The “Missing” Tiger of 1902

This article was written by Kevin McGraw

This article was published in 1981 Baseball Research Journal

For the past 78 years, Thomas Chalmers Fisher has been erroneously credited with pitching in one game for the Detroit Tigers in 1902, as well as the 31 games he did pitch for the Boston Beaneaters (later Braves) in 1904. However the next editions of the baseball encyclopedias will list a new entry for the actual pitcher of that 1902 game — Edward Fredrick Fisher. This is the story of how this “missing” Tiger was finally found.

I first learned of this mystery in June 1980 when a fellow SABR member, Bill Haber, gave me the following background information: On September 5, 1902, the last-place Tigers were hosting the seventh-place Baltimore Orioles. Ace Tiger pitcher Win Mercer found himself losing 10-1 after five innings and told manager Frank Dwyer that he’d had enough. A righthanded pitcher named Fisher was brought in and amazingly held the Orioles to four hits and no earned runs in his four-inning stint, although errors accounted for five more unearned runs. There was only one additional bit of information known about Fisher: He had pitched for Muskegon in the semi-pro Michigan State League, which had folded two weeks before his Tiger appearance.

Baseball records were not kept very accurately in those long-ago days, and newspaper accounts of games of that era usually carried only the surnames of players. So when these old records were eventually sorted through and put into order years later, Tom Fisher was listed as the Detroit Fisher of 1902. It seemed to make sense — Tom was a righthander, and the two seasons he was credited with making major league appearances were only two years apart, which was credible enough.

So it looked like the “missing” Tiger of 1902 was Tom Fisher. Case closed, right? Well, not quite.

You see, a longtime baseball historian named Karl Wingler had a feeling that something was wrong here. His question was simple: Why would Tom Fisher (from Anderson, Md.) go all the way to Muskegon to play semi-pro ball when there were plenty of semi-pro and even pro minor league teams much closer to home? Wingler brought this question to the attention of another historian, Ray Nemec, who related it to Bill Haber. When Haber found out I was interested in baseball research and had access to 1902 Detroit newspaper microfilms, he passed it on to me. My search for the “missing” Tiger of 1902 had begun.

Several trips to the Detroit Public Library proved to be fruit less. I carefully combed microfilms of the sports pages of both Detroit dailies, but with no luck. The Detroit Free Press account referred to him only as “Fisher from the Muskegon State League team;” the Evening News did not even mention Fisher’s four innings of work or carry the box score. To complicate matters further, the Evening News carried a column listing the “25 players who were on the Tiger payroll” in 1902. This appeared three weeks after Fisher’s solitary appearance, yet Fisher was not listed among the players!

So I now wondered: Was Fisher never signed to a contract or perhaps playing under an assumed name, or just a figment of some Free Press writer’s imagination?

And I had to wonder for a while because I found out that the Muskegon newspaper microfilms could only be found at the Michigan State Library in Lansing, 80 miles away.

Two weeks later I was finally able to drive up to Lansing and settle in for a day of viewing microfilms of the Muskegon Daily Chronicle. I began with the April 1902 newspapers, intending to work my way right through to September. The May 5 Chronicle brought me my first breakthrough. It related how “E.W. Fisher of Rapid City, Mich., a “pitcher” was one of the two latest additions to the Muskegon team of the recently established Michigan State League. This “find” also caused a lot of problems later. The middle initial turned out to be a misprint, and Rapid City proved to be only the last of several towns Fisher lived in, and not his actual hometown.

Again, the practice of referring to a player only by his surname persisted, and 88 game accounts still left me with nothing more than E.W. Fisher. The season ended early on August 20 when the league folded due to poor attendance. Four days later, the Muskegon club abandoned its short-lived plan to continue as an independent and disbanded.

A key article appeared on August 25 stating that “pitcher Fisher” would be leaving for Wayne, Mich., where he would pitch ball until October 1, when he was to enter the Detroit College of Medicine.

Nothing else appeared about the Muskegon team, except season statistics, until I came across my biggest find. The September 6 Chronicle had a story on how Eddie Fisher, the former Muskegon pitcher, was in the American League for 40 minutes when he pitched four innings against Baltimore on the previous day. Finally, I’d found that elusive first name! So at this point I knew that Eddie W. Fisher was the “missing” Tiger of 1902.

Fisher’s path ended here, however. There was no further mention of him in the Muskegon newspapers, so I had to try something else. I checked a history of Michigan universities and discovered that the Detroit College of Medicine was a predecessor of Wayne State University Medical School in Detroit.

So I drove back to Detroit and visited the Wayne State Archives the next day. Yearbooks of that time only listed names of the graduating class, and the 1906 volume, which should have been the year of Fisher’s graduation, was missing. Besides, what if he did not graduate? His path would end forever.

Luckily, Patricia Bartkowski of Wayne State came up with a copy of “Who’s Who in American Medicine, 1925.” And Dr. Edward F. Fisher was listed, along with the fact that he did indeed graduate from the Detroit College of Medicine in 1906!

Ms. Bartkowski also found Fisher’s obituary in a 1951 edition of the Detroit Medical News. In his brief biography, I found that not only was he a successful physician, but he also was very active in state politics. He had lived in nearby Dearborn, so my next stop was Dearborn City Hall. Of course, at this point, I had no positive link that this Dr. Edward F. Fisher was the same Eddie W. Fisher who had pitched for the Tigers in 1902. But it would have been a tremendous coincidence if they turned out to be two different people. Still, I had to find something stating that Dr. Fisher, whose middle initial was F. rather than W., had been a baseball player in 1902.

