Lyall Smith, sports editor of the Detroit Free Press, made a surprisingly detailed prediction early in 1954 spring training. In one of his columns, Smith “guessed” that 36-year-old outfielder Pat Mullin, the senior member of the Detroit Tigers in both age and service time, would be cut from the team and become a player-coach with the Triple-A Buffalo Bisons.1
Mullin made his debut with the Tigers late in the 1940 season,2 and the two-time American League All-Star had become “one of the most popular players in Briggs Stadium history.”3 But his playing time had dwindled over the previous five seasons and in 1953 he was used almost exclusively in a pinch-hitting role.
Mullin’s roster spot was especially precarious given the recently instituted rule that required all players who received a bonus of more than $4,000 to remain on the major-league roster for their first two seasons.4 The Tigers had three “bonus babies” in spring training, including 19-year-old outfielder Al Kaline.5 Mullin recognized Kaline’s talent, and he didn’t hesitate to praise the youngster in the press. “Kaline might be the reason I end my career with Detroit,” he admitted. “But I haven’t given up. It was tough getting here and I hope to stay for another year or so.”6
But more than two weeks before Opening Day, Detroit put Mullin on waivers.7 When no other team put in a claim, the Tigers asked him to report to Buffalo as a player-coach,8 just as Smith had predicted. Mullin took the demotion with grace. “I’m still in the Tiger family,” he reasoned. “That’s a lot.”9
A nervous Kaline approached Mullin to ask if he could have his jersey number.10 After getting it approved by manager Fred Hutchinson, Mullin agreed to give Kaline his number 6, the same number worn by the rookie’s boyhood hero, Stan Musial.11
Mullin put on a Buffalo uniform for the first time in 13 years. The Bisons, led by 37-year-old player-manager Billy Hitchcock and their new player-coach, got off to a quick start in the regular season. Buffalo was in first place on May 1 with a 5-2 record as it prepared for the rubber game of a three-game series against the Ottawa Athletics in Canada’s capital.
The once-proud Philadelphia Athletics had fallen on hard times. Their minor-league system was bereft of top prospects in 1954, and their Triple-A affiliate was particularly weak. Ottawa came into the game in seventh place in the eight-team International League with a 2-5 record.
The starting pitchers were both 26-year-old hurlers who recently had brief stints in the big leagues,12 although neither of them would ever make it back to the majors.
Southpaw Hal Hudson (1-0) got the start for the Bisons.13 In the Athletics’ home opener one week earlier, Hudson had raised his career record against Ottawa to 7-0 by giving up only two runs in 7⅔ innings of work.14
Ottawa gave the ball to Ed “Rinty” Monahan (0-0),15 who was also making his second start of the season. Monahan had earned the Opening Day start in Buffalo on April 21, only to get knocked out of the game in the second inning.16 He headed to the showers even earlier in this game.
The game’s first batter, Chick King, was retired, but it was the only out that Monahan recorded in the contest. The Bisons scored their first run on a walk, a single by Mullin, and a wild pitch. Mullin came home on a single by veteran first baseman Jack Wallaesa. Two more singles – the second coming on a bunt by Sammy Meeks − loaded the bases. With a two-run deficit and still only one out in the inning, Ottawa manager Les Bell gave Monahan the quick hook and brought in Alf Burch.17 Harry Bright greeted Burch with a double to left field, scoring two more runs. Fortunately for Burch, Meeks attempted to score from first base and was thrown out at the plate. Ottawa trailed, 4-0, after a half-inning of play.
The Bisons continued to rough up Burch in the top of the second. With two out and King on base, Mullin launched a 340-foot home run to right field, and Buffalo led, 6-0.18
Hudson didn’t allow a hit until the bottom of the third inning. After Harry Minor reached on an error, Ottawa catcher Vince Plumbo hit a long fly ball that bounced off the top of the left-field fence and back onto the playing field for a double. Mullin recovered the ball and got it back in to third baseman Meeks, who relayed the ball to the catcher Bucha, nailing Minor at the plate “by a whisker.”19 It was the closest the Athletics came to getting on the scoreboard all game.
Buffalo tacked on another run in the top of the fourth on a sacrifice fly by King.
Mullin closed out the scoring with his second home run off Burch, a solo shot in the top of the fifth that gave the Bisons a commanding 8-0 lead.
