Things took a bit of a downward turn for the Tigers in 1906, and while they weren’t the worst team in the American League, they struggled with injury as well as plenty of internal strife thanks to manager Bill Armour. While the club ended the season with a sub-.500 record. Never fear, though, things were going to take a turn the next season.
This was a big year for some serious disasters. In January an 8.8 magnitude earthquake in Ecuador and Colombia killed over 500; in Italy in April, Mount Vesuvius erupted completely devastating the city of Naples; just over a week later the notorious 1906 San Francisco earthquake, a 7.8, killed at least 3000 and left hundreds of thousands homeless; the 8.2 magnitude Valparaiso earthquake in Chile in August injured 20,000. While unrelated to these disasters (probably) in November of 1906, “SOS” would become the universal signal for distress.
If disaster foreshadowing is a thing, the Lusitania made its maiden voyage in June, though it would be nine more years before the ship would sink. On a grimly related note in history, the first German submarine launched in August of the same year.
In lighter news, Xerox was established in 1906. White Fang, the famous novel by Jack London, was originally published in 1906 as a serial. The first Grand Prix was held in Le Mans on June 26. The first Victrola record player was released in August.
In July the Dreyfus Affair ended with the exoneration of Alfred Dreyfus and if you have no idea what I’m talking about it’s a compelling and important bit of history. The second US occupation of Cuba began in August and would go on for three years.
Notable births: Gangster Bugsy Siegel; actor Lou Costello (of Abbott and Costello fame); photographer Victor Hasselblad (whose cameras are still a big deal to this day); writer Samuel Beckett; directors Billy Wilder and John Huston; baseball icon Satchel Paige; and computer programming pioneer Grace Hopper.
Notable deaths: Activist Susan B. Anthony; playwright Henrik Ibsen; and painter Paul Cézanne.
Bill Armour continued his work with the Tigers, though to slightly less positive results than the previous season. Detroit went 71-78-2 for the year, finishing sixth in the American League. Ultimately, like other managers before him, Armour decided to leave after the 1906 season due to a personality conflict with team owner Frank Navin. Armour actually resigned in May, but changed his mind, only to announce in September he was leaving the team for good.
It was a hard season for the Tigers, they were hampered by multiple injuries, including to 1905 Spotlight player Germany Schaefer, whose absence was deeply felt by the club. It turned out that manager Armour pinned much of the blame for the Tigers failures on catcher Jack Warner, which resulted in a 1907 confrontation in which Warner physically assaulted Armour. When Armour left the Tigers, he ended up buying the Toledo Mud Hens and remained the team’s owner and president until 1911.
On the team side of things, it will come as no surprise that Ty Cobb was the standout star of the season, hitting .316/.355/.394 (with a whopping one home run). Sam Crawford was right behind him, hitting .295/.341/.407. Once again this season the Tigers were outhitting their opponents 599 to 518 but couldn’t seem to get the wins they needed.
I know we haven’t talked about names since the first entry of this series, but it’s worth noting that the 1906 club had three Eds (plus one Red and one Fred). Speaking of Eds, Ed Siever was the standout pitcher for the club that season, with an ERA of 2.71 and a FIP of 2.76. And lest you think I’ve forgotten the team ace George Mullin, never fear, he was as reliable as ever with a 2.78 ERA, 2.86 FIP, and 21 wins.
Spotlight on: Gus Hetling
(Writer’s note: it’s important to know I pick these spotlights entirely at random, and while several recent entries have been fantastically detailed, some are going to be less dense.)
August Julius “Gus” Hetling was born in St. Louis, MO on November 21, 1885. He is a rare thing in terms of ballplayers. He played only one single game at the major league level, and it happened in 1906 in Detroit. Hetling was 20 years old when he took the field for the Tigers in October of 1906 to bolster the lineup for a doubleheader. He collected his first and last major league hit that day, ending his big league career with a .143/.143/.143 record.
Hetling was a long-haul minor leaguer, hanging onto his baseball dreams over the course of 14 seasons. He was good, too, at least at the lower levels, where he hit over .300 for multiple seasons. His performance in the Western Association eventually netted him some playtime with the Kansas City Blues, but he would never again play at the major league level.
(He is, however, responsible for me learning there was a team called the Wichita Witches and I need to immediately get a shirt made.)
After leaving baseball, Gus settled in the Wichita area and worked in sales. He passed away in 1962 at the age of 76.
- A piece from Baseball History Daily explores the reaction to Hetling being traded to a rival club.
- If you want to own a very random bit of Tigers’ history, you can buy his autograph here.