Ask Tiger fans which pitcher holds the franchise record for most victories and you’ll get a number of answers. Your grandad may say Hal Newhouser. An old uncle might chirp in with Tommy Bridges. Your father might guess Mickey Lolich. You might say Jack Morris – surely it’s Morris, right? A particularly astute Detroit fan might chime in with George Mullin. That’s if anyone remembers “Wabash George”. But all those answers would be wrong, and even though your kids might insist that Juston Verlander will own the record someday, the current Detroit ace is more than 100 wins away.
The all-time winningest pitcher in Tiger history was released from his first professional team because he was too small. He had a mediocre fastball and was so nice that his first big league manager thought he was too fragile to use in critical games. But this little right-hander from Indianapolis had a special skill that allowed him to weave a 15-year career in the majors, all of them in a Bengal uniform.
Little George Dauss never grew taller than 5’10 and tipped the scales at a little over 145 piunds when he reported to the Tigers as a rookie in 1912. Joining a team that included strong personalities like Ty Cobb, Sam Crawford, catcher Boss Schmidt, and manager Hughey Jennings, Dauss was overwhelmed. In his first few seasons he had trouble locating the strike zone. In one game he walked nine batters and hit three others.
Though the speed on his fastball was average at best, Dauss earned the nickname “Hooks” or “Hookie” for his trademark curveball. Throwing it pitch across his body, the off-speed pitch dipped and dove away or into enemy batters. By 1913, Jennings was using Dauss in his rotation, and the righty responded with a 2.48 ERA and 13 wins. Opposing batters were soon struggling to time his curve – though Dauss struck out few batters, he frequently coaxed harmless groundball outs. In 1914 he won 24 games, second only to Walter Johnson.
Though he was never a dominating pitcher, Dauss was durable and he could always spin his curveball. Over the course of 11 seasons (1913-1923), he averaged 263 innings pitched, 17 wins, and 20 complete games. He won 21 games in both 1919 and 1923. In all, he won 15 games or more seven times, only posting a losing record three times. A few times during his career he enjoyed great streaks of pitching brilliance, as in 1919 when he won 11 of 12 starts in July and August, or in 1915 when he won 11 of 13 decisions. Most often, Dauss gave up his share of hits, usually surrendering 10 or 11 hits in a complete game, but he won his share by keeping the ball in front of his defense. In 1915 when he tossed more than 300 innings, Dauss allowed just one home run.
After Cobb replaced Jennings as manager in 1921, Dauss’s workload increased. Trusing his veteran teammate, Cobb used Hooks both as a starter and in relief. In 1924 he won six games out of the bullpen after setting a career mark with 316 innings pitched the previous campaign. All accounts are that Dauss and Cobb had a good working relationship, as good as any player did with Cobb in Detroit.
On June 17, 1925, Dauss won his 200th career game, defeating the New York Yankees in a rout, 19-1 at Navin Field. Late that season the team held a “Hooks Dauss Day” in which he was showered with gifts, including an automobile, a dishwasher, gold coins, and a hunting rifle. On September 10, in the first game of a Thursday doubleheader in Detroit, Dauss twirled a complete game 6-1 victory over the Cleveland Indians. Though he was a notoriouly lousy hitter, Dauss hit a home run in the game. It was his 210th win, breaking the team record held by Mullin. He added 13 more in 1926 to finish with 223, all in a Tiger uniform.
Though he’s hardly remembered for anything other than his 223 wins, Dauss was a beloved player in Detroit and an important part of the teams that contended for the pennant in the mid 1910s. Though the Tigers of that era are known primarily as Cobb’s offensive juggernaut, Dauss was the mainstay of the rotation, a solid performer who toed the rubber for 15 seasons in Detroit.
Verlander may eclipse Dauss’s wins record someday, but don’t bank on it yet. Old “Hooks” survived threats ftom Bridges (194), Hewhouser (200), Lolich (207), and most recently Morris (198), but his benchmark still stands. Until someone passes him (Verlander is 119 away), Dauss stands alone as the winningest pitcher in the history of the franchise.
DETROIT ATHLETIC CO. TRIVIA:
Mickey Lolich won his 207th and final game for the Tigers in 1975. Who was the Detroit manager that season? Find the answer at the DAC Facebook page >