The Day the Tigers Demolished the Browns at Detroit’s Navin Field

For one day, the Detroit Tigers were the most offensive team in big-league history—and it had nothing to do with wearing wool uniforms on a muggy afternoon at Navin Field. On August 14, 1937, the second-place Tigers demolished the lowly St. Louis Browns twice, 16-1 and 20-7. The 36 combined runs remain the most ever scored by one team in a major-league twin bill.

The 29,000 fans on hand that steamy Saturday watched what amounted to six hours of batting practice. The Detroit lineup, boasting such heavy lumber as Hank Greenberg, Charlie Gehringer, Rudy York, Gee Walker, Billy Rogell, and Goose Goslin, accumulated 40 hits, including seven doubles, one triple, and eight home runs. All of the runs except one were earned.

Leading the hit parade was Gehringer. The smooth-swinging second baseman, on his way to hitting .371 to capture his only batting title, boosted his average by going 7-for-8 for the day. He had two home runs and six RBIs in the second game alone. The star of the first game was Elden Auker, who pitched a four-hitter and swatted a pair of home runs. He knocked in five runs and was deprived of a sure triple on a sensational catch by Browns centerfielder Sammy West.

The second game was practically a repeat of the first. As they had in the opener, the Tigers scored in each of the first seven innings, racking up a 20-1 lead in support of Cletus “Boots” Poffenberger. The Tigers’ pitcher tired in the final frame, giving up a double, triple, and two home runs as the Brownies scored six times to make the final score a slightly more respectable 20-7.

An interesting subplot involved Greenberg, who always considered 1937 his finest season, even better than his Most Valuable Player campaigns of 1935 and 1940. He knocked in 183 runs during the summer of ’37, one shy of Lou Gehrig’s American League mark. It was his greatest disappointment, Hank said, even more frustrating than 1938, when his 58 homers fell two short of Babe Ruth’s single-season mark.

Greenberg had three RBIs in the twin blowouts of the Browns. But several missed opportunities would come back to haunt him in his chase to overhaul Gehrig. In each game, St. Louis manager Jim Bottomley, looking to save his pitching staff, threw in second baseman Gerard Lipscomb as a sacrificial lamb. Lipscomb was hit hard, giving up three home runs, including Auker’s pair. But he had unusually good luck against Greenberg. In four at-bats, Hammerin’ Hank couldn’t get the ball out of the infield. He fouled out to the third baseman three times and grounded into a double play. Those fizzled at-bats were a rare display of failure on an afternoon otherwise filled with fireworks.