Decades before Major League Baseball players hit their first strike, the Detroit Tigers staged a strike.
They weren’t protesting wages or pensions or even meal money.
The 18 Detroit Tigers who refused to dress May 18, 1912 at Shibe Park in Philadelphia acted on behalf of a teammate suspended for entering the stands during a game and pummeling a rowdy fan. Beyond that, they were declaring their right to protection from abusive fans.
On May 15, in the fourth inning of a game with the New York Highlanders at Hilltop Fields, when newspapers reported using the lavish language of the day, Ty Cobb, the Georgia Peach, “resented a unworthy epithet leveled at him by a spectator…jumped into the stand and delivered a first-class beating to the man who had made the remark.”
Cobb was ejected immediately, but the Tigers still prevailed 8-4.
Victim Claude Lucker denied saying anything offensive but admitted he joined in the centre-back’s boos.
He said it got ugly when a fan called Cobb “dopey.” Cobb replied that he was stupid “because I went out with a member of your family last night” and followed up the remark with “despicable speech”.
A man near Lucker hurled a racial slur at Cobb, who shortly afterwards jumped over the fence and tackled Lucker, punching him in the forehead, knocking him down, jumping, kicking and kicking him. kicking behind the ear.
Lucker was disabled, having lost one hand and most of the other the previous year while working as a pressman.
When someone shouted that Lucker didn’t have hands, Cobb reportedly replied, “I don’t care if he didn’t have feet.”
Cobb apologized when he arrived with the team in Philadelphia the next day. He said the victim was the assailant and had “annoyed” him on other occasions.
“Yesterday,” he told reporters, “I tried to avoid the man, but when his language got too harsh for me, I lost my mind.”
Cobb’s outburst earned him an indefinite suspension from American League President Ban Johnson.
Cobb objected to the lack of due process, stating, “I should have at least had the opportunity to present my case.”
Cobb may have had differences with his fellow Tigers in the past, but his teammates rallied behind their star player, protesting his suspension.
The players sent a telegram to Johnson, stating they refused to play another game unless Cobb was reinstated.
They said: “He was fully justified in his action, as no one could bear such personal abuse from anyone.” They added: “If the players can’t have protection, we have to protect ourselves.”
And so began what the press called “the first real baseball hit in the history of organized play.”
Tigers manager Hughie Jennings, fearing the club could be fined $5,000 for a forfeit, fielded a replacement team against the Athletics on May 18 for Game 2 of the series. The roster included 41-year-old coach Joe Sugden, who hadn’t played in a major league game since 1905. He had one hit on four at bats.
The replacement Tigers also included several players from the local St. Joseph’s College.
The result was dubbed a “farce”, a 24-2 thrashing at the hands of a strong athletic team led by Eddie Collins and Home Run Baker.
The next game with the Athletics has been postponed and Tigers owner Frank Navin has met with his players.
Navin convinced the players to return to the diamond without Cobb, promising he would work to secure Cobb’s return, do whatever he could to have the American League provide better protection against unsportsmanlike spectators, and pay player fines. , which would eventually amount to $100. per player.
The players, without Cobb, beat Washington and Walter Johnson 2-0 on May 21.
Cobb was reinstated and returned to the lineup on May 26 against the White Sox, after being fined $50.
Johnson put the blame for the incident on Cobb’s shoulders, saying he did not appeal to the referee but “took the law into his own hands”.
Still, Johnson said the league has arranged to increase “police powers” at every American League park.
The dust had settled, but baseball prophet Hugh Fullerton, the man who unearthed the Black Sox scandal, predicted, “There will one day be a players’ strike that will cripple organized baseball.