Record – 62-90, Finished Seventh Place in the American League
Pythagorean Record – 61-91
C – Lew Drill (.244/.335/.294)
1b – Charlie Carr (.214/.245/.267)
2b – Bobby Lowe (.208/.236/.259)
3b – Ed Gremminger (.214/.257/.285)
SS – Charley O’Leary (.213/.254/.254)
LF – Matty McIntyre (.253/.310/.317)
CF – Jimmy Barrett (.268/.353/.300)
RF – Sam Crawford (.254/.309/.361)
Homeruns – Sam Crawford, Matty McIntyre (2)
Batting Average – Jimmy Barrett (.268)
OPS – Sam Crawford (.670)
Best Fielder - Bobby Lowe (11 Fielding Runs Above Average)
Wins – George Mullin, Bill Donovan (17)
ERA – George Mullin (2.40)
Strikeouts – George Mullin (161)
If 1903 was a step forward for the Detroit Tigers, 1904 was a step back. The team lost 90 games, a franchise record that would stand until 1920, and they were pretty pathetic at the plate even by dead ball era standards. Probably the only thing that stopped them from being even worse was that the Washington Senators, who lost 113 games in 1904, were historically bad and it’s not ironic that the Senators were the only team that season that the Tigers had a winning record against (12-8).
At the plate, the Tigers hit .231/.278/.292 as a team, which put them in seventh place in the American League in each of those categories. To put it into perspective, the Tigers slick fielding second baseman, Bobby Lowe, notched an OPS+ of 58, and this was a guy who played in 140 games. Even Hall of Famer Sam Crawford had an off year. From 1901 through 1915, his single season OPS+ dipped below 130 only one time and that was in 1904 when he came out at 114. He did lead the team in slugging with .361 and RBIs with 73.
The pitching wasn’t that much better. The Tigers finished with a team ERA of 2.77 (ERA+ of 92) and that put them sixth in the league. They finished with two 20 game losers (George Mullin with 23 and Ed Killian with 20) and only Wild Bill Donovan finished with a winning record (17-16). George Mullin threw a ton of innings, but he also gave up a bunch of base runners and his 131 would lead the league (the second of four straight seasons he’d walk more batters then anyone in the AL). The Tigers walked more batters then any other team in the league (433) and they were only sixth in strikeouts (556). Most importantly, the Tigers gave up more runs (627) then every team except the Senators.
The 1904 Tigers actually got off to a decent start with an 8-7 record. That would be the last time they’d have a winning record though and they lost their next eight games. The made a decent run in August (their only month with a winning record, 14-13) but then they went 15-27 down the stretch.
1905 would bring new hope to the franchise. Ty Cobb would make his debut and the Tigers pitching staff would put together a solid season but for 1904, the Tigers have the Senators to thank for keeping them out of the cellar.
Record – 65-71, Finished Fifth Place in the American League
Pythagorean Record – 71-65
C – Deacon McGuire (.250/.306/.306)
1b – Charlie Carr (.281/.296/.374)
2b – Heinie Smith (.223/.271/.283)
3b – Joe Yeager (.256/.303/.323)
SS – Sport McAllister (.260/.297/.306)
LF – Billy Lush (.274/.379/.390)
CF – Jimmy Barrett (.315/.407/.391)
RF – Sam Crawford (.335/.366/.489)
Homeruns – Sam Crawford (4)
Batting Average – Sam Crawford (.335)
OPS – Sam Crawford (.855)
Best Fielder – Charlie Carr (15 Fielding Runs Above Average)
Wins – George Mullin (19)
ERA – George Mullin (2.25)
Strikeouts – Bill Donovan (187)
The Tigers took a step forward in 1903, and they did it through turnover. Only Deacon McGuire returned to shore up the Tigers starting infield and only George Mullin, who emerged as the Tigers’ ace in 1903, returned to the rotation. By far the biggest acquisition of the year was Sam Crawford. Crawford had already established himself as a bonafide star with some solid seasons for the Cincinnati Reds and Crawford came over to Detroit when the American League and National League unified. The Tigers signed him first, so they got the gold. Whether he was stolen from the Reds is open to debate but Crawford would go on to have a Hall of Fame career and he’d be a lynchpin for the 1907 through 1909 AL Pennant teams.
