On May 15th, 1912, famous Tiger’s star Ty Cobb appeared in New York’s Hilltop Park for a regular-season game facing the New York Highlanders. At the end of the sixth inning, Cobb entered the stands and fought with fan Claude Lueker who had been taunting him with profanity and racial epithets the entire game. Lueker was missing one hand and only had three fingers on the other from an industrial accident, and when fans pled with Cobb to stop the fighting, he shouted back “I don’t care if he has no feet!”
That now-infamous game is how Allan Travers became the only Catholic priest ever to play in a Major League Baseball game. American League president Ban Johnson suspended Cobb indefinitely, and thus the Tiger’s team went on strike until his reinstatement. When threatened with a fine of $5,000 per day for failing to field a team, the Tiger’s owner asked his general manager to recruit eight new Tigers from northern Philadelphia.
Enter Aloysius Joseph “Allan” Travers found on a street corner, a 20 year old from Philadelphia’s St. Joseph’s College. Travers had never pitched a game in his life, he was a violinist in the student orchestra, having been unable to make the school’s varsity baseball team. Despite this, he took on the role of pitcher because it paid $50 instead of $25. The GM tasked him with finding several other replacement players to star in the Tiger’s next game on the road in Philadelphia.
“About noon when Nolan told me about the strike of the Detroit players he told me the club would be fined and might lose its franchise if twelve players didn’t show up. He told me to round up as many fellows as I could find, so I went down to 23rd and Columbia where a bunch of fellows were standing around the corner. We thought we’d just go out and appear. We never thought we’d play a game.”
3 days later on May 18th, Travers strolled out to a crowd of 20,000 at Shibe Park to face the two-time defending world champions, the Philadelphia Athletics. He pitched to some of the best players of his era: Frank “Home Run” Baker, Eddie Collins, and Stuffy McInnis. He played a complete game allowing 26 hits, 24 runs, 14 earned runs, 7 walks and one strikeout in a 26-2 loss.
In an interview commenting on his pitching during that famed game, Travers said:
“I was throwing slow curves and the A’s were not used to them and couldn’t hit the ball. Hughie Jennings told me not to throw fast balls as he was afraid I might get killed. I was doing fine until they started bunting. The guy playing third base had never played baseball before. I just didn’t get any support…no one in the grandstands was safe! I threw a beautiful slow ball and the A’s were just hitting easy flies…trouble was, no one could catch them.”
After he graduated from Saint Joseph’s College in 1913, he entered the Society of Jesus and studied at Woodstock College in Maryland where he was ordained a priest in 1926. In 1943, he returned to his alma mater to teach Spanish and religion until his death in 1968. During his time there, he became known as the “Man who saved the Detroit franchise.”