March 21, 2023

April 25, 1901–Tigers 14, Brewers 13; Biggest Comeback Ever or Biggest Collapse Ever?

April 25, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

It was 113 years ago today that the Detroit Tigers staged the biggest ninth inning come from behind victory engineered in baseball. It still stands.

The American League 1901 season was scheduled to open in Detroit on Wednesday, April 24, but intense rains just prior to game time prevented this. To make amends for this on Thursday, April 25, the “clerk of weather placed on his book a brilliant clear sky of the most deeply serene, in which the sun flushed in midsummer splendor, temperate that was just the right degree for the comfort of the big crowd of people closely pressed together in the grandstand, and on the bleachers, without being too cold for the players, and just breeze enough to make the air pure and invigorating. It was a day to make a well man glad to be alive, and a sick man feel the tingle of returning health.”

The largest crowd to date to attend a baseball game in Detroit—10,023—gathered at Bennett Park to see the hometown Tigers take on the visiting Milwaukee Brewers for the season opener. There were the usual opening day pre-game festivities. A street parade, that included a band, a dozen or more carriages carrying city officials, members of the Elks club and the players from both teams, and even some automobiles, made its way from the Russell House to the ballpark. By the time the parade arrived at Bennett Park, a large crowd had exceeded the seating capacity of the bleachers and fans were beginning to spill into the outfield. By the time the game started there was a complete ring of standing and sitting spectators in the outfield. This ring of fans in the outfield would have a definite effect on the outcome of the game. Ground rules calling for a double when a ball was hit into the overflow crowd were put into effect.

The visiting Brewers went onto the field first, receiving a nice reception. The Tigers, in their red coats, then lined up, marched a few steps toward the grandstand and removed their caps in a salute to the Detroit fans. The fans responded with a great cheer for the local heroes.

After the two teams took their warm ups “Oom Paul”, the Detroit club’s mascot dog, was brought out and placed on home plate. The teams lined up around the plate and ex-Judge Byron S. Waite, on the part of the management, extended a hearty welcome to the patrons. He was then called upon to make a speech and present a magnificent loving cup to Tiger owner James Burns and manager George Stallings by their brother Elks.

Elk's Cup

Elk’s Cup

In the absence of Mayor William Maybury, Jacob J. Haarer, president of the common council, formally opened the season by pitching the first ball to Charlie Bennett, the beloved old Detroit catcher.

The band struck up—which would turn out to be appropriate—“There’ll be a Hot Time in the Old Town to-night”, and the game started. Brewer lead off hitter Irv Waldron hit a grounder to Kid Elberfeld at shortstop, who “made a gorgeous fumble,” putting Waldron on first base. Billy Gilbert followed with a base hit and Bill Hallman sacrificed the runners up a base. John Anderson hit a grounder to third base, and Doc Casey cut down Waldron at the plate. Anderson and Gilbert attempted a double steal, but Elberfeld’s return throw to catcher Fred Buelow caught Gilbert for the third out.

The first Tiger to come up in the bottom of the inning was Jim “Doc” Casey. Wearing his new attractive uniform, that included a little red tiger on the front of the cap, the Detroit captain received a huge basket of flowers from the Elks when he arrived at the batter’s box. After making a bow in appreciation, he grounded out to the pitcher. The Tigers collected one hit and a stolen base, but could not score in the inning.

Brewer shortstop Wid Conroy started off the second inning with a single. He went to third on Hugh Duffy’s out, but first baseman Frank Dillon made a bad throw to third in an attempt to put out Conroy, who had wandered off the base, and Wid scored the first run of the game. With two outs Brewer catcher Tom Leahy reached second base on a wild throw by Elberfeld, and then scored as Tiger leftfielder Ducky Holmes’ muffed a fly ball from Pink Hawley’s bat—made difficult as Holmes had to go up to the overflow crowd in the outfield. After another Elberfeld error, the Brewers were retired with two runs crossing the plate. The four Detroit errors made it look to the Detroit Tribune reporter that the Tigers were hypnotized or suffering from an attack of stage fright. In any case they were playing “wretched ball.” The Tigers did nothing in their half of the second inning.

The third inning saw the visitors score five runs on an error, four hits, a walk and a sacrifice. This was the end for starting pitcher Roscoe Miller, who was replaced by Emil Frisk during the inning. Miller, who had been sick for a week and was not in the best of condition, had certainly not pitched well, but his defense had also let him down.

The Tigers again could not score in the bottom of the third frame. The defensive play of the game was made by Jimmy Burke in this inning, the Brewer captain stopping Fred Buelow’s scorching grounder to third, then throwing him out at first. After three innings the score stood at 7 to 0.

Detroit shut down the Brewers run scoring machine in the fourth inning, helped by pitcher Emil Frisk knocking down a terrific liner off the bat of Bill Hallman that Doc Casey picked up and threw to first in time to retire the runner. The Tigers scored their first run in their portion of the inning on an error, followed by a ground rule double into the crowd by Frank Dillon. Kid Elberfeld then knocked in run number two, scoring Dillon with another ground rule double. The home team added another run in the fifth when Casey scored on a Kid Gleason double.

