Sunday, May 26, 2013

May 25- Detroit Tigers

If there ever come a point where you’re at a hardcore trivia competition, be sure to never forget this little factoid I’m about to bestow upon you. Which was the first Major League ball club to get its name from a military-based unit? Instinctually you might be prompted to say the New York Yankees. Well, you would be dead wrong. Believe it or not, it was the Detroit Tigers. There are various legends about how the Tigers got their nickname. One involves the orange stripes they wore on their black stockings. Tiger’s manager George Stallings took credit for the name; however, the name appeared in newspapers before Stallings was manager. Another legend concerns a sportswriter equating the 1901 team's opening day victory with the ferocity of his alma mater, the Princeton Tigers.
Richard Bak, in his 1998 book, A Place for Summer: A Narrative History of Tiger Stadium, pp. 46–49, explains that the name originated from the Detroit Light Guard military unit, who were known as "The Tigers". They had played significant roles in certain Civil War battles and in the 1898 Spanish–American War. The baseball team was still informally called both "Wolverines" and "Tigers" in the news. The earliest known use of the name "Tigers" in the media was in the Detroit Free Press on April 16, 1895. Upon entry into the majors, the ballclub sought and received formal permission from the Light Guard to use its moniker. From that day on, the team has been officially called the Tigers.

Taking pride and honoring the military has been a long-standing tradition with the Tigers, it has been especially shown with one of their Minor League affiliates the Lakeland Flying Tigers. Players, management and media officials have long gotten involved with or set up their own programs to show their support. Fox Sports Detroit’s Mario Impemba helped establish Military Veteran’s Program (MVP), a program that includes a ticket to the game, transportation to the ball park via the Fox Sports Detroit Fan Express, a t-shirt, food voucher and autographed photo of Mario Impemba. Veterans who participate in the program are selected from local Veterans organizations. MVP is part of the Detroit Tigers year-round support of troops and Veterans. Each year, the Detroit Tigers hold a special game to honor and recognize the sacrifice of the men and women serving in the United States Armed Forces and those that have served before them. Through the Detroit Tigers Armed Forces Game Ball Delivery program, the Detroit Tigers recognize a service member who has recently returned from deployment or home on leave during a tour of duty prior to most home games. The Detroit Tigers also visit Veterans at the Department of Veteran’s Affairs Detroit Medical Center throughout the season. Impemba also created Operation Opening Day to provide fans currently serving in the United States Armed Forces a DVD of the Tigers home opener for the last five years.

One of the more recent traditions the Tigers started a few years ago is a bit of recognition for local veterans by having them take the game ball to the mound which concludes with a round of applause from the crown at every home game. This tradition inspired Justin Verlander to do more for the veterans and has allowed wounded veterans and their families attend games in his personal suite for every home game he pitches. Verlander also attributes the gesture as inspiration from his cousin Christopher, who served a tour in Afghanistan, and his grandfather Richard who fought during World War II. Verlander has also donated more than $100,000 to Veterans Affairs medical centers in and around Detroit on top of his own charity group Verlander's Victory for Veterans Foundation. Say what you want about the guy if you’re a rival fan, you just can’t deny that he’s a total class act.

Since 1971 the Tigers haven’t exactly had the best of luck on Memorial Day, going 19-20 with four days off due to travel. The team they’ve played the most is the Oakland Athletics, splitting the series (as of now) 3-3. As far as any other notable moments; from 2001-2003 they beat the Cleveland Indians three consecutive times and they only played in one Memorial Day doubleheader in 1972 which resulted in two losses to the New York Yankees.

When picking out a few players to pay tribute to there were really only two guys that came to mind without having to do any bit of research. I think you’ll agree.

TC- Tyrus Raymond Cobb, The Georgia Peach, is arguably one of the most revered, feared, yet intriguing figures in modern American history. He was born in Narrows, Georgia in 1886, the first of three children to William Herschel Cobb and Amanda Chitwood Cobb. He played his first years in organized baseball for the Royston Rompers, the semi-pro Royston Reds, and the Augusta Tourists of the South Atlantic League who released him after only two days. He then tried out for the Anniston Steelers of the semipro Tennessee-Alabama League, with his father's stern admonition ringing in his ears: "Don't come home a failure!" After joining the Steelers for a monthly salary of $50, Cobb promoted himself by sending several postcards written about his talents under different aliases to Grantland Rice, the sports editor of the Atlanta Journal. Eventually, Rice wrote a small note in the Journal that a "young fellow named Cobb seems to be showing an unusual lot of talent." After about three months, Ty returned to the Tourists and finished the season hitting .237 in 35 games. In August 1905, the management of the Tourists sold Cobb to the American League's Detroit Tigers for $750 (equivalent to approximately $19,164 in today's funds).

