Monday, January 28, 2013

Ducky, Doc, Kid, and the 1901 Tigers

1901 was the maiden year of the American League and the Detroit franchise had graduated from the Western League and was one of eight teams in the circuit.  With a roster filled with the likes of Ducky, Doc, and Kid they had a lineup that sounded more like Snow White's dwarfs.  In reality they were National League defectors, castoffs, and eager ballers Detroit brought with them from the Western League.

According to the Tigers history page on the season started in grand fashion:

On April 24, 1901, the Tigers prepared to take to the field for their first official American League game. A standing room only crowd was anticipated at Bennett Park, but unpredictable weather postponed the opening by a day.
On that historic afternoon, April 25, 1901, in front of 10,000 fans, the Tigers entered the ninth inning trailing Milwaukee, 13-4. A series of hits and miscues followed, moving the score to 13-12 with two runners on. With two out, Tiger Frank "Pop" Dillon faced reliever Bert Husting, and the lefthanded hitter rapped a two-run double to complete a 14-13 comeback win.

That's a tremendous way to start a season and team history but what always got my attention about the Tigers first team was the awesome nicknames on the team.  Here is a breakdown of the roster:

Frank "Pop" Dillon 1B: Tabbed "Pop" due to his premature graying hair, he hit the game winning two run double in the opener which was his fourth two-bagger of the game.  He batted .288, and although at 6'1" was the biggest positional player in the lineup, hit just one home run.  That's understandable since most of the circuit jobs in those days were inside the park numbers.  He became a well known manager in the Pacific Coast League.
Daniel "Davey" Crockett" 1B: Apparently dubbed Davey after the frontiersman of the previous century, he filled in for Dillon for a month, played 28 games and was released.  In those day teams typically carried a very light bench with a backup catcher and a utility player.  Crockett would play in the minors until 1912 but never played in the majors again.
William "Kid" Gleason 2B:  The switch-hitting Gleason led the team with 12 triples and at age 34 was actually the elder statesman on the team.  Players of the era who were smallish (Gleason was 5'7", 155lbs) and showed a lot of youthful energy were often named Kid.  As a pitcher he won 138 games until shifting to the infield in 1895.  Long before it was popular, Gleason worked out at a gym in the off season to stay in shape which allowed him to play into his 40's.  Despite his lengthy playing career he is probably best known as the skipper on the 1919 Black Sox.  Later Connie Mack's right-hand man in Philadelphia, he remained a popular figure in the game, and was mourned by over 5,000 at his funeral in 1933.
Norman "Kid" Elberfeld SS:  Elberfeld was the same size as Gleason but eight years his junior. This Kid was a wild, brawling, umpire baiting firecracker and gave the Tigers a double play Kid-duo.  He was known for disinfecting his spike wounded shins with whiskey.  The longer crown of "Tabasco Kid" aptly described his hot temper but he had talent too.  He hit .308 and led the team with 76 RBI and 3.7 WAR.  In 14 years of major league action he piled up 30.4 WAR and, no doubt aided by his personality, was hit 165 times by pitches.  In 1936, Elberfeld took a turn at bat as a 61 year-old for the Fulton Eagles, the D-League team he managed.
James "Doc" Casey 3B:  Casey was called "Doc" on the basis of his medical schooling at the University of Maryland.  Casey batted .283, scored 105 runs, and played good defense at the hot corner.  He played six more years in the majors and continued in the minors as a player-manager until leaving the game in 1912 to become a dentist and pharmacist.


Frederick "Fritz" Buelow C:  Buelow was born in Germany and like most catchers of the era didn't hit much, batting .224 while playing in 70 games. He had a strong arm throwing out 50.4% of runners attempting to steal which was good for second in the league.  He rarely overthrew the bag as he led the AL in fielding percentage for backstops with a .967 mark.  Fritz played until 1907 and retired with a sub-.200 batting average.

Al "Shoddy" Shaw C:  Born in England, Shaw and Buelow gave the Tigers a pair of European born catchers.  Although he didn't have the same defensive prowess as Buelow, "Shoddy" was a take on his last name and not pertaining to his defense.  He was released April and brought back in June and played in 55 games batting .269.

James "Ducky" Holmes LF: I'm not sure how Holmes got his nickname but at 5'6", 170 lbs he was squatty and perhaps waddled a bit when he walked.  While that is pure conjecture on my part what is known is that he was could run well stealing 160 bases after his 30th birthday, a time when most players were slowing down.  He led the Tigers with 28 doubles and four home runs but is best known for an incident that occurred a few years earlier in the National League.  He was suspended for an anti-Jewish slur toward New York Giants owner Andrew Freeman when his visiting Orioles played at the Polo Grounds in 1898.  Known as a well traveled troublemaker, he played ten years in the majors batting .281 with 234 stolen bases.


