The Detroit Tigers’ First Victorious World Series Game

Ty Cobb, circa 1906. (Photo Reproduction by Transcendental Graphics/Getty Images)
Ty Cobb, circa 1906. (Photo Reproduction by Transcendental Graphics/Getty Images) /

One of the biggest wins in early Detroit Tigers history happened in Game 3 of the 1908 World Series. Led by the incomparable Tyrus Raymond Cobb, the Tigers beat the Chicago Cubs and emerged victorious in a Fall Classic game for the very first time.

The Detroit Tigers’ initial foray into postseason baseball didn’t go well at all. The year was 1907. After capturing the first of the franchise’s 11 American League pennants, the Tigers met the Chicago Cubs in the World Series. Game 1 ended in a 3-3, 13-inning tie. The National League champs then swept the Tigers in the next four games.

The 1908 World Series, a rematch with the Cubs, began just as dubiously for the Tigers. Detroit dropped the opener, 10-6, at home in Bennett Park. The series shifted to Chicago for Game 2, and the Cubs took that one, 6-1. Both teams returned to West Side Grounds for Game 3 on October 12. (That ballpark remained the Cubs’ home until 1916, when they moved into the stadium that would eventually become known as Wrigley Field.)

Pre-Game Coverage

Right-hander George Mullin drew the starting assignment for Detroit in Game 3. Today, Mullin may be best remembered for throwing the first no-hitter in team history. You’ll still find him ranked highly on a few of the franchise’s career leaderboards (innings pitched: 1st, complete games: 1st, wins: 2nd, shutouts: 2nd, starts: 3rd, ERA: 6th, strikeouts: 7th). Mullin is rightfully regarded as one of the Tigers’ all-time best pitchers, but in 1908, he was only the team’s fifth-best starter.

In 39 regular season appearances, including 30 starts, Mullin gave up more hits (301), earned runs (100), walks (71), and even wild pitches (12) than any other Tigers pitcher in ’08. Viewed through a modern lens, his 77 ERA+ is cringeworthy. Mullin’s 3.10 ERA seems respectable enough, but it was the highest on the staff. In the Dead Ball Era, it also paled in comparison to the 1.64 posted by rookie righty Ed Summers, the team leader. Mullin finished with a record of 17-13, which snapped a three-year string in which he won at least 20.

Mullin pitched well against the Cubs in the 1907 Series. He gave up four runs across 17 innings in two games. However, his Tigers teammates only scored a total of one run for him. This would be the 28-year-old veteran’s first start in Detroit’s second attempt to beat Chicago for a world championship. Mullin’s counterpart on the mound was left-hander Jack Pfiester, who led the Cubs to a win over Mullin and company in Game 2 the previous October.

Five future Hall of Famers played in Game 3 of the 1908 World Series. Right fielder Ty Cobb and center fielder Sam Crawford suited up in the Olde English D. The Cubs’ lineup featured the famous trio of shortstop Joe Tinker, second baseman Johnny Evers, and first baseman Frank Chance. (The poem which immortalized them wasn’t published until two years later, though.) Chance doubled as Chicago’s manager and matched wits with Detroit skipper Hughie Jennings, himself a future Cooperstown enshrinee.

Detroit Tigers
Frank Chance of the Chicago Cubs awaits a pitch in the 1907 World Series at Chicago’s West Side Grounds. The Tigers’ Fred Payne is catching. The photo is from a glass slide, designed to be projected between movies in a cinema one hundred years ago. (Transcendental Graphics / Getty Images) /

Play Ball!

Tigers left fielder Matty McIntyre led off the Monday afternoon matchup with the Cubs. Six days earlier in Chicago, McIntyre singled to open the regular-season finale against the White Sox. That hit triggered a four-run, first-inning rally. Detroit clinched its second straight AL pennant with the 7-0 victory.

McIntyre joined the Tigers in 1904, and ’08 turned out to be his career year in Detroit. His .392 on-base percentage led the Tigers that season. That OBP was bolstered by a team-leading 83 walks. (Runners-up Germany Schaefer and Crawford each drew a mere 37 base on balls.) McIntyre also led the AL with 105 runs. In terms of value to the 1908 Detroit Tigers, he ranked right in between Cobb and Crawford. Ty’s 6.2 bWAR beat out Matty’s 6.0 and Sam’s 5.1. McIntyre was a fine sparkplug at the top of Jennings’ batting order and led off 147 of Detroit’s 154 regular-season games.

In Game 3 of the World Series, McIntyre fouled off a couple of Pfiester’s pitches and worked the count full before grounding out to Evers. Charley O’Leary ripped a hard shot that Chicago third baseman Harry Steinfeldt was able to knock down, but O’Leary beat the throw. Crawford hit a little dribbler in front of the plate and was an easy out. O’Leary took second on the play and scored when Cobb dropped a single into center field. The visitors from Detroit grabbed an early 1-0 lead.

