September 21, 1935: The Detroit Tigers Clinch the Pennant

What a lineup the 1935 Tigers had – Mickey Cochrane catching (and managing, of course), Greenberg, Gehringer, Marv Owen, Rogell, Goslin, Pete Fox, Jo-Jo White…and on the bench the likes of Gee Walker, struggling with a mere .301 batting average and seven home runs in 98 games.  That’s four Hall of Famers in the starting lineup.  And the team would depend on them all before the year was out.

tigers-1935There were names to conjure within the bullpen, too.  The starting rotation featured Tommy Bridges (a scrapper with a dandy spitter; he used to roll it in to the plate if the umpire called for the ball) and Schoolboy Rowe and Eldon Auker.  Bridges won 21 games that year, and Rowe 19.  Eldon Auker put 18 in the win column for the Bengals, and even Alvin Crowder kicked in 16.  Rowe helped the club with his bat, too.  In 109 at bats the Schoolboy was hitting .312, had three home runs of his own, plus 28 RBIs.  When he’d round first base he’d look up into the stands and ask his wife, “How’m I doin’, Edna?”  Well, Edna, he was doing pretty darn well that year.

Never mind the talent, though.  It was necessary, but it was secondary to the situation.  The team had lost the ’34 series to the St. Louis Cardinals, and they were just plain hungry.  The city of Detroit had never seen a world championship, unless you count the fact that the Detroit Wolverines won the National League pennant back in 1887, long before there was any such thing as a World Series.  They may have missed their chance in ’34, but the Tigers were determined to bring home the championship in ’35.

It had been a rough season.  These weren’t “wire to wire champions” – it’d take another half a century before that term would describe the guys who played at the Corner.  The 1935 club began the season in the basement, and they were still fighting just to stay at .500 at the end of May.  But then, they got hot during July – and went after the Yankees.  The Yanks had released Ruth before the start of the ’35 season, but they still had the likes of Lou Gehrig and Bill Dickey and Tony Lazzeri there to provide Yankee power.  It wasn’t enough power, though, and the Tigers moved past the Yankees into first place and settled in to stay there.

The Tigers were still on a roll going into September, but, not unlike it has for players wearing the old English D seventy four years later, their hitting cooled off big time in the last few weeks of the season.  The ten-game lead over the Yanks that the Tigers had amassed over the summer dwindled alarmingly.  Eventually they would be in front by only three games. 

On September 21, 1935, glory was still in reach.  The Detroiters had a double-header scheduled that day with the lackluster St. Louis Browns, and Tiger ace, Tommy Bridges, was set to start the first game. 

Sure enough, the St. Louis team got only two runs off Bridges – the only two they’d score all day.  Eldon Auker came on to pitch the nightcap and shut ’em out over nine innings.

It was Auker’s complete game that was the pennant clincher.  So now, were the Tigers on a roll?

Not exactly.  They snoozed through the remainder of the season, going one and six.  It didn’t matter.  They still posted a regular season record of 93-58 and outscored their American League opponents 919 to 665.

Maybe they just needed to rest during those final weeks of ’35.  The Tigers certainly woke up in post-season play.  It took six games for them to beat the Cubs and win the World Series, but Mickey Cochrane’s team did it and saw to it that Detroit fans could enjoy their first World Championship – ever.

As for the luckless Browns?  The guys who made it all possible?  They finished the season in seventh place.  Some years later – he didn’t debut in St. Louis until 1948 – Browns (later Tiger) pitcher Ned Garver summed up the situation in Missouri: “Our fans never booed us,” he said.  “They wouldn’t dare.  We outnumbered ’em.”

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