Mickey Cochrane was a winning ballplayer. He learned to win under Connie Mack in Philadelphia. Mack’s Athletics won three pennants and two world championships with Cochrane behind the plate. When Mack decided he did not want to pay his stars, the Detroit Tigers moved to make Cochrane their manager. The new Tiger player-manager did not disappoint. Cochrane managed Detroit for four seasons, won two pennants, the 1934 AL MVP, and led the Tigers to their first world championship.
Mickey Cochrane played nine seasons in Philadelphia. He batted .321 with a .902 OPS over that stretch. In 1928, the catcher won the American League MVP award with a .293 average, 10 home runs, 57 RBI, .395 OBP, and .859 OPS. The next year, the A’s dethroned the two-time defending world champion Yankees. It was the first of three pennants for Philadelphia. The A’s won the World Series in 1929 and 1930, but dropped the 1931 edition to St Louis. The 1928 MVP earned his reputation as a fierce competitor. Teammates called him “Black Mike” for his intensity and desire to win.
Philadelphia owner/manager Connie Mack worried about more than just winning. The Great Depression ravaged the country, so Mack decided to sell off his stars to save money. The Philadelphia A’s never recovered. Likewise, the Detroit Tigers struggled financially. Detroit was a mediocre second-tier club placed in an economically ravaged urban center. Tiger owner Frank Navin desperately wanted to win. He agreed to trade for Cochrane and named the new addition player-manager.
The 1933 Detroit Tigers finished 75-79, but had a nucleus that included future Hall of Famers Hank Greenberg and Charlie Gehringer. They added another Cooperstown-bound player in Goose Goslin for the 1934 season. The team also boasted several promising young pitchers including Tommy Bridges, Elden Auker, and Schoolboy Rowe. Cochrane’s experienced helped the pitching staff mature. Bridges, Rowe, and Auker combined for 61 victories and Firpo Marberry added 15. His intensity lit a fire under the younger players. The infield drove in over 400 runs and Hank Greenberg developed into a premier player. The Tigers won the pennant with 101 victories, but fell to the Cardinals in seven games. For his efforts, Cochrane won the 1934 AL MVP award. Overall, he batted .320 with two home runs, 75 RBI, .428 OBP, and .840 OPS. However, his real value came as a manager and the voters rewarded him accordingly.
The Tigers won eight fewer games in 1934, but still repeated as American League champions. Cochrane batted .319 with five home runs, 46 RBI, .452 OBP, and .902 OPS. He made his second consecutive All Star Game and finished seventh in the MVP race. Greenberg won the award as Detroit won as the Tigers won their first World Series. The Tigers disposed of the Cubs in six games. Cochrane scored the winning run in the ninth inning of Game Six.
Many assumed Cochrane would eventually move to the front office, but he proved too high strung. In 1936, he suffered a nervous breakdown from the pressures of managing limiting him to 44 games as a player and 67 games as a manager. The following season, a bean ball further limited the manager’s availability. He managed just 76 games in 1937. Doctors advised the player-manager that another pitch to the head could kill him, so Cochrane retired as a player in 1937. The breakdown and bean ball took something from Black Mike and he was fired after 98 games in 1938.
Despite the short tenure, Mickey Cochrane was an unqualified success as a Tiger. In four seasons as a player, Cochrane batted .313 with 11 home runs, 150 RBI, .444 OBP, and .874 OPS. During his managerial tenure, the Tigers finished 348-250 for a .582 winning percentage. Additionally, Cochrane won the 1934 MVP award while Greenberg (1935) and Gehringer (1937) also won the award. Tommy Bridges developed into a legitimate ace. The Tigers won two pennants and the 1935 World Series. For his efforts, a grateful city named a street after him.