That was already the 21-year-old Cobb’s fourth hit of the Series. The first three were also singles. The Tigers’ marquee player looked uncharacteristically bad against the Cubs when the two teams met in the Fall Classic one year earlier. Cobb hit a meager .200 in the five games, scored only one run, and stole no bases. There was no way that the determined and fiercely competitive Tyrus was going to have a bad World Series two years in a row. He was just getting warmed up in this game.

Claude Rossman grounded out to third, ending the inning. The Tigers settled for the lone run. Mullin struck out the first Cubs hitter he faced, Jimmy Sheckard. Evers worked the count full before flying out to McIntyre in foul territory. Frank Schulte singled to extend the inning for Chance. The Cubs’ leader couldn’t pull off his end of a hit-and-run and stood helplessly at the plate as Detroit catcher Ira Thomas’ throw beat Schulte to the bag. A waiting O’Leary laid the tag down for the third out.

Pfiester and Mullin each pitched a 1-2-3 inning in the second. Pfiester put the Tigers down on three straight infield groundouts. Mullin struck out two of his three opponents. Pfiester set the Tigers down in order again in the third. Two pop flyouts in foul territory curtailed Detroit’s efforts that time up.

Tinker led off the bottom of the third with a Texas League single into right-center. He’d stolen two bases in Game 1, and he had sights set on another steal. That was the Cubs’ way. They led the NL with 212 stolen bases and racked up seven against Tigers catcher Charlie “Boss” Schmidt and his pitchers in the first two games of the Series. With backup Thomas behind the plate for Detroit in Game 3, Chicago had to like its chances of adding more. On a hunch, Mullin and Thomas pitched out with two strikes on Johnny Kling. The aggressive Tinker was going, and the pitchout worked. Second baseman Schaefer tagged the runner out.

Schaefer had actually started the first two games of the Series at third base, and Red Downs handled second base for Detroit. In the regular season, Germany alternated between second (60 appearances) and shortstop (69). He also saw some time at third (29), mostly in September. For two seasons, 1905 and ’06, Schaefer had been the Tigers’ regular second baseman. Jennings started to use him elsewhere in the infield in 1907. Hughie decided to move his charge back to his natural position for this game for one reason, as reported by Joe S. Jackson of the Detroit Free Press. Jackson wrote:

"Schaefer was preferred at second by Jennings because he believed the old player would improve the infield work in the manner of handling throws, a very important part inasmuch as the Cubs show evidence of intent to try thieving at all possible times."

In the top of the fourth, Crawford broke an 0-for-9 skid with a leadoff single into center. He wasn’t on base for long after his first Series hit, though. Cobb forced him at second. Rossman couldn’t come through on a hit-and-run attempt and meekly popped to Evers instead. Cobb had hustled his way to second on contact and was standing on the bag when Evers easily tossed the ball to Chance at first to complete the inning-ending double play.

The Cubs Strike First

It was the top of the Chicago order that Mullin faced in the bottom of the fourth. Once again, the Detroit righty struck Sheckard out. Evers walked after being down in the count, 0-2. He was the only Cub to earn a free pass all day. He’d also been one of the Cubs to successfully steal a base earlier in the Series. Mullin expected him to try again. A pickoff throw caught Evers off the bag. He charged for second base and made it safely when Rossman’s throw to O’Leary soared too high. Claude was charged with an error.

Schulte popped out to Thomas for the second out of the inning. Mullin was almost out of the jam, but Chance’s line-drive single to center drove in Evers with the tying run. Chance promptly purloined second base. With that, he had successfully stolen in each of the Series’ first three games.

The Tigers’ defensive woes kept the fourth inning alive for the Cubs. Third baseman Bill Coughlin, making his first start in the Series (and first appearance since September 23), fielded a ball hit by Steinfeldt. The rusty Coughlin’s low throw to Rossman bounced away, and Steinfeldt was safe. Chance had taken third on contact, and he darted home on the miscue. Rossman recovered the ball but made a bad throw to the plate. Chance scored, and Steinfeldt cruised into second. Chicago went up, 2-1. Both Coughlin and Rossman were charged with throwing errors on the play. Solly Hofman’s triple added another run to the Cubs’ 3-1 lead. Mullin finally got Tinker to ground out to O’Leary to end the madness.

