1903: Detroit Tigers 5, Detroit Wheelmen 3

The Detroit Wheelmen was a premiere bicycle club during its era from the start of bicycling history through to the early 1920s. It was the top club in Detroit and in Michigan. Its members helped shape the city by pioneering America’s road and automobile industries.

It was much more than a group of cyclists. It was a major social club, which was reflected in their final clubhouse on Adams, where Comerica Park is today.

But they did more than ride bicycles. They hosted bike races on the national circuit. They held major boxing matches. Their annual circus became the forerunner to the Shrine Circus.

And they played semi-professional baseball.

In 1903, A. S. Burkhardt managed the Wheelmen’s baseball team and arranged an exhibition baseball game against the Detroit Tigers.

It was October 2nd, 1903 and the Tiger’s last game for the year. They’d finished the year in fifth place with 65 wins and 71 losses. With the players season over, this game was an opportunity to send them off with a little extra money.

According to the Detroit Free Press, the Wheelmen’s team had been “greatly strengthened for this game and [hoped] to give the American leaguers an argument.”

Pitching for the Tigers was their ace George Mullin, who had a 19 and 16 record, a 2.25 ERA, and 170 strikeouts. Mullin still holds records with the Tigers for most innings pitched during a season and all-time. He has the second most wins in Tiger’s history. He also helped pitch the Tigers to three Pennants (1907-1909) along side teammates Ty Cobb and Sam Crawford.

The Free Press added that having Mullin on the mound, made “the outlook for any great acquisition of cycling tallies very dubious.”

Play Ball

The game was played at Bennett Park, at the corner of Trumbull and Michigan. (In 1912 the Park eventually became Navin Field then Briggs Stadium and Tiger Stadium.)

The threatening weather and muddy conditions kept many spectators away and the Tigers won, 5 to 3.

Wheelmen pitcher Archie Neuschafer “pitched well” but his team couldn’t hit Mullin’s pitches when it counted. They left 15 men on base.

The Free Press also included this colorful write up:

The Dutchman pulled off a couple of shoe top catches that won him much applause. Donovan played Sunny Jim baseball, and helped to fill up the sacks in the ninth, to make the game interesting. Mullin, however, fanned Kustus, with a single good to tie and a double good to win. The sacks were filled in the eighth, also, but Carr pulled down a foul fly from Mogg.

“Sacks” is a reference to the bases, while Sunny Jim is a character from Force cereal advertisements. The Dutchman was apparently “Wild Bill” Donovan, who was the top Tigers pitcher behind Mullin. He had four errors playing shortstop.


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2 Responses to “1903: Detroit Tigers 5, Detroit Wheelmen 3”

  1. JTF Says:

    I can hear Ernie calling the game now! 😉

  2. MKL Says:

    Great article, I love to hear about the Wheelmen and the early Tiger baseball team.
    To JTF: Were you joking about Ernie? You do know that Ernie Harwell had not been born yet, most likely his parents were infants in 1903.

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