Sports

Hughie Jennings: The Tigers' "Eee-Yah" man

One umpire said, “Hughie has a grin that echoes.”

Hughie Jennings usually accompanied his “Eee-Yah” yell with a little dance.

He was every bit as colorful as Sparky Anderson – a popular man with the public. Everyone liked Hughie Jennings in his days as manager of the Tigers.

They called him the “Eee-Yah” man, the man who managed the club for 14 seasons and won thethree straight pennants in 07′, 08′, and 09′. He was a happy man, a blue-eyed freckle-facedIrishman who had a fine sense of humor and always seemed to have a grin.

He certainly enriched the lexicon of baseball. Jennings would stand in the first-base coachingbox, raise his fists, kick one leg into the air and yell: “Here we are.” Finally, by sacrificingconsonants for simplicity, this became “Eee-Yah.” The fans would pick up the chant wheneverJennings would step onto the field, and sounds would ring through old Bennett Park.

Jennings had been a shortstop for the old Baltimore Orioles in the late 1800’s, and his greatestclaim to fame – the one that caught the attention of everyone in baseballl – is how well he getalong with Ty Cobb. It wasn’t easy, because not many ever got along with Cobb. But theysurvived together for 14 years, before Cobb himself took over from Jennings as manager in1921.

Jennings was such a likeable man that umpire Tim Hurst said: “Hughie has a grin that echoes.”An educated man who passed his bar examination while managing the Tigers, Jennings was oneof the early dugout psychologists who probed the player’s psyches to bring out their best. ConnieMack called him one of the three greatest managers in history, along with John McGraw and JoeMcCarthy.

Jenninngs’ psychology may seem rudimentary by today’s standards, but it was almostrevolutionary at the time. The usual procedure was to threaten a player to make him produce.Jennings’ theory was quite the opposite. He said: “Never waste your time and energy scolding aman in anger. When you are angry, your reasoning is not sound. If you must scold, let the manknow that by taking up time with him you are paying him the highest compliment possible. Ifyou have to start fining them, it is time to get rid of them.”

Cobb was his greatest test.

From the beginning, Cobb was hard to handle – a man who could be insufferable in the way hetreated others. He thought of little more than himself. He insisted on doing everything his ownway.

1909 was the third year in a row that Jennings led the Tigers to the World Series.

But almost immediately, Jennings saw brilliance. More important, he recognized young Cobb’sindividuality. He called Cobb aside one day and said: “There isn’t anything about baseball I canteach you. Anything I might say to you would merely hinder you in your development. The onlything for you to do is go ahead and do as you please. Use your own judgement. You can teachyourself better than any man I know can teach you. You just go ahead and work things out yourway. Do what you think is best and I’ll back you up.”

That was all Cobb needed to hear. It set him apart from his teammates, and that was exactly whathe wanted. He knew Jennings was a tough player in his day. When he played for the bustlingOrioles, Jennings was their most aggressive player. His speciality was getting hit by pitched ballsto step in front of pitches in those days, and he would get hit as much as three times in onegame.

One time, in Philadelphia, he got hit in the head in the third inning but finished the game. Themoment it was over, he collapsed and was unconscious for three days.

As a student at Cornell, where he coached the baseball team in exchange for his tuition, youngJennings decided to go swimming one evening. It was near dusk, and he didn’t bother to turn onthe lights in the natatorium. He dived off the high springboard and landed head first on theconcrete floor. Again, he survived.

Jennings’ special treatment of Cobb didn’t sit well with some of the other Tigers. In fact, manyresented it. Cobb would show up late for spring training, and sometimes he wouldn’t show up atall. But he always reported in shape and always out-performed everyone else.

This homey image is not the kind most associated with Ty Cobb, a player known for his fierce competitiveness.

There were occasions, however, when he tried even Jennings’ soul. Once, when the team was inChicago, Cobb complained because his hotel room overlooked a train yard. The noise kept himawake, he said. He complained to the desk clerk, who didn’t seem especially interested in hisproblem.

Fuming, Cobb called Jennings to his room and said: “I’ve got to get this room changed. I can’thit unless I get some sleep. Those trains out there are driving me crazy.” Jennings tried to placatehis star. “I don’t know what I can do at this time of night, but I’ll see what can be donetomorrow,” he said.

Tomorrow was too late for Cobb. He packed up and took a late-night train back to Detroit. TheTigers had to play the last two games of the series against the White Sox without their starplayer.

Cobb didn’t like many people, but he seemed to have a genuine affection for Jennings. Near theend they would sit up at night and go over the games together and try to think of new ways towin.

By this time, Jennings was plagued by a drinking problem. Or, as Cobb put it: “He was trying tofind some solace in the bottle.”

After 14 years, Jennings not only was losing his interest in the team but also his nerves. With theteam floudering in seventh place in 1920, he could take no more. He knew he could not meet hisown standards and told Cobb: “I can’t take it any longer. I want you to take over the club.”

Cobb became the manager in 1921.

(This story was compiled using clip and photo files of the Detroit News.)By Joe Falls / The Detroit News