In this day in age, it’s very easy for a sports fan to get caught up in the “here and now” and to just ignore the birth of the team they show allegiance to. The birth of the Detroit Tigers came all the way back in 1901, and from that moment on the franchise has engulfed the hearts of millions upon millions of fans. Over the years, the men wearing the Old English “D” have brought us moments of euphoria, and at other times, tears and frustration. The Tigers’ storied history began on April 24th, 1901, or at least it was supposed to.
Opening Day rain only delays amazing comeback
On April 24th, the Tigers were set to host their first Opening Day in franchise history, against the Milwaukee Brewers. Unfortunately, for those looking forward to watching the Tigers play their first regular-season game at Bennett Park, which was located at the corner of Michigan and Trumbull, Mother Nature had other ideas. A heavy downpour of rain postponed the game until the following day but the Tigers would remain ready. On Thursday, April 25th, a beautiful day for baseball, Detroit, and Milwaukee were finally able to take the field on what was the first of many Opening Days in the Motor City.
For the 10,023 fans in attendance, it looked almost certain that the Tigers would drop the opener as the Brewers took a 13-4 lead into the bottom of the ninth inning. But that’s when what seemed to be impossible happened as Detroit rallied for 10 runs in the final inning, including a game-winning two-run double by Frank “Pop” Dillon to stun Milwaukee 14-13. Tigers’ fans stormed the field in celebration and some even put Dillon on their shoulders and carried him around the field.
Related: 1907: The Tigers Inaugural Trip to the Fall Classic
Hot start keeps Tigers in race (for a while)
Despite being a brand new team, the Tigers used their improbable Opening Day comeback victory to propel them to a 16-5 start, including winning five of their first eight games against the eventual American League Champion Chicago White Stockings. During the hot start, Detroit averaged just over seven runs per game and it looked like the offense would be able to get the Tigers plenty of victories during the 1901 campaign. In fact, following those first 21 games, Detroit held possession of 1st place in the American League under manager George Stallings.
After coming out of the gates on fire, the Tigers came down to earth over the remainder of the season and ended up finishing in 3rd place with a 74-61 record, 8.5 games behind the White Stockings in the American League. Despite having the smallest ballpark in Major League Baseball at the time, the Tigers drew an attendance of 259,430.
As a team, the 1901 Detroit Tigers batted .279 (9th out of 16 MLB teams) with 29 home runs (8th in MLB). The well-balanced offense was led by Kid Elberfeld who batted .308 with three home runs and 76 RBIs, Jimmy Barrett (.293, four home runs, 69 RBIs), and Ducky Holmes (.294, four home runs, 62 RBIs) just to name a few. As you can see by those home run totals, 1901 was part of what is referred to as the “dead ball” era for a good reason.
When it came to pitching, it did not take long for the Tigers to register their first 20-game winner as Roscoe Miller went 23-13 with a 2.95 ERA despite striking out only 79 hitters in a team-high 332 innings pitched. Miller was one of four Tigers’ pitchers to record double-digit wins on the season as Ed Siever (18-14), Jack Cronin (13-16), and Joe Yeager (12-11) also chipped in.
Though the 1901 Tigers had a solid showing in their inaugural campaign, they struggled mightily over the next five seasons, finishing no better than 15.5 games out of 1st place in the American League. It was not until 1907 that the team finally got over the hump as they finished in 1st place and represented the A.L. in the World Series, where the National League Champion Chicago Cubs swept them. But that is another story for another day.