The Mayo Smith Society, an independent Detroit Tigers fan club, was co-founded in 1983 in Washington, D.C., by Dale Petroskey, who would go on to serve as president of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum from 1999 to 2008; by Dale’s brother, Denny; and by their friend, Bill “Mac” Mackay. At the time, all three native Michiganders – the Petroskey brothers from Birmingham and Mac from Grand Rapids — worked for members of Congress.
Establishment of the Society stemmed from the co-founders meeting for breakfast every Friday morning in the Longworth House Office Building cafeteria to discuss the latest political happenings with fellow Michiganders on the Hill. The conversations, however, would always shift to baseball, giving Dale, Denny and Mac the idea to start a Tigers fan club. They believed that the organization should bear the name of a Tigers player or manager whom only the most loyal fans would know, and who contributed significantly to the Tigers’ success. After much deliberation, they settled on the name “Mayo Smith Society” in memory of the man who piloted the Tigers to the 1968 World Series championship.
Shortly after the Society’s founding, Hall of Fame broadcaster Ernie Harwell spoke to nearly 100 Society members and their guests at a luncheon at The Touchdown Club in downtown Washington prior to the Tigers taking on the Orioles in a Saturday night contest in late-June of 1983.
In those early years, the Society played annual softball games against a Cubs fan club – The Emil Verban Society – and came out on top each time.
Besides weekly meetings on the Hill, members used to gather once or twice a month at Champions Bar in Washington’s Georgetown neighborhood to watch the Tigers in action. The Society also ran two bus trips a season to Baltimore when the Tigers visited the Orioles. The September 1983 trip coincided with the game in which Jack Morris became the Tigers’ first 20-game winner in a decade. Today, that tradition continues with members catching the Tigers for “Mayo Day” during the Bengals’ annual visit to Baltimore, thanks to expansion and interleague play, and attending a game at Nationals Park when the Tigers visit every six years or so.
By the late 1980s, many of the members who met for breakfast on Capitol Hill had taken jobs elsewhere in Washington or left the area, so those gatherings were replaced by dinner meetings at various establishments on Capitol Hill such as Pizzeria Uno, the Hawk and Dove, The Capitol Lounge and elsewhere in the D.C. area. Members continue to meet monthly at Tunnicliff’s Tavern, across the street from Eastern Market in the Capitol Hill neighborhood.
Since 1984, the society has published the TIGERS STRIPES newsletter 9 to 12 times a year to provide statistical analyses and other insights to the Tigers’ on-field performance and history unavailable elsewhere. Since 2005, E-Mayo Flash updates have kept members informed between newsletter issues. Over the past 33 years, sabermetrician Dave Raglin has been the driving force behind the publication. For more than 20 years, Mark Pattison’s editorial and writing skills have made STRIPES and the Flash an enjoyable read for members, regardless of their affinity to baseball statistics. Prior to Mark taking over as editor, Todd Miller and Dale Petroskey held the position. Todd continues to be active in the Society by serving as the group’s administrator.
The Society’s forays into publishing began with self-published Tiger Tracks books in 1988 and 1989. The volumes featured articles on players’ performance during the previous seasons, including the Tigers’ 1987 AL East Division Championship year. The Society was assisted by Dave Driscoll of London, Ontario, who had written similar books about the Toronto Blue Jays.
Subsequent books that bear the Society’s imprint include Detroit Tigers Lists and More: Runs, Hits and Eras (Wayne State University Press, 2002), Sock it to ‘Em Tigers: The Incredible Story of the 1968 Detroit Tigers (Society for American Baseball Research, 2008) and Detroit Tigers 1984: What a Start! What a Finish! (SABR, 2012)
The memorable year of 1984 marked the first one in which the Society began purchasing four full-season box seats to every Tigers home game, making them available to members at cost. The Society continued the program through 2019.
The organization also sponsors an annual trip to Lakeland, Florida, to watch the Tigers in spring training, and holds an Annual Gathering in Detroit. The earliest Gatherings took place at Carl’s Chop House on Grand River Ave. and at The Michigan Inn in suburban Southfield. Mayo Smith’s daughter, Judy Wolfe, attended the first Annual Gathering.
Subsequent Gatherings in the ’80s, ‘90s and 2000s took place in Tiger Stadium and Comerica Park, where members played catch on the field and toured the Tigers’ clubhouse, where players, managers, coaches and team officials greeted them. More recently, Gatherings have taken place at the Detroit Yacht Club (2008), Fifth Third Field in Toledo (2009 – preceded by a group outing at Comerica Park the night before) and Hockeytown Café on Woodward Avenue across from Comerica Park (since 2010).