On August 8, 1905 Ty's mother fatally shot his father, who had suspected her of infidelity and was sneaking past his own bedroom window to catch her in the act; she saw the silhouette of what she presumed to be an intruder and, acting in self-defense, shot and killed her husband. Mrs. Cobb was charged with murder and then released on a $7,000 recognizance bond. She was acquitted on March 31, 1906. Cobb later attributed his ferocious play to his late father, saying, "I did it for my father. He never got to see me play ... but I knew he was watching me, and I never let him down."

Cobb played for the Tigers for 22 years (1905-1926), his last six with the team as a player/manager, and the final two years of his career (1927-1928) he spent with the Philadelphia Athletics. Cobb played every game as if it were his last, with reckless abandon. He showed this in the way he dug his cleats into whomever was standing on base, he showed it when he purposely never hit home runs for the sake that legging it out on the base paths was more honorable, and he physically took it out on the fans who cursed his name no matter their age, size or color. In today’s day-in-age Cobb probably would have been incarcerated before the end of his rookie season, but things were a little bit different in the old days; especially in Detroit.

I’m not going to go too deep into his stats, I’m actually saving that for a post in the future, but what I can tell you is the man is one of the greatest hitter the game has ever seen. He hit .366 lifetime with 4,189 career hits in which 117 of them were still home runs. Not bad for a guy who never tried to crush.

In 1918, Cobb was in his 14th season in big league baseball, but he was still at the top of his game. That season he won his 11th batting title, hitting .382 to pace the American League easily. But he didn’t collect 200 hits or put up any other gaudy numbers, largely because the season was shortened due to the Great War. Baseball had decided to end the schedule on Labor Day due to the hostilities between the Allies and the Axis Powers in Europe. Unlike the Second World War, where the U.S. entered the conflict in the off-season and players voluntarily entered the service, America did not begin to call up citizens for duty until a few months after declaring war in 1917. Major League Baseball players, for the most part, did not enter military service during the 1917 season. Therefore, outside of the military drilling, the 1917 regular season was barely affected by the overseas conflict. Cobb also applied to the Augusta, Georgia Draft Board, making himself eligible for military service. Cobb was placed in a special class. The military would draft younger men before turning to Cobb’s group.

The War in Europe dominated headlines in 1918. On a road trip to Washington to face the Senators, Cobb visited the War Department, where he took his mandatory army physical and applied for the Chemical Warfare Service. Spurred by patriotism and the memory of his grandfather’s service in the Civil War hero, Cobb felt compelled to get into the fight. A few days later, while Detroit was in New York to play the Yankees, Cobb received word that he had been accepted into the Chemical Warfare Service. He was to report in October.

The Chemical Warfare Service had been organized by General John J. Pershing in response to several deadly poison gas attacks on American troops by the Germans. The attacks had generated considerable outrage, and the creation of the CWS was front-page news. The CWS was created to perfect methods to withstand poison-gas attacks, but more importantly (and controversially), it was charged with developing poisonous gas weapons to be used against the Germans in Europe. Other baseball figures who would also serve in the CWS included Christy Mathewson, Branch Rickey, and George Sisler.

Following the end of the 1918 season and a few weeks at his home in Georgia, Ty arrived in New York and reported for duty on October 1. He was commissioned as a captain in the U.S. Army, and after a relatively short time in accelerated training, he and his unit sailed for France. The Army hoped that Cobb and the other sports figures in the CWS would be effective in training enlisted men in the area of chemical and biological warfare. But according to Cobb, he ended up training “the darnedest bunch of culls the World War I Army ever grouped in one outfit.”
The training exercises in France, though they took place far behind the front lines, were extremely dangerous. Cobb would march his troops into an airtight chamber, where they were to quickly assemble their gas masks when they received a signal that the poison was about to filter into the room. However, on one occasion something went terribly wrong.

