Tigers lost hotly contested battle with Cardinals in 1934 World Series

This is an excerpt from Motor City Champs, by Scott Ferkovich.

The Tigers’ long, long, grinding baseball season, which had begun in Lakeland back in February, came down to a World Series Game Seven at Navin Field on October 9, 1934. Mickey Cochrane, despite his aches and pains, decided he was well enough to play. But who would his starting pitcher be? Having used Schoolboy Rowe the previous day, and with Tommy Bridges coming off a complete game in Game Five, the most logical choices were General Crowder or Elden Auker. In somewhat of a surprise, Cochrane again passed on Crowder’s experience and handed the ball to Auker, the right-hander who had pitched effectively in the Game Four victory.

With Dizzy Dean gunning for his second Series win, the Tigers had their work cut out for them. It soon became apparent that it was not Auker’s day. He retired Leo Durocher on a fly ball to lead off the third, but after a double, a single, a stolen base, a walk, and another double, he looked up to see Cochrane plodding out to the hill to give him the heave-ho. In an act of desperation, the manager called for Rowe, bruises and all. Schoolboy faced three batters, surrendered a single and a double, and could not be blamed for vowing never again to shake hands with a comedian.

Before the nightmare inning was over, Chief Hogsett and Tommy Bridges were also thrown into the fire. The Cardinals batted around, scored seven runs, and the city of St. Louis began preparing for a World Series parade. With little hope of coming back against the nearly unbeatable Dean, the Tigers played the rest of the game listlessly, a team beaten in body and spirit.

The excitement was not over, however. In the top of the sixth, Ducky Medwick and his .357 Series average came to the plate with Pepper Martin on second. Medwick cracked a long drive off the center-field fence. Martin scored easily to make it 8-0, while Medwick ploughed his way around second and headed for third. At the bag, Marv Owen awaited a throw from the outfield as Medwick slid in hard.

It was at that point that the firestorm began. In a cloud of dust, Marv Owen’s right foot came down violently on Medwick’s legs. Was it deliberate, or accidental? Many of the writers perched in the Navin Field press box agreed that Owen’s act was a cheap shot. He had blocked the runner’s path to the bag as if to make a play, even though the relay throw was obviously going to be too late. They insisted that Owen’s stomp had come while Medwick was on his back, defenseless. The Tigers’ third baseman conceded that his spikes had inadvertently landed on Medwick’s foot. In Owen’s view, Medwick who had been the aggressor, kicking him three times and cursing him out. To Owen, it was a dirty slide with bad intent. To Bud Shaver of the Detroit Times, Medwick “deliberately slashed at Owen…a vicious and unprovoked attack.”

Whatever the specific details, and without knowing with certainty who kicked whom or when or why, what is clear is that Owen and Medwick nearly came to blows then and there. Third-base coach Mike Gonzalez and umpire Bill Klem quickly intervened. The Cardinals rushed out of the dugout, led by Dean, sporting a towel around his neck. The umps shooed them back to their nest. Medwick claimed he extended his hand to Owen to show there were no hard feelings, but Owen apparently rebuffed the gesture. The outbreak of bitterness was inevitable. All Series long, the two teams had been at each other’s throats.

A tenuous truce was restored between Owen and Medwick. The first pitch by Tommy Bridges to Ripper Collins was a duster that sent him to the dirt. Picking himself back up, Collins laced the next pitch into center, scoring Medwick to make it 9-0. More boos rained down from the grandstand.

When the inning ended, and Medwick headed out to his position in left field, he received a rude welcome. The denizens of Navin’s new-built bleachers bombarded Medwick with bottles, fruits, vegetables, and other sundries. At first, Medwick took the onslaught in stride, playfully picking up peaches and pears and pretending to take a bite. When the blitzkrieg failed to subside, and a few projectiles narrowly missed his head, he backed up to the infield, while members of the grounds crew gathered the litter. Even a few Cardinals, including Dizzy Dean, participated in the housecleaning.

With things seemingly settled down, Medwick resumed his position, only to face a fresh barrage of garbage. He went back to second base, waited a while, and returned to left again. But it was clear the bleacher fans did not appreciate his presence. More rubbish was thrown. Westbrook Pegler called it “one of the most disgraceful and delightful incidents ever witnessed” in a World Series. Finally, Cochrane emerged from the Tigers’ dugout to plead for peace from the mob, with little success. The umpires requested that Medwick be removed from the game so that play could resume, but Frankie Frisch would have none of it.

Watching all this from the vantage point of a front row box seat was the cigar-chomping, eagle-eyed baseball commissioner, Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis, in fedora and topcoat. With crooked finger, the judge beckoned Klem, Owen, Medwick, and the opposing managers over for a deliberation.

Landis asked Medwick what had happened on that slide. Medwick answered plaintively that a lot of things can happen on a slide. Landis, that old grandstanding magistrate, theatrically raised his right arm, thumb pointed upward, and ordered Medwick out of the ballgame. His sentence in tow, Medwick was escorted off the field by a posse of police (and a refrain of boos from the bleachers).

Landis then whirled on Owen. Had the third baseman done anything untoward to instigate the fracas? If Owen’s memory served him well, he had done no such thing. Satisfied with that defense, Landis pounded his proverbial gavel and allowed Owen to remain in the contest. A befuddled Frisch then proceeded to rush at Klem, who apparently had neglected to tell the Judge of Owen’s offense. Frisch was held in contempt of court, and ordered to vacate the field immediately.

Chick Fullis replaced Medwick in left. The Tigers went down in order in the sixth. St. Louis tacked on two more runs in the seventh, to make it 11-0. Dean dominated, and when Owen grounded into a force for the final out in the ninth, the Cardinals mobbed their flamboyant hero on the Navin Field mound.

It had been a bitterly contested Series. The heroics of the Brothers Dean, each of whom won two games, stood out for St. Louis. As for the Tigers, they hit only .224 as a team. In the clubhouse afterward, Cochrane conceded to reporters that the Tigers should have wrapped up the Series in Game Six. “But we didn’t and it’s no use crying about it now.” Black Mike took a deep breath, as if an influx of oxygen would lend him the strength to undo the past three hours. “Everything happened to us today,” he sighed.

The Tigers’ clubhouse had a funereal quality. Before the game had even begun, newsreel technicians, anticipating a Detroit victory, had taken over the cramped space, setting up Kleig lights, huge motion picture cameras, and assorted wiring for sound. It was all for naught. A dapper-looking Graham McNamee, radio personality extraordinaire, would not be asking Cochrane how it felt to be a world champion manager. In fact, he would not be asking him anything. Cochrane, in no mood to chat further, fended off the press. The picture of defeat, he sat slumped on a trainer’s table while a doctor tended to his mangled knee.

As entertainment, the World Series had delivered as promised. Gushed The Sporting News: “The stirring events that brought to a close the 1934 playing season established the game still more firmly as the national sport—first in the hearts of the American people—a dashing, vivid, pulsating, brilliant and clean sport, representative of the American spirit.” It added, “The St. Louis Cardinals and Detroit Tigers have paved the way for the building up of a new courage among the people of the nation by their example and have lifted baseball to a new pinnacle, where it proudly stands as a symbol of a country that never yields to odds.”