There’s a first time for everything. In the case of the Detroit Tigers in the postseason, that would be October 8, 1907 – the opening game of the first World Series the team ever played. In an odd twist of fate, at the end of the day, they were neither winners nor losers.
The level of excitement surrounding the Tigers’ recent postseason success pales alongside that of 106 years ago. On the weekend before the 1907 World Series started, Detroiters celebrated the city’s first pennant since the 1887 Wolverines of the National League with giant bonfires, impromptu chants and cheers, and by parading around dogs painted with black tiger stripes. (Yes, really).
“One only had to stroll up and down one of the main streets yesterday to realize he was in Tigertown,” observed a reporter. “They are a very chesty lot – the inhabitants of the city where life is worth living – these days. They go about with expanded diaphragms and heads high in the air, for are not the Tigers winners of the American League pennant and champion of the world and even of Mars as soon as they attend to the detail of disposing of the Chicago Cubs?”
Fans were restless. There was no radio, television, or newsreels then. Rabid Detroit “cranks” hadn’t actually seen their local heroes for three weeks. The Tigers had been on the road since mid-September, traveling to five cities before finally clinching the pennant in St. Louis on October 5, the day before the regular season closed. Instead of returning to Detroit for a day to be feted by fans in an exhibition at Bennett Park, as was customary at the end of each season, the team chose to go directly from St. Louis to Chicago, where the first two games of the World Series were scheduled.
Curiously, the Tigers (92-58) lost one more game than runner-up Philadelphia (88-57), but they won their first pennant by registering a .613 winning percentage to the Athletics’ .607. Because most rainouts and tie games were not rescheduled during the regular season, even those with a direct bearing on the pennant race, Philadelphia was unable to make up nine games (five ties and four rainouts), including three critical contests with the Tigers.
However, there were provisions in place for such an occurrence in the World Series, though there had yet to be a deadlocked contest in the three previous October meetings between the champions of the American and National Leagues. A regulation game ended early by darkness, rain, or curfew, if tied, would be played over from scratch the following afternoon. (Today’s rules stipulate that a tied game will be resumed from the point at which play was suspended.)
The Tigers were managed by Hughie Jennings and starred the American League’s top two batsmen in Ty Cobb and “Wahoo Sam” Crawford. All three were future Hall of Famers. However, they were up against one of the greatest outfits in big-league history. The Cubs had won 116 games the previous season before being upset by the crosstown White Sox in the World Series. They had romped to another pennant in 1907, finishing 17 games in front of second-place Pittsburgh. Managed by first baseman Frank Chance, the Cubs featured baseball’s finest starting rotation, a brilliant catcher in Johnny Kling, and the infield of Tinker-to-Evers-to-Chance, immortalized in verse by Franklin P. Adams. The team would win four pennants in five years (1906-08, 1910) and two World Series (1907 and ’08), both against the Tigers. The Cubs’ third baseman throughout was Harry Steinfeldt, a familiar figure to Detroit fans as he had played for the Tigers during their days in the Western League.
The largest crowd yet to see a World Series game overflowed West Side Park on the afternoon of Tuesday, October 8, 1907 to watch the Tigers and Cubs square off. There was a small but vocal contingent of Detroit fans among the 24,337 people on hand. Their number included Billy Rooks, a downtown businessman, who took a private railroad car on the Wabash line to Chicago. Any fan who could afford six bucks for the round trip was welcome to come along. A ticket (general admission was a buck) was extra. The thousands who couldn’t leave Detroit did the next best thing. They followed the game’s progress on one of the several scoreboards scattered around the city, including, most impressively, the giant electronic scoreboard erected by the Detroit Free Press outside its offices on Lafayette St. There an enthusiastic throng of 12,000 watched as the newspaper, which had arranged for a special leased wire from Chicago, updated the action pitch after pitch.
They watched a tightly pitched, if sloppy, affair. The game started at about 3:30 in the afternoon. Orval Overall, a big 26-year-old right-hander from California, started for the Cubs. Ty Cobb came up to bat in the opening frame with second baseman Germany Schaefer on first and two out. Before the brilliant 20-year-old Georgia Peach could dig in, play was stopped so that a representative of a St. Louis jewelry store could present him with a diamond-studded medal for winning the batting title. The jeweler started speechifying, but the crowd was impatient. “Give ‘im his medal and shut up!” Cubs partisans yelled. When play resumed, Schaefer was gunned down trying to steal second. This gave Cobb the chance to lead off the second, but he grounded weakly to first. The majors’ leading batter would have a disappointing day at the plate, failing to get the ball out of the infield in five tries.