After six innings the score stood 7 to 3. In the seventh inning Milwaukee lengthened its lead by scoring three runs after two men were out with two successive doubles and a single.

At this point manager Hugh Duffy evidently thought he had the game in hand and took out his veteran pitcher, Pink Hawley, replacing him with Pete Dowling. Hawley had been pitching well, having given up only five hits and walking one in his six innings on the mound. Duffy was playing good odds bringing Dowling in to pitch, as the 24-year old left hander had been “Detroit’s jonah all last season,” according to the Detroit Free Press. Dowling breezed through the seventh inning, the only Tiger base runner resulting from a base on balls.

Pete Dowling

Pete Dowling

The Brewers continued to score in the eighth inning, pushing three more runs across the plate on two walks, three hits and a wild throw. The Tigers, down 13 to 3, seemed to be hopelessly out of the game. However, they came alive a bit in the bottom of the eighth, as Dowling gave up four hits
and one run—Frank Dillon having another ground rule double and then scoring the run. Pitcher Frisk being caught napping while leading off at first base saved Pete from a potentially disastrous inning.

The Brewers went down one-two-three in the top of the ninth inning.

With the score 13 to 4, and the Tigers playing in poor form, a number of the ten thousand spectators had left the grounds. Doc Casey, the first man up in the ninth, led off with a drive into the overflow crowd for a ground rule double. Jimmy Barrett followed by beating out a slow grounder down to third baseman Jimmy Burke. Kid Gleason then singled to center, scoring Casey. The crowd came alive, “and the tremendous shouts that were sent up evidently unnerved Pitcher Dowling. As each hit went out a mighty cheer went up that was enough to make most any one lose his nerve.” Ducky Holmes followed Gleason with a two-bagger, scoring Barrett. Dillon hit yet another ground rule double, scoring Gleason and Holmes. Elberfeld poked out a double to right field, pushing Dillon across the plate. Five runs had now scored.

Creams’ manager Hugh Duffy was feeling uneasy about what was happening. He came in from his centerfield position and replaced Pete Dowling with Berthold Juneau “Pete” Husting. Husting, who was not warmed up, started in by uncorking a wild pitch, but retired Kid Nance on a grounder to shortstop Conroy.

The crowd in the field pressed closer toward the diamond. Duffy protested to the umpires that the crowd had encroached too far into the playing field, and umpire Sheridan ordered the fans back. According to the Free Press the game was delayed a few minutes as the Detroit players “ran out to push back the throng in order to afford the Milwaukee outfielders a chance to chase some of the terrific drives that were being sent out.” However, the crowd—especially in right field and left field—almost immediately crowded up again on the fielders. [At least one newspaper reported this pushing the crowd back occurred seven batters later, i.e. before Dillon came to bat.] Although this delay gave Husting a chance to warm up his arm, he walked the next batter, Frank Buelow. Pitcher Emil Frisk followed with a single to left, scoring Kid Elberfeld.

At this stage of the game “hats were being thrown in the air, coats were flying and everyone was yelling themselves hoarse. One man in the bleachers threw up his coat and when it came down it was in two sections, but he didn’t care so long as Detroit was hitting the ball, and the chances are that he forgot he ever had a coat.”

Doc Casey was next up and beat out a bunt down the third base line—sliding safely into first base head first. With the bases loaded Jimmy Barrett came to bat, but he failed to come through, being called out on strikes. Kid Gleason then batted again and rapped a hard shot to Jimmy Burke at third base. But Burke fumbled the ball and the game continued. Buelow scored on the misplay and now only two more runs were needed to tie. Another run was scored by Frisk when Holmes hit a slow roller to Burke that he could not get an out on.

It was now up to Frank Dillon. The big first baseman already had three ground rule doubles on the day. With a two ball, two strike count Dillon drove a pitch down the foul line and far over left fielder Hallman’s head into the crowd, while Casey and Gleason raced home with the winning runs.

Frank Dillon

Frank Dillon

With Dillon’s hit pandemonium broke loose at Bennett Park. The crowd surged out onto the field, and everybody wanted to pat the hero on the back. The Tiger first sacker was almost torn to pieces by the fans, and a “dozen crazy fans picked him up and carried him about the diamond on their shoulders, while everybody assured his neighbor that he had never in his life seen anything so wonderful.”

The Detroit Tribune wrote of the scene inside the park:

The celebrated washer lady with the superhuman voice, of which it was said:
“The scream that she screams
Cracked heaven’s blue dome,
And bulged out the walls of the house”

could not have been heard a distance of three paces yesterday afternoon at Bennett Park when the winning run came in for the Detroit base ball nine in the last half of the ninth inning. The riotously jubilant vocalization of 10,000 throats let loose in one simultaneous sub-aerial explosion, made the old earth’s enveloping atmosphere heave and billow clear to its surface 50 miles away, and no doubt it is tumultuous yet.