The 1903 Tigers were also a pretty unlucky team. They outscored their opponents 567 runs to 539, yet ended up with a losing record. Even if they’d have finished with their Pythagorean Record of 71-65, that still would have put them in the second division in the American League.
Crawford was their bonafide star, and along with Jimmy Barrett and Billy Lush, the Tigers sported an outfield where the lowest OPS+ was 134. Crawford finished second in hitting for the second straight season, losing the batting title to Nap Lajoie by only nine points. Crawford would finish runner up in the batting race four times through out his career while never winning the batting title. He did lead the league in triples in 1903 with 25 and his major league record of 309 career triples still stands. His 158 OPS+ was good for second in the league, again finishing second to Lajoie.
Jimmy Barrett was the best hitter on a bad team in 1902, and in 1903, he’s a close second to Crawford. His .315 batting average was good for fourth best in the American League (his only career top ten finish) and his .407 OBP, 74 walks and 243 times on base all led the league. Barrett reminds me a little of Bobby Higginson. He had some great seasons, but never had a team around him. By the time the Tigers won their first pennant in 1907, Barrett was at the end of his career in Boston.
On the pitching side, George Mullin established himself as the team’s ace in only his second season on the mound. Mullin’s 19 wins was the eighth best mark in the AL and his 2.25 ERA was sixth best. Oddly, he led the league in saves with two and his 320.7 innings were the fifth best total. On the negative side, he led the league in walks allowed with 106, the first of four consecutive seasons that he’d be on top of the AL.
Bill Donovan also had a solid season in his first season with the Tigers. After finishing with 25 wins in 1901 for the Brooklyn Superbas, Donovan was second in the league in strikeouts with 187 and he led the league with 34 complete games in 1903.
As a team, the Tigers showed some promise after being a bottom feeder in 1902. The team sported an OBP of .312 which led the American League and they were second in hitting with a .268 batting average. The Tigers were fifth in runs scored (567) but near the bottom in homeruns (seventh with 12). The team’s pitching staff had the third best ERA in the league (2.75) but gave up more walks then any other team (336).
The Tigers won their first four games of the season in 1903, but by early May they had dropped back to .500 (6-6). On May 30, after getting swept in a doubleheader by the St. Louis Browns, the Tigers slipped below .500 and hovered around that mark for most of the next couple of months. They were above the breakeven mark as late as September 11, 1903, but their 4-0 start were the most games above .500 they’d reach all season. In an odd scheduling quirk, the Tigers played five straight doubleheaders from September 6 through the 14 (with days off in between), then another one four days later on the 18th. In all, the Tigers played eight doubleheaders in the month of September.
Record – 52-83, Finished Seventh Place in the American League
Pythagorean Record – 58-77
C – Deacon McGuire (.227/.300/.323)
1b – Pop Dillon (.206/.255/.255)
2b – Kid Gleason (.247/.292/.297)
3b – Doc Casey (.273/.338/.352)
SS – Kid Elberfeld (.260/.348/.326)
LF – Dick Harley (.281/.345/.344)
CF – Jimmy Barrett (.303/.397/.387)
RF – Ducky Holmes (.257/.319/.337)
Homeruns – Jimmy Barrett (4)
Batting Average – Jimmy Barrett (.303)
OPS – Jimmy Barrett (.784)
Best Fielder – Ducky Holmes, Jimmy Barrett (10 Fielding Runs Above Average)
Wins – Win Mercer (15)
ERA – Ed Siever (1.91)
Strikeouts – George Mullin (78)
Poor hitting and poor pitching doesn’t make a great combination. The 1902 Tigers took a step back from their inaugural season and would be in the lower half of the American League until Ty Cobb showed up in 1905. The Tigers had a bad team in 1902. They finished 3 1/2 games ahead of the last place Batlimore Orioles but their offense would have put the 2003 Tigers on a pedestal.
The Tigers finished dead last in the American League in batting average, slugging, OBP and runs. They were seventh (second to last) in homeruns. The only statistical category of any significance that the Tigers finished in the top half was walks, and they just made the cut at fourth place. Pitching wasn’t much better. They finished last in strikeouts, sixth in ERA and fifth in runs allowed. All five of their regular starters finished the season with a losing record, including Ed Siever, who led the league with a 1.91 ERA.
