Under manager Bill Norman, the Tigers opened the 1959 season with 15 losses in their first 17 games. So Detroit fans were far from displeased when he was replaced by old pro Jimmy Dykes. On the afternoon of Sunday, May 3, 1959, an excited crowd at Briggs Stadium watched the last-place Tigers sweep a twin bill from the vaunted New York Yankees in Dykes’ debut. This launched a two-month comeback that put the Tigers within a half-game of the top spot in the standings before finally fizzling.
Dykes’ debut was notable in one other respect. It cemented the legend of Charlie Maxwell, the Tigers’ “Sunday Punch.” Maxwell, the 32-year-old pride of Paw Paw, Michigan, had joined the Tigers as a journeyman outfielder in 1955. The following summer he hit .326 and established a club record for left-handers with 28 home runs. He also earned a reputation as someone whose play on Sunday seemed divinely inspired.
In the doubleheader sweep of the Yankees, Maxwell homered in his lat at-bat of the opener and again in his first at-bat of the nightcap. He walked his next time up, then pounded the ball into the seats his next two trips to the plate. By the time the Yankees finally got Maxwell out, he had homered in four consecutive official at-bats. This tied a major-league mark held by several players, including the Tigers’ Hank Greenberg in 1938.
Maxwell followed with home runs on five of the next eight Sundays. Each round-tripper either tied the score or won the game. He cooled off after that dramatic streak, but by then he was being ballyhooed by the media as “The Sabbath Smasher.”
“I really can’t explain it except to say that it was one of those oddities that creates a lot of interest in the game,” Maxwell once reflected. “For example, my roommate was Frank Lary, and all he had to do was throw his glove on the mound to beat the Yankees. Then the next game he’d pitch against Kansas City and he’d get beat. So it was just one of those things.”
In 1959, Maxwell had career highs in homers (31) and RBI (95), with 12 home runs and 33 RBI delivered on the Sabbath. Not bad for someone who admits that he didn’t go to church during the season.