Thursday, May 24, 2007

The Big Rivalry

The Tigers and Indians are natural geographical rivals as much as the University of Michigan and Ohio State University. They should have a history of great races and bitter battles. Their fans should hate each other with a passion. An Indians versus Tigers series should be anticipated the same way as a Cubs versus Cardinals series or even a Yankees versus Red Sox series. The problem is Detroit and Cleveland have not been good in the same season for a long long time.

The rivalry got off to a pretty good start in 1908 when the Tigers won the pennant on the final game of the season finishing a half game ahead of the Indians. The reason for the half game was a Tiger rain out that was never made up. It was after that season that the rules about postponed games changed so that games would be made up if they had a bearing on the title.

In 1910, there was no pennant race but there was a historic batting race. Ty Cobb battled with Nap Lajoie up to the final game of the season. The champion was going to win a new Chalmers automobile. Strangely, there was no agreement on the exact batting averages. It was only known that Cobb had the lead and he sat out the last two games thinking he had already won it.

While Cobb rested, Nap Lajoie had a doubleheader versus the St. Louis Browns on the last day of the season. Lajoie was liked and respected by most people in the game while Cobb was disliked by most. Brown's manager Jack O'Conner, who hated Cobb as much as anybody, ordered his third baseman to play deep and it resulted in six bunt singles and an apparent batting title for Lajoie.

League statisticians then determined that Cobb actually won the title by .0007. Chalmers ended up giving cars to both of them but the controversy would not die for more than 70 years. In 1981, The Sporting News researchers Paul McFarlane and Pete Palmer came across a duplicate two hit game for Cobb and determined that Lajoie was the actual batting titlist .384 to .383. However, this notion was rejected by commissioner Bowie Kuhn and Cobb remained the official batting title winner even though Lajoie had a higher batting average.

There has not been much to crow about in terms of a rivalry between the teams though. The Indians were strong in the early 20s and won the World Series in 1920. The Tigers finished 37 games behind that year. When the Tigers were winning pennants in 1934 and 1935, the Indians finished 16 and 12 games behind.

1940 was a good year for both teams. Hank Greenberg had a monster year and The Tigers won the pennant by one game over the Indians and two over the Yankees. It didn't last long though as both the Tigers and Indians fell below .500 the following year. When the Tigers won another pennant in 1945, the Indians finished 11 games back.

In 1950, both teams won over 90 games and finished within 6 games of the pennant winning Yankees. Again, it was just a one year thing as the teams went in different directions after that. The Indians won 90+ games from 1951-1955 including a 111 win season in 1954 when they won the pennant. Meanwhile, the Tigers finished well below .500 during those years.

Since 1950, there's been no rivalry to speak of at all. When the Tigers won 101 games and finished in second place in 1961, the Indians were below .500. From 1964-1973, the Tigers won 85+ games all but one year and had a championship and a division title to show for it. At the same time, the Indians lagged behind and usually finished under .500. The Tigers had winning records every year from 1978 to 1988 but again the Indians almost always had losing records.

Cleveland would finally have their day in the 90s. They won 6 division titles between 1994 and 2001. As luck would have it though, this was one of the bleakest periods in Tigers history. After a few years of building, the Indians were back to 93 wins in 2005 but the Tigers won only 71. After years of futilty, the Tigers finally rose to the top again in 2006 winning 95 games and a pennant. However, Cleveland fell back to 78 wins.

Finally, in 2007, it looks like we might finally have something. The Tigers (29-17) and the Indians (28-17) are one two in the AL Central. Both teams are hot and figure to stay in the race all year. The midwest rivalry which had been dormant for generations is finally getting ready to erupt. Comerica Park will be rocking all weekend.


  1. AnonymousMay 25, 2007

    One thing to note about 1940: The season came down to the final weekend, with the Tigers needing just one win, and the Indians decided to open up with Bob Feller on the hill.

    People expected the Tigers to go with Bobo Newsom.

    Instead the Tigers went with the unknown Floyd Giebell, who pitched a shutout, clinching the pennant for the Tigers. Giebell never won another game in the bigs.

  2. Thanks, that is one of the great little stories in Tigers history. I'd like to research some of the less publicized Tigers pennant races more closely and get more details on games like that one.

  3. AnonymousMay 25, 2007

    Uh Lee? It's THE Ohio State University....

    - buddha



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