Welcome to a new project to celebrate 2020!
This season is the 119th year of the Tigers as a major league club, and we thought it might be interesting — if history is interesting to you — to look way, way back to the very beginning of the Tigers and look at how well previous clubs did, what milestones happened in the world outside of baseball, and to spotlight some lesser known Tigers players.
So with that, we will start with 1901, the very beginning of the Detroit Tigers as we know them.
1901 in History
1901 was the first year that the British colonies of Australia became their own Commonwealth nation, and saw the swearing in of their first Prime Minster, Edmund Barton. Queen Victoria died on January 22, after serving as Queen for a whopping 63 years, and her son Edward the VII followed her to the throne.
In baseball, the American League decreed itself as a Major League (hence the birth of the Tigers as a Major League club). In September the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues is formed, this was the precursor to our current Minor League Baseball.
New York becomes the first state to require license plates on automobiles. In May, the New York Stock Exchange crashes, starting the Panic of 1901. William McKinley was president for his second term, but in September, he was assassinated by Leon Czologsz, and Vice President Theodore Roosevelt is sworn in as his replacement. (Czologsz is executed the next month).
Richard Fielder invents the Kleinflammenwerfer, aka the Flamethrower.
Do the names of Fritz Buelow, Kid Gleason, Doc Casey, and Ducky Holmes ring any bells? The inaugural Tigers team of 1901 actually had three players named Kid, and no future Hall of Famers.
The team had a record of 74-61 under the management of George Stallings, and finished third in the American League. They played at two different parks: Bennett Park and Burns Park, and between the two managed to draw 259,430 fans.
Kid Elberfeld hit .308/.397/.428 for the team’s best average, and Ducky Holmes had a team-leading four home runs.
Four. Home. Runs.
Of course this was during the dead-ball era, so it’s not surprising to see such low home run numbers.
Roscoe Miller was the star starting pitcher for the club with 23 wins in 38 starts and a 2.95 ERA.
Interesting to note that there were two women on the initial board of directors of the Detroit Base Ball and Amusement Company: Kathleen Burns and Belle Stallings (the wives of primary share holders James D. Burns and George Stallings — the same George Stallings who managed the team in 1901.)
As was very fitting for the Tigers, their originally scheduled first game of the 1901 season had to be postponed due to weather, so rather than starting on April 24, their first ever major league game was played on April 25, where they beat the Brewers 14-13.
Spotlight on: Davey Crockett
No, not the king of the wild frontier, but rather a 25-year-old first baseman who played in 28 games for the Detroit Tigers in 1901. It was Crockett’s only major league season, and he did a pretty solid job for a spot-start infielder. He hit .284/.336/.343 and collected 14 RBIs on 29 hits.
Crockett might have only had a single season in the majors, but he was something of a lifer in the minors. He began his professional baseball career at the age of 18, and after making it to the big show in 1901, he returned to the minors where he spent the next 11 years, playing his final season at age 36 for the Cleveland Counts in the Appalachian League. Minor league records at this time were wildly incomplete, so it’s hard to say how well Crockett fared, but he certainly had a lengthy 15-year career in professional baseball.
After retiring from play in 1912, Crockett went on to manage the Staunton-Harrisonburg Lunatics (what an amazing name) for the 1914 season. According to his obituary he continued to play baseball until the age of 45, it was not for a professional-level club, so there is little record of where he played.
Crockett’s obituary says he was paid $175 a month for his time in the big leagues with the Tigers. He passed away in 1961 at age 85.