Franchise Record: 426-437-15 .494
Post Season Record: 10-5 .667
National League Pennant: 1887
Pre-World Series title: 1887
Ballpark: Recreation Park (1881-1888)
The Detroit Wolverines were a 19th century baseball team who were members of the National League between 1881 and 1888. The Wolverines were one of the first, if not the first team to be owned by a sitting mayor, William Thompson (1880-1883). At the time of their formation, the team was the second professional team in Detroit; the first team was formed back in 1879, and lasted only half a season before folding, mostly likely due to financial problems.
The Wolverines joined the National League on December 8, 1880 replacing the Cincinnati Red Stockings who had been dropped from the league about two months prior. The team opened the season at home, in Recreation Park, on May 2nd with a 6-5 loss to the Buffalo Bisons. Managed by Frank Bancroft the team posted a 41-43 record. The following year, in 1882 the team posted its first winning season going 42-41-3. Prior to the start of the 1883 season, Mayor Thompson sold the team to a businessman, Joseph Marsh, and Bancroft left the team to manage the Cleveland Forest Citys. Under manager Jack Chapman, the team won only 40 games and then a team worst 28 wins in 1884. During the off-season, the owners of the Wolverines contemplated dropping out of the National League. As a possible replacement, the league looked to the Cincinnati Outlaw Reds, who had played the previous season in the Union Association. However, the team was sold to Frederick Stearns, who decided the team would remain in the league.
In the meantime, Chapman had been replaced as manager by Charlie Morton, but he lasted only 38 games before being replaced by Bill Watkins, who up until June 15th had beens the manager of the Indianapolis Hoosiers in the Western League. Under Watkins, the team won 34 of its last 70 games. During the off-season, the Buffalo Bisons dropped out of the league, with Stearns picking up four players (Dan Brouthers, Hardy Richardson, Jack Rowe and Deacon White) from the team. The next season, 1886 saw the Wolverines more than double their win total to 87 wins. The team's performance declined slightly in 1887, down to 79 wins, but it was enough to get the pennant. In the post season, the Wolverines would be facing the St. Louis Browns, winners of three straight American Association pennants, and defending World Champions.
That year's post season championship series was different than in previous seasons. For the first time, as well as the only time, many of the games between the two teams would take place in cities other than the two cities from which the respective league champions originated. Wolverines owner Frederick Stearns, who was eager to take advantage of his gate-drawing team, proposed to the Browns' owner, Chris von der Ahe, that the two clubs should participate in a 15-game postseason with the two teams playing in almost every major league city. In addition, admission would be increased to $1.00 and the two umpires would be used, a first. The umpires chosen were both nicknamed "Honest John". One was "Honest John" Kelly and the other "Honest John" Gaffney. The series opened in St. Louis, as the Browns had the better record. Both teams won a game in St. Louis. Game 3 was in Detroit with the Wolverines winning in 13 innings. By Game 8, the series was essentially over. However the two teams kept playing. At the last game, only 659 patrons showed up for a 9-2 Browns’ win. The Wolverines won 10 out of the 15. They swept the Browns in Detroit and Philadelphia, while the Browns swept in Brooklyn and took 2 out of 3 in St. Louis.
The 1888 season, which ended up being the Wolverines' final season, found the team winning only 68 games. After 94 games, Bill Watkins was replaced by Bob Leadley. After the season, Detroit dropped out of the league. Many sportswriters and fans felt that the owners let them down by disbanding the team. Between 1889 and 1894, there were three minor league teams who used the Wolverines nickname. The last team to use the Wolverines name is now known as the Detroit Tigers. The Wolverines nickname would make one last appearance in 1928, when a NFL team used the name for that season. The wolverine is of course the state animal of Michigan and in sporting terms, the name is still associated with teams from the University of Michigan.
- Jerry Lansche: Glory Fades Away: The Nineteenth-Century World Series Rediscovered, Taylor Publishing, Dallas, TX, 1991, pp. 95–125. ISBN 0-87833-726-1
- Brian Martin: The Detroit Wolverines: The Rise and Wreck of a National League Champion, 1881–1888, McFarland, Jefferson, NC, 2018. ISBN 978-1-4766-6507-8