ralph L. Yonker, “Mullin Has Realized the Dearest Ambition of His Baseball Life,” Detroit Times, July 5, 1912, 6.
2 E. A. Batchelor, “Maumee George is Numbered with Game’s Immortals,” Detroit Free Press, July 5, 1912, 11.
3 H.G. Salsinger, “Mullin Pitches Himself to Fame in No-Hit Game,” Detroit News, July 5, 1909, 24.