The Detroit Journal closed its inning summary with the sentence: “Ten thousand people had seen the greatest batting rally in the history of professional baseball.” And 113 years later, it is still the biggest comeback in the 9th inning to win a game in major league baseball.

Back in Milwaukee those following the game by wire were astounded. Brewer secretary Fred C. Gross was in the process of preparing a telegram telling of the team’s victory to club president Matthew Killilea—in Arizona for health reasons. Before Gross could send the telegram off he received a phone call telling him the Tigers had won the game. Gross told the caller there had to be a mistake, as Detroit would have had to score ten runs to beat his Brewers. When told this was exactly what happened, Gross replied: “My goodness, but this is terrible. Why the men must have all fallen dead, otherwise the Detroit team could not have made ten runs. Are you sure it is right? I cannot believe it until I get a message from Duffy telling me it is so. No, I cannot believe it.” When assured the score was correct, the secretary of the Milwaukee club was apparently still in some state of denial: “Then I suppose I will have to get some more men, for they all must be injured for a team to make ten runs in one inning off them. I will wire Duffy to take care of the men until they recover. It is simply amazing to think how the Detroits must have won out. But I will have to get a full report about how it was done.” There is no report on what Gross did write in his telegram to his boss in Arizona.

Some in Milwaukee talked of a protest because of the interference of the crowd, but the Evening Wisconsin was philosophical about it all: “It was indeed hard for Duffy to lose a game in that manner, but such is baseball and will ever be that way. It only goes to prove once more that baseball is the one sport that is absolutely honest in every line of playing.”

After 113 years can one objectively decide if this Detroit victory was a great Tiger comeback, or a case of a Brewer collapse? Reviewing the above, I would have to say the win was more of a Tiger comeback than a Brewer collapse.

Brewer manager Hugh Duffy decided to pull Pink Hawley from the game in order to save his best pitcher to start another game against the Tigers. Hawley had also been hit hard in the sixth inning. Frank Dillon had hit a very hard shot down the third base line, only a “phenomenal catch” by third baseman Bill Hallman prevented Dillon’s fifth double of the afternoon. Frank Buelow had also hit a long fly to center that Duffy pulled down.

Duffy had good cause to go with Pete Dowling after taking Hawley out. The lefty had pitched well against Detroit the previous year, winning four games (including two shut outs) while losing two.

In the ninth inning the Tigers scored 10 runs on 10 hits and a walk, the Brewers only committed one error. Although a number of these hits were into a hometown crowd standing in the outfield, this could be seen as a team taking advantage of a game situation. The Detroit Tribune thought most of the balls hit into the crowd had been hit hard enough that they would have been triples or even home runs without the overflow crowd limiting them to doubles. However, the Detroit Journal wrote “candor compels the acknowledgment that but for this [overflow crowd] victory would have been impossible for the Tigers.” As can be expected the Milwaukee newspapers were of the opinion the balls hit into left field would have been easy outs or only singles if the crowd had not closed in on Hallman.

The Tigers were a hot ball club, going on to sweep the Brewers in this opening four game stand. However, all four victories were late come from behind wins—the Tigers taking the next three games 6 to 5, (again winning in the 9th inning, scoring two runs), 13 to 9 (scoring five runs in the eighth), and 12 to 11, (scoring three runs in the eighth inning and four in the ninth). This no doubt also said something about the Brewer pitchers holding a lead.

The Tigers went on to have a 74 and 61 third place record in the inaugural (major league) American League season, while the Brewers ended 1901 with a 48 and 89 last place record. The Tigers have played in Detroit ever since, while the Brewers were transferred to St. Louis for the 1902 season, and then to Baltimore in 1954.

The day after the big come from behind win, Frank Dillon was honored as the best player in the opening game. A representative from the Chamber of Commerce presented him with a pair of pantaloons, two pleated shirts, and a bag of cigars at a ceremony at home plate prior to the second game of the season.

Lost in all the loop-la of the day was the almost tarnished image of the Tiger team mascot. “Oom Paul” had been present at 22 games in 1900, the Tigers only losing one of these. Things looked bleak for the mascot’s reputation this opening day, until the Brewers scored and stayed at the unlucky 13th run. Not only players and fans, but also mascots, live for a day like April 25, 1901.

I would like to thank SABR members Marc Okkonen and Jonathan Frankel (and any others who I might have accidently deleted their e-mails) for help in obtaining material for this article.

Detroit Free Press April 26, 1901
Detroit Journal April 26, 1901
Detroit Tribune April 26, 1901
Evening Wisconsin April 26, 1901
Milwaukee Daily News April 26, 1901
Milwaukee Journal April 26, 1901
Milwaukee Sentinel April 26, 1901
Sporting Life May 4, 1901

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