Navin’s Nominal Star
CHICAGO – In the off-season before the 1908 campaign, it was clear that Ty Cobb was a man confident in his own abilities, both on the field and in salary negotiations. After only two short years, he had become one of the American League’s biggest gate draws. Coming off of the Tigers’ first pennant winning season of ’07, the young Georgian decided that his days of meekly accepting paltry wages from his team were over – it was time to collect from club president and part owner Frank Navin.
The magnate had sent Cobb his contract for the upcoming season earlier that year with an offer of $3,000, which was a raise from his 1907 salary of $1,500, though still considerably low due to the economic downturn that had hit the nation. The papers came back to Navin unsigned, with Ty making his demands public soon after. In addition to $5,000 per year, he wanted a written promise that he was to be paid in full if somehow injured on the field. The prior year, Ty needed treatment for the oozing back sores he had accumulated with his aggressive base running, and hoped to take advantage of the unwritten law that clubs would pay their hurt players. The Tigers never footed the bill.
Cobb wanted the team to own the rights to him for a fixed number of years, after which he would be able to shop his services around to other teams in the league if he so chose. Challenging the reserve clause that bound a player to his team for life, Ty was in the throws of a big risk. Though he could hold out in the hopes that his demands were met, the baseball establishment could release him, trade him, or at the worst, ostracize him from the organized leagues.
By late March, he had already taken plenty of abuse from the Detroit sportswriters for his insolence, who for the most part thought that Cobb should have been grateful for the salary he had been receiving at such a young age. Some of his teammates, especially Manager Hugh Jennings, thought his demands to be absurd.
Both Cobb and Navin went back and forth, taking jabs at each other through the press. After the two had an uneventful meeting later that March, Cobb received visits from George Codd, the former mayor of Detroit, and Fielding Yost, the University of Michigan football coach. They both urged Ty to settle the issue with Navin quickly. Though he was still after his deserved money, he was also itching to play. He eventually settled for $4,000, and another $800 bonus if he hit above .300, as well as dropping his desired special clauses. He made plans to attend spring training with the ball club in Little Rock, Arkansas.
Detroit’s season opened in Chicago on April 14. One of the bigger stories surrounding the match-up that afternoon centered on the weather. Fans were greeted with warm muggy air at the gates, complete with a hazy sun peeking through overcast skies for the duration of the contest. Truth be told, it may have been the finest climate a lake city team had seen on any season opener in memory. However, despite the glorious weather, not every White Sox fan was happy.
At three o’clock that afternoon, around 10,000 unlucky fans who had clamored to gain admittance to the ballpark had arrived too late. The old place was at full capacity, accommodating 20,000 Chicagoans – the largest Opening Day crowd in White Sox owner Charles Comiskey’s tenure. Consequently, 39th street and Wentworth was jammed with disappointed men and women.
Things were not terribly different inside the fences of cozy South Side. The grandstands were bursting with humanity, the bleachers were packed to the gills, and the field around the diamond was lined with masses of baseball-crazy boys and men. The start of the festivities was delayed fifteen minutes so the police could remind these seemingly unaware fans that room had to be made for the players themselves.
The buzz from the stands came from a garden variety of rooters, from Mayor Fred Busse and City Treasurer John Traeger who greeted both teams on one side of the field, to Bob Cantwell, Ed Redpath, and other members of the “Fifteen Club”, screaming from the other. Following the latter onto the field was a band, a choir leader and a trained chorus, passing tribute to players from both teams. Additionally, many of the semi-pro ballplayers in attendance also had a musical contribution in a ragtime and quick-step band, which regaled the crowd with selections from “William Tell” and “Il Trovatore.”
