The Detroit Tigers were playing the New York Highlanders on May 15, 1912 in New York. This was the last year they were known as the Highlanders and have been the Yankees since the start of the 1913 season.
One of the Highlanders fans, Claude Lueker, was riding Ty Cobb that day and Cobb warned the opposing manager and the umpires that there would be dire consequences if the fan wasn’t removed from the premises.
When nothing was done about the fan and he called the racist Cobb a name racists don’t appreciate Cobb climbed into the stands and started pummeling Lueker.
When the fans started telling Cobb the man had no hands Cobb retorted “I don’t care if he has no feet”.
American League commissioner Ban Johnson happened to be watching the game and suspended Cobb indefinitely.
The Tigers played one game without Cobb but then voted to go on strike and not play again till Cobb was reinstated.
When the Tiger players still refused to play after talking to then owner Frank Navin, Frank told his manager Hughie Jennings to round up a makeshift team for the next game to avoid the $5,000 fine Johnson was imposing for games not played. He got help from a local Philadelphia sportswriter Joe Nolan in finding some sandlot players for the game.
Billy Maharg a local boxer would be one of the pickup players and he would play in another game in 1916 for the Philadelphia Phillies. He was an assistant trainer and driver for the Phillies who played in the final game of the 1916 season. This kind of shenanigans would not be allowed in major league baseball today.
Maharg would later become a central figure in the Black Sox scandal securing financing from gamblers to pay off the players involved in the scandal. He would be double-crossed by the other gamblers and was a key witness in the trial that found the players innocent of fixing the 1919 World Series with the Cincinnati Reds.
Wikipedia has this to say about Maharg’s involvement about the Black Sox scandal:
In September 1920, a disgruntled Maharg gave the full details of the plot to a Philadelphia writer. Eight White Sox players were indicted for throwing the Series.
When Maharg was called as a witness in the criminal trial, someone noted, “He flashed enough diamonds on his fingers to buy a flock of autos.” Maharg was asked, “Are you a ballplayer named “Peaches” Graham?”
The answer was, “No! I have never been anything but Billy Maharg. I know Graham, but I am not he.” (It has long been believed that Maharg’s real name was Graham, or Maharg spelled backwards.)
The Chicago jury found the eight players not guilty, and Maharg celebrated with the players afterward. All eight were subsequently banned from baseball for life by Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis.
The sidenotes about Maharg were too interesting to leave out of this article but the main focus of this article is the game itself.
Allan Travers who had failed to make the varsity for St. Joseph’s University baseball team would take the mound that day in Philadelphia for the pickup team. He pitched what is almost certainly the worst complete game ever pitched in the major leagues.
He allowed 24 runs, 26 hits in the 24-2 shellacking by the Athletics. Connie Mack fielded his best team that day and the Athletics stole eight bases showing he was not averse to running up the score on a pickup team from the Philadelphia sandlots.
Travers allowed more earned runs and hits than in any major league game dating back to 1869. He would later become a Catholic priest and to this day is the only priest that ever played in the major leagues.
The regular Tigers took the field to start the game including Cobb who was motioned to leave the field by umpire Ed “Bull” Perrine. When Cobb left the field the rest of the Tigers also left the field.
The pickup Tigers went to the clubhouse and wore the uniforms of the striking Tigers onto the field.
Travers who was offered $50 to pitch in the game, took the mound even though he had never pitched in his life.
The Athletics fans were not too happy with the way the game was going even if it was in their favor and many left after the third inning and demanded a refund of their money.
Two days later baseball commissioner Johnson met with the striking Tigers and told them if they didn’t play the next game they would be banned for life. Cobb convinced the players to end their strike and the commissioner reduced the suspension of Cobb to ten days.
This series of events in May of 1912 may never be repeated again but one heckler had caused one of the greatest baseball players ever in Cobb to be suspended. That led to a strike by the Tigers team and the use of a motley crew of pickup players playing in an official major league game.
The travesty of a game in which the Athletics pounded the Tigers into submission by a 24-2 score caused the commissioner to threaten lifetime suspensions for each of the striking Tigers.
If the fan had been heckling anyone else but Cobb that day in May of 1912 none of the events that evolved from his heckling would have happened and it would have just been another game.
Most of all, a rag tag pickup team would not have played in a major league game on that Saturday on May 18,1912.
This article by the Society for American Baseball Research gives a more detailed description of the events leading up to the game in which a pickup team played in a major league game.
The article by SABR also gives details on the life of Travers and the subsequent events after the game: http://bioproj.sabr.org/bioproj.cfma=v&v=l&bid=1937&pid=14325