The Major League Baseball season is the longest of any pro sport in America, and it has been this way for over 100 years. Each season has hot streaks and slumps, masterful pitching performances and demotions to the bullpen. On any given day, the unknown ballplayer can become a hero. On September 13, 1930, Detroit Tigers rookie shortstop and Chattanoogan Bill Akers didn’t just outduel Gehrig and the Babe. He won the game.
Akers was born in Chattanooga in 1904, and played his first bit of professional baseball as a 19 year-old for the Lookouts in 1924. After five years in the minor leagues, he finally got his shot as a 24 year old rookie for the Tigers in 1929. According to today’s standards (less than 130 at bats) and apparently yesteryear’s standards, Akers and his 98 career at bats were still a rookie by the time 1930 rolled around.
Starting at shortstop and batting sixth in the lineup, Akers got his first crack at Yankees starter Ed Wells in the bottom of the second inning. While detailed play by play records of the game seem lost to history, the Detroit Free Press newspaper from the next day said Akers “picked out one of Wells’ offerings and drove it to the far corner of the park for a home run.”
While it should be noted Baseball Reference denotes Akers’ blast as going into centerfield, the result remains unchanged. Motor City’s 25 year-old shortstop undoubtedly had some “wheels” on the base paths, and he legged out one of baseball’s most exciting plays and completed an inside-the-park home run. Although we may never know what kind of defense the Yankees played that day, perhaps Akers used his agility to avoid a tag at the plate from hall-of-famer Bill Dickey after a rocket of a throw by the Babe in left field.
Speaking of Babe Ruth, he had a wretched day at the plate. After striking out in the first, he followed Akers’ home run with a meek popup to the Chattanooga native to end the bottom of the third. His legendary teammate at first-base hardly fared better against starting pitcher Ed Wells, as Lou Gehrig grounded out in both of his at-bats. Gehrig’s fourth-inning foray was a slow dribbler to Akers, who effortlessly completed a toss to first-baseman Dale Alexander.
When Roy Johnson's knife-like single into centerfield drove in catcher Gene Desautels to make the game 6-0, the game appeared to be headed toward being a one-sided laugher at Navin Field. Few could have predicted the madness about to unfold.
In what was later dubbed a “slam bang game” by the next-day edition of the New York Daily News, the Yankees’ bats woke from their slumber and scored ten unanswered runs from the from the top of the sixth into the ninth. After he ran through the New York bats with little fanfare, the bottom of the New York lineup bullied replacement Uhle like Ralphie in ‘A Christmas Story.’
“Four pitchers toiling in the interests of the rival dynamiters were bruised and cut in the terrific onslaught of the competing clubs that abated 2 hours and 33 minutes after it started,” of the Detroit Free Press said the next day.
Lyn Larry hit a deep double to start the sixth, and then a Ruth ground ball to Akers was slow enough to advance Larry to third. A Gehrig walk put two men on base, and then a rattled Uhle surrendered a deep shot to left field as Tony Lazzeri drove in three Yankee runs. Dusty Cooke singled after that, and then a Ben Chapman single was enough to score Cooke from first after right fielder Frank Doljack fumbled a ball out in the field.
The bottom of the sixth and the entirety of the seventh were far quieter, as Holloway and new relief pitcher Elon Hogsett both came away from their innings relatively unscathed. And then, what can only be described as a section of the Hall of fame put up six runs to take a 10-6 lead. Lou Gehrig belted a triple to start the four-run eighth inning, one that saw Gehrig, Samuel Byrd, Arndt Jorgens, and Ben Chapman cross home plate. In keeping with the bizarre nature of the contest, Babe Ruth was the one who ended the scoring spree when he struck out against reliever Charlie Sullivan. After the Yankees added two more in the top of the ninth, most home fans figured the first of the double-header could be considered a New York win.
“With two gone the fans settled back for the start of the second game,” the Detroit Free Press said. “but there was still plenty of excitement to follow.”
Gehrig and Marty McManus’ quick outs were sandwiched in between a Roy Johnson walk and a Dale Alexander single, all courtesy of pitcher Lou McEvoy. Doljack, who was described as a hitter who “hits far and wide or doesn’t hit at all,” doubled Johnson home. And then Chattanooga’s pride and joy Bill Akers came up to the plate with a chance to tie.
And tie the game he did, smashing away his second home run of the game. According to Baseball Reference and newspaper reports, Akers’ blast was just barely fair, making inside the leftfield pole by only a few feet. The formerly insurmountable Yankee lead and sure victory was no longer there, and after a Tom Hughes triple, Detroit completed the comeback when a wild pitch scored Hughes.
The Tigers took the second game too 9-4, although Akers was much quieter with only one walk and no hits. In his 174 major league games, Akers never had another day quite like that one, where for a few hours, he outshone the best hitter the game had ever seen.