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The Detroit Tigers played their first game as a major league team in the American League on April 25, 1901 at Bennett Park in front of 10,000 fans against the Milwaukee Brewers. After trailing 13-4 entering the ninth inning, the team staged a dramatic comeback to win the game 14-13. The Tigers originally played in the minor Western League.
There are various legends about how the Tigers got their nickname. One has to do with the orange stripes they wore on their black stockings. Another has to do with a sportswriter equating that 1901 Detroit club's opening day victory to the ferocity of his alma mater, the Princeton Tigers. However, the truth is revealed in Richard Bak's 1998 book, A Place for Summer: A Narrative History of Tiger Stadium. In the 19th century, the city of Detroit had a military unit called the Detroit Light Guard, who were known as "The Tigers." They had played a significant role in certain Civil War battles and also in the recently-fought Spanish-American War. The ballclub received permission from the Light Guard to use their trademark, and from that day forth the ballclub was officially the Tigers.
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The Tiger teams of the 1930s were consistently among the league's best with "Black Mike" Mickey Cochrane behind the plate, Hank Greenberg, one of the greatest Jewish baseball players of all time, at first, and Charlie Gehringer, "The Mechanical Man" at second. They would be denied again in the 1934 World Series in seven games by the Gashouse Gang St. Louis Cardinals. Again, when the chips were down in the deciding game, Detroit folded, giving up seven third-inning runs and losing Game Seven 11-0 at Navin Field (Tiger Stadium). The game was marred by an ugly incident. After spiking Tiger third baseman Marv Owen in the sixth inning, the Cardinals' Joe "Ducky" Medwick had to be removed from the game for his own safety by Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis after being pelted with fruit and garbage from angry fans in the large temporary bleacher section in left field.
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In Game 1, McLain was overshadowed by Cardinals' ace Bob Gibson, who struck out 17 Tigers in a 4-0 shutout. The Tiger bats won the day in the second game, in St. Louis. Lolich held St. Louis to a single run on six hits and added a home run in his own cause. The Tigers lost badly in Games 3 and 4 at Tiger Stadium, 7-3 and 10-1. In Game 4, some accounts accused Tigers manager Mayo Smith of stalling in hopes that the game would be washed out by an approaching storm. With their backs against the wall, Lolich took the mound again in Game 5. The Tigers were eight outs away from elimination before a two-run single from Al Kaline and another RBI safety by Norm Cash gave Detroit a 5-3 lead they would not relinquish. As the series returned to St. Louis, McLain pitched on two days' rest. Any concerns about the Tigers' ace having a sore arm were quickly laid to rest. The Tigers scored 10 runs in the third inning, including a grand slam from Jim Northrup, in a 13-1 laugher. The deciding Game 7 pitted Lolich--pitching on two days' rest--against Gibson, and the Tigers struck first. Jim Northrup's triple scored Norm Cash and Willie Horton to give the visitors a 2-0 lead. Catcher Bill Freehan added a double to give Lolich a 3-0 lead with nine outs to go. Don Wert's RBI single in the ninth added an insurance run, and a ninth-inning solo shot from Mike Shannon of St. Louis was the Cards' only response. Tim McCarver, the next batter, popped up to Freehan in foul territory and the Tigers were Champions of baseball again.
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In Game 1 of the ALCS in Oakland, Lolich, the hero of '68, took the hill and went nine innings. and Al Kaline hit a solo homer to break a 1-1 tie in the 11th inning, only to be charged with an error on Gonzalo Marquez's game-tying single that allowed Gene Tenace to score the winning run. Blue Moon Odom shut down Detroit 5-0 in Game 2. As the series returned to Detroit, the Tigers caught their stride. Joe Coleman held the A's scoreless on seven hits in Game 3, a 3-0 Tiger victory. In Game 4, the A's got revenge for the opener. Two Oakland runs in the top of the 10th put the Tigers down to their last three outs, but Detroit pushed two runs across the plate to tie the game before Jim Northrup came through in the clutch again. His single off Dave Hamilton scored Gates Brown and evened the series. A first-inning run on a Gene Tenace passed ball gave Detroit an early lead in the deciding Game 5 in Oakland, but Reggie Jackson's steal of home in the 2nd tied it up. A Gene Tenace single to left gave Oakland a 2-1 lead in the fourth inning, and thanks to four innings of scoreless relief from Vida Blue they took it all the way to the World Series.
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The Tigers faced the Kansas City Royals in the American League Championship Series, which would prove to be no contest. In Game 1, Alan Trammell, Lance Parrish and Larry Herndon went deep to crush the Royals 8-1 at Royals Stadium (now Kauffman Stadium). In Game 2, the Tigers scored twice in the 11th inning when Johnny Grubb doubled off the late Royals closer Dan Quisenberry en route to a 5-3 victory.
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In the NLCS, a San Diego rally from 2-0 down prevented a fourth Cubs-Tigers series and meant the Tigers would open the 1984 World Series against the San Diego Padres in Trammell's home town. In Game 1, Larry Herndon hit a two-run dinger that gave the Tigers a 3-2 lead. Morris pitched a complete game with 2 runs on 8 hits, and Detroit took first blood. The Padres evened the series the next night despite pitcher Ed Whitson being chased after two-thirds of an inning after giving up three runs on five Tiger hits. Tiger starter Dan Petry didn't last long either, exiting the game after four and one-third innings when light-hitting veteran Kurt Bevacqua's three-run homer gave San Diego a 5-3 lead they would hold onto.
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The man whom many Detroiters blame for the performance of the recent Tigers is former General Manager Randy Smith. Under Smith, the Tigers squandered numerous high draft picks on toolsy, but unskilled players. Smith amassed a dismal trading record, trading quality players such as Luis Gonzalez and Phil Nevin for spare parts. Smith's most controversial move as GM backfired heavily; in an effort to lure a big-name player, he sent Frank Catalanotto, one time All-Star Justin Thompson, top prospect Gabe Kapler and future relief ace Francisco Cordero to the Texas Rangers for disgruntled and injury-prone outfielder Juan Gonzalez, plus two role players.
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In 2005, the Tigers spent a large sum for two prized free agents, Magglio Ordóñez and Troy Percival. Recently the Tigers traded pitcher Ugueth Urbina and Ramon Martinez to the Philadelphia Phillies for Plácido Polanco (and signed him for 4 years). The Tigers stayed on the fringes of contention for the American League wild card for the first four months of the season, but injuries and a lack of player unity doomed them to another losing record and cost Trammell his job.
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Among the bright spots were Chris Shelton, who hit .299 with 18 homers after being called up, and Curtis Granderson, who took over the center field job with his strong defensive play and timely hitting. Newcomer Placido Polanco enjoyed a solid season and was named Tiger of the Year for his efforts, and Carlos Pena rebounded from a demotion in a big way. Craig Monroe (team-leading 89 RBIs) and Nook Logan (23 steals) also made big contributions, while Jeremy Bonderman showed in the first half why he's the Tigers' ace and Mike Maroth posted a 14-win season two years after losing 21 games.