Between 1920 and 1950, the Detroit Tigers had a slew of successes: They claimed four pennants, won their first World Series in 1935, came back 10 year later to do it again and had a roster filled with some some of the greatest players, nearly all of the team's Hall-of-Famers. And that's why, William Anderson argues, those three decades were the glory years of the Detroit Tigers.
While some younger fans might scoff at the slight to the '60s or the '84 World Series win, the author of "The Glory Years of the Detroit Tigers 1920 - 1950," a massive trove of photographs and primary documents released in June from Wayne State University Press, has some history to back him up. Not only his professional background -- Anderson has written several books about the Tigers and was the founding director of the Michigan Department of History, Arts and Libraries -- but his personal one: he just barely missed out on seeing the "glory years" in person, and he's been a fan for the last seven decades.
"I saw my first game at old Briggs stadium in the 1950s," Anderson said. "My passion for the Tigers just grew and grew and grew. My life has been filled with connection to baseball and the team."
Anderson combed through thousands of 4 x 5 inch negatives from the Detroit News archives.
"When I finished examining those negatives over and over, the chapters were already in my head," he said.
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Once a writer for Ludington's daily newspaper who often accompanied sports writers to Tigers games, Anderson was struck by the relationship between the players and the sports photographers. Without zoom lenses, the photographers got dangerously close to the action. Some shots show photogs interacting with players who willingly indulged their whims, like one where a group of players leap in unison over a pole.
"If you asked a player to do that today, they would think you were goofy, they'd think you were smoking something," Anderson said. "They'd say, 'you need to see my agent.' They won't jump over some stick."
Anderson also delved into the many, many newspapers clippings of the time, sketching out the team's characters through stories and images from the past. One of the things he was most happy to share was images that capture old Tiger Stadium (or Briggs, as it was called at the time).
"I'm able to take the reader on a vicarious trip through an old ballpark that is no more," he said.
While he remembers a "magic" to the old stadium, Anderson says he's still a passionate Tigers fan.
"The thread for all of us, even though baseball has changed dramatically, is the memories we have," he explained. His own remembrances span decades include everything from watching Justin Verlander's first no-hitter at Comerica Park sitting next to the grandson of the team's past owner, interviewing some of the players he saw in his first baseball game years later and hearing the "shot heard round the world" in 1951 on his bus driver's portable radio.
"I was so excited, I jumped all the way home," he said. "That memory is still as vivid as if I listened to it 15 minutes ago."
While "The Glory of the Detroit Tigers 1920-1950" is very much a historical account, it's colored by Anderson's longtime personal connection to the boys in blue and orange.
"In my case, I sometimes tend to live in the past because my education and background is history," Anderson said. "I'll be 74 in July, so I've had a life with baseball."