Dr. Fisher’s file at Dearborn City Hall contained several useful bits of biographical information, including data sheets on his life and press releases about his political accomplishments. But I still could not locate a link between Dr. Fisher and Eddie Fisher.

When I was just about to call it a day, I came across the rough draft of a finished press release I had already read. I don’t know why it was saved and filed; it was the only rough draft in the file. But God must have put it there for me, because one important line had been deleted from the finished release: “(Fisher) worked his way through medical school as a semi-professional baseball pitcher, graduating in 1906.”

Finally! The missing link I’d been searching for! Dr. Fisher had to be the “missing” Tiger of 1902, Eddie Fisher! I phoned Bill Haber with my good news, and he sent me the Hall of Fame questionnaire that is filled out by every major league player (or by his closest surviving relative).

My search for the “missing” Tiger had ended, but my hunt for one of his descendants had just started. Ironically it took me longer to locate one of his descendants than to uncover his identity in the first place. And yet, ironically again, the first descendant I was able to contact (William Frieseman, a grandson) wound up working as a foreman at the factory at the very end of my street!

After a long sequence of blind leads and unlisted phone numbers, I was finally able to meet with Mr. Frieseman. He in turn put me in touch with his sister, Coralie Schulz and their cousin, Edward Ford. All three descendants provided me with invaluable information and helped fill out the Hall of Fame questionnaire on behalf of their grandfather.

It may seem somewhat surprising that it took 78 years to uncover the fact that Edward Fredrick Fisher, not Thomas Chalmers Fisher, was the relief pitcher for the Detroit Tigers on September 5, 1902.

For most men, appearing in a major league baseball game no matter how long ago or under what circumstances — would be the highlight of their lives. But Edward Fisher went on to live such an extraordinary life that his 1902 shot in the major leagues amounted to little more than just another paycheck to him!

Fisher was born on October 31, 1876, in Wayne, Mich. Graduating from Wayne High School in 1893, he used his athletic prowess to pitch semi-pro baseball for teams in Wayne, Ypsilanti, Pontiac and Plymouth (Michigan).

In 1896 Fisher began a six-year teaching career when he took a position near Wayne. This brief career ended in the spring of 1902 when he resigned from his position of principal of Rapid City High School (near Kalkaska, Mich.).

This teaching experience netted Fisher not only a way to make a living, but a wife as well. On August 5, 1898, he married one of his former students, Cora E. Sears of Plymouth.

At some point in his teaching career, he decided he wanted to become a medical doctor. But with a financial problem staring him in the face, he had to do what countless other students have done over the years — work his way through college. However, Fisher did not have any run-of-the-mill job. Rather, he put his considerable athletic talents to work for him and put himself through medical school by pitching semi-pro ball.

From May to August of 1902, he pitched for the Muskegon club of the new Michigan State League. This led to his solitary Tiger appearance on September 5, after which he enrolled in the Detroit College of Medicine (a forerunner of Wayne State University Medical School) in October.

Over the next four years of study, Fisher spent his summers playing and managing semi-pro ball, including teams in Mount Pleasant and East Jordan. In the spring of 1906, he graduated as valedictorian of his class. Dr. Fisher began his medical practice in 1907 as a surgeon for a coal mining operation in Diamondville, Wyo.

During his six-year stay in Wyoming, he served as a member of the State Board of Health. Fisher was also elected to the Wyoming State Legislature. In addition, he found time to keep his fastball accurate, as he continued to play baseball for local teams.

In 1914, Fisher did postgraduate study in Vienna, after which he returned to Michigan, settling in Dearborn in 1915. He obtained employment as a surgeon for Henry Ford and Son, leaving in 1919 to set up a private practice in Dearborn. He was named to fill a vacancy on the Village of Dearborn Commission, eventually serving on the Village Council and as president of the Village of Dearborn.

From 1917 to 1933, he served on the West Dearborn Board of Education. He served as president for ten of these 16 years, as well as trustee and treasurer. Possessing a fine sense of humor, rather than signing his full name on his daughter’s high school diploma (as president), he simply signed “Dad.”

Fisher decided to become active in state politics in Michigan and was elected Republican representative from his district in 1928. He served as a state legislator from 1929 to 1933 and again from 1935 to 1943.

An active legislator, he was especially concerned about labor legislation and about military legislation during World War II. Other areas of vital concern to Fisher were child welfare action, conservation work, garnishment laws to protect working people, old age enactments and unemployment compensation. Fisher was a man ahead of his time as many of these measures were unheard of, or in their infancy, at the time. Throughout this period Fisher maintained his private medical practice in Dearborn.

Fisher also served three consecutive terms on the Dearborn City Council, during which time his fellow councilmen elected him chairman. The only political office that he sought and did not achieve was that of mayor of Dearborn during the early 1940s.

In January 1946 Fisher resigned from the City Council in order to accept appointment as Dearborn’s Health and Recreation Director. He held this post until he died on July 24, 1951, while visiting his son Milton in Spokane, Wash.

He was also survived by his wife and a daughter, Annette Frieseman. (His other daughter, Lolita Ford, died at a young age. Incidentally, she was married to old Henry Ford’s nephew, Burnham).

Fisher packed a lot of living into his nearly 75 years and made many friends along the way. In fact, more than 500 people attended his funeral, and the procession consisted of more than 100 cars.

So now you can see why it is not so surprising after all, that it took 78 years to uncover Fisher’s identity as the “missing” Detroit Tiger of 1902. That solitary September appearance in the major leagues wound up as “just another day’s pay” on the way to bigger and better things for Edward F. Fisher.