Our year-by-year dive into Tigers history (and the history of the world at the time) continues with a dive into 1904. The Tigers were… not good. They bid farewell to a manager, saw a pitcher be their best two-way player, and the team took on new ownership.
And in our player spotlight, the story of a very troubled man whose short life intersected with baseball.
Throughout the year two major conflicts carried on, one was the Russo-Japanese War, the other was a British expedition in Tibet (this is a polite term because it was, for all intents and purposes a violent British invasion into Tibet). February saw the Great Baltimore Fire destroy over 1500 buildings. Puccini’s famous opera Madame Butterfly debuted on February 17, and less than a week later the US gained control of the Panama Canal. Those things are unrelated, but the proximity of major disconnected events in history is kind of fascinating to see.
In April the Kresna earthquake in Bulgaria kills over 200 people. Four days later Longacre Square in Manhattan is renamed to something we are all familiar with today: Times Square. In December of that year, the first New Year’s Eve celebration in Times Square was held, a tradition which continues to this day.
In the oddest bit of feel-good news of the year, New Zealand dolphin Pelorus Jack became the first individual sea creature to gain protected status after a crewman aboard a ship tried to shoot the dolphin. (Learning this sent me down a Pelorus Jack rabbit hole and you are welcome to join me). October saw the first underground line of the New York City subway system open, and the following month Theodore Roosevelt was re-elected President of the United States.
On May 5, Cy Young pitches the first ever perfect game in baseball’s modern era. In other sports news, FIFA is established later that same month. Notable 1904 births include: Cary Grant, Salvador Dali, and Count Basie.
Not a great year for the Tigers, or for manager Ed Barrow. The Tigers finished 7th (of eight) in the American League with a 62-90-10 record, and Barrow was replaced mid-season by Bobby Lowe. Their 10 tie games in the season set (and maintains) the major league record for ties in a single season. The exit of Barrow wasn’t actually related to the team’s record, but rather his inability to work with Frank Navin, the secretary/treasurer for new team owner William Yawkey. Barrow resigned mid-season and was replaced by Lowe. And yes, eagle-eyed Tigers fans, that is the same Frank Navin who would later put his name on a new Tigers stadium in 1912 (Navin Field became Briggs Stadium became Tigers Stadium).
To give some context for how bad the team was that year, the highest batting average belonged to pitcher George Mullin, who hit .290/.337/.381. Again, with the dead ball era in full swing there were scant few home runs to look at, with no player hitting more than two for the whole season.
Standout performances, if they could be called that, went to Jimmy Barrett (.268/.353/.300); Sam Crawford (.254/.309/.361); and Matty McIntyre (.253/.310/.317). Oof, those SLG by modern standards are just painful to look at, aren’t they?
Pitching, like in previous years, saw solid ERA numbers. Here, George Mullin shone as well with a 2.40 ERA, lowest on the team. A 1904 Shohei Ohtani? Maybe not. Ed Killian (2.44) and Bill Donovan (2.46) also had excellent seasons, though not enough to bring the Tigers out of the muck. Never fear, though, a thrilling new player was poised to make his debut the following season.
Spotlight On: Bugs Raymond
1904 saw the major league debut of a 22-year-old Arthur Lawrence “Bugs” Raymond. Raymond, born in Chicago on February 24, 1882, made it to the majors in only his first year playing pro ball, though he would soon thereafter be sent back down to the minors. He appeared in only five games for the Tigers before his return to the farm, where he worked on developing a spitball pitch that would see him restored to major league success in 1907 with the Cardinals.
Over his six seasons in the majors, Raymond posted a 2.49 career ERA and a 45-57 record. He was a gifted pitcher, but unfortunately was plagued by an addiction to alcohol. In spite of the best efforts of his managers, Raymond simply could not stay sober. According to teammate Rube Marquard, “Bugs drank a lot, you know, and sometimes it seemed the more he drank the better he pitched. They used to say he didn’t spit on the ball; he blew his breath on it and the ball came up drunk.”
It was his proclivity for the drink, and the antics that followed, that lead to Raymond quitting the Giants in 1909 so he could become a bartender. He returned to the team under the watchful eye of manager John McGraw who did everything in his power to keep Raymond on the straight and narrow including refusing to give him unopened packs of cigarettes because he would trade them for booze, and also hiring a private detective to follow the pitcher around and keep him from drinking. None of it worked. Eventually by late 1911, McGraw had no choice but to release Raymond from the team when, mid-game, Raymond bypassed a warm up session in the bullpen to head to a nearby Chicago bar.
The following year, things were bleak for Raymond. His wife had left him, his young daughter died of influenza, and he was cast out of professional baseball. While playing in the minors, Raymond got into a fight at a sandlot and ultimately died from a fractured skull. He was only 30 years old at the time of his death.