Charlie Gehringer might be the greatest second baseman of all time. Gehringer was one of the greatest fielding second baseman in history and batted .320 for his career. He won a batting title, MVP, and started the first six All Star Games. On top of this, the Tiger put together two consecutive games played streaks topping 500. His durability and consistency led Yankee Lefty Gomez to dub Gehringer “The Mechanical man.” In the end, Charlie Gehringer epitomized consistency, professionalism, and excellence.
The Detroit Tigers discovered University of Michigan freshman Charles Gehringer in 1923. Gehringer’s workout impressed Ty Cobb so much that he pressed owner Frank Navin to sign the youngster immediately. The prospect played most of 1924 and 1925 in the minor leagues. However, he did play five games in 1924 and eight in 1925. In those 13 games, Gehringer batted .290 with a .624 OPS and a single RBI.
Ty Cobb represented a father figure to Gehringer in his rookie campaign. Gehringer lost his father in 1924 and Cobb filled the void. Under the Georgia Peach’s tutelage, the 23-year-old second baseman batted .277 with one home run, 48 RBI, 17 triples, and a .721 OPS. Eventually, the two had a falling out and their relationship turned icy. Later, Gehringer described Cobb as “hateful.”
Cobb left Detroit after the 1926 season. The following season, Gehringer enjoyed a breakout campaign. He batted .317 with four home runs, 61 RBI, 110 runs scored, stole 17 bases, .383 OBP, and .824 OPS. In 1928, Gehringer batted .320 with six home runs, 74 RBI, 107 runs, 193 hits, 29 doubles, 16 triples, 15 steals, and .846 OPS. He finished eighth in the MVP race.
Gehringer began a consecutive game streak in 1927 and played in every game from 1928-1930. Between 1928 and 1930, Gehringer batted .330 with 382 runs, 609 hits, 278 RBI, 35 home runs, 61 steals, and a .908 OPS. In 1929, he led the league in runs (131), hits (215), doubles (45), triples (19), and stolen bases (27). Gehringer also hit 13 home runs and 106 RBI. The Tiger also led the league in games played in 1929 and 1930. Additionally, Gehringer topped 300 total bases in both seasons.
The consecutive game streak ended in 1931. Injuries limited Gehringer to 101 games, so he started another streak which lasted until 1935. In 1932, the Tiger’s averaged “dropped” to .298, but he still topped 300 total bases, knocked in over 100 run, and scored over 100 times. The following season, he started the first All Star Game, batted .325, scored 104 runs, knocked 204 hits, doubled 42 times, hit 12 home runs, knocked in 108 RBI, and posted a .862 OPS. During the three year stretch, Gehringer hit .311 with a .847 OPS. He also finished 17th, ninth, and sixth in the MVP vote.
The Tigers never contended in Gehringer’s tenure until the second baseman reached his 31st birthday. Gehringer helped lead the Tigers to two pennants in 1934 and 1935. The second baseman put together two dominant campaigns. In 1934, he hit .356 with 11 home runs, 127 RBI, 50 doubles, and 311 total bases. He led the league in runs (135) and hits (214). Detroit lost the World Series to St Louis despite Gehringer’s .379 average and .955 OPS. He finished second in the MVP race to his manager Mickey Cochrane and then sixth in 1935. That year, Gehringer hit .330 with 19 home runs, 108 RBI, 123 runs, 201 hits, 32 doubles, 306 total bases, and .911 OPS. This time, the Tigers won the World Series with their second baseman batted .375 with a .923 OPS.
The World Champion Tigers boasted one of the great double play combinations in history. While Gehringer manned second base, Billy Rogell played shortstop. The pair played in over 1,000 games together. The two were magic in the middle of the infield, but were polar opposites. Gehringer rarely spoke and remained calm at all times. On the other hand, Rogell was a fiery competitor that did not think twice to chew out his own manager. Over 50 years later, Rogell remained a curmudgeon as he compared the 1934 Cardinals with his Tigers. In Rogell’s view, the 1935 championship proved the Tigers were better than the Cardinals.
The Tigers did not repeat as champions in 1936, but not for lack of effort from Gehringer. The infielder put forth his greatest season with a .354 average, 144 runs, 227 hits, 60 doubles, 12 triples, 15 home runs, 116 RBI, 356 total bases, and .987 OPS. The 60 doubles led the league. He started his fourth consecutive All Star Game and finished fourth in the MVP vote. Amazingly, he struck out just 13 times in 641 at bats. Gehringer finally won his MVP award in 1937. He won his only batting title with a .371 average. On top of this, he scored 133 runs, 209 hits, 40 doubles, 14 home runs, 96 RBI, and .978 OPS. Once again, the second baseman started the All Star Game.
Gehringer started one final All Star Game in 1938. In 1940, the Tigers won another pennant, but lost a seven game thriller to the Reds. Gehringer batted just .214 in the Fall Classic. In his final five seasons, Gehringer hit .292 with a .854 OPS. Between 1938 and 1940, he batted .314 with a .914 OPS. During that stretch, he finished 10th, 14th, and 23rd in the MVP race. However, he grew old quickly. Gehringer batted just .220 in 1941 and played in just 45 games in 1942. He lost his starting job and enlisted in the Navy. Three years later, the former Tiger considered returning to the diamond. However, he opted to go into sales instead. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1949.
The Tigers lured Gehringer out of fabric sales to serve as the team’s general manager. Gehringer hated the job especially since he inherited a terrible club. He resigned after three seasons and returned to selling fabrics to auto companies. The former Tiger retired and sold his interest in the business in 1974. A decade later, the Tigers retired his #2 and teammate Hank Greenberg’s #5. Three years later, Gehringer served as honorary captain for the 1986 AL All Star team. He died in 1993.
Gentleman Charlie Gehringer manned second base in Detroit for 19 years. Ty Cobb discovered the Fowlerville native and helped make him a star. Gehringer developed into the premier second baseman in baseball, started the first six All Star Games, won the 1937 MVP and batting crown, accumulated two consecutive games streaks of 500 or more games, and led the league in various offensive categories nine times. For his career, he batted .320 with 1,775 runs, 2,839 hits, 574 doubles, 146 triples, 184 home runs, 1,427 RBI, 181 stolen bases, 1,186 walks, only 372 strikeouts, and posted a .404 career OBP and .884 OPS. As a result of his offense and Gold Glove caliber defense, Gehringer might be the greatest second baseman in history. If not, he is in the conversation alongside Joe Morgan, Eddie Collins, and Rogers Hornsby.