How do you follow up one of the best seasons your baseball club has ever had? Well, if you’re the 1908 Detroit Tigers, you do it by pretty much having an identical season, right down to the World Series results.
The Tigers continued to be a powerful force in the American League under the helm of Hughie Jennings, and the unstoppable duo of Ty Cobb and Sam Crawford, as well as a near unbeatable battery of pitchers, got the Tigers their second AL pennant in two years.
In my favorite bit of random historical information from 1908, in January of the year an attempt was made for it to be against the law for women to smoke in public in New York City, but the ordinance was vetoed by the mayor. That same month the book Scouting for Boys was published, and the runaway bestseller would eventually launch the Boy Scouts.
King Carlos I of Portugal and his son were assassinated in February, and on a less regicidal note, the first around-the-world car race from New York to Paris kicked off that same month. March saw the first piloted flight with a passenger take place, and later that summer he would take the first piloted flight with a female passenger. How progressive. In April Frederick Cook reaches the North Pole (though not via passenger flight, unfortunately for him).
On May 26 in an event that continues to shape the world to this day, the first commercial oil is discovered in the Middle East and is immediately claimed by the UK. Meanwhile in June, the Tunguska Event in Russia causes minimal loss of human life by the roughly twelve megaton explosion (caused, they believe, by a comet or asteroid), obliterated almost 80 million trees. It remains the largest impact event in recorded history (emphasis on recorded).
After all the positive airplane-related moments of the year, Thomas Selfridge becomes the first person to die in a plane crash on September 17. In Detroit-based news, the Ford Model-T makes its debut. If you had a spare $850 at the time, you could have bought one (that adjusts to roughly $20,000 today, not too bad for a new car!)
Bulgaria declares its independence in October, and that same month the Chicago Cubs beat the Tigers in the World Series, but it will be the last time the Cubs win a World Series for 108 years. In November, famed bandits Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid are killed in Bolivia. That same month William Taft is elected President.
Notable births: Author Simone de Beauvoir; actor Rex Harrison; author Louis L’Amour; actress Bette Davis; historical figure Oskar Schindler (as in Schindler’s List); actor James “Jimmy” Stewart; voice actor Mel Blanc (best known for his work on Looney Toons); and actress Carole Lombard.
Notable deaths: Henry Chadwick, a noted American baseball writer sometimes called “The Father of Baseball”; and former president Grover Cleveland.
The Tigers continued their great run in the 1908 season, and much of it will feel like a Groundhog Day version of 1907. They won the American League pennant with a record of 90-63-1, and went on to challenge the Chicago Cubs in the World Series. Now, if you read the historical notes above this, you’ll know the Cubs won that World Series four games to one, but it would be their last win for over 100 years.
The Tigers actually barely won the AL pennant that year, because they actually finished the season with the same number of wins as the Cleveland Naps, but thanks to having one fewer loss, they finished the season a half game ahead of Cleveland to win the title.
In a bit of news that will remind you how little things have changed in over 100 years, that season saw Ty Cobb butting heads with Tigers ownership over his contract, and Cobb complained about the Tigers owners having too much power. Hmm. Sounds pretty familiar. The contract was eventually settled and Cobb got $4800. (It turns out Cobb wasn’t the only one with this complaint, as our spotlight player George Suggs referred to Frank Navin’s negotiating as “considerable dickering over salary.”)
Cobb, of course, was the standout star of the team once again, hitting .324/.368/.476 with an OPS+ of 170. Sam Crawford was swinging for the fences in 1908, though, with a whopping seven home runs and a line of .311/.355/.457 (I know Crawford is on the wall, but I think, collectively, we do not marvel at his career enough,) Matty McIntyre rounded out the top three with .295/.392/.383.
Ed Summers was the guy on the rubber for Tigers pitching that season with 24 wins and a 1.64 ERA and 2.29 FIP. In fact the Tigers had a trifecta of Eds producing in their rotation that season with Summers at 1.64; Ed Willett at a 2.28 ERA; and Ed Killian at a 2.99 ERA. Old friend George Mullin had a 3.10 ERA that season and Bill Donovan rounded out the starting rotation with a 2.08 ERA. Really just tremendous stuff.
Spotlight On: George Suggs
Pitcher George Suggs made his major league debut in the 1908 season and went on to spend eight seasons in the majors. He was only with Detroit for two years before heading off to Cincinnati, where he spent the longest period of his career. While he was primarily used in relief for the Tigers, starting only five games in his two seasons with the club (he was only used in 15 games total with the Tigers), he was a starter with his other clubs, and actually had two seasons with 20+ wins.
He wasn’t too bad as a hitter, either, with a career line of .204/.275/.257, not a lot of extra-base power there, but not too shabby for a pitcher by any means.
One of the best bits of the lore associated with Suggs is that he evidently had quite the reputation as a ladies man, with a teammate reportedly saying, “Of all the lady-tamers who ever allowed their eyes to goo-goo into a crowded grandstand, George Suggs holds the championship.” When Suggs was sent down to the minors in the 1909 season it was suggested that his attention wasn’t as focused on the game as it ought to be, and one newspaper went as far as to say that he “flirted himself back to the minors.”
Now, anyone from Kinston, North Carolina might want to give thanks to Suggs, because following his professional career he was a one-man powerhouse in terms of advocating for the sport in his hometown, and is very likely the reason baseball came to the town in any capacity. Kinston is now home to the Down East Wood Ducks, a Low-A affiliate of the Texas Rangers.
Saggs died of pneumonia on April 4, 1949 at the age of 66.