The 1909 World Series was known for its surprises. It was a series full of stars. The Pirates had a 25-game winner, another who won 22, and another who won 19 games. They also featured one of the game’s great stars, Honus Wagner. The series was billed as a great match-up of the game’s greatest players, Wagner and Ty Cobb.
As for the Tigers, they had future Hall-of-Famer Sam Crawford to go with Cobb, the American League triple crown winner. They also had a great pitching staff anchored by George Mullin, Ed Willett and Ed Summers. Of all these stars on both teams, only Wagner performed at a rate comparable to what he did during the regular season.
The big difference for the Pirates was a young right-hander by the name of Babe Adams. He won three games during the series, after winning just 12 all year. He won games one, five, and seven. It was the first World Series ever to go the full seven games.
The rest of the stars were average at best. Cobb hit just .231, but drove in five runs. For all of his greatness, and his ability to rise to the occasion during the season, Cobb’s career World Series numbers were not good. He was a lifetime .262 hitter in the Fall Classic, compared to his lifetime .366 average during the regular season. Cobb batted .368 in the 1908 World Series, which the Tigers lost in five games, but batted just .200 in 1907 to go along with his unimpressive performance in ’09.
1909 was the third-greatest season in Tigers history, in terms of winning percentage. They won 98 games, while the Pirates, the beasts of the National League, won 110. It was a great series, but Babe Adams proved to be the difference in bringing Pittsburg (the city would add the ‘h’ two years later) its first ever world championship. The Tigers would have to wait another 26 years.
George Mullin, the Tigers’ ace, was beaten in game one. He looked to bounce back in game four at Bennett Park. It was a bitterly cold day. At game time, it was a frigid 34 degrees, and getting colder. Snow had fallen that morning, and more was in the forecast. The sky was gray and the freezing wind blew hard at times. The ballpark wasn’t quite filled to its capacity as some stayed home in front of their stoves. To keep warm, the 17,000+ in attendance brought sweaters, blankets, and flasks. Fans huddled together on the Wildcat Bleachers, the unauthorized setup of stands, as well as on rooftops, near the park. Despite the cold, this series shattered all attendance records.
There was a dispute over a foul ball in game two. That led to a lot of complaining, and more umpires. Game four was the first time four umpires were ever used in a major league game, which is now standard.
The game was scoreless in the second when the Pirates put two on with one out, but Mullin got a force out and ground out to finish the inning. The Tigers got to Pirates starter Lefty Leifield in the second. Leifield got ahead of Jim Delahanty, 0-2, then hit him. George Moriarty then popped one back of short, the wind took it and it dropped for a hit, and Delahanty took third. Tom Jones then tapped one back to the mound, and Delahanty tried to score, but he was thrown out. The runners moved all the way up to second and third on the slow-developing play. Oscar Stanage, the Tigers number eight hitter, then hit one over second baseman Dots Miller’s head. Miller leaped, but the ball went off the end of his glove and into right field, and both runners scored to make it 2-0.
— Tigers History (@TigersHistory) October 18, 2018
Mullin then went to work. He struck out the side in the third, but had to battle. The Pirates put runners on second and third with two outs for Wagner. With two strikes, Mullin snapped off a big curve and the umpire called him out. The Flying Dutchman threw his hands up in protest, but the umpire was adamant that it was indeed a strike. That would be Pittsburg’s best chance.
— Tigers History (@TigersHistory) July 13, 2017
The Tigers put up another big inning in the fourth. After the leadoff hitter reached, Wagner turned a great double play to clear the bases. Then, Mullin walked on four pitches, Davy Jones singled, and Donie Bush doubled to score one run. Cobb was next. With the count 1-2, he lined one over third for a double, scoring Jones and Bush to make it 5-0.
Tigers owner Frank Navin's experience at Forbes Field at the 1909 World Series helped inspire him to build Navin Field, the ballpark that would become Tiger Stadium, in 1912 https://t.co/qpCZ06P3AW
— Tigers History (@TigersHistory) July 24, 2018
The great play by the Tigers helped make the cold weather tolerable. The shivering fans cheered every time Mullin made an appearance. Every time he stepped to the plate and every time he took the mound before an inning, the crowd greeted him with applause. Mullin was practically untouchable after getting the big lead. He struck out two in the fifth, two more in the sixth, and one in the seventh. He set down the Pirates 1-2-3 in the eighth. In the ninth inning, with the score still 5-0, he got three easy ground outs to put this one away. Final score: Tigers 5, Pirates 0.
The crowd poured onto the field after the final out to lift Mullin onto their shoulders. They carried him off into the clubhouse, still cheering. Mullin had struck out 10 batters and given up five hits. It’s one of the great World Series pitching performances ever by a Tiger.
— Tigers History (@TigersHistory) October 12, 2017
Half an hour after the game, a huge crowd was still on the field, dancing and celebrating the big win that tied the series up at two games apiece. The fans shook each other’s hands and yelled taunts at the Pirates’ players as they made their way out. A throng of fans followed the Pittsburg players all the way downtown to the Hotel Pontchartrain where the players were staying. They carried noisemakers and made a racket outside the hotel as the players prepared to head back to Pittsburg for game five.
About one thousand fans gathered at the depot to send off the Tigers and wish them well in the crucial game the next night in the Steel City. All over town, fans talked about nothing but baseball. It was Tigertown. It looked like Detroit’s first championship would only be days away.
This is an excerpt from The Perfect Season: How the Detroit Tigers Go 162-0 and Sweep Their Way to a World Series Championship! Used by permission of the author. You can buy the book here.
The Perfect Season: How the Detroit Tigers Go 162-0 and Sweep Their Way to a World Series Championship!
By Matt Wentworth
Foreword by Dan Dickerson
For this book, I researched every win in the history of the Detroit Tigers franchise, from 1901-2007. From this research, I put together the greatest season’s worth of games in team history. So I start with the greatest opening day ever, then the greatest second game ever, and so on, until they go 162-0 and sweep their way to a World Series championship.
To properly tell the story, and the significance of the games, I tried to put the fan back into the stadium, to feel like they were witnessing the history unfold before them. I used the newspaper accounts from microfilm at the Detroit Public Library. I also interviewed many people to gain this perspective. I talked with Ernie Harwell, George Kell, Virgil Trucks, Frank Lary, as well as a fan who actually witnessed Babe Ruth play at Navin Field. All of these people have since passed away.
If you love Tiger baseball, you’ll love this book.