James "Jimmy" Barrett CF:  Detroit's first star player, Barrett had blazing speed, a rifle arm, a solid bat and patience to boot.  He put up a .298/.385./378 stat line and led the team with 110 runs.  His 76 base on balls were 25 more than his closest teammate.  In 1905 he would suffer a serious knee injury from which he never really recovered.  The injury opened the door for a young centerfielder named Ty Cobb who replaced him in CF.  Barrett played from 1899 to 1908 but earned 16 of his 17.8 WAR from 1900-'04.

William "Doc" "Kid" Nance RF:  Nance was a young sensation in his hometown of Fort Worth, Texas where he was known as the Kid but he was known in Detroit as Doc.  The 24 year-old batted .280 and led the AL with 24 sacrifice hits.  His season was highlighted by a six-for-six game on July 13. Although a regular rightfielder for Detroit, he never played in the majors after 1901.  One flaw in his game may have been lack of foot speed as he was the only regular with less than 10 steals.

Lewis "Sport" McAllister Utility: A fine athlete at 5'11" and 180 lbs he had good size, switch-hit, and could do little bit of everything.  McAllister suffered as a member of the famously terrible Cleveland Spiders of 1899 before he came to Detroit.  In 1900 he even umpired a Western League game when the scheduled arbiter was held out in fear for his safety. Sometimes Detroit's only reserve available, Sport backed up at catcher and played everywhere but second base and pitcher.  He got into 90 games and batted .301 in his super sub role.  McAllister was out of the majors by 1903 but played in the minors until 1915, his age 40 season.

Roscoe "Roxy" Miller P: The ace and workhorse of the Tigers staff, Miller completed all but one of his 36 starts and logged 332 innings.  He won 23 games with a 2.95 ERA (130 ERA+) and posted 6.7 WAR, good for 5th in the league.  The 6'2" hurler was the tallest player on the team and apparently a ground ball specialist as the Tigers recorded 21 infield assists in a Labor Day contest . He kept the ball out of the gaps and allowed just one home run on the year.  Miller jumped to the National League in the middle of  '02 to join John McGraw's Giants put pitched poorly for his new team and finished the year with a sup-par ERA and a 7-20 record.  By 1905 he was out of the majors and he passed away in 1913 at age 36 from unknown causes.

Ed Siever P:  The southpaw was more of a power pitcher than Miller and led the team with 85 strikeouts in 288 innings.  Seemingly more aggressive in his pitching, he allowed nine homers on the year.  He won 18 games on the strength of a 3.24 ERA that was ninth in the circuit and led the league with a 1.91 mark in '02.  He was sold to the Browns in '03 but was brought back in '06.  He was the only player from this inaugural squad to reach the World Series with the pennant winning editions at the end of the decade.  In '08 Siever was released and blamed brash young star Ty Cobb for running him out of town.  While that may true, Siever had a 69 ERA+ at the time so it was likely his own fault.

 John "Jack" Cronin P:  At 200 lbs the six-foot Cronin was the heaviest Tiger and their number three pitcher.  His performance was league average and he allowed 261 hits in 219 innings and won 13 games.  He was out of the majors a few years later but was a successful minor league hurler winning 95 games for Providence from '05 to '09.

Joseph "Little Joe" Yeager P:  The slender pitcher was also a backup shortstop playing 12 games there as well as 26 games on the bump.  The '01 campaign was by far his best as a hurler as he won 12 games with a 2.61 ERA (147 ERA+) in 199 innings.  At the plate he had a pair of homers with a .296 average.  By '03 he was finished as a pitcher but played until '08 as a utility infielder.


Emil Frisk P: Like Yeager, Frisk would transform into a position player later in his career. Frisk was a spare pitcher and worked 74 innings in 11 games and showed his batting talent with a .313 average.  He would never pitch in the majors again but was a regular outfielder for the Browns in 1905.  Somewhat of a minor league legend, he was dubbed the "Wagner of the Minors" amassing over 2,000 hits mainly for teams on the west coast.

Frank "Yip" Owen P:  Nicknamed for his home town Ypsilanti, Michigan, Owen was a rookie who would have the best career of these Tiger pitchers.  He pitched 56 frames with less than stellar results for the Bengals but later found great success for the White Sox.  From '04 - '06 he won 64 games with a 2.12 ERA for the ChiSox, but like a lot of players was out the league a few years later.

Ed High P: Besides Siever, the only other lefty to pitch for Detroit.  He debuted on July 4 and filled in for a month logging 18 innings which turned out to be the full extent of his major league career.

George Stallings managed the fairly balanced team which scored 742 runs good for fifth in the eight team league.  The pitching was a little stronger and was third with 696 runs allowed.  Detroit finished in third place with a 74-61 record behind Chicago and Boston.

Roster turnover was high the next few years as the National and American Leagues continued to squabble over player rights. The Tigers would slide to 52-83 in '02 and would not return to respectability until 1905.

The last living member of this motley crew was Sport McAllister who passed away in 1962 at 87 years of age. 


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