Detroit had not been the home to a major-league baseball team since 1888, when the Detroit Wolverines played in the National League. It became a major-league city again in 1901 when baseball added a second major league to the National League. It was the American League, and the Detroit Tigers were a charter member.
The season was supposed to begin on April 24, but inclement weather postponed three of the four scheduled games, including the game at Detroit. It was rescheduled for the following day, and on Thursday afternoon, April 25, 1901, the Detroit Tigers played as a major-league team for the first time.
The opponents were the Milwaukee Brewers, but they are not the same Milwaukee Brewers who are playing today. Those Milwaukee Brewers became the St. Louis Browns in 1902. The franchise left St. Louis after the 1953 season and became the Baltimore Orioles in 1954, and the franchise has remained in Baltimore.
The game was played at Bennett Park. It was located on the corner of Michigan and Trumbull – the same site as Tiger Stadium. However, at Bennett Park, home plate was where the right-field corner was at Tiger Stadium. Bennett Park was named for former Detroit Wolverines catcher Charlie Bennett, who lost a leg after he slipped trying to board a train that was departing a station in Kansas. Bennett’s leg landed over the track, and the train ran over it.
Bennett had been one of the most popular players with the Wolverines and was a fine player who some feel deserves a spot in the Hall of Fame. He took part in the first-pitcher ceremonies to open the season in Detroit every year until 1927, the year of his death.
The Opening Day festivities started in the morning with a street parade, featuring the Tigers decked out in red coats accompanied by city officials and various invited guests.
The first casualty was a fan. During practice, Tiger shortstop Kid Elberfeld overthrew Pop Dillon at first base, and the ball hit one of the spectators who was on the field. He was taken away bleeding from the mouth.
The Tigers’ mascot, “Oom Paul,” a dog owned by J.B. Beattie, was brought out and placed at home plate. The dog was considered a good-luck charm for the Tigers, who were 21-1 in 1900 as members of the then minor-league American League when “Oom Paul” was present.
Former Judge Byron S. Waite made a speech and presented a cup to owner Jimmy Burns and manager George Stallings, who owned a share of the club. Jacob J. Haarar, president of the common council, threw out the first pitch Bennett.
Finally, it was time for baseball.
An overflow crowd of 10,023 jammed Bennett Park for the first major-league game in Tigers history. But many of them were not around for one of the most incredible ninth-inning comebacks in baseball history.
Milwaukee jumped on Tigers rookie starting pitcher Roscoe Miller, scoring seven runs off him in two and one-third innings before Emil Frisk came on in relief. Although Miller gave up six hits and walked one, he didn’t get any help from the defense. Elberfeld made three errors in the first three innings, including one on a ground ball by rookie center fielder Irv Waldron in the first at-bat of the game.
The Tigers went into the bottom of the fourth trailing 7-0 but got two of them back on back-to-back run-scoring doubles by Dillon and Elberfeld. Kid Gleason, who later would be known as the manager of the 1919 Chicago White Sox – the team made famous in the Black Sox Scandal for throwing the World Series, added a run-scoring double in the fifth as the Tigers cut Milwaukee’s lead to 7-3. The Brewers seemingly put the game away with three runs in the seventh and three more in the eighth to build a 13-3 lead.
Kid Nance singled in Dillon, who had doubled, in the bottom of the eighth to cut Milwaukee’s lead to 13-4, and Bennett Park begin to empty.
What happened next defied logic.
Trailing 13-4, the Tigers opened the ninth inning with six consecutive hits: A double by Doc Casey, a single by Jimmy Barrett, a run-scoring single by Gleason made it 13-5. A run-scoring double by Ducky Holmes made it 13-6, and a two-run double by Dillon made it 13-8. Elberfeld added a run-scoring double, and it was 13-9 and maybe a little interesting.
Milwaukee player-manager Hugh Duffy decided to pull left-handed relief pitcher Pete Dowling and replace him with right-handed reliever Bert Husting. The Brewers still led by four runs, and the Tigers had Elberfeld on second with nobody out.
Husting uncorked a wild pitch, allowing Elberfeld to advance to third, and retired Nance on a grounder as Elberfeld remained at third. At that point, the crowd that circled behind the outfielders (there was no outfield wall at Bennett Park and fans were allowed to stand a reasonable distance behind the outfielders) began to inch closer, and the game was delayed as some of the Tigers players had to urge the fans to retreat.
Husting then walked catcher Fritz Buelow, and Frisk, the Tigers’ pitcher, drove home Elberfeld with a single to cut Milwaukee’s lead to 13-10, still with just one out. The Detroit Free Press reported that at this point of the game the fans were throwing hats and coats onto the field as they cheered the rally.
Casey, who had started the inning with a base hit, beat out a bunt to load the bases, but Barrett was called out on strikes. The bases remained loaded, but the Tigers trailed 13-10 with two out. Gleason then hit a hard grounder to Brewers third baseman Jimmy Burke, who made an error that allowed a run to score and slice Milwaukee’s lead to 13-11. If Burke had made that play, the game would have been over.
Holmes followed with a slow roller to Burke and beat it out for a hit as Frisk crossed the plate to bring the Tigers within one run at 13-12. Dillon, who already had collected three doubles in the game, came to bat. He delivered again, smashing the ball over the head of left-fielder Bill Hallman for a double, scoring Casey with the tying run and Gleason with the game-winning run.
The Detroit Free Press described the scene like this: “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.”
Dillon finished the game with four doubles, a franchise record that was tied by Billy Bruton on May 19, 1963. Dillon was 4-for-6 with three runs scored and five RBIs. Frisk was the winning pitcher in relief.
Overlooked in the game was the Tigers’ defense. The Tigers made seven errors as Elberfeld had three, while Gleason, Holmes, Dillon and Nance had one apiece. But game-winning rallies of 10 runs in the bottom of the ninth have a way of making people forget about errors, even seven of them.