Mickey Briggs, the son of Spike Briggs and the grandson of Walter Briggs (both former owners of the Detroit Tigers), considers it the most exciting game he ever saw at the corner of Michigan and Trumbull (and he saw plenty of them). You’re not likely to get an argument from the other 51,399 at Briggs Stadium that Friday night of June 23, 1950.
The Tigers, despite having just lost three in a row to the Washington Senators, entered the day with the best record in baseball, at 37-18. The New York Yankees were nipping at their heels, however, at 38-21, only a game back in second place. Casey Stengel’s Bronx Bombers had arrived in Detroit for a highly-anticipated four-game series.
World War II veteran Ted Gray was pitching for the Tigers. Gray had thrown well enough to that point in the season to win seven of nine decisions, and he later made the All-Star team. But he didn’t fool the Yankees in this game. A Hank Bauer home run in the first, with Phil Rizzuto on base, put New York up by a deuce. Bauer slammed another homer in the third. Joe DiMaggio followed with a double, and a Yogi Berra blast gave the visitors a five-run cushion.
With Tommy Byrne and his 8-1 record on the mound, the Yankees looked to have this one sewn up early. But Byrne wasn’t particularly sharp, especially in the third inning, when he walked Bob Swift, Gray, and George Kell. Still, the Tigers had only one hit and no runs after three frames.
In the Yankee fourth, Jerry Coleman led off with a home run, and when Gray issued a free pass to the pitcher Byrne, manager Red Rolfe removed the struggling Tiger hurler and brought in Dizzy Trout.
The 35-year-old Trout was on the downside of a great career in Detroit. Twice a 20-game winner and a star on the 1945 team that won the World Series, Trout was 4-2 with a sky-high 5.65 ERA. He got three quick outs in the fourth.
The Tigers exploded for eight runs in their half of the inning, highlighted by a grand slam homer by Trout himself, putting the Tigers on the board (Trout, a fine hitting pitcher, had 20 homers in his career.). Jerry Priddy, Vic Wertz, and Hoot Evers also homered for Detroit in the inning (Wertz’s two-run blast bounced off the right field roof).
Trout kept the Yankees at bay until the seventh, when DiMaggio homered to make it 8-7, and in the eighth Tommy Henrich pinch-homered with Billy Johnson aboard to put New York up, 9-8.
The contest went into the bottom of the ninth where Stengel brought in relief specialist Joe Page to try and seal the victory for New York. After Kell popped out, Vic Wertz doubled. Up came Evers to the plate, who drilled a pitch that carried over the head of DiMaggio in center field. Wertz scored easily, and Evers raced all the way around the bases for an inside-the-park home run. Final score, Detroit 10, New York 9.
If you sense a pattern in the scoring, you’re correct. Round-trippers accounted for all the tallies for both teams. There were a total of eleven long balls in the game (six by New York, five by Detroit), establishing a record (The Tigers and White Sox established a new record of 12 homers in a game on May 28, 1995 at Tiger Stadium, and the two teams did it again on July 2, 2002 in Chicago.). Joe Page took the loss for the Yankees, while Fred Hutchinson, who pitched the final inning and two thirds, allowing no baserunners, got the win. The victory put Detroit two games in front of New York, and they went on to take three of four in the series that weekend.
Evers (pronounced EE-verz) totaled two inside-the-park homers in his career; the second one came just five days later at Briggs Stadium. 1950 proved to be one of his best seasons. The 29-year-old averaged .323 with 35 doubles, 11 triples, and 21 home runs. He scored 100, batted in 103, and had an OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage) of .959. He made his second All-Star team. Not a fast runner, he had the dubious distinction of leading the league with nine times caught stealing (against only five successful swipes). But it proved to be his swan song; he played six more seasons in the majors, but never hit higher than .264 or drove in as many as 60 runs.
The Tigers were at or near first place for much of the summer of 1950, and were tied for the league lead as late as September 21. But they went a frustrating 4-6 in their final ten games, to finish a disappointing three games behind New York.