The only other hits the Athletics could manage against Hudson were a single by pinch-hitter Héctor López in the sixth and a double by Tommy Giordano in the seventh. Hudson finished with a three-hit shutout and his eighth career victory against Ottawa.
Mullin went 3-for-4 in the game with 2 homers, 3 RBIs, 3 runs scored, and an outfield assist that preserved Hudson’s shutout.
The blowout loss wasn’t out of the ordinary for the Ottawa Athletics in 1954. Even the addition of recent major leaguers Bob Trice and Luke Easter later in the season failed to improve the team’s fortunes.20 The Athletics finished dead last with a 58-96 record and, not surprisingly, attendance dropped by 37 percent.21 With a ban on Sunday baseball still in place, Triple-A baseball in Ottawa was in jeopardy.22 The team was eventually sold and moved to Columbus, Ohio, for the 1955 season,23 and it was another 39 years before Triple-A baseball returned to Ottawa.
The Bisons didn’t remain in first place for long. They were a bit thin on pitching – Hudson went 6-14 with a 4.98 ERA for the season – and the team ended up in sixth place with a 71-83 mark.
Mullin hit .289 with 7 homers and 23 RBIs in 142 at-bats for the Bisons in the first half of the season.
When Bill Norman resigned as manager of Double-A Little Rock (Arkansas) on July 8, Mullin took over as player-manager.24 The move was announced by one of Mullin’s old Tigers teammates, John McHale, who was at that point Detroit’s director of minor-league operations.25
Mullin continued in the player-manager role for the Idaho Falls Russets in the Class C Pioneer League in 1955 and for the Jamestown (New York) Falcons in the Class D PONY League the next season. On July 8, 1956 – exactly two years since Norman’s resignation − Mullin suffered a ruptured ulcer and had to undergo emergency surgery.26 The 38-year-old missed the remainder of the season,27 and the illness marked the end of his professional playing career.
He became a scout with Detroit, a position he held from 1957 until 1963.28 He also served as the manager of the Erie (Pennsylvania) Sailors in 1959 in the Class D New York-Pennsylvania League.
In June 1963 Mullin became the Tigers’ first-base coach when Chuck Dressen took over the managerial duties from Bob Scheffing.29 He remained in that role until the coaching staff was released in October 1966,30 less than two months after Dressen died of a heart attack.31
Rather than return to scouting for the Tigers, Mullin accepted an offer to be the first-base coach on Joe Adcock’s staff in Cleveland,32 which allowed him to continue to accrue service time for his pension.33 The departure ended his association with the Detroit organization after 30 seasons.
Unfortunately for Mullin, Cleveland fell to eighth place in 1967 and Adcock was fired after the season ended.34 Mullin worked as a Cleveland scout in 1968.
In the spring of 1969, he was hired as a scout by the Montreal Expos. Less than a year earlier, the Canadian expansion team had appointed someone Mullin knew well as its first general manager: McHale.35 Mullin began a successful 16-season tenure with Montreal.
In addition to being an Expos scout, Mullin was a minor-league batting instructor (1973-75, 1977-78, and 1982-84) and the major-league batting coach from 1979 until 1981, the team’s glory years.36 He was so good at curing the batting slumps of minor leaguers that he earned the “Bat Doctor” nickname.37 Mullin worked with a generation of young Expos hitters, including Hall of Famers Gary Carter, Andre Dawson, and Tim Raines.
In August 1980, two weeks after Kaline had been inducted into the Hall of Fame, Mullin was at Tiger Stadium for the retirement of Kaline’s jersey number. During the ceremony, Mullin told the crowd the story of giving up his number after getting sent down to Buffalo.38 Kaline never forgot Mullin’s classy move. “I still remember the day back in 1954 when Pat Mullin gave me No. 6,” he said.39
I spent an afternoon at the City of Ottawa Archives looking for photos of Triple-A baseball at Lansdowne Park between 1951 and 1954. (Photos of professional baseball at the park are relatively rare.) When I came upon the (undated) image that accompanies this article, it was the first time I had ever seen the baseball scoreboard at Lansdowne Park. After a bit of research, I was able to identify the game in which the photo was taken, which eventually led me to learn about Pat Mullin’s impressive 48-year career in professional baseball.
