New book shares rare photos, stories from Tigers’ history

The Glory Years of the Detroit Tigers is published by Wayne State University Press and available from Amazon and other retailers.

As rich as the history of the Detroit Tigers has been, there have been few great books written on their history. The Glory Years of the Detroit Tigers: 1920-1950 deserves to join Richard Bak’s Cobb Would Have Caught It and The Detroit Tigers Reader by Tom Stanton among the best written on the subject.

Author Bill Anderson focuses on the stretch from the 1920s to the 1950s, spanning the final years of Ty Cobb’s illustrious career to the first few seasons of the young Al Kaline. In there also came Harry Heilmann, Charlie Gehringer, Heinie Manush, Goose Goslin, Mickey Cochrane, Hank Greenberg, George Kell, and Hal Newhouser, all members of baseball’s Hall of Fame. The team won four pennants during the four decades, including their first two World Series titles.

Readers will enjoy rarely seen photos, many of them from spring training or at the old ballpark on The Corner, known as Navin Field or Briggs Stadium during that era.  In fact, as enjoyable as the chapters titled “Franchise Stars”, “The Supporting Cast”, and “Moments of Glory and Notable Games” are, it’s the chapters on spring training (“Spring Training When Dreams Are Entertained”) and the ballpark (“The Old Ballpark Where Legends and Memories Were Made”) that are most dazzling. There you’ll find photos of Heilmann and Gehringer leaping high in the air for staged “action” photos during spring camp in Phoenix in 1929. The pictures of the grounds crew and concession workers are priceless and you only wish you could get your hands on them to frame and hang in your den. The book is more than 440 pages long and includes more than 120 photos, many of them probably not seen by even the most ardent Tigers fan.

Also of note is the section on World War II, where we learn from Anderson how the draft impacted the Tiger club through stories and in the form of words from the actual people involved – letters are shared from players and personnel. Of course, the ’45 season was extra special for Detroit – not only did the war end in August, but the Tigers won the World Series two months later.

Anderson is more than just a little qualified to write a book on Tiger history: he’s a highly esteemed historian who has served at times as the president of the Historical Society of Michigan and the president of two colleges. He brings a thorough, scholarly, but entertaining style to the subject. The tome includes an introduction penned by Detroit broadcaster Dan Dickerson.

“Those of us who love the game of baseball have an intimate relationship with our favorite team that holds a considerable amount of our attention,” Anderson writes in his conclusion to The Glory Years of the Detroit Tigers. This beautiful book will do the same.