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Detroit Wolverines/1887 World Series
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Tiger Stadium will soon be demolished, and a great Detroit landmark will thus be no more. Its passing denotes the end of an era. It's a natural time, then, to reflect - on that era and on others before it.
Even before Tiger Stadium was built, Detroit was a baseball town. In 1880, Mayor William H. Thompson began pushing for a major league team. Thompson became President of the Detroit Baseball Club, and the team he formed entered the National League the following year. Thompson called his players "the Detroits." Detroit reporters, however, nicknamed them "the Wolverines," a sobriquet by which they became better known. Home field was Recreation Park, located near Brush and Brady (then the far northeast corner of the city.).
The Wolverines fared respectably during their inaugural season. They had about a .500 winning percentage in Season Two, however, and then experienced three consecutive losing seasons. Then, at the end of 1885, the Wolverines acquired four celebrity batting champs: Dan Brouthers, Jack Rowe, Deacon White and Hardy Richardson. These infielders soon became known as "the Big Four." Joining them was new outfielder Sam Thompson and new manager William "Wattie" Watkins. After this, the team's fortunes changed dramatically. At the end of the 1886 season, the Wolverines finished second - at a mere two and a half games from first place!
Then came the remarkable 1887 championship season. Detroit won the National League pennant, finishing three and a half games ahead of second-place Philadelphia! The team led the League in batting, runs scored and slugging. Wolverines Sam Thompson, Dan Brouthers and Hardy Richardson were first, second and third for total bases.
It was a very impressive record, but it didn't end there! Flushed with victory, Wolverines owner Fred Stearns posed a challenge to the American Association champion St. Louis Browns. The Wolverines and the Browns were to play "a series of contests for supremacy" for the baseball world! This early "world series" consisted of fifteen games - played in Pittsburgh, Brooklyn, New York, Philadelphia, Boston, Washington, Baltimore and Chicago, as well as Detroit and St. Louis! The Wolverines claimed their eighth victory - and thus the championship - with game number eleven. Nonetheless, the two teams finished the series, playing all fifteen games, with the Wolverines winning eleven of the fifteen!
Sadly, the next season proved to be the team's last. Key players suffered prolonged injuries that hurt team performance. Meanwhile, veteran stars commanded large salaries and attendance was limited. The Detroit Baseball Club folded at the end of 1888. Detroit was then without a major league team for thirteen long years, until the legendary Tigers joined the American League in 1901!
The following books were consulted while writing this essay. Click on the titles to access the Library of Michigan catalog record.
The Tigers and Their Den: The Official Story of the Detroit Tigers by John McCollister
Baseball in Detroit, 1886-1968 by David Lee Poremba.
Michigan History, Arts and Libraries Director William M. Anderson has authored several other works on Michigan baseball history. His latest, The View from the Dugout: The Journals of Red Rolfe focuses on a legendary Tigers manager. Click View from the Dugout for the Amazon description and ordering information.
Click Detroit Tigers to access the Detroit Tigers web site.
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