Opening Day, 1910: Detroit

Sam Crawford

Today marks the actual opening day of the 1910 season. One hundred years ago baseball began its season anew. And Detroit was the returning American League Champion.

The Tigers were three-time defending AL champions. Unfortunately they were also three-time losing World Series participants. As you would probably guess, the three-time defending champion hadn’t made many changes on its roster as the 1910 season opened. Manager Hughie Jennings had a good team and little reason to make major changes.

The infield consisted of Tom Jones at first and Jim Delahanty at second. Both came to Detroit late in the 1909 season and helped the Tigers to a 3.5 game margin over Philadelphia. Donie Bush remained at shortstop and George Moriarty was the third baseman. Bush led off and led the AL in walks in 1909. Frankly he wasn’t much of a shortstop, but was considered adequate, especially when his batting was taken into consideration.

The catchers platooned. That was a rarity in 1910. Oscar Stanage hit left-handed and Boss Schmidt, a switch hitter, swung mostly from the right. Neither were considered exceptional catchers or superior hitters, but got the job done.

You should start seeing a pattern emerge here. The team is adequate, not special. In defending a pennant adequate can lead to loss.

The heart of the team was the outfield. Longtime left fielder Matty McIntyre saw his production slip in 1909 and became, in 1910, the fourth outfielder. Davy Jones, former backup outfielder, took over the job in left. The key to the outfield lay in the other two positions manned by Hall of Famers Ty Cobb and Sam Crawford. Cobb was coming off a triple crown year. He also led the AL in runs, stolen bases, and slugging. He was fearless and fearsome on the bases, generally disliked as  person, but widely admired for his baseball abilities. Crawford was in many way the anti-Cobb. He was quiet, will liked, a team player. He was also very, very good. In 1909 he led the AL in doubles.  With the two of them hitting three and four in the lineup, Detroit was formidable.

The bench consisted of McIntyre, the platooned catcher of the day, Charley O’Leary, Hack Simmons, and Chick Lathers. All were backup infielders with Lathers doing more pinch-hitting than either of the others.

The pitching staff saw one major change during the offseason. Sailor Stroud was a rookie. The rest of the staff consisted of George Mullin (who won 29 games in 1909), Bill Donovan, Ed Willett, Ed Summers, and Ed Killian (what is it with all the Ed’s?). All had pitched reasonably well in 1909 with Willett posting 22 wins.

But the Tigers had  problems. They were aging and the pitching staff was in many ways a reflection of their hitting. None of the pitchers had particularly good hits to innings pitched ratios or walks to strikeout ratios. In fact none of them were significant strikeout pitchers. Millen led the team with 124, good for 11th in the AL. The hitters, beyond Cobb and Crawford, weren’t anything special. All of them would hit over .250 for the season, but there was little pop. Beyond Cobb and Crawford none of them had more than six triples (which is a bigger deal in 1910 than in 2010). With the growing abilities of other teams, especially Philadelphia, the Tigers went into 1910 defending champs, but vulnerable.

Next: the Athletics

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