When Umpire Silk O’Loughlin yelled “Play Ball!” things got under way quickly. The first three Detroit batters – leftfielder Matty McIntyre, second baseman Germany Schaefer and centerfielder Sam Crawford – sat down within minutes of ‘Doc’ White’s opening toss. Only five pitches were thrown and three of them were hit into the infield for outs. Before the crowd knew it, they were watching their home team run from the field and ready themselves to bat against lefty Ed Siever. The Sox three spent some quality time in the batter’s box – the crowd would not accept otherwise. When Right fielderEd Hahn came to swing, he had to tip his cap and smile to the boisterous crowd before receiving a base on balls. Up next, Fielder Jones’ hometown welcome was even more celebratory. The centerfielding Manager knocked the ball between first and second, and by virtue of a poor fielder’s choice, both Hahn and Jones were safe. Left fielder Patsy Dougherty bunted to Tiger Bill Coughlin at third, who summarily threw wildly to first, scoring Hahn. The shortstop Freddy Parent was up next, where he lifted a fly ball to third, giving Bill a quick chance at redemption. Parent could be heard cussing from the box and did not even leave for first. The fluke wind wreaked havoc and Coughlin muffed the catch, though he was able to recover quickly and turn a double play. The inning ended when second baseman John Atz flew out to Charlie O’Leary at short. Luckily for Detroit, after an exciting half only one run stood between the two teams.
In the second, it was much of the same luck from the past inning for the Tigers. Cobb sliced a bounder to shortstop and was thrown out. First sacker Claude Rossman laced a soft single into right field, and raced to second, testing Hahn’s arm. Though the throw was high, Atz stabbed him in time and turned the out at second. Coughlin quickly struck out swinging to end the Tiger half of the inning. The Sox’ portion however, was much more productive.
First baseman John ‘Jiggs’ Donahue lined a grounder to aging’Germany’ Schaefer at second, who summarily booted the ball. Third sacker Lee Tannehill tried to sacrifice, but with Siever making a mess of the bunt, both men arrived on base safely. Catcher Bill Sullivan followed suit with his own attempt at pushing the runners, and on another error from Detroit, loaded the diamond. White contributed to his own cause, lining a scorching single over O’Leary’s head into left center, bringing home Donohue and Tannehill. Hahn laid down a sacrifice, pushing Sullivan to third, and Doc to second. Manager Jones laced a single into right center, scoring Sullivan, with White taking his place at the corner. Both White and Jones would score on Pat Dougherty’s single, bringing the inning tally to a hefty five-spot.
A run-less inning and a half saw the Sox up to bat in the fourth. Hahn doubled to right center, barely beating a running Crawford. After a walk was issued to Fielder, Dougherty twice attempted a bunt. It looked like trouble when the left fielder popped a fly behind Schaefer. Running with blinding speed, Cobb dove at the sphere headlong into the grass, successfully snatching it from the sky. Though an incredible play, Chicago’s momentum was not stymied. Parent singled through Coughlin to left, filling the bases with White Sox. Atz worked a base on balls, scoring Hahn, but then Donohue fanned. Tannehill rung a single to left, scoring Jones and Parent. After Sullivan’s single down the left field line, Siever was done. Right-handed Ed Willett came onto to relieve, and could not put out the fire as Tannehill and Sully scored on another hit by White. Relentless, the Sox added another run in the fifth. By the time the excitement had wound down, the Sox were up 13-0.
In the sixth, the Tigers would attempt a comeback. Battling, White showed that his heavy work of the day had taken its toll and Nick Altrock began to warm up. Coming in to relieve ‘The Dentist’, the new lefty did not seem like himself. The first curveball he threw to Cobb was connected with a pop heard throughout the ballpark. Hitting the sphere right on the nose, Ty’s drive made it over the right field screen for a home run – a truly rare feat in the old South Side Park. Soon after, Willetts and McIntyre became the first and second outs. Schaefer singled to left to start a rally, and five more clean hits led to a total of four tallies for the inning.
In the end though, it would not be enough. The Sox added two more runs in the bottom of the seventh, and by the ninth, Detroit could only muster an additional four. Cobb had lashed another hit – his third in five appearances – and on the base paths made it clear that he was trying for every penny of his new salary. Even in the ninth, down by seven runs, he managed a swipe of second, and then ran after third on a fly as if one more run would have won the game for Detroit. It did the exact opposite, as Cobb over slid the bag and was doubled up. The contest ended with the Tigers on the losing side, 15-8.
Though beaten for the day, Tyrus would have his revenge against them in October, when his Tigers beat out the Sox by a game and a half to make it to their second consecutive World Series.