The Tigers were in a state of flux as the 1934 season approached. They were more than a little disillusioned by their poor showing in 1933, and winning baseball had become so elusive for the franchise.
Owner Frank Navin decided to try something bold and sure to, if nothing else, inject some new-found interest into his ballclub.
Navin reached out to the great Babe Ruth, inquiring as to whether the Bambino would be interested in joining the Tigers as a player-manager. Yes, Babe Ruth, American icon.
Ruth actually showed some interest. Navin wanted to work on a deal quickly, but Ruth went off on a barnstorming tour and missed an interview with the Tigers owner.
Unwilling to wait for Ruth, Navin instead purchased catcher Mickey Cochrane from Connie Mack's Philadelphia A's. Navin installed the veteran Cochrane, 31, as the Tigers' new player-manager.
Just as so much had gone wrong for the Tigers in recent years, so much went right for them in 1934. It was a magical season, and one that had been long overdue, as the suffering fans in Detroit were in the midst of a 25-year pennant drought.
Hank Greenberg had gotten his rookie season out of the way and was ready to take the next step. 2B Charlie Gehringer was aching to finally play for a winner. Also new was veteran outfielder Goose Goslin, acquired from Washington for John Stone.
Cochrane, nicknamed "Black Mike," kept Del Baker, who had taken over for Bucky Harris, on his coaching staff.
The funny thing is that the 1934 season, despite all the changes and optimism, started like so many Tigers seasons of the past: so-so, bobbing around .500. By the end of May, the Tigers were 21-18 and in third place. It didn't look like anything special was going to happen, even though the new players and returnees like Greenberg and Gehringer were having terrific years.
Pitcher Schoolboy Rowe started winning, and he kept winning---16 straight decisions he won. The Tigers jelled and from June 1 on, they edged further and further away from .500. They were winning consistently for the first time in years.
A 14-game winning streak in August put the Tigers 6.5 games in front of the vaunted Yankees for the pennant. The Tigers were the toast of the town---and of the American League. No one, not even the Yankees, were to catch them. The Tigers cruised to the pennant with a 101-53 record.
Greenberg slammed 26 homers, drove in 139 runs, and batted .339 in his sophomore season. Gehringer led the league in runs (134) and hits (214) and batted .356. Gosling batted over .300 and was among FOUR Tigers who had 100+ RBI.
On the mound, Cochrane had Rowe, who went 24-8, and Tommy Bridges, who was 22-11. Elden Auker and Firpo Marberry each chipped in with 15 wins.
The Tigers were league champions, for the first time in a quarter century!
But there would be a huge challenge awaiting them in the World Series.
1934 World Series
The Tigers' opponents in the Fall Classic were the St. Louis Cardinals, aka "The Gas House Gang" for their rough-and-tumble play and their constantly dirty uniforms.
Unlike the Tigers, the Cards were in a close pennant race, edging out the New York Giants by two games. The Cardinals, managed by 2B Frankie Frisch, were one of the most colorful teams in big league history: pitchers Paul and Dizzy Dean, 3B Pepper Martin, SS Leo Durocher and LF Ducky Medwick were among the cast of characters.
The teams split the first four games, and in Game 5 in St. Louis, the Tigers won on a Gehringer home run. They were headed back to Detroit, needing just one more win to capture the Series.
But Paul Dean helped his own cause in Game 6 with a clutch single, leading the Cards to victory and forcing a seventh game.
Game 7 was among the more infamous World Series games in baseball history. Not so much for its tension---the Cardinals won it, 11-0---but because of the pelting Medwick received from the Detroit fans after a hard slide into 3B Marv Owen. Fans hurled fruit, vegetables, bottles---whatever they could get their hands on---at Medwick. It got so bad that Commissioner Kensesaw Landis ordered Frisch to remove Medwick from the game, which was easier for Frisch to agree to, since the Cards were winning by such a large margin.
So the Tigers fell, four games to three, which was disappointing. But baseball was back in Detroit, and the Tigers felt like they could return to the World Series in 1935.