In a game filled with stories of superstition, jinxes, “hoodoo,” and general irrationality, the Detroit Tigers seem to be the subject of an out-sized number of such stories during major league baseball’s first four decades.
Tigers’ pitcher George Mullin, whose story I told in October, was one of the most superstitious players in the history of the game, and he was not alone in Detroit.
This story begins in 1904, but took off in 1911, first in the Detroit newspapers and then across the country. The Headline in The Duluth News-Times said:
“Moriarity (sic) is Victim of Hoodoo that follows Detroit Captains.”
“Moriarity” was George Moriarty, who had been named captain of the Tigers for 1911. The story said Moriarty was the victim of a “Jinx” that dated back to 1904 when Bobby “Link” Lowe was acquired by the Tigers and named captain:
“His sterling playing qualities and the friendship that all the players had for him, together with his knowledge of baseball brought him the appointment of captain. Bob got into a slump and Bob did not get out of it.”
In 1905, the Tigers named Bill Coughlin captain, the story continued:
“Coughlin, whom everybody liked and who could play ball as well as the majority of them and think faster than most of them… (His) playing started down grade. Bill bit his fingernails tore out his black wavy hair in bunches, lost sleep and worried several pounds off…Bill never got back to form.”
“Herman with his ever penetrating optimism, humor and baseball wisdom …appeared to be the right man in the right place as captain…but Herman’s playing ability decreased to such an extent that Detroit gladly grasped at the chance to trade Schaefer.”
Hughie Jennings was enough of a believer in the jinx, even before it became grist for the newspapers, that after trading Schaefer in August of 1909, he chose not to name a captain for the remainder of the season, or for 1910. Jennings decided to again name a captain in 1911:
“On the Southern training trip Jennings came to realize the necessity of a field leader… (Moriarty) was cool-headed and had the qualities of a leader…the choice seemed like a good one…But soon after the opening of the season it became apparent that Moriarty caught the hoodoo…The duties of the position have weighted in Moriarty until his playing ability has fallen away below par.”
After the 1911 season, Jennings took the situation seriously enough to again consider eliminating the position of captain. The Detroit Free Press said, “In all probability the Tigers will have to struggle along without a captain next season,” citing Moriarty’s “Frightfully bad year,” after being named captain.
In the end, Moriarty was again captain of the Tigers in 1912 and served in that capacity through 1915.
Like most “jinxes,” there really was no jinx, none of the players performed significantly worse than their career averages except for Lowe—but he was 38-years-old when he was acquired by Detroit in 1904 and had missed most of 1903 with a badly injured knee.
Coughlin had shown great promise with the Washington Senators, hitting .275 and .301 in 1901 and 1902, but by the time he was named Tiger captain in 1905 he had back-to-back seasons of .245 and .255, right around his career .252 average.
Schaefer was a .257 career hitter, and his numbers during his half-season as captain were similar to his career numbers.
Moriarty hit .243 during his season with the captain “hoodoo;” his career average was .251, and most of his 1911 numbers were similar to his performance throughout his career.
More on Moriarty tomorrow.