This week in Tigers history, we go back 100 years.
Navin Field opened at the corner of Michigan and Trumbull. 26,000 people crowded into the stands to see a great game against the Cleveland Naps (to be renamed the Indians in 1915). Navin Field was one of Major League Baseball's first steel structures, after Chicago's Comiskey Park. The dimensions were 345' to left, an incredible 467' to center and 370' to right. There was no upper deck in the outfield, it was just a big wooden fence about 10 feet high. There were so many people, they were lined on the field in front of the outfield wall. A ball that landed in the crowd would be a double.
The massive crowd was one of the largest ever to see a baseball game in America. Only New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, Boston and Pittsburgh had ever had a bigger gathering to see a game. More people were inside the confines of Navin Field that day than in all but eight cities in Michigan. At this point in the city's history, Detroit still had a bit of a little-brother complex. The auto boom had yet to deliver its full effect. Detroit was well down the list of largest American cities. In the franchise's first decade of existence, despite three straight pennants from 1907-1909, there were constant rumors of the team's relocation to a different city. Pittsburgh was always the one. Detroit Free Press writer E.A. Batchelor wrote, "It probably will be several weeks before someone informs us again that the franchise is shortly to be transferred to another city." Navin Field crushed those rumors for good. Detroit was now a Major League town to stay.
The festivities began when Mayor William Thompson walked to the mound to deliver the first pitch to legendary Detroit Wolverines (the 19th century franchise from the National League) catcher Charlie Bennett. Bennett was so famous in Detroit, the former park was named in his honor. A band then played the "Star Spangled Banner". It was time to play ball.
The Cleveland team had a couple of the game's biggest stars, "Shoeless" Joe Jackson and Larry "Nap" Lajoie, for whom the team was named. But the biggest star of this game would be none other than Detroit's Ty Cobb. He was the undisputed greatest player in the game. That season, he led the league with a .409 batting average. "The Peach" wasn't about to let the opportunity of displaying his skills to this giant crowd go to waste.
In the first inning, with the Naps up 1-0 and threatening for more, Cleveland's Buddy Ryan lifted a shot toward the gap in left center. The ball seemed destined to land in the crowd. Cobb sprinted to his right and caught it as he crashed into the people.
In the bottom half, Cobb drove in Ossie Vitt with a single to center to tie it at one. Cobb advanced to third on Sam Crawford's double. Del Gainer then came to the plate and fell behind 0-2. On the next pitch, Cobb took off for home. The pitch was high and the catcher couldn't handle it, as Cobb slid across the plate. This is one of a record 50 times in his career that Cobb stole home.
In the third, Cobb tried to pull off a personal specialty; scoring from second on an infield grounder. He'd done it time and time again. With Vitt at third, Jim Delahanty hit a grounder to the pitcher, who, for some reason, threw to first for an out. Vitt scored and the always-aggressive Cobb tried to come in right behind him. The throw was just in time for the out.
Detroit trailed 5-3 in the eighth when Cobb got the rally going. He singled and took third on Crawford's ground-rule double. Delahanty hit one off the third baseman's glove, scoring two runs to tie it up.
The game stayed that way into the 11th. The Tigers got into a major jam in the top half. The Naps had the bases loaded with one out. A force out and a strikeout ended it. In the bottom half, Donie Bush singled with one down. Oscar Stanage lined a hit to right. It looked like extra bases, but the outfielder gunned Stanage down at second for out number two, with Bush at third. It was up to George Mullin, the Tigers pitcher who had started the game. He ripped a hard grounder through the hole at short for the final run. The Tigers won it, 6-5.