After meager start, ’35 Tigers ran away with pennant with a hot summer stretch

Four members of the vaunted '35 Tiger offense: Hank Greenberg, Goose Goslin, Charlie Gehringer, and Pete Fox.

Four members of the vaunted ’35 Tiger offense: Hank Greenberg, Goose Goslin, Charlie Gehringer, and Pete Fox.

Many Detroit Tiger fans know that the team won its first World Series title in 1935.

The team was loaded with stars, including four future Hall of Famers, and they were picked to win the pennant.┬áBut within the ledger of baseball’s history books often lurk stories that are easy to miss. Such is the case with that team that captured the hearts of city in the midst of the Great Depression.

The ’35 Tigers got off to a sluggish start. It was because of a torrid, absolutely red-hot stretch of play during the summer that the Tigers cruised to the postseason. The phenomenal streak of success enjoyed by the ’35 Tigers from late June to early September, a span of more than 10 weeks, may be the hottest sustained stretch of play by any Detroit baseball club in history, including the ’84 team that won 35 of 40 to open the season.

The Tigers were so hot and nearly unstoppable during that stretch that it’s worth a look back to see what happened.

On the morning of Friday, June 21, 1935, the Tigers record was a pedestrian 29-26, good for just 4th place in the 8-team American League. The team they were facing that day, the New York Yankees, were in 1st place with a gaudy record. The Tigers were 7 1/2 games back of the Bronx Bombers, a seemingly impossible deficit to overcome, with just under 100 games to play in the 154-game schedule. Cochrane, who was also the catcher, still had faith in his team, and for good reason. The firepower was good.

Their catcher was the unparalleled Master of the Mask, Gordon “Mickey” Cochrane, who also served as the manager. Cochrane hit line drives all over the ballpark, had great footwork behind the plate, was a superb handler of pitchers and his defense, and had a burning desire to win that hadn’t been witnessed in Detroit since the halcyon days of Ty Cobb. At first base was the tall Jewish superstar Hank Greenberg, a tall, gentle man with tremendous upper-body strength and a lightning quick bat. The left fielder was Leon “Goose” Goslin, a happy fella who earned his nickname not because of his nose (which was indeed rather long), but due to the way he flapped his arms in the outfield when settling himself under a fly ball. At second base was the sphinx of the diamond, Charlie Gehringer, a nearly perfect ballplayer with no glaring weaknesses who hardly ever said a peep. Cochrane also had two fleet-footed outfielders in Jo-Jo White and Pete Fox. The hill corps was led by the ultra-competitive Tommy Bridges, who barely tipped in at 155 pounds, fan favorite Schoolboy Rowe, veteran junkball artist Alvin “General” Crowder, and Elden “Submarine” Auker, whose knuckles scraped the mound dirt when he pitched. In the field, at the plate, and on the mound, the Tigers were accomplished.

Still, the Tigers were practically straining their necks to look up at the Yanks in the AL standings. Yet, it wasn’t so much that Detroit was playing terribly, it was that the Yankees had gotten off to a great start, winning 26 of 35 over a stretch to pull out in front of the pack. But on that Friday afternoon on June 21, Cochrane’s “G-Men” (so-called due to the surnames of Gehringer, Goslin, et al) started to change all of that.

In front of a sparse afternoon crowd of little more than 6,500 at Navin Field on The Corner, the Tigers pounded 11 hits off Yankee All-Star starter Red Ruffing and two relievers and won easily, 7-0. Gehringer drew applause with a home run into the right field stands, his 8th of the season. From that point forward, the Tigers were scalding hot. They won three of five from the Washington Senators, scoring 37 runs in the five-game series. The offense would be the catalyst for the Tigers during their summer of winning.

They won four of five from the lowly St. Louis Browns, punishing their opponent 10-1, 18-1, and 11-6 in three of the wins. In a doubleheader in which they scored 39 runs, the Tigers had 38 hits. Over an 11-game stretch in late June and early July, they averaged more than 10 runs per game and 16 hits. Gehringer and Cochrane were especially red-hot. The fiery player/manager, who was such a great player that a certain Mr. Mantle named his son after him, hit .398 in July and reached base an amazing 54% of the time that month. Hammerin’ Hank was there to clean up all those runners on base in front of him: he drove in 47 runs in June (!), 34 in July, and 32 more in August. He also hit about .370 during those three months.

The club had a 10-game winning streak in early July, won five in a row in late July, and then had a nine-game winning streak in early August. In a 19-2 pounding of the Senators at Navin Field on August 14, pitcher Rowe even got into the hitting act: banging out five hits, including a double and a triple. The hitting was contagious.

After winning 23 of 30, Detroit caught the Yanks at the top of the standings on July 20. A week later they were 2 1/2 games up, two weeks later they were 4 1/2 games ahead, and a week after that they were up 7 games on New York after beating the Yankees in Detroit, 3-2 in 10 innings. The Tigs were a fine-tuned winning machine – snatching 28 of 35 games and increasing their lead to 10 full games after a doubleheader sweep of the Athletics in Philly on September 7 when they outscored Connie Mack’s nine by a score of 24 to 8. The Tigers record stood at 85-44, having gone 56-18 since trailing the Yanks by 7 1/2 in late June. Amazingly, in those 74 games, the lumber of the Tiger offense had outscored their opponents by a margin of 517 runs to 298. Detroit had averaged 6.9 runs per game while surrendering just 4 runs per. It was a 10-week rampage of mostly lopsided victories for Detroit’s heralded ballclub.

With the pennant secure, Detroit coasted through the final three weeks of the schedule, winning 8 and losing 14. Having earned a right to represent the AL in the World Series once again, Cochrane and his Tigers were not rusty, however. The Tigers knew they were a great team and they proved it in the Fall Classic, taking three of the first four games before finishing off the Cubs in Navin Field in dramatic fashion in Game Six when Goslin lined a single to score his manager/teammate “Black Mike” with the winning run.

That World Series triumph, the roster packed with Hall of Famers and stars, and the gaudy stats made the ’35 Tigers a truly great team. But the Tigers had also proven their greatness by playing some of the best baseball anyone had ever seen for more than two months during the summer of ’35.

Yet another reason that the Tigers first World Series Champs should always be remembered.

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About Dan Holmes

The editor of Detroit Athletic Co. blog, is the author of Ty Cobb: A Biography. He was formerly the Web Producer for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, NY, and worked for Major League Baseball as a producer. He contributed to Sock it to 'Em Tigers: The Incredible Story of the 1968 Detroit Tigers, and Deadball Stars of the American League. Follow him on Twitter at @thedanholmes or visit his personal blog at danholmes.com.