That Other Detroit Team

1887 World Chammpion Detroit Wolverines

I wanted to comment on the team playoff history of the National League representative to this season’s World Series but the Cardinals and Giants are making it exceedingly difficult for me to do so. They are, however, having a heck of a series. So I’ve decided to write about Detroit baseball before the Tigers.

In 1881 Major League baseball came to Detroit. The Wolverines played in the National League and were reasonably good for much of their history. They finished fourth and fifth in 1881 and 1882, then slid back from 1883 through 1885 never finishing higher than sixth. It was too much for the owner.

In 1886 he went out and bought a team (George Steinbrenner would be pleased). What he did was to lure away a number of the stars of the era by offering big salaries (for the era) and a multi-year contract. In doing so he put together one of the better teams of the 19th Century. Although these names may be meaningless to you, in the 1880s they were household names among baseball fans. There was Hall of  Famer Dan Brouthers at first, Fred Dunlap and Jack Rowe up the middle of the infield, and Deacon White (who should be in the Hall of Fame) at third. The outfield consisted of Hardy Richardson (a borderline HoF candidate) and Hall of Famers Sam Thompson and Ned Hanlon (although Hanlon is in the Hall as a manager). Charlie Bennett (who later had the Detroit stadium named for him) was the catcher and the mainstays of the staff were Lady Baldwin and Pretzels Getzien (God, they don’t make nicknames like they used to).

They finished second in 1886, 2.5 games behind Chicago, then roared to a pennant in 1887 with Charlie Ganzel replacing Bennett as the primary catcher. There was a postseason series in the 1880s (a sort of primitive World Series) played between the National League champion (Detroit) and the winner of the American Association (St. Louis Browns–now the Cardinals). The teams were allowed to pick the number of games in the postseason and the two teams settled on an all-time high of 15 games with all 15 being played regardless of who got to 8 first. Detroit won 10 games and brought the first World’s Championship to the city.

It was a short-lived triumph. You see the team was expensive to maintain and no matter how well they did, they just couldn’t turn a profit. With Dunlap going to Pittsburgh (Richardson replaced him at second), White turning 40, and Thompson having a down year they finished 5th. It was too much and the team folded at the end of the season. It was the last Major League team in Detroit until the Tigers were formed in 1901.

So Detroit has a long history of Major League play. Not just the Tigers have been successful. The team that came before had one great run. Thought you ought to know.

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3 Responses to “That Other Detroit Team”

  1. William Miller Says:

    You always manage to find something new for us. Good stuff.
    Bill

  2. Glen Russell Slater Says:

    You’re certainly right that they sure don’t make nicknames like they used to, “V”! Lady Baldwin! I recently read that Lady Baldwin got his nickname because he was, in some of his teammates estimation, “ladylike.” In those days, “ladylike” meant that he didn’t smoke or chew tobacco or drink. He HAD to have been secure in his masculinity to accept a nickname like that! I’ve got to give him a lot of credit for that!

    Glen

  3. Glen Russell Slater Says:

    …Then again, I had a friend while growing up, and because his last name had the word “Fem” in it (in the first syllable of a four-syllable Italian or Sicilian name), his friends (including me) all called him “Femmo.” Instead of being insulted by it or kicking our asses (which he could have done with very little effort), he made the name his own. When you have a lousy last name like that, you do all you can to put a positive spin on it. So he had more names for himself than Cassius Clay/Muhummad Ali. And he was a bragger just like Clay/Ali! He called himself “The Fem” (the television show “Happy Days” was big then, and every teenage male wanted to be like Fonzie; we went around saying “AYYYYYYY” just like the Fonz. And that’s why my friend called himself “The Fem”!!!! He was also called “Femster”.) Ahhhh, those were the days. Stickball with Franco and The Fem, which I described in my two-part article on my “Foot In The Bucket” blog, and the name of the two-part article is “Femmo, Franco, and The Wall: Stickball!) in which I described our games of stickball. If you haven’t seen the two-part article, you might enjoy reading it. I sure enjoyed writing it.

    I just put this in because Lady Baldwin reminded me of good ol’ Femmo!

    Glen

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