By BILLY HEYEN
Bernie Boland’s timing may have been fortunate. A few years later and he would’ve had to contend with Ruth and Gehrig in the heart of the New York Yankees order. But on June 5, 1917, the Rochester-born Boland only had to put up with Wally Pipp in the cleanup spot.
That day, Boland threw a complete game to lead the Detroit Tigers to a 6-4 victory in the second game of a doubleheader. Only one of the runs against Boland was earned, and the win moved his record that season to 6-1 with an up-to-that-point 1.72 ERA. Although it’s unclear when Boland left Rochester, N.Y., records show that it’s where he was born.
On that Tuesday 103 years ago, Boland took the mound at the Polo Grounds with a helpful figure aligned behind him in the park’s deep centerfield: Ty Cobb. The Hall of Famer went 5-for-5 that day in support of Boland. The pitcher himself singled and worked a walk in four plate appearances, scoring two runs against New York starter Bob Shawkey.
Boland allowed multiple hits to three Yankees batters: Home Run Baker, Lee Magee and Hugh High. Three of New York’s four runs came in the third inning, although the historical box score doesn’t make apparent when the unearned runs occurred versus the lone earned run. In a sign of the different era, a game that featured 10 total runs and 18 total hits took two hours and four minutes to complete.
The next three appearances for Boland that season resulted in saves out of the bullpen (although only retroactively, as the save statistic wasn’t introduced until decades later). The right-hander finished the 1917 season with a 2.68 ERA and followed that up with a career-best 2.65 ERA the following year.
Across seven big-league seasons, six with the Tigers and one with the St. Louis Browns, Boland finished with a 68-53 record and a 3.25 ERA. He struck out only 3.1 batters per nine innings, but at the tail end of the dead-ball era, allowed only 13 home runs in 1062 major-league innings.
Boland died on Sept. 12, 1973. He’s buried in the St. Hedwig Cemetary in Dearborn Heights, Michigan, just outside of Detroit.