Armed with his first lead of the day, Pfeister made short work of the Tigers with a 1-2-3 top of the fifth. The bottom half started with more shaky Detroit fieldwork. Kling led off with a tapper to O’Leary, who bobbled it. That was the Tigers’ fourth error of the game. Pfeister’s attempt at laying down a sacrifice bunt on an 0-2 pitch resulted in a foul tip for strike three. Sheckard, already a two-time strikeout victim, managed to make contact on an 0-2 pitch but hit into one of the Tigers’ better defensive plays of the game. Will B. Wreford of the Free Press wrote:

"Sheckard walloped the third pitch in hope of putting it over second, but Schaefer, on the run to take a throw on a steal, stretched out a couple of yards, closed on the ball, touched second, whirled and winged the sphere to first, completing a swell double play."

Free Press game notes indicated that “Schaefer looked awful [sic] good back at his old position. He gobbled everything that came within fighting distance”.

The Tigers Answer Back

Mullin was the Tigers’ leadoff hitter in the sixth inning and drew a four-pitch walk from Pfeister. That turned the lineup over for Detroit, and McIntyre drove a single to left. With teammates on first and second, O’Leary dutifully laid down a sacrifice bunt. Pfeister fielded it. He opted to try get the lead runner out, but Mullin beat his throw to third. Everyone was safe on the fielder’s choice play.

Chance walked over the mound to chat with Pfeister. Though it appeared that he might make a change, the player-manager opted to leave his pitcher in. There were 14,543 on hand at West Side Grounds, and the Chicago bugs (as fans were often called back then) didn’t agree with Chance’s call. Free Press game notes mentioned that the crowd “yelled constantly for the hook for Pfeister.”

The bases were loaded for Crawford. “Wahoo Sam” arrived in Detroit in 1903 after four seasons with the Cincinnati Reds. He was the elder statesman of the Tigers’ lineup and one of its most important bats. The 28-year-old finished second in the American League in hits (184), batting average (.311), slugging percentage (.457). In each category, Crawford trailed only his teammate Cobb. Crawford also finished third in the AL in OPS (.812) and OPS+ (160).

Crawford lined Pfeister’s first offering toward right field. First baseman Chance, according to the Tribune‘s Sanborn “could only partly block it, although he threw himself flat on the ground in a desperate attempt to smother the ball.” Mullin scored on the single. The Free Press‘ Jackson surmised that Chance’s effort kept the smash from being a two-run double that would’ve tied the game. Chicago’s lead, down to 3-2, wasn’t safe.

Detroit Tigers
Detroit Tigers Hall of Famer Sam Crawford, circa 1910. (Photo Reproduction by Transcendental Graphics/Getty Images) /

The bases remained loaded for Cobb, whose .324 average earned him his second of an eventual 12 AL batting crowns in 1908. He also led the league in slugging percentage (.476), OPS (.844), and OPS+ (170). In Game 3 of the World Series, the hits kept on coming for “The Georgia Peach”. He hit a squibber that neither Pfeister nor Tinker could get to in time. Cobb’s swiftness netted him an infield hit, which knocked in McIntyre with the tying run.

Rossman, who had been having a rough game, stepped up with the sacks still full. With atonement perhaps on his mind, he may have been anxious to come through for his team in a clutch situation. Rossman wasted no time and ripped Pfeister’s first pitch into center for a single. Both O’Leary and Crawford scored. Detroit had overtaken Chicago on the scoreboard, and Jennings’ boys now led, 5-3. In the 1907 Series, Rossman was the Tigers’ leading hitter (.450, nine hits in five games). This time around, he came up with what turned out to be the team’s biggest hit of the ’08 Series.

There were still no outs. Schaefer had a chance to drive Cobb in from third. Germany lofted a fly ball to short center. Hofman made the catch, and Ty daringly tagged up. Alas, bravado got the best of him. The Chicago outfielder’s throw nailed the Detroit daredevil at the plate. Cobb was out, and suddenly there were two down. At least Rossman had taken second base on the double play. Thomas doubled him home to cap the Tigers’ rally. The visitors were up, 6-3.

The Tigers sent all nine men to the plate in the sixth inning. The key play in the five-run outburst, one that made an intense impact on Tribune reporter Sanborn, was the O’Leary bunt that preceded the scoring frenzy. As if he’d witnessed the baseballers from Detroit morphing into the fierce jungle cats they were named after, Sanborn grimly wrote:

"It gave the Tigers the chance to feed on Cub meat for the first time in their lives, and they lost no time stuffing themselves full of it."

In the bottom of the sixth, Chance singled with two outs and stole second. That was his second steal of the game and fourth of the series. That was the extent of the Cubs’ offense that inning. Pfeister was able to rebound and keep the Tigers off the board in the seventh. Hofman singled off Mullin to begin the Chicago half. Tinker struck out. That was Mullin’s eighth K of the game. Kling hit into a 6-4-3 double play to end the seventh.

