Although they found themselves seriously threatened for preeminence among American League teams by Connie Mack’s rising Philadelphia dynasty, the Detroit Tigers captured their third straight A.L. pennant in 1909, edging out the hard-charging A’s by 3 ½ games in the final standings, with a record of 98-54. While the Athletics were an extremely well-balanced club that featured good hitting, solid defense, and outstanding pitching, the Tigers had easily the junior circuit’s best player in Ty Cobb. The Georgia Peach won the American League Triple Crown by leading the league with nine home runs, 107 runs batted in, and a .377 batting average. He also topped the circuit with 116 runs scored, 216 base hits, 76 stolen bases, a .431 on-base percentage, a .517 slugging percentage, and 296 total bases. It was in 1909 that Cobb replaced Honus Wagner as the game's greatest all-around player.
Nevertheless, Detroit was more than just a one-man team. Sam Crawford placed among the league leaders in every major offensive category, topping the circuit with 35 doubles and finishing second in runs batted in (97), triples (14), slugging percentage (.452), and total bases (266). Pitcher George Mullin led the A.L. with 29 wins and a .784 winning percentage. Ed Willett gave the Tigers a second 20-game winner, placing third in the league with 21 victories while also compiling an outstanding 2.34 ERA.
The Tigers came up short in the World Series for the third consecutive year, though, falling to the Pittsburgh Pirates in seven games. Ty Cobb batted a disappointing .231 during the Fall Classic, managing only one hit in 11 trips to the plate against 27-year-old Pittsburgh rookie Babe Adams, who proved to be the difference in the Series by going 3-0 with a 1.33 ERA. Cobb never again made it back to the Fall Classic.
Meanwhile, Connie Mack’s A’s featured baseball’s best infield – one that included future Hall of Famers Eddie Collins at second base and Frank “Home Run” Baker at third. The 22-year-old Collins placed second to Cobb in the league rankings with a .347 batting average, a .416 on-base percentage, and 63 stolen bases. He also finished among the league leaders with 104 runs scored, 198 hits, and 62 bases on balls. Baker had a fabulous rookie season, setting an all-time record for first-year players by amassing 19 triples. Harry Krause joined Hall of Fame hurlers Eddie Plank and Chief Bender on Philadelphia’s pitching staff, giving the A’s the junior circuit’s deepest starting rotation. The rookie left-hander won 18 games and captured the ERA title with a mark of 1.39.
Other outstanding performers and notable events from around the league included:
• Chicago White Sox hurler Frank Smith led all American League pitchers with 37 complete games, 365 innings pitched, and 177 strikeouts.
• On July 9, Cleveland shortstop Neal Ball pulled off the first known unassisted triple play in major league history.
• In his first full big-league season, 21-year-old Boston centerfielder Tris Speaker led all American League outfielders in putouts, assists, and double plays.
• Detroit and Washington played an 18-inning scoreless tie on July 16, with Detroit starter Ed Killian going the distance for the Tigers.
• Washington scored an American League record-low 380 runs.
• Washington’s Walter Johnson established an American League record by losing 10 games in which his team failed to score a run. Five of those losses came to Chicago.
• Washington established an American League record for futility by losing 29 games by shutout.
• Ty Cobb was indicted for the felonious assault of a Cleveland night watchman.
• Cy Young returned to Cleveland, where he began his career in 1890. The 42-year-old hurler led his team with 19 victories.
- 1909 World Series, American League, Babe Adams, Chief Bender, Connie Mack, Cy Young, Detroit Tigers, Ed Killian, Ed Walsh, Ed Willett, Eddie Collins, Eddie Plank, Frank Baker, Frank Smith, George Mullin, Harry Krause, Honus Wagner, Neal Ball, Sam Crawford, Tris Speaker, Ty Cobb, Walter Johnson