Early in the fall of 1934, after the Detroit Tigers had clinched their first American League pennant in 25 years, the team’s #1 corporate booster celebrated in customarily grand style.
J. L. Hudson, Detroit’s iconic retailer, unveiled a giant six-story-high banner that hung from the ninth floor to just above the bronze doors and marble entrances on the Woodward Avenue side of its downtown store. A grinning tiger, accompanied by the message “Champions 1934,” roared at shoppers.
The giant banner was the brainchild of Joe Mills, who was then in his 20th year as the store’s publicity director. It was Mills who had thought up earlier public relations gimmicks like the World’s Largest Flag, unfurled in 1923, and the Thanksgiving Day Parade, which debuted two years later. Mills definitely knew how to tap into the community’s pulse.
That summer, citizens of Detroit, battered by five long years of economic depression, poured through the turnstiles in record numbers at Navin Field. They cheered the hometown nine unexpectedly edge out the New York Yankees of Babe Ruth, Bill Dickey, and Lou Gehrig for the flag. “The club was a shot in the arm to the city,” recalled pitcher Elden Auker, a member of a Tigers team that included such colorful performers as catcher-manager Mickey Cochrane, second baseman Charlie Gehringer, first baseman Hank Greenberg, left fielder Goose Goslin, and pitching aces Schoolboy Rowe and Tommy Bridges.
At the time, all games were afternoon affairs, with the umpire’s cry of “Play ball!” sounding shortly after 3 o’clock. Bleacher fans could soak in the sunshine for 50 cents; the more affluent paid $3.50 for a box seat. A trolley ride to the ballpark was a nickel, though workers at Hudson’s and other downtown businesses often walked the short distance to the corner of Michigan and Trumbull.
That year’s World Series, pitting the Tigers against the St. Louis Cardinals of Dizzy Dean and Ducky Medwick, opened October 3, 1934. After splitting the first two contests in Detroit, the Tigers took two of three in St. Louis. They returned to Detroit needing only one more win to capture their first world championship. The city geared up to celebrate. Instead, the Cardinals swept the last two games to win the series.
There was a happy ending the following year, however, as the Tigers beat the Chicago Cubs in six games to claim their first championship. Detroiters went wild as downtown became the site of the greatest confetti-throwing, horn-honking, stranger-kissing celebration in the city’s history.
Today, the whereabouts of Hudson’s six-story baseball banner is unknown. But this oversized expression of municipal pride remains a small but integral memory of an unforgettable era in local history.