Detroit’s Dazzling Debut

This article was written by Gordon Hurlburt

This article was published in the 1980 Baseball Research Journal


The very first game played by a new franchise is always an exciting event in baseball. By its very nature, it has the charm of opening day, multiplied many times, for this is not only the start of a new season, but a whole succession of seasons stretching into the future. The fans who flock to that first game, as well as those who wish they could attend, are full of dreams of possible glory for the team in years ahead, and that certainly enhances the carnival-type atmosphere that already is evident at the ballpark.

When game-time arrives, some significant ceremonies may be performed, some local dignitary may throw out the first ball, and then the customers settle back for what nearly always proves to be a routine game of baseball, with the final score a very ordinary 5-3, or 6-4, let us say. It is the mystique of that first game in its historical setting which makes it something special.

There was one opener, however, which was far out of the ordinary. Not only did it have that historical value of being the “first game” of the participating teams, but the home team put on a marvelous display of the anything-can-happen, it’s not-over-till-the-last-man’s-out excitement which makes baseball the great sport it is. This game seems to have been largely forgotten in the passage of years, and I feel it is deserving of a special place as one of baseball’s memorable moments.

The setting was Detroit, Michigan, and the date was April 25, 1901. The American League had officially “arrived” that year, though it had existed in different form for a few years before that. First it was the Western League, a minor league; then, in 1900, it invaded Cleveland (recently deserted by the National League) and Chicago, where it directly competed with the senior circuit. It also changed its name to the American League, though it was still not a major circuit. Now, in 1901, it had invaded two more established NL cities, Boston and Philadelphia, as well as Baltimore and Washington, which had been dropped when the Senior Circuit was reduced to eight clubs after 1899.

Detroit had been in the Western League since its beginning, and was not ready to do battle as a major league club. In 1900, they were led to a fourth-place finish, with a 71-67 record, by George Stallings. He had seen very little action as a player, but had managed Philadelphia teams in the late 1 890s to eighth and tenth place finishes. Later, of course, he would win fame undying for leading the “Miracle Braves” of 1914 to their exciting championship.

Stallings, 33 years old, continued to lead the team, and he kept several of his regulars from the year before including first-baseman “Pop” Dillon, shortstop “Kid” Elberfeld, third-baseman Doc Casey, and outfielder “Ducky” Holmes. In addition, Roscoe Miller was the only one of three 19-game winners for the 1900 club to stay on in this new season. This made him a logical choice to start the opening game for the new-look Tigers. Filling out the inaugural lineup were outfielders Jimmy Barrett and “Doc” Nance, second-baseman “Kid” Gleason, and German-born catcher Fritz Buelow. Buelow, at 25, and Miller, 24, were the youngest in the lineup. Except for Gleason, most had only had limited major league experience. Gleason, the oldest player at 34, had broken in back in 1888 and had seen service with 4 NL teams, including a brief stay with the famous, dashing champions from Baltimore. Gleason would later achieve a certain renown as the pilot of the White/Black Sox of 1919 in his first year as a field leader.

With a lineup like this, Detroit might not quite be a match for the defending champion Chicago White Stockings, but at least it could be hoped the team would be good enough for a respectable finish. The day before our game, those same White Stockings had played the very first major league game in the AL and had shown their championship form by defeating Cleveland by an 8-2 score. Detroit’s opponent would be the Milwaukee Brewers, who would be in the AL only one year before being replaced by the St. Louis Browns. Some 8,000 fans crowded into the stands to see what would happen to their club, which would launch a career that would soon include many exciting years with the great Ty Cobb and later on Hank Greenberg, Al Kaline and other stars who would wear the Tiger uniform. Along the way, there would be a fair sprinkling of pennants and other near-misses — but let’s get back to April 25, 1901.

