Ford’s Effort for Naught
NEW YORK – The Detroit Tigers captured their third consecutive American League title in 1909, hoping to find themselves atop the baseball world after two embarrassing championship series with the Chicago Cubs the two previous seasons. In facing the mighty Honus Wagner and his Pirates, it was felt that a new opponent would yield different results. Unfortunately, after seven tough games in the World Series that October, the Corsairs emerged victorious. For the Tigers, the 1910 campaign began with the goal of getting back to the Series to finally take the title of ‘World Champions’ to the city that was the center of the now-burgeoning automobile industry.
As the new season got under way, though the Tigers landed and held first place for most of April, May saw Connie Mack’s Athletics pass a team that was playing mediocre .500 ball. Despite an eleven game winning streak in June, Detroit found themselves unable to gain much ground on the Athletics, or the New York Highlanders, who now had a firm grasp on second place. By the time late-July rolled around, the Tigers had lost 13 of their last 20 games, and were ten behind Philadelphia. The team trudged into New York on the 22nd to face the Highlanders, with the hope that they could start to make a run at getting back into the pennant race.
Around 8,000 spectators saw their hometown boys grab victory after an exciting up-hill battle and a cyclonic finish, with the Highlanders scoring ten runs in the final three innings. Detroit made the most noise early on, scoring seven runs in their first five frames, while New York eked out one measly peg. Yankee pitcher Jack Warhop was anything but puzzling to Detroit in those first innings, though the culmination of his ineptitude came in the fifth, when he loaded the bases for the young Georgia Peach.
Tyrus Raymond Cobb had just been swinging three bats over his shoulders while he waited on deck, seemingly shedding any doubt throughout the park over who was coming up to the plate. He had just come off of a brilliant season, batting a robust .377 with nine home runs, and 107 runs batted in during the 1909 campaign, figures that lead the league. Though only in the majors for a little over three full seasons, he was already considered one of the preeminent stars of baseball, known as much for his daring base running as his bat. During that same season, Cobb had stolen an incredible 76 stolen bases – the high water mark for 1900s up to that point.
Ty smashed Warhop’s pitch high over Harry Wolter’s head in right field, where it rolled and eventually nestled near the fence. The lean Georgian pulled up at third base, successfully scoring three teammates with his second hit of the afternoon. He would later score himself on a groundout by Sam Crawford.
After losing the Friday opener 11-8 in northern Manhattan, Tiger skipper Hugh Jennings aimed to get back the next day. On a hot, muggy July 23rd afternoon, Detroit returned to Hilltop Park ready to avenge their loss. The stands were completely filled with 16,000 fans balking the near-90 degree heat and 50 cent admission price to make the 3:30 start time.
New York put Russ Ford – the ace of the staff – on the hill, but was without first sacker Hal Chase, second baseman Frank Laporte and most importantly, regular catcher Ed Sweeney, all of whom were unable to play. It was in the first inning that the Tigers got underway on their assault. With two out, Ford walked Tyrus. The lean Georgian brazenly darted for second base successfully at the next pitch. Having his heart set on third base as well, Cobb steamed to third base on the next pitch. Third baseman Jimmy Austin – who had crept onto the grass to play a possible bunt – was startled, as was photographer Conlon, who was situated next to the base, just behind coach Jennings in the box. Catcher Fred Mitchell heaved the ball out of Austin’s reach and into left field, while the Georgian plowed into the base with a hook, knocking Austin midair, and strewing the infield dirt about. Whether the photographer behind the play even snapped a photo of the collision was a mystery, as the events unfolded like quicksilver. Cobb scored on the errant throw and Hugh produced a skirl audible throughout the entire ball field.
Mitchell continued to have trouble behind the plate in the second frame. Owney Bush was given a pass, and in the hopes of having the catcher give a repeat performance on his first inning blunder, made for second. Fred Mitchell did not disappoint, hurling the ball into centerfield and giving Bush third base. When Mitchell failed to properly handle Ford’s wild pitch, Bush scored for Detroit’s second run.
Despite the throwing and fielding mishaps of his man behind the plate, Ford pitched splendid ball for eight innings. He did not walk another Tiger, and managed to record eight strike outs over the course of the game, as well as not give up a hit until the sixth frame. It was a stinging triple by Cobb that spoiled his no-hit bid. With one out, Ty had lined a swift grounder between short and second into the far outfield. The man galloped across the base paths like a greyhound, finally stopped at third, and later scored on Crawford’s fly to right.
The Yanks were unable to do much against the Detroit righty Ed Summers, as their only real shot at wracking up some tallies came in the fifth inning, when Wilber ‘Roxy’ Roach doubled with one out, and both Austin and Mitchell hit singles, scoring the first run of the game for New York. As soon as the crowd started to boil with anticipation over the possibilities with two men on base, the inning was over after a strike out and a force.
In the ninth, Cobb incited bedlam amongst the crowd when he finally grounded out, Austin to Knight. It was then that Detroit started to get to Ford. Crawford grounded out to second, and though Gardner made a marvelous one-handed stop and a quick throw, ‘Wahoo’ Sam was able to beat it. After Chick Lathers sacrificed him to second, the diminutive Bush smacked the ball to the right field fence, pushing Sam home, while sprightly chugging across the diamond and scoring himself. Tom Jones then doubled to left and stole third on a sleeping Mitchell. He later scored on Charles Schmidt’s safe jolt to right, leaving the score at 6-1.
Despite the beseeching attitude of the capacity crowd and their wild exhortations for a rally, the Highlanders were unable to deliver in the same fashion they had managed the afternoon before. New York drove in one more run after some hits and a few Detroit errors, but ultimately, a double play ended the game.
The Tiger win was to be the first of seven consecutive – their second longest streak of the season – as they did away with New York in the following Monday and Tuesday contests. Though, as the summer games dragged on, Detroit was unable to gain enough ground in the standings, and eventually, they would finish in third place, 18 games behind the pennant winning and eventual World Champion Athletics.
Detroit would not be in a World Series for almost a quarter of a century. Ty Cobb would never play in another.