Thanks to Signe Jeppesen and Katie Hull at the City of Ottawa Archives for their assistance in obtaining photographic images from Ottawa Athletics games. Thanks also to Hope Dunbar at Buffalo State College and Michael Kicey at the University at Buffalo for their help accessing the game story in Buffalo newspapers.
This article was fact-checked by Kurt Blumenau and copy-edited by Len Levin.
In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, the author consulted Baseball-Reference.com, The Encyclopedia of Minor League Baseball, The Sporting News Baseball Player Contract Cards Collection, and Retrosheet.org. The International League standings were referenced in the Ottawa Citizen and Ottawa Journal newspapers. Unless otherwise noted, all play-by-play information for this game was taken from the article “Hudson, Mullin Star as Bisons Belt A’s, 8-0” on page 7-B of the May 2, 1954, edition of the Buffalo Courier-Express.
Photo used with permission of the City of Ottawa Archives (MG393 CA004110).
Pictured: Walter Rogers (batting), Johnny Bucha (catching), and Jack Wallaesa (first base).
1 Smith went out of his way to suggest that his prediction was only a “personal guess,” which may have indicated he had inside knowledge of the team’s plans. Lyall Smith, “As of Today,” Detroit Free Press, March 4, 1954: 22.
2 Mullin appeared in a Detroit uniform in 10 different seasons. He lost four prime years of his career (age 24 to 27 seasons in 1942-45) while serving in the military during World War II.
3 One of the reasons for Mullin’s popularity in Detroit was that he had played two seasons of semipro baseball in Flint, Michigan. Even though Mullin was a Pennsylvania native, he was considered a “home-state product” by Tigers fans. Associated Press, “Pat Mullin Named Buffalo Coach as Long Career Ends,” Washington Evening Star, March 28, 1954: C-3; Associated Press, “Pat Mullin Readopts Old Swing and Becomes Tigers’ New Terror,” Shreveport (Louisiana) Journal, July 3, 1941: 14.
6 International News Service, “Pat Mullin Is Fighting for Job in Tiger Garden,” Corsicana (Texas) Daily Sun, March 19, 1954: 8.
7 Lyall Smith, “Pat Mullin Sent to Buffalo Farm,” Detroit Free Press, March 28, 1954: 48.
9 Associated Press, “Pat Mullin Readopts Old Swing and Becomes Tigers’ New Terror.”
10 Rick Smith, “Al Kaline Still Humble,” Port Huron (Michigan) Times Herald, August 18, 1980: 8.
11 Richard L. Shook, “Kaline Idolized Musial, Williams,” Petoskey (Michigan) News-Review, August 18, 1980: 11; Smith, “Al Kaline Still Humble.”
12 Hal Hudson was 360 days older than Ed “Rinty” Monahan, but on this day both men were 26 years old.
13 Hudson compiled a 7.84 ERA in six relief appearances with the St. Louis Browns and Chicago White Sox in 1952-53.
14 Hudson pitched for the Toronto Maple Leafs during the previous three seasons. He faced the Ottawa Giants in 1951 and the Ottawa Athletics in 1952-54. Jack Kinsella, “A’s Lose Inaugural, 9-2; Buffalo Reciprocates on Opening Day Here,” Ottawa Citizen, April 26, 1954: 23; Bob Mellor, “Giordano, Taylor Pace A’s to 9-5 Triumph,” Ottawa Journal, May 1, 1954: 16.
15 Monahan compiled a 4.22 ERA in four relief appearances with the Philadelphia Athletics in 1953.
16 “Stewart Perfect at Plate When A’s Beat Buffalo, 4-2,” Ottawa Journal, April 22, 1954: 25.
17 Monahan did not survive the month of May in Ottawa. After his record dropped to 0-5, he was optioned to Savannah in the Class A South Atlantic League.
18 The fact that two were out when Mullin homered was deduced. The game story in the Buffalo Courier-Express mentioned that Jack Bucha was the final batter in the top of the first inning, so the pitcher (batting ninth) led off in the top of the second. Mullin was the number three batter in the order. The game story in the Ottawa Journal claimed that both of Mullin’s home runs were to left field, but Mullin was a left-handed dead pull hitter. The Buffalo Courier-Express stated that his first home run was a 340-foot shot to right field. It did not mention the location of his second round-tripper. Bob Mellor, “A’s Split Twin Bill for Only Weekend Win,” Ottawa Journal, May 3, 1954: 18; “Hudson, Mullin Star as Bisons Belt A’s, 8-0,” Buffalo Courier-Express, May 2, 1954: 7-B; Bradley, “Pat Mullin (1992) – Part 3.”