During one exercise, Cobb and his troops either missed or were slow to react to the signal and many of them stumbled from the chamber having inhaled the poison into their lungs. For weeks Cobb suffered with a hacking cough while a “colorless discharge” drained from his chest. Others were not so lucky – they died after the exposure. Christy Mathewson, the great National League hurler who also served in the CWS, inhaled so much of the gas while in France that he later developed tuberculosis. He died from the disease seven years later, in 1925.

Cobb had been in France less than a month when the war ended suddenly on November 11. The Allies, bolstered by the influx of American troops, had deflected the last German offensives and hurtled the aggressors back into the Rhine. When the Hindenberg Line was breached by the Allies, the Germans collapsed in disarray. Within a few weeks, Cobb was onboard the largest ship in the world – the U.S.S. Leviathan – one of the first transport ships back to the United States. Cornered by newsmen in New York upon his arrival, Cobb spoke modestly of his brief foray as a soldier.

“I hardly had time to get used to the idea [of being in the Army]. I’m proud to have been in uniform in some small way and to see our great nation dispel the enemy in such miraculous speed.” –Dan Holmes, Ty Cobb: A Biography

#5- If there was ever a player who was pretty much the exact opposite of Ty Cobb, at least from a personality perspective, I doubt you’d have to look further than Hank Greenberg. He was born and raised in New York City, New York, lacked coordination as a youngster and flat feet prevented him from running fast. But he worked diligently to overcome his inadequacies, which also included acne and a stutter. He attended James Monroe High School in the Bronx, where he was an outstanding all-around athlete and was bestowed with the long-standing nickname of "Bruggy" by his basketball coach. His preferred sport was baseball, and his preferred position was first base. However, Greenberg became a basketball standout in high school, helping Monroe win the city championship.
In 1929, the 18-year-old Greenberg was recruited by the New York Yankees, who already had a capable first baseman named Lou Gehrig. Greenberg turned them down and instead attended New York University for a year, after which he signed with the Tigers for $9,000 ($124,000 today). He mad his debut on September 14, 1930, getting only one plate appearance before the season ended. It would be three more years before he stepped onto a Major League field again.

From 1933-1941 Greenberg was one of the most dominant power hitter in the game. He missed a majority of two seasons (1936 and 1941) due to injury; however, he more than made up for it in the others years. In that nine year span he only hit below .301 once (.269 in 19 games in 1941). He led the league three times in home runs and RBI three times, but not all in the same year. His 183 RBI in 1937 is still the third-most in MLB history, and yet he only hit 40 home runs that season. I realize that 40 is still a lot, but compare that to today’s numbers and he would have easily cleared 200 RBI. He won two AL MVPs during this stretch. The first came in 1935 when he went .328/36/170, he led the league in both home runs and RBI that season. The second came in 1940 when he hit .340 with 41 home runs and 150 RBI, which both led the league again, but he also hit a league-leading 50 doubles.

On October 16, 1940, Greenberg registered along with fellow Americans between the ages of 21 and 35 for the first peacetime draft in the nation’s history. At his first draft physical in Lakeland, Florida, during spring training in 1941, it was found that he had flat feet. Doctors recommended he be considered for limited duty. But a second examination on April 18 in Detroit determined him fit for full military service.

On May 7, 1941, the day after hitting two home runs in his farewell appearance, Greenberg was inducted in the Army and reported to Fort Custer at Battle Creek, Michigan, where many troops of the Fifth Division turned out at the train station to welcome the slugging star. “If there’s any last message to be given to the public,” he told The Sporting News. “Let it be that I’m going to be a good soldier.” Greenberg was assigned as an anti-tank gunner and went on maneuvers in Tennessee. In November 1941, having risen to the rank of sergeant, he rode a gun carrier at a Detroit Armistice Day parade in front of thousands of cheering onlookers.

But on December 5, 1941, he was honorably discharged after Congress released men aged 28 years and older from service. On February 1, 1942, Sergeant Greenberg re-enlisted, was inducted at Fort Dix, New Jersey, and volunteered for service in the United States Army Air Corps. “We are in trouble,” he told The Sporting News, “and there is only one thing for me to do – return to the service. This doubtless means I am finished with baseball and it would be silly for me to say I do not leave it without a pang. But all of us are confronted with a terrible task – the defense of our country and the fight for our lives.”