Oddly, the Tigers got off to a solid start in 1902. After winning six of seven, the Tigers started the season with a 6-2 record and by the end of May, they were still above .500 at 16-14. They slipped under .500 by mid-June and then the team had a stretch in July where they a 4-16 run put them out of contention. In Auguest they dropped even further when they lost eleven in a row at one point (they played three doubleheaders on three consecutive days against the Philadelphia A’s and lost all six games) and then went on to seven of their next nine after that. Another 10 game losing steak in September gave them a chance to finish dead last, but they won four of their last five games to lock up the seventh place spot.
Jimmy Barrett was the only Tiger hitter to finish with an OPS+ above 100. Only one other player, Dick Harley, had an OPS+ of at least 90. Barrett finished fourth in the league in OBP (.397) and he finished third in walks (74).
The workhorse of the rotation was Win Mercer, who had played for the Senators the year before. 1902 was Mercer’s final major league season and he led the team in wins (15) and innings pitched (281 2/3). Unfortunately he also led the team in losses (18). His Adjusted ERA+ of 120 was tenth in the league.
Ed Siever finished the season 8-11 despite have a league leading ERA of 1.91. He was fourth in the league in WHIP (1.051) and his adjusted ERA+ of 191 led the league. In January of 1903, Siever was sold to the St. Louis Browns.
The Tigers .385 winning percentage was a record low that would stand for 50 years. In 1952, the Tigers went 50-104. That record would then stand until 2003, when the Tigers winning percentage was .265.
You can check out some interesting graphs of the 1901 season over at Baseball Graphs.
You can also read a bio on one of the 1901 Tigers, Kid Gleason. The biography was prepared as part of SABR’s Baseball Biography project.
Record – 74-61, Finished Third Place in the American League
Pythagorean Record – 72-63
Starters (Note – I couldn’t find a set lineup, so I’m listing the players who got the most time at their respective positions)
C – Fritz Buelow (.225/.269/.316)
1b – Pop Dillon (.288/.324/.391)
2b – Kid Gleason (.274/.327/.391)
3b – Doc Casey (.283/.335/.357)
SS – Kid Elberfeld (.308/.397/.428)
LF – Doc Nance (.280/.355/.373)
CF – Jimmy Barrett (.293/.385/.378)
RF – Ducky Holmes (.294/.347/.406)
Homeruns – Jimmy Barrett, Ducky Holmes (4)
Batting Average – Kid Elberfeld (.308)
OPS – Kid Elberfield (.825)
Best Fielder – Ducky Holmes (22 Fielding Runs Above Average)
Wins – Roscoe Miller (23)
ERA – Joe Yeager (2.61)
Strikeouts – Ed Siever (85)
On April 25, 1901, the Detroit Tigers opened their inaugural season with a win over the eventual last place Milwaukee Brewers. In front of a home crowd at Bennett Park, the Tigers scored 10 runs in the bottom of the ninth inning to walk away with the team’s first win. First baseman Pop Dillon doubled twice in that inning, the second of which drove home the winning run.
The Tigers then went on to win their first five games but they eventually fell behind the Boston Americans and the eventual American League champions, the Chicago White Sox. Back then they didn’t have a World Series (it wouldn’t be until 1903 when the leagues would essentially unify) and they ended up 8 1/2 games back of the Sox.
Kid Elberfeld led an offense that was right in the middle of the league in most offensive categories. Elberfeld finished the season sixth in OBP (.397), ninth in OPS (.825) and seventh in walks (57). He was also a solid fielder (57 Fielding Runs Above Replacement) and in all, he finished the season with the team’s best WARP1 (10.1). While the Tigers finished third in the league in batting average (.279) and OBP (.333), they finished fifth in runs (741) and homeruns (29) despite player in a hitters park (park factor of 105).
Roscoe Miller led the Tigers rotation with 23 wins and he was in the top ten in several statistical categories. His 23 wins were the fourth most in the league and he finished eighth in ERA (2.95) and third in innings pitched (332). Joe Yeager also had a solid season, even if it didn’t equate to as many wins (12). He was third in the league in ERA (2.61) and second in ERA+ (147). The Tigers finished third in the American League in ERA (3.30) but they were only seventh in strikeouts (307) and actually walked more batters (313) then they struck out.
While the Tigers first season didn’t garner them a championship, they had a winning record the entire season. It also gave them a base that would eventually net the team three straight American League pennants later in the decade.