Some 1,500 men have played for the Detroit Tigers since 1894, the year the team was organized as a charter member of the Western League. A select handful, such as Ty Cobb, Al Kaline, and Alan Trammell, spent 20 or more seasons in a Tigers uniform. Others have worn the home whites for one major league game – the proverbial cup of coffee.
Of the latter, two stand out: Robert Troy and Bill Moore. Both were pitchers whose single afternoon under a big league sun occurred at Navin Field. And each has a twist to his story that lifts him somewhat from the agate anonymity of the various baseball encyclopedias.
Robert Troy was born in Germany in 1888 and died in France 30 years later. For several years in between, he managed to make a living playing America’s national pastime in the high minors. The 6-foot-4, 195-pounder was a stud in Adrian, leading the team to the Southern Michigan League pennant in 1912 with a lively mix of fastballs and forkballs. Tigers owner Frank Navin, who hailed from Adrian, kept an eye on Troy. When Adrian’s season was over, be bought Troy’s contract and called him up to Detroit.
Troy made his major league debut on September 15, 1912, before a middling Sunday crowd that was more interested in seeing Washington Senators great Walter Johnson, whose record 16-game winning streak had been snapped a few days earlier.
Despite his nervousness, the 24-year-old rookie matched Johnson pitch for pitch until the seventh inning, when his wildness and some sloppy fielding by his teammates rubbed out a 3-0 Detroit lead. Washington won, 6-3, but the losing pitcher’s final line was commendable: nine hits, three walks, and a strikeout in six and one-third innings. He also hit a batter and was charged with four earned runs.
During the next few minor league seasons, however, Troy never was able to rein in his scattershot right arm, a problem that prevented him from returning to Navin Field.
His death became his distinction. He was one of hundreds of professional ballplayers to serve during World War I, though one of only a few to see heavy action. On October 7, 1918, the infantry sergeant was shot in the chest during the Meuse offensive. The war ended five weeks later.
Troy’s remains laid in a hastily dug grave in the French countryside for several years until being shipped home to his mother in Pennsylvania. Today, trivia experts recognize him as one of three former big leaguers to die in the war.
By the time Bill Moore made his cameo appearance in the bigs, Ty Cobb was managing the team – and not very well, Moore told me during a visit to his large Victorian home in upstate New York during the summer of 1982.
A fastball pitcher for the Rochester Red Wings, Moore was invited to the Tigers’ spring training in 1925. There, he made the mistake of dusting off his manager in batting practice. In the word-fest that followed, Moore told Cobb that he could perform an anatomically painful act with the baseball. Then he stomped off the mound and into the clubhouse.
Despite the ruckus, Moore was the last man on a woefully thin pitching staff when Detroit opened the season with a victory over Chicago. The next day, April 15, 1925, the 21-year-old right-hander was called to the mound in the sixth inning of a losing battle with the White Sox.
It was a wet and rainy Wednesday, the Navin Field crowd was restless, and Cobb was irritated by the blowout. The nervous rookie’s performance did nothing to improve Cobb’s mood. Of Moore’s 14 pitches, only one found the strike zone. Cobb never left the dugout. He simply waved him off the mound. The crowd jeered the dejected pitcher.
“Bill Moore had a terrible time while making his major league debut,” the Detroit Free Press reported. “He walked the first three men to face him, then was yanked after pitching another ball to the next man.”
Moore was immediately shipped back to the minors, where he spent another eight seasons hoping for a chance to redeem himself. It never arrived. Moore came to believe that Cobb had a vendetta against him, one that he somehow passed on to management after leaving the Tigers the following season. Irrational, perhaps, but that’s what Moore thought. It was perhaps too painful to contemplate that maybe he didn’t have major league stuff.
Two runners Moore put on base eventually scored. Because he never got anybody out, his earned run average is impossible to calculate – thus the quirky symbol indicating “infinity” in his record. As far as the Baseball Encyclopedia is concerned, runners will be circling the bases against Moore for eternity until he can somehow get into another major league game and retire at least one batter.
Which will be difficult. Moore died in 1984, having spent his post-baseball days as a police officer in his native Corning, New York. He often mused about his blown chance. “From the day I told Cobb to stick that ball up his ass,” he admitted to me, “I think I was cooked.”