January 2nd, 2013
This may be my favorite ballgame of all. It is not baseball’s greatest (think Game 3 of the 1951 NL playoff, or June 14, 1870, when the Cincinnati Red Stockings finally lost a game), but it is the one I wish I had attended in person. I included it in my book Baseball’s Ten Greatest Games, more than thirty years ago. But instead of my reprising that piece for you now, why not let Ty Cobb tell you all about it? He was there, on that 30th day of September in 1907.
If I were asked to reassess my ten greatest games today, some of those games I chose for that book would drop off the list–how else to work in Kirk Gibson and Jack Morris and David Freese?
But not this one. Come along with me now: the Tigers of Crawford and Cobb are about to do battle with the Athletics of Plank and Waddell, and the lines at the ticket booths are long.
Ty Cobb, as told to Francis J. Powers
There was little brotherly love toward the Detroit Tigers when our club arrived in Philadelphia on the morning of September 27, 1907. That old city was baseball mad; it was mad at the Tigers and, judging from my mail, very mad at me. The wildest race the six-year-old American League had then produced was nearing an end, and the Athletics were leading the Tigers by a half game. It had been a four-way race all summer, with the defending White Sox, Athletics, Tigers, and Cleveland jumping in and out of first place. Now the chase had boiled down to a fight between the Tigers and Athletics, and it would be settled, practically, in the three-game series which was to open the next afternoon. There were only two series remaining for each club.
The Tigers had come on fast that year to be pennant contenders. Hughie Jennings, the famous shortstop of the old National League Baltimore Orioles, had been brought up to manage the team and his “E-yah!” cry and grass-picking had made him a popular figure. I was on my way to winning my first batting championship and was running the bases well. We had tremendous power, with Claude Rossman on first and Sam Crawford in center field, and I think those Tigers really were the first of the great slugging teams that later made the American League synonymous with power. We had some great pitchers, particularly Wild Bill Donovan, one of the finest men ever in the game, who won 25 games and lost only 4 that season. Ours was a fighting, snarling team that neither asked nor gave quarter–patterned after the old Orioles of Jennings and John McGraw.
Philadelphia resented us as upstarts, for Connie Mack still had much of the same team that had won the 1905 championship and then had lost to the Giants in that famous World Series where every game was a shutout. The Mackmen had sensational pitchers in Chief Bender, Eddie Plank, Rube Waddell, and Jack Coombs, and were a solid defensive team. They were hot to reclaim the championship they had lost to the White Sox the previous season.
We won the first game of the series on September 28, when George Mullin outpitched Chief Bender, and went into first place by a half game. Then it rained and a doubleheader was scheduled for September 30. There was the pennant. If we won, we had only Washington and St. Louis ahead, while the Mackmen had a series with Cleveland, which stayed in the race until September 27, before getting to the Senators. The “Naps,” as Cleveland was called in those days, were certain to give Philadelphia trouble.
When we went on the field to start play there were 30,000 fans looking on. There were 25,000 packed into old Columbia Park, which supposedly had a capacity of only 18,000, and the rest were crowded into windows and on the roofs of houses overlooking the field. There were fans, several rows deep, around the outfield, restrained by ropes and mounted police, and they weren’t the least bit friendly. Before that afternoon was finished and we left the park in the autumn dusk with streetlights aglow, I had experienced about every thrill that can come in baseball . . . or so it seemed to a 19-year-old boy.
Jennings picked Donovan to pitch for the Tigers, leading with our ace, while Mr. Mack started Jimmy Dygert, a spitballer. Mack had Eddie Plank, the southpaw who always was tough to beat, ready but decided to save him for the second game. You never saw and maybe never heard of another game like this one. It went seventeen innings and took three hours and fifty minutes to play. It produced great pitching and poor pitching, long crashing hits, and some of the most unusual incidents to be found outside the realm of fiction.
At the end of five innings, Philadelphia led us 7-1. The Athletics wasted no time in pounding Donovan. Topsy Hartsel opened with a single and stole second. Socks Seybold walked and Kid Nicholls sacrificed. Harry Davis’s hit bounced off Charlie O’Leary’s leg and into “Germany” Schaefer’s hands, but Seybold was safe at second and Hartsel scored. Danny Murphy beat out an infield hit, and then Seybold scored on Jimmy Collins’s fly and Rube Oldring sent Davis home with a double into the crowd.
