Ed Summers’ name is rarely mentioned among great hurlers in Tigers history. Verlander, Newhouser, and Lolich? Sure. But Summers never gets a mention.
Perhaps the fact that he pitched for the Detroiters long ago in the early 1900’s is one reason why. Or maybe it’s because he pitched for only five seasons in the Old English D.
Either way, Summers made his mark in Detroit lore early in his career in his first season as a Tiger in 1908. At the age of 23, Summers was the youngest member of a starting staff that included five double-digit winners.
The Tigers rotation that year consisted of Summers, George Mullin (17-13 3.10), Bill Donovan (18-7 2.08), Ed Willet (15-8 2.28) and the lone left-hander Ed Killian (12-9 2.99).
At 24-12 with an ERA of 1.64, Summers was clearly the staff ace. He threw over 300 innings that year. While 300 innings these days seems mostly unattainable, it’s no surprise Summers reached the plateau considering what he accomplished on July 16, 1909. On a Friday afternoon, with Summers on the mound at Bennett Park, the Detroit Tigers and Washington Senators played 18 innings and the Tigers did not go to the bullpen once. The following day, the Detroit Free Press headline on page one trumpeted: “All Records Broken For Scoreless Play,” and “Summers Pitches Complete Route.”
Summers pitched an incredible 18 innings of scoreless baseball against the Senators in a game that ended in a 0-0 tie.
Before you wonder how a major league pitcher could turn in a super-human effort of 18 innings and still have his arm attached to his body, you need to know that Summers was primarily a knuckleballer.
He threw mostly with his right hand, but could also pitch with his left. He was known as the inventor of the “fingertip” knuckleball. Pitchers in his era typically threw the pitch with their knuckles against the ball. Summers threw his with his fingernails.
Known as Kickapoo Ed, for his Native American Kickapoo ancestry, Summers was appreciated for his durability. A year earlier he pitched both ends of a doubleheader against the Cleveland Naps throwing complete games in each. He won the second game 1-0, throwing 10 shutout innings. Yet it was his 18-inning masterpiece that defined his 1909 season. Summers stuck out 10 that day and allowed only seven hits over the 18-inning affair.
In the last five innings, only three Washington hitters reached first base, two on errors.
The Tigers managed only six hits that day and had several chances to win the game. In the ninth inning, the Tigers had Matty McIntyre at third base with one out and Ty Cobb at the plate. Cobb hit a chopper back to the mound and McIntyre tried to score from third but was thrown out at the plate.
Again in the fifteenth inning, the Tigers had a runner at third with one out but failed to score, with Cobb striking out for the third out. In a year in which Cobb would hit .377 and win the batting title, he finished 0-7 on the day.
The Senators incidentally used only two pitchers. Starter Dolly Gray pitched the first eight innings while Bob Groom “mopped up” for the final ten innings.
As the 18th inning concluded, umpire John Kerin halted play with dusk settling in. The Free Press reported that the two teams could have possibly played one or perhaps two more innings, but Kerin decided the game had come to an end.
Stunningly, the time of the game was only 3:15. Stunning perhaps only by today’s standards.
Incidentally, Kerin would umpire only 266 games in his career, but none probably matched the events of July 16, 1909.
Summers meanwhile would pitch through the 1912 season with the Tigers before his career ended at the age of 27 because of debilitating rheumatism which plagued him throughout his career. He often wrapped his arms and legs to alleviate the pain.
Summers still owns the Tigers single-season rookie records in several categories, including ERA (1.64), wins (24) and shutouts (5).