The Unheralded Hero of Detroit’s First Title

Mario Impemba
Mario Impemba May 24, 2018

Prior to the 1935 season, the Detroit Tigers had four cracks at winning a World Series title.  The Bengals advanced to the Fall Classic in 1907, 1908, 1909, and 1934

Yet, each time they fell short, losing to the Cubs twice and the Pirates and Cardinals once.

But in 1935 the Tigers finally prevailed.  Facing the Cubs yet again for the title, they outlasted Chicago four games to two to capture the organization’s first World Series championship.  It was a Tigers team that featured plenty of star power and plenty of clutch performances.

Tommy Bridges winning two games in the series and pitching the Tigers to a 4-3 win in the deciding sixth game.  Goose Goslin providing the game-winning hit in the clincher to touch off a wild celebration for the Detroiters.  Charlie Gehringer hitting .375 in the series.

All were critical to the Tigers winning the title.  Yet, as is customary many times in the post season, there is usually a performance from an unheralded name that plays a pivotal role.  Raise your hand if the name General Crowder rings a bell.  On a team dominated by names such as Greenberg, Cochrane and Gehringer, it’s not surprising that Crowder gets lost in the shuffle.

Born Alvin Floyd Crowder, he was nicknamed “The General” after General Enoch Crowder, the provost marshal of the U.S. Army who incidentally instituted the draft.  Crowder enlisted in the Army in 1919 and served until 1922.  He was an accomplished big leaguer in his heyday, but much of his production came in a Washington Senators and St. Louis Browns uniform from 1926 to 1933.  He won more that 20 games three times, including  a league high 26 games in 1932.

By August of 1934 though, Crowder’s best days appeared to be behind him.  He was 4-10 with the Senators and was placed on waivers.

General Crowder in 1934. (Photo: Getty Images)

The General was shipped to the Tigers for the remainder of the 1934 season via waivers.  He went 5-1 for the Tigers down the stretch.  The Bengals fell short in their quest for a World Series title that year, falling to the Cardinals in seven games.  But things would be different the following year.

It was the championship season of 1935 that Crowder made his mark in Detroit.  The General threw 241 innings for the Tigers that year and won 16 games in the regular season.  The understated Crowder would become a crucial part of the Tigers 1935 World Series squad.

Up two games to one in the series, Crowder turned in one of his best performances of the year in the pivotal Game Four.  Crowder stifled the Cubs offense throwing a complete game, allowing only five hits and one run in the Tigers tense 2-1 victory. But it wasn’t easy.  The Cubs threatened in the 9th inning, putting runners and first and second.  

Manager Mickey Cochrane made a visit to the mound to make sure Crowder had enough gas left in the tank.

Cochrane asked, “Gen, how’s the arm?  Getting tired?  Need relief help?”

“My arm ain’t tired, just let me get the next man,” Crowder barked. 

Get the next man is exactly what he did.  Crowder induced a double play ball from Cubs third baseman Stan Hack to end the game and give the Tigers a commanding 3-1 lead in the series.  The game was played in a crisp 2:28 in front of 49,350 fans at Wrigley Field.Sensing the series was theirs, Crowder’s Tigers teammates celebrated lustily in the Tigers clubhouse.  Crowder meanwhile quietly sat at his locker.

It seems that Gen was not one to revel in the moment.  When asked by reporters where this performance ranked in his career, the right-hander elicited some surprised looks when he responded, “This isn’t the biggest moment of my baseball career,” he said.  “I had that in the 1933 All-Star game here in Chicago when I pitched the middle three innings to beat the National League,” he told Free press reporter W.W. Edgar.

Say what?  An All-Star appearance was bigger than authoring a complete game win in the World Series?

What made the All-Star performance so special to Crowder is that he pitched the middle three innings sandwiched around two Hall of Famers.  Lefty Gomez started the game and Lefty Grove finished it.  

“This was just another ball game to me,” he said.  “I would say it was thrill number two.”

Crowder also chipped in with a single and run scored, but most likely that wasn’t much of a thrill for him either.The Tigers would go on to win the series in six games, the first title in the history of the franchise.  But a complete game gem by a not-quite-washed-up right-hander may have been the difference.

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