Jennings would have had any pitcher other than Donovan out of the game before that inning finished, but Philadelphia was Bill’s hometown and his dad and relatives always came out to see him work, so Hughie never took him out there. It looked like foolish sentiment at that moment, but proved to be a good policy three hours later.
For a few minutes in the second inning it seemed as if we would get them all back. Rossman singled and was safe at second when Dygert threw wild, after fielding Bill Coughlin’s smash. Charlie Schmidt sacrificed and then O’Leary hit to the box. Dygert chased Rossman almost to the plate before throwing to Ossie Schreck, and then Claude hit the Athletics’ catcher so hard he dropped the ball. Dygert walked Donovan but then Rube Waddell came in and, with a pitch that broke from your waist to the ground, fanned the next two batters.
The Athletics got two more in the third, Davis hit a home run in the fifth and Collins and Oldring hit into the crowd for another score. So there we were, behind six runs. But as I said before, this Tiger team was a fighting team and we moved back into the game with four runs in the seventh. Two walks and an error filled the bases, and then Crawford drove one into the left field crowd for two bases. Another run scored on my infield out, and Crawford raced home while Murphy was making a great play on Rossman. Then we were only two runs behind. The Athletics scored one in their half, but we scored in the eighth and went into the ninth still two runs behind.
That ninth is one inning that always will remain bright in my memory. Crawford was on first when I came to bat, and I hit a home run over the right fence to tie the score. Right then and there Mr. Mack forgot about saving Plank for the second game and Eddie rushed to the box and retired the next three batters. We went out in front in the eleventh when I hit into the crowd after Rossman’s single, but we couldn’t hold the lead and the Athletics tied it, largely because of a wild pitch, at 9-all.
Then the game settled down to a brilliant duel between Donovan and Plank but at the same time produced some of the greatest confusion ever seen on any field. In the fourteenth inning, Harry Davis hit a long fly to center field which Sam Crawford muffed; it was good for two bases. Our team claimed interference, because a policeman had stepped in front of Crawford as he was following the ball along the ropes. “Silk” O’Loughlin was umpiring behind the plate (there were only two umpires in a game at that time), and it was his play. Both teams gathered around O’Loughlin, arguing and snarling. Finally O’Loughlin called to Tommy Connolly, umpiring at first base, “Was there interference?” Without hesitation Tommy called, “There was.” So Davis was out and that was lucky for us, since Murphy followed with a single after a would-be two-bagger had gone foul by inches.
During the argument with the umpires, Rossman and Monte Cross, one of the Athletics’ reserve infielders, threw some punches, and soon there were players and policemen all over the field. Rossman was tossed out of the game, and that started a new argument. Ed Killian, a lefthanded pitcher, finished the inning at first base and later Sam Crawford came in from the outfield to play the bag. After the game Connie Mack was bitter in his denunciation of O’Loughlin. It was one of the few times when he really roasted an umpire.
There was no further scoring, although I got as far as third in our half of the seventeenth, and at the end of that inning the game was called with the score still 9-all. There was no second game that day; it never was played, and the tie meant the championship for us. We left Philadelphia a half game in front and swept through Washington. The Athletics lost one to Cleveland and another to the Senators, and we clinched the pennant in St. Louis . . . Detroit’s first since 1887, when it was in the old National League.
Although I had the thrill of hitting the homer that finally tied the score and making two runs, the star of that game was Bill Donovan. I don’t recall a similar exhibition of pitching in my twenty-five years in the American League. Bill allowed eight runs in seven innings and only one in the next ten and he fanned eleven. The modern generation doesn’t remember Donovan, but there was a pitcher with great speed, a great curve, and a great heart. I’d like to have been half as good a hurler myself. I used to practice pitching and imagine myself out there in a tight spot.
The Athletics made twenty hits that day to our fifteen and we had seventeen runners left on base to their thirteen. They made six errors, so during that one long afternoon there was just about everything to be found in baseball.