Who was the greatest Opening Day performer in Detroit Tigers history? While such players as Germany Schaefer, Walt Dropo, Al Kaline, and Alan Trammell all demonstrated a knack for excelling in the curtain-raiser in Detroit, the most consistently brilliant Bengal was a stocky right-handed pitcher named “Wabash George” Mullin.
Mullin was from Toledo, and the Ohio city’s proximity to the Detroit ballpark guaranteed a healthy influx of Buckeyes to see George pitch. This is why he was almost always selected to pitch the home opener, even if that meant someone else on the staff might have to pitch the actual season opener on the road.
Mullin started 9 of 10 home openers between 1903 and 1912, all but the last at Bennett Park. He had an arm made of rubber and heart of oak. He completed all of his opening starts, including four extra-inning affairs, and won five of eight decisions. (A 12-inning tie 1904 resulted in a no-decision.) Mullin was a man of extremes. He shut out Cleveland in 1907 and Chicago in 1909, the latter a one-hitter that took just 82 minutes. Between was a 12-inning loss to the Indians in 1908, in which he surrendered 20 hits but was still going strong at the end. (Yes, he finished the game!)
In 1912, the 31-year-old warhorse was selected to open brand-new Navin Field. Mullin responded by going all the way in an 11-inning, 6-5 victory over Cleveland. And who knocked in the winning run with a single? Why, George, of course. Let’s see Justin Verlander do that!
Mullin wasn’t too shabby the rest of the schedule, either. His 29 victories in 1909 led the majors, and his 209 career wins are only a dozen behind George “Hooks” Dauss on the Tigers’ all-time list. Mullin also split six World Series decisions and pitched a no-hitter on July 4, 1912, at Navin Field on The Corner. It was his 32nd birthday – a special occasion, to be sure, but no more so than Opening Day in Detroit.