Free Press Flashback: Detroit Tigers rally to win home opener in 1901

Detroit Free Press
Free Press staff |  Detroit Free Press

Editor’s note: The Tigers’ first Opening Day in the modern era took place April 25, 1901, at the corner of Michigan and Trumbull. The following is the Free Press’ account of pregame festivities, the Tigers’ thrilling victory and excerpts from the paper’s baseball notes column. While Detroit had a team in the National League in the 1880s, 1901 marked the American League’s first major-league season, and the Tigers were one of eight charter members. Baseball, like life and language, was different 121 years ago. Fans sat on the outfield grass, and the Detroit players, acting like ushers, ordered them to stay clear of Milwaukee outfielders so the Tigers’ ninth-inning rally could continue.

The greatest crowd that ever attended a baseball contest in this city turned out yesterday to witness the opening game between Detroit and Milwaukee at Bennett Park, over 10,000 people being present.

For eight innings, nothing but gloom came the way of the baseball rooters, Detroit playing in poor form and they were seemingly hopelessly beaten when they went to bat for the last time.

The score was 13 to 4 against them, and many of the vast throng had left the grounds thinking it was an impossible task for the Tigers to pull out the game. But Capt. Casey and his plucky players went at it with a determination that was admirable, and those who remained saw one of the greatest finishes ever made on any baseball diamond, and those who left early had reasons for “kicking themselves.”

Casey, the first man up in the ninth, led off with a hit into the crowd which overflowed in left field, a ground rule being made allowing two bases on all such hits. Barritt followed by beating out a slow one down to Burke, and Gleason came to time with a fine single to center, sending in Casey.

The crowd began to root, and the tremendous shouts that were sent up evidently unnerved Pitcher Dowling. As each hit went out a mighty cheer went up that was enough to make anyone lose his nerve. Holmes followed Gleason with a two-bagger, sending in Barrett. Dillon duplicated the hit, scoring Gleason and Holmes. Elberfeld hit to right field for two bases, pushing Dillon across the plate.

There was now hope, as it put Detroit within four of tying the score, and with no one out, the prospects look bright, indeed. Manager Duffy grew uneasy, though his team still had a comfortable lead. He ran in from center field and pulled Dowling out of the box, substituting Husting. “Pete” started in by making a wild pitch, but managed to retire Nance, who sent a grounder straight at Conroy.

The crowd in the field pressed closer and closer and the game was delayed quite a few minutes while the Detroit players ran out to push back the throng in order to afford the Milwaukee outfielders a chance to chase some of the terrific drives that were being sent out. This gave Husting a good chance to warm up his arm, but he failed to get them over for the next man up, Buelow, and sent him to first. Frisk followed with a fine single to left, sending in Elberfeld.

The crowd went wild

At this stage of the game, hats were being thrown in the air, coats were flying and everyone was yelling themselves hoarse. One man in the bleachers threw up his coat and when it came down it was in two sections, but he didn’t care as long as Detroit was hitting the ball, and the chances are that he forgot that he ever had a coat.

Casey beat out a bunt, filling the bases, but there was a moment of deep silence when Umpire Sheridan called the third strike on Jimmy Barrett. Gleason then came up and rapped a hard one at Burke, who fumbled the ball. This error lost the day for the Brewers, as the out would have retired the side. Buelow scored on the misplay and now only two more runs were needed to tie. One of these was brought in by Frisk on a hit to Burke, which Holmes beat out.

It was now up to Dillon. Three times before during the game he smashed the ball into the crowd for two-baggers, and again he proved equal to the emergency. His drive was far over Halliman’s head into the crowd, while Casey and Gleason raced home with the winning run. Dillon was the hero of the day and pandemonium broke loose when he made his last hit.

The crowd surged out onto the field, and everybody wanted to pat the hero on the back. The big first baseman was almost torn to pieces by the fans, and finally he was picked up and carried around on the shoulders of some of the excited spectators.

Opening of the season

The programme of the day started with a street parade, in which the city officials, a number of invited guests, the B.P.O. Elks and the players of the two teams took part. The Detroit boys in their red coats presented quite a picturesque appearance on their tally-ho, and all along the line the crowd that watched the parade tried to pick out their favorites, but the most distinguished was Capt. Casey, who was on the front of the tally-ho containing the Detroit College of Medicine dental students, and they made things lively all along the route.

After the grounds were reached the Milwaukee men were the first to appear on the field, and they received a great reception. Shortly afterward the Detroit men marched abreast across the field, and when they broke their line for practice there was a mighty cheer from the Tigers.

After both teams had taken a warming-up on the diamond, J. B. Beattie’s dog “Oom Paul,” the Detroit club’s mascot, was brought out and placed upon the home plate. His reputation was at stake for quite a while, but he had the visitors “jonahed” when they made a score of the unlucky “13.”

Presented a loving cup

The teams lined up around the plate, and ex-Judge Byron S. Waits, on the part of the management, extended a hearty welcome to the patrons, after which he was called upon to make a presentation speech. A magnificent loving cup being given to Messrs. Burns and Stallings by their brother Elks. In the absence of Mayor Maybury, Ald. Jacob J. Haarer, president of the common council, formally opened the season by pitching the first ball to Charlie Bennett, the beloved old Detroit catcher.

Between innings

The double umpire system worked very well. There was not a kick during the game.

Today will be ladies’ day at Bennett Park and all the fair sex will be admitted free.

The uniforms of the Detroit players are very attractive. On the front of each player’s cap there is a little red tiger.

Capt. Casey and Manager Duffy were presented with baskets of flowers by the Elks. Buelow was the only other man to be remembered.

A reception was given at the Elks’ lodge room last night, at which Jimmy Burns was presented with an elk’s tooth watch charm studded with diamonds.

During the preliminary practice a sharply thrown ball by Elberfeld went over Dillon’s head and struck one of the spectators on the field flush on the mouth. He was removed from the grounds bleeding profusely.

Yesterday’s attendance of 10,023 beats all Detroit records. On July 4, 1887, when the Detroit’s and Boston’s battled, there were not quite 8,000 people at the morning game and about 6,500 at the afternoon game, which was interrupted by rain before it was finished.

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