19 The game story in the Ottawa Citizen made it sound as though Mullin threw directly home. The Buffalo Courier-Express mentioned “Meeks’ sharp relay.” Jack Kinsella, “A’s Split One Game; Split Twin Bill with Royals,” Ottawa Citizen, May 3, 1954: 21; “Hudson, Mullin Star as Bisons Belt A’s, 8-0.”
20 Easter was on Ottawa’s roster from mid-May until mid-July. He hit .348 with 15 homers and 48 RBIs before finishing the season with San Diego in the Pacific Coast League. Trice requested a return to Ottawa on July 11 after pitching the first half of the season with the Philadelphia Athletics. He spent the remainder of the season in Ottawa, going 4-8 with a 3.23 ERA. “Luke Heads Here, A’s – Leafs 2 Today,” Ottawa Citizen, May 14, 1954: 23; “Luke Easter Washed Up with Ottawa A’s,” Ottawa Journal, July 15, 1954: 1; Gary Belleville, “September 13, 1953: Bob Trice becomes first Black player on Philadelphia A’s,” SABR Games Project, https://sabr.org/gamesproj/game/september-13-1953-bob-trice-becomes-the-first-black-player-on-a-philadelphia-al-or-nl-team/, accessed March 17, 2022.
21 According to The Encyclopedia of Minor League Baseball, attendance in Ottawa fell from a respectable 149,219 in 1953 to only 93,982 in 1954. Poor weather that spring and summer was also a factor. Jack Koffman, “Ottawa Fans Plan Petition to End Sabbath Blue Law,” The Sporting News, September 1, 1954: 28.
22 Koffman, “Ottawa Fans Plan Petition to End Sabbath Blue Law.”
23 Brad Willson, “Columbus, Dropped by A.A., Rebounds as Member of Int,” The Sporting News, January 12, 1955: 23.
24 Associated Press, “Norman Quits as Trav Pilot; Club Is Sagging,” Memphis Commercial Appeal, July 9, 1954: 31.
25 Associated Press, “Pat Mullin Named Little Rock Manager,” Allentown (Pennsylvania) Sunday Call-Chronicle, July 11, 1954: 38.
26 “Pat Mullin in Hospital,” Pittsburgh Sun-Telegraph, July 10, 1956: 19.
27 Associated Press, “Pony League Has 2 New Managers,” Kingston (New York) Daily Freeman, July 18, 1956: 20.
28 Mullin signed several future big-leaguers for Detroit, including Gates Brown, who was scouted while he was in prison. Dave Gagnon, “Gates Brown,” SABR BioProject, https://sabr.org/bioproj/person/gates-brown/, accessed March 18, 2022; Brent Kelley, “Pat Mullin (1990) – Part 1,” SABR Oral History Collection, https://sabr.org/interview/pat-mullin-1990/, accessed March 18 2022.
29 “New Coaches Ex-Tigers,” Detroit Free Press, June 19, 1963: 29.
30 George Cantor, “What Mayo Smith Thinks of His Tigers,” Detroit Free Press, October 4, 1966: 37.
32 “Change of Scene,” Detroit Free Press, October 26, 1966: 41.
33 Bradley, “Pat Mullin (1992) – Part 3.”
34 United Press International, “Indians Fire Adcock, Hire Alvin Dark,” Greenville (Ohio) Daily Advocate, October 2, 1967: 6.
36 Mullin’s final major-league game in uniform was on Monday, October 19, 1981 − Game Five of the National League Championship Series in Montreal. Needing a win to reach the World Series for the first time in franchise history, the Expos lost to the Los Angeles Dodgers, 2-1, on a ninth-inning home run by Rick Monday. The game became known to heartbroken Expos fans as “Blue Monday.”
37 Chuck Otterson, “All Expos’ Hertzler Needed Was Bat Treatment,” Palm Beach (Florida) Post, June 1, 1983: 51.
38 “Al Kaline Number Retirement,” Facebook, https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=3637915862907289, accessed March 17, 2022.
39 Associated Press, “Detroit Honors Al Kaline,” Greenfield (Massachusetts) Recorder, August 18, 1980: B3.
Buffalo Bisons 8
Ottawa Athletics 0
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