Before the Detroit Tigers, There Was the Detroit Wolverines Team: 1881-1888
How many times in the past have you heard from one of your friends, “hey, how about those Tigers, eh?” Well, now try to imagine saying “how ‘bout them Wolverines?”
Before the Detroit Tigers, there was another baseball team: the Detroit Wolverines. The team was the brainchild of Detroit mayor William G. Thompson, who decided to name the team after Michigan’s mascot, the 'mighty' wolverine. Enough local buzz about this new ball club brought 1,286 spectators to Detroit's very first Major League baseball game on May 2, 1881. The game was played at their very own field, called Recreation Park, between Brady Street and Willis Avenue.
No real stadium. It was mostly just a field with wooden bleachers that caused many splinters in the butts of local baseball fans.
The Wolverines only lasted for eight years, which is a shame, because by the time the team was disbanded, they were really kickin’ some major tail. They got off to a rocky start, losing the majority of their games and they hold the all-time record for the worst record in Detroit Major League history, winning just 25% of their games in 1884.
They hold the all-time Major League Baseball record for 18 runs in a single inning against the Cleveland Stockings on September 6, 1883. They were crowned champs of the 1887 season, totaling 79 wins and 45 losses. Afterward, they won ten out of fifteen games against the St. Louis Browns, in an exhibition match that took place before the World Series was even created (sixteen years later in 1903). The Wolverines even hold another all-time baseball record for their 1886 season by winning 87 games and losing just 36.
So the Wolverines hold three Major League records: for the worst season, the best season, and most runs hit in a single inning. So they deserve more than just a minor history footnote.
So why did the team only last eight years if they ended up being so hot? In 1885, owner Frederick Kimball Stearns spent an enormous amount of money to purchase the Buffalo Bisons in order to acquire their four biggest & best players. These four star players were Dan Brouthers, Hardy Richardson, Jack Rowe, and Deacon White, and their pay along with the rest of the team was just too much. Detroit was not yet the Motor Capitol of the World and there just weren’t enough local baseball fans to spend the amount of money needed to keep the team afloat. Stearns sold his star players to other teams and disbanded the Wolverines when the 1888 season closed.
The Wolverines’ makeshift, wooden “stadium” was torn down in 1894 and some time later, the name “Wolverines” was officially adopted by the University of Michigan.
If you travel to that once-upon-a-field, you’ll see a Historical Marker in - what used to be - the Wolverines’ former left field.