On August 26, 1943, he was involved in a war bonds game that raised $800 million dollars in war bond pledges. Held at the Polo Grounds in front of 38,000 fans, the three New York teams combined as the War Bond All-Stars against an Army all-star line-up that featured Slaughter, Hank Greenberg and Sid Hudson. The War Bond All-Stars won 5 to 2.

He graduated from Officer Candidate School at Miami Beach, Florida, and was commissioned as a first lieutenant and was assigned to the Army Air Force physical education program. Asked in February 1943, what he thought was in store for baseball in the coming season, Greenberg replied: “Physical training for air corps men is my business now and I don’t have time to follow baseball close enough to make any predictions. I haven’t even seen a sports page for a week.”
By February 1944, Captain Hank Greenberg was a student at the Army's school for special services at Washington and Lee University. He requested an overseas transfer later in the year and was assigned to the first group of Boing B-29 Superfortresses to go overseas. He spent six months in India before being ferried over Burma to China where he served in an administrative capacity.

"I'll never forget the first mission our B-29s made from our base to Japan," Greenberg told Arthur Daley, writing in the February 14, 1945 New York Times. "I drove out to the field in a jeep with General Blondie Saunders who led the strike, and took my place in the control tower. Those monsters went off, one after the other, with clock-work precision.

"Then we spotted one fellow in trouble. The pilot saw he wasn't going to clear the runway, tried to throttle down, but the plane went over on its nose at the end of the field. Father Stack, our padre, and myself raced over to the burning plane to see if we could help rescue anyone. As we were running, there was a blast when the gas tanks blew and we were only about 30 yards away when a bomb went off. It knocked us right into a drainage ditch alongside the rice paddies while pieces of metal floated down out of the air."

Greenberg was stunned and couldn't talk or hear for a couple of days, but otherwise he wasn't hurt. "The miraculous part of it all was that the entire crew escaped," Greenberg continued. "Some of them were pretty well banged up but no one was killed. That was an occasion, I can assure you, when I didn't wonder whether or not I'd be able to return to baseball. I was quite satisfied just to be alive."

In the middle of 1944, Greenberg was recalled from China to New York, where his job was to take small groups of returning combat officers to war plants in New England and give morale-boosting talks to the workers. In late 1944, he was based at Richmond, Virginia, and in June 1945, he was placed on the military’s inactive list and returned to the Tigers.

Without the benefit of spring training, Greenberg returned to Detroit’s starting line-up on July 1, 1945, before a crowd of 47,729 and homered against the Athletics in the eighth inning. Greenberg’s return helped the Tigers to a come-from-behind American League pennant, clinching it with a grand-slam home run in the final game of the season. – Baseball in Wartime

Greenberg went on to have two more season in the Majors, one with the Tigers and one with the Pittsburgh Pirates. In 1946, his final year with the Tigers, Greenberg hit a career-low .277, but still managed to hit 44 home runs and 127 RBI, the latter stats once again leading the league.
In 1947, Greenberg and the Tigers had a lengthy salary dispute. When Greenberg decided to retire rather than play for less, Detroit sold his contract to the Pirates. To persuade him not to retire, Pittsburgh made Greenberg the first baseball player to earn over $80,000 ($823,000 today) in a season as pure salary (though the exact amount is a matter of some dispute). The Pirates also reduced the size of Forbes Field's cavernous left field, renaming the section "Greenberg Gardens" to accommodate Greenberg's pull-hitting style. Greenberg played first base for the Pirates in 1947 and was one of the few opposing players to publicly welcome Jackie Robinson to the majors. That year he also had a chance to mentor a young future Hall-of-Famer, the 24-year-old Ralph Kiner. Said Greenberg, "Ralph had a natural home run swing. All he needed was somebody to teach him the value of hard work and self-discipline. Early in the morning on off-days, every chance we got, we worked on hitting." Kiner would go on to hit 51 home runs that year to lead the National League.

Greenberg was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1956 in his 10th round on the ballot. In 1983 the Tigers retired his #5 jersey along with Charlie Gheringer’s #2 on June 12. The two were the first players to ever have their numbers retired by the Tigers.


  1. Great post. As a footnote, Greenberg was the 1st player to win MVP at 2 different positions, first base in '35, LF in '40.

    1. Thanks John! I don't know why, but I knew that stat and for some reason I just thought it was wrong and decided not to double check and add it. I blew it. :(

      Actually, one thing I have blown it on is going back and writing that post from April 20th on Mark Fidrych.