Late-Inning Spurt

Cobb led off the eighth for the Tigers and cracked a double down the left-field line. (Doubles were also something he led the AL in that year.) Rossman followed with a nice bunt toward third base, which he was able to beat out for a hit. Detroit had runners on the corners. Schaefer flew out to Schulte in right. Schulte threw home, anticipating that Cobb would go for it again. Ty did not. Thomas walked to load the bases. Coughlin flew to Sheckard in left. This time, Cobb tagged and beat the throw to score the Tigers’ seventh run.

Chance knocked down a liner off the bat of Mullin that sent Rossman and Thomas in motion. With Pfeister covering first base, there was still an opportunity to get Mullin, but Chance muffed the throw. Everyone was safe, and Rossman took advantage of the defensive lapse by scoring. His run put the Tigers ahead, 8-3. It was Detroit’s biggest lead of the Series.

Mullin mowed Chicago down in the eighth. Del Howard, pinch-hitting for Pfeister, grounded out to Schaefer. So did Sheckard. Evers flew out to Crawford. It was the fifth inning in which Mullin faced only the minimum three hitters. In the Free Press, Jackson noted that the Tigers’ starter “has a world of speed and and a fine curveball, and he had the Cubs’ sluggers’ baffled by them”.

Cubs reliever Ed Reulbach retired the first two Tigers he faced in top of the ninth. In order to pitch a 1-2-3 inning, he needed to get Cobb out. Ty wasn’t about to let that happen. He singled to left. It was, according to the Tribune‘s Sanborn, “a swift push along the ground past Steinfeldt, who was laying for a bunt”. It was also Cobb’s fourth hit of the afternoon. The performance represents the pinnacle of legendary Tiger’s postseason success at the plate, limited as it was. He hit .368 in the 1908 Series, but in three career trips to the Fall Classic, Cobb could only muster a .262 average.

The uncaged Tiger was on the prowl again, but Cobb hadn’t yet attempted to steal a base in this World Series. With the outcome of Game 3 seemingly in hand, it was time to scratch that itch. The Free Press‘ Wreford reported on what happened next in what he called Cobb’s “merry field day”. Wreford wrote:

"He notified (catcher) Kling he was going to steal second, which he did on the next pitch, spoiling a chance for a play on him by dumping Tinker as he slid. He tipped Kling off again that he was about to steal third, and he did (with) Kling’s rather low throw getting away from Steinfeldt."

Detroit Tigers
Ty Cobb slides safely into third base, circa 1911. (Photo Reproduction by Transcendental Graphics/Getty Images) /

With Cobb on third, Reulbach walked Rossman. In a bold move, Rossman immediately attempted to snag another bag after barely stopping at first base. That caught the pitcher’s attention, but just as Reulbach was going to make a throw, Cobb made a beeline for the plate. Ruelbach saw it and ran him back toward third. He tossed the ball to Kling, who continued the pursuit. Kling’s throw to Steinfeldt finally cut Cobb down for the last out. The catcher likely enjoyed getting the last laugh. According to Free Press game notes, “Tyrus had Kling much peeved when he started stealing sacks”.

Mullin took the mound once again for the final frame. Frank Schulte and Frank Chance each took a turn flying out to Crawford. With his team down to its final out, Steinfeldt singled and showed that the Cubs’ larcenous spirit on the base paths was still alive. He swiped second, which was Chicago’s third theft of the day. That was as far as Steinfeldt got. Hofman grounded out to O’Leary to seal the Tigers’ 8-3 victory.

Detroit trimmed Chicago’s lead in the World Series to 2-1. Because of the Cubs’ sweep in the 1907 Series, it appeared as though some Windy City observers expected another easy romp in ’08. Coverage of the Tigers’ Game 3 win in the following day’s Chicago Tribune included a snide remark buried in the game notes:

"Yesterday was the anniversary of the discovery of America, but Oct. 12 will be remembered for a greater event in the annals of Detroit, for it marks the day when the Tigers finally beat the Cubs."

Post-Game Coverage

Sadly, Game 3 was the last one in which Detroit scored in 1908. The Cubs proceeded to win the World Series again by shutting the Tigers out, 3-0 and 2-0, at Bennett Park in Games 4 and 5.

Detroit vs. Chicago in the Fall Classic almost became a trilogy in 1909. The Tigers did their part by claiming a third consecutive AL pennant. The Cubs’ 104 wins weren’t enough to repeat in the NL, however. It was the Pittsburgh Pirates who ruled the Senior Circuit with 110 victories. The Bucs beat the Bengals in the ’09 World Series, but Pittsburgh needed all seven games to put Detroit away.

It wasn’t until 1935 that a Tigers team was able to triumph in a World Series against a Cubs team. It happened again in 1945. The Cubs narrowly avoided an October showdown with the Tigers in 1984 by losing to the San Diego Padres in the playoffs. For the National Leaguers from Chicago, the world championship won at Detroit’s expense in 1908 was the last one for the franchise until 2016.