Bill Donovan started for Detroit. The 30-year-old right-hander had gone 25-4 and led the majors with an .862 winning percentage. He would go the distance this day, scattering 10 hits and striking out a dozen Cubbies. Chicago scratched out a run in the fourth. Chance walked, advanced on a sacrifice, and came home on Kling’s single. The 1-0 lead held up until the top of the eighth, when the visitors bundled a pair of hits and three errors into a three-run outburst. With one out, left fielder Davy Jones beat out an infield grounder and then stole second. Shortstop Joe Tinker’s error on Schaefer’s grounder put Tigers on the corners, and both Jones and Schaefer scored when Crawford pulled an Overall pitch to right field and Kling made an errant throw. Crawford, who’d made it all the way to third on the play, then scored on a fly ball by first baseman Claude Rossman.
Donovan took the 3-1 lead into the ninth. The Cubs were playing aggressively, attempting nine steals and trying to bunt their way onto base five times during the course of the afternoon. The Cubs may have known something the public did not: Detroit catcher Charlie Schmidt, a rugged ex-miner and boxer, was playing with a fractured hand. Chase led off the ninth with a single, and then Donovan hit Steinfeldt in the ribs. Kling moved the tying runs into scoring position with a bunt. Coughlin then booted Evers’ grounder, filling the bases.
Pitching carefully, Donovan induced right fielder Frank Schulte to hit the ball to Rossman, who threw the ball to Donovan, covering first, for the second out of the inning. Chance scored on the play to make it 3-2. Only one out to go. George Howard, a midseason acquisition from the Boston Braves, was sent up to bat for Tinker, who had fanned three times. Howard whiffed on two of Donovan’s offerings, then watched as the Detroit ace broke off a sharp curve. Umpire Hank O’Day called it strike three, and the game should have gone into the record books as a 3-2 Detroit victory.
But Howard, who oddly was born and died on Christmas Eves spaced 79 years apart, got an unexpected gift, and he shared it with the entire city of Chicago. The ball got past Schmidt and rolled several feet behind him. By the time Schmidt retrieved the ball, Steinfeldt had scooted home with the tying run and Howard was safe at first. There was bedlam inside West Side Park.
With Pat Moran at the plate, pinch-hitting for Overall, Evers attempted to steal home. But the ball arrived at the dish slightly before he did. Evers was tagged out by Schmidt, who presumably was still cursing himself for letting a 3-2 victory literally slip through his mangled fingers.
Ed Reulbach came on to pitch for the Cubs and the speedballer didn’t allow the demoralized Tigers a hit the rest of the way. Meanwhile, the Cubs continued to threaten in every overtime frame. In the 10th, center fielder Jimmy Slagle stole second and third, but ended the inning by unsuccessfully trying to swipe home. In the 11th, Donovan pitched out of a bases-loaded, one-out jam. And in the 12th, Chance ended another scoring threat by lining into a double play. As Rossman dug the ball out of his pancake glove, umpires indicated the game was over. It had taken 2 hours and 40 minutes to play 12 innings, but now it was too dark to continue. The opening tilt of the World Series was declared a 3-3 draw.
If the thousands of fans crowded in front of the Free Press scoreboard were disconsolate over the Tigers’ ninth-inning collapse, they also recognized that they had “seen” a hard-fought contest between two competitive nines. To put a positive spin on the disappointing outcome, a tie meant that neither side could yet claim dominance over the other. “As soon as the announcement of ‘game called’ was given out,” the newspaper reported, “the crowd melted away as though by magic, the majority surging off toward Michigan avenue and Griswold street, cheering so loudly that the tall buildings trembled.”
The cheering would quickly die, as the Tigers followed up with four straight losses, including the last two at home, to drop their first World Series in ignominious fashion. Cobb was a major disappointment, winding up with an abysmal .200 average for the Series and failing to drive in a single run. Crawford, who’d led all batters with three hits in the opener, would gather only two more hits the rest of the way to finish with a .238 average.
The Tigers were overmatched in the five-game set, but there was a spot of good news to help salve their disappointment. Players normally only shared in receipts from the first four games. However, in a meeting of baseball officials and team representatives prior to the series opener, Tigers captain Germany Schaefer was perceptive enough to ask big-wigs if players would get a share of the gate in case of a tie game. Yes, they would, it was decided. Thus the unprecedented World Series deadlock resulted in winners on both clubs, as each player got a small but welcome boost in his postseason check.