The evolution of organized baseball in Detroit, from a game played strictly by local amateurs to a business employing imported professionals, encompassed the second half of the 19th century. Here are the historic firsts reached along the way:
Hollinger's Nine was a house team of Eastern professionals organized specifically as an attraction for Recreation Park, Detroit's first enclosed ballyard, which opened at Brush and Brady streets in 1879. Although the team was not affiliated with any league, Hollinger's Nine can be considered the first play-for-pay baseball team to represent Detroit. |As such, its 7-1 loss to the Troy (N.Y.) Haymakers before 1,500 park patrons two days after the facility opened can be judged the first professional game in the city and Detroit's first Opening Day.
The Detroit Wolverines, newest member of the country's most powerful baseball circuit, the National League, inaugurated big-league ball in the city on May 2, 1881 with a 6-4 loss to Buffalo before 1,265 at Recreation Park. The Wolverines won the National League pennant in 1887 and an unusual cross-country "world's series" against the St. Louis Browns of the American Association. The Wolverines disbanded in 1888 after eight seasons.
On May 2, 1894 Detroit was awarded a franchise in Ban Johnson's reorganized Western League, a minor-league circuit of eight Midwestern clubs. In its first game, Detroit lost to Toledo, 4-3, at Boulevard Park. The Detroit actually wasn't referred to as the 'Tigers' until 1895; prior to that, they were alternately known as the "Creams" and the "Wolverines."
On April 28, 1896, the Western league Tigers, after having spent their first two seasons at Boulevard Park, christened Bennett Park with a 17-2 drubbing of Columbus.
The Tigers kicked off play in Ban Johnson's renamed American League to begin the 1900 season with an 8-0 loss to Buffalo, as Doc Amole twirled a no-hitter. After operating for six seasons as the Western league, the name change signified little; the circuit was still a minor league and a signatory to the National Agreement, ,meaning its players were subject to being drafted by major league clubs.
Before the 1901 season opened, American League owners voted to withdraw from the National Agreement and to declare themselves a major league. This launched a two-year war with the National League over players and territorial rights. At Bennett Park, the Tigers beat Milwaukee, 14-13, in the city's first big-league contest since 1888. For the purpose of recognizing records and anniversaries, the Tigers and the American League date the team's history to 1901. But as this primer illustrates, it took a long time for them to get there.^