Elizabeth O’Sullivan and the 1935 Detroit Tigers


“Take me Out to the Ball Game” Lyrics by Jack Norworth, 1908

Even people who can sing “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” in their sleep might not know that the song is about Katie Casey, a girl who was “baseball mad” and would rather go to a game with her beau than out on the town Saturday night.

Elizabeth O’ Sullivan was Detroit’s answer to Katie Casey.

A new addition to the DHS collection is a scrapbook containing images, letters and other artifacts related to the Tigers 1935 championship season. The book was compiled by Elizabeth O’Sullivan of Wyandotte, who in her early 20’s was a veritable Tigers superfan.

In addition to attending 5 games during the season, she seemingly spent her spare time clipping photographs of Tigers out of newspapers and magazines. Then, she would mail the player their clipping with a letter asking for an autograph on the image. Often the Tigers simply signed the image of themselves and sent it back without comment. In other cases they included a hand written note with the autograph. O’Sullivan of course saved the autographs and letters, but also preserved the envelopes in which they arrived. While seemingly unimportant, these envelopes revealed a number of details.

The postmark, of course, placed the letters in time; while the stationary on which the ballplayers inked their responses placed their whereabouts on a particular date geographically. As a result, one can glean both the individuals players’ personal residences scattered around Detroit, as well as the hotels in which the Tigers stayed while visiting the other American League cities on road trips.

boston wmvendome

While in Boston, The Tigers stayed at the Vendome Hotel. The envelope was sent by catcher Frank Reiber. The postmark date, September 17th, 1935, was a 5-4 loss to the Red Sox. Image courtesy Boston Public Library 

seward wmThe Seward

Envelope from pitcher Schoolboy Rowe who lived at The Seward Hotel (right) located at Seward and Woodward Avenues during the season.   The postmark date, September 19, 1936 was a 7-3 victory over Cleveland and Rowe’s 19th win of the season.

While just the envelopes fascinating, the majority of the scrapbook’s pages are filled with the autographs of the entire team 1935 team — including all three of the famous “G-Men” (Below from left- Charlie Gehringer, Goose Goslin, and Hank Greenberg), Player/Manager and Hall of Famer Mickey Cochrane (below left), and even WWJ radio’s “Voice of the Tigers” Ty Tyson (below right).

gehringer wmgoslin wmgreenberg wm

cochrane wmTyson wm

While many players appear only once, the star of the scrapbook is undoubtedly All-Star pitcher Schoolboy Rowe, who appears 11 times. In one reply, Rowe enclosed a picture of himself from his personal collection that he liked better than the one O’Sullivan sent him to sign. (below).

Over the course of 1935 and 1936, the tone of Rowe’s letters became more friendly. He began his first letter formally calling her “Miss O’Sullivan…” but later in the book was far more personal simply calling her “E.A”. Rowe even signed one of his letters as “Guess Who?”.

In another, from 1936, when O’Sullivan reported to Schoolboy that she won a $5 bet on his latest pitching performance, Rowe responded:

 “You can bet another five spot that I wont let you down, and you will see me pitch for my 19th win before the season is over, but if you don’t you cant say I didn’t try –    because I am and very hard too. […] Well here’s hoping to see you at the world series in Detroit.”

rowe - watermarked copy


WS denial wmWhile she tried to get tickets to the World Series, her request to the team was denied. Undaunted, O’ Sullivan tuned into the WWJ broadcast of the Series and didn’t miss a pitch. She even created her own homemade score cards – also preserved in the scrapbook – for each of the six games.

tigers sc wmcubs score wm

O’ Sullivan’s Game 6 score cards; a 4-3 Tiger victory, that secured a 4 games to 2 series victory and the team’s first championship.

While Rowe was her most faithful correspondent, the scrapbook suggests she held a special place for third-string catcher Frankie Reiber.

rieber em

Frank Reiber appeared in 8 games for the 1935 Tigers hitting .273

O’ Sullivan had written Reiber at some point during the 1935 season and asked the ball player to sign and return two images of himself she had clipped from a magazine (one pictured above). In an excerpt from his response, dated September 17th 1935, Reiber wrote:

“On the back of your letter was written either by you or someone else four letters,        S.W.A.K., just about in such a manner and if you wrote them I wonder if you would    write me what they mean?”

The scrapbook gives no indication if Miss O’Sullivan wrote again and explained it. But either way, the artifacts provide a rare look into the off-the field lives and personalities of the first Tigers World Series Champion team, as well as a fascinating glimpse at how professional athletes and fans interacted 84 years ago.

Gift of Mike and Sherry O’Sullivan in honor of Elizabeth O’Sullivan.

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