The ninth Annual Gathering on August 28, 1992, coincided with the first day of the Ilitch Family’s ownership of the team. To commemorate the milestone prior to a 4-2 win over the Royals, fans received Homer Hankies from the new owners in appreciation of their support. The second Annual Gathering, on June 29, 1985, allowed members to witness the most recent MLB game in which no batter on either team struck out in an 8-0 Tigers win over the Blue Jays.
Guests at Annual Gatherings have included Hank Aguirre, Sparky Anderson, Al Avila, Gates Brown, Jim Campbell, Dan Dickerson, Dave Dombrowski, Mark Fidrych, Bill Freehan, Ernie Harwell, Todd Jones, Al Kaline, George Kell, Denny McLain, Craig Monroe, Hal Newhouser, Jim Northrup, Dave Rozema, Pat Sheridan, Jason Thompson, Tom Timmerman, Alan Trammell and Milt Wilcox.
Apart from 2009, Gatherings have concluded with the group watching the Tigers in action. To date, the Society’s record at those games is 23-14 – 33 single games and two twi-night doubleheaders, with a hiatus occurring in 1994 due to the players’ strike.
In early 1991, following the dismissal of beloved Hall of Fame announcer Ernie Harwell, the Society undertook a postcard campaign urging then-flagship radio station WJR to reinstate the longtime fan favorite for as long as he chose to grace the airwaves. The effort drew the ire of Tigers President Jim Campbell, who threatened to revoke the Society’s season tickets. The initiative remains the Society’s first and only foray into advocacy.
Late in the 1991 season, when the Tigers visited Baltimore to close out the campaign, the Society participated in a luncheon that the Michigan congressional delegation held to honor Ernie Harwell and his longtime broadcast partner, Paul Carey, on the eve of their retirement. In a concluding testimonial, Society co-founder Dale Petroskey said, “In baseball, like life, nothing lasts forever. … Unfortunately, Ernie and Paul are leaving us before we’re ready to let go….the greatest broadcasting team in Tigers history – maybe the game’s history – still doesn’t realize they’re anything special. That’s what makes them special.”
As the Tigers began to rebuild under President and General Manager Dave Dombrowski after more than a decade of futility, the Society resurrected the King Tiger Award in 2004 to acknowledge a player’s on-field excellence and community involvement. From 1961-80, it had been called the Congeniality Award and was presented by multiple Tigers fan clubs. Award winners chosen by the Society include Ivan Rodriguez, Carlos Guillen, Magglio Ordonez, Miguel Cabrera, Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, Victor Martinez and J.D. Martinez.
To celebrate the Society’s 25th anniversary in 2008, Mark Pattison and Dave Raglin arranged for Bill Brown, the Tigers’ longtime traveling secretary who retired at the end of that season, to address 20 members at the Baltimore Chop bookstore near Camden Yards prior to a Tigers-Orioles game. Bill captivated the audience with stories about white-knuckle flights, scrambling to find hotel rooms in New York City prior to postponement of a 2006 AL Division Series Game, feeling at ease with Mayo Smith’s pleasant ways and seeing Sparky Anderson charm people of all ages in his inimitable style.
From modest beginnings, the Society has grown to nearly 1,000 members throughout the United States, Canada and Europe, hitting a peak of about 2,500 in the mid-1980s, followed by a decline to as few as 500 members from the late-‘80s to mid-2000s, with membership spiking to about 1,500 in 2006-07. Currently, some 150 members live in the National Capital area, while about 500 live in Michigan, and the other 300 are spread around the country – largely in Ohio, Florida and California – as well as north of the border and overseas.
To give the Society a “Michigan flavor,” the group has had a post office box in the Detroit suburb of Northville, Mich., since the beginning. Dale and Denny’s brother, Doug Petroskey, dutifully handled the mail in the early years. Pat Wright followed in his footsteps for decades, and her son, Pete, now assumes that role.
Since the Society’s founding in 1983, the organization’s motto has been Tigers Fans Who Always Care. Members care about the Tigers, regardless of their place in the standings, and care about the less fortunate. Over the years, the Society has contributed to a variety of Michigan-based charities, including the Police Athletic League, Caring Athletes for Children’s and Henry Ford Hospitals (CATCH) and the Clubhouse Scholarship Fund, which enables the young men who work in the Tigers’ clubhouse to further their education.
The Society has also contributed to the Boys and Girls Club in St. Louis, close to King Tiger winner Max Scherzer’s home town, and The Joe Niekro Foundation, which raised money for brain aneurysm research, by attending banquets and auctions hosted by late Tigers first baseman-pinch hitter Dave Bergman, a teammate of the ex-Tigers hurler who became best friends while playing for the Astros in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s.