The early stages of the game belonged to Milwaukee, managed by outfielder Hugh Duffy. After three innings, Brewer batters had piled up seven runs, while their starting pitcher, veteran “Pink” Hawley, held Detroit scoreless. At this point, it was obvious that Roscoe Miller didn’t have the form which would help him win 23 games in 1901. So he was relieved by righthander Emil Frisk, who held Milwaukee at bay through the middle innings. In those frames, Detroit managed to pick up three runs, but Milwaukee got them back in the seventh and added three more for good measure in the eighth. Hawley, meanwhile, had been relieved by lefthander Pete Dowling in the seventh and he seemed to be just as effective as the former in containing the Tigers.

The stage was now set for the dramatic ninth inning. Milwaukee had a big 13-4 lead as the home team came to bat in that last frame. Perhaps many fans were ready to concede this as a lost cause — just a few more minutes and it would be all over, and the Tigers could try again tomorrow to get into the winning column. But baseball, unlike most other team sports, is blissfully unattached to the clock, and the half-inning would actually take a half-hour to play.

The top of the batting order began things, with Casey “at the bat.” He hit a double, riding home on Barrett’s single. Gleason and Holmes also got on board, with another run scoring. It was now 13-6, and Dillon then made things a little closer with a two-run double, followed by Elberfeld with another RBI double. With the score now 13-9 and nobody out for Detroit, Pete Dowling was relieved by 23-year-old righthander Bert Husting for the Brewers. Husting retired Nance, the first batter he faced, and it looked like he might get his team out of trouble. But Buelow walked, and the pitcher Frisk got a hit to score another run and bring the tying run to the plate. Casey then came up for the second time and got his second hit of the inning, this one a run-scoring single. The score was now 13-11, with two runners on the basepaths. Bearing down, Husting then struck out Barrett for the second out.

Then came the play which really turned the game around: Gleason bit a grounder to Milwaukee third-baseman Jimmy Burke for what should have been the final out. Instead, Burke fumbled it for an error, and the potential winning run was on first. Holmes brought one of the runners home, and then Dillon came up for the second time and hit his second double of the inning and fourth of the game, bringing in the tying and winning runs as the fans went wild. Detroit had done the near-impossible, overcoming a nine-run lead with ten runs in the ninth to win; and they bad certainly chosen an auspicious time to put on such a display. There have been other come-from-behind rallies in baseball, some from even further behind than this; but never has such a rally been staged in the ninth inning — and certainly never in a team’s very first game of championship play!

Following is the box-score of this magnificent contest:

 

DETROIT

R

BH

E

 

MILWAUKEE

R

BH

E

Casey, 3b

3

2

0

 

Waldron, rf

1

0

0

Barrett, cf

1

1

0

 

Gilbert, 2b

1

3

0

Gleason, 2b

1

3

1

 

Hallinan, lf

1

0

1

Holmes, rf

3

2

1

 

Anderson, 1b

1

2

0

Dillon, 1b

3

4

1

 

Conroy, ss

4

4

1

Elberfeld, ss

1

2

3

 

Duffy, cf

2

1

0

Nance, lf

0

1

1

 

Burke, 3b

2

3

2

Buelow, c

1

1

0

 

Leahy, c

1

1

0

Miller, p

0

0

0

 

Hawley, p

0

1

0

Frisk, p

1

3

0

 

Dowling, p

0

1

0

 

14

19

7

 

Husting, p

0

0

0

           

13

16

4

2-base hits: Dillon (4), Eiberfeld (2), Gleason, Casey, Holmes. Sac. Hits: Hailman, Leahy. Stolen Bases: Casey, Gleason, Anderson. Hits: off Miller, Gin 3 innings; off Frisk, lOin 6 innings; off Hawley, 5 in 6 innings; off Dowling, l0 in 2 1/3 innings; off Husting, 4 in 1/3 inning. Bases on Balls: off Miller I, Frisk 3, Hawley 1, Dowling 1, Husting1. Struck out: by Frisk 2, Dowling 3, Husting 1. Passed Ball: Leahy. Wild Pitches: Dowling 2, Frisk. Time: 2 hr. 35 mm. Umpires: Sheridan, Manasseau. Attendance: 8,000.

MILWAUKEE…………. 0 2 5 0 0 0   33 0  — 13
DETROIT…………………0 0 0   2 1 0   00 10 — 14

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