Mickey Cochrane, catcher, manager, Hall of Famer

As I think about catchers who became managers, I can’t help but recall Mickey Cochrane who was a Hall of Fame catcher as well as being a successful manager.

Charlie Bevis has an excellent SABR bio on Cochrane who played on the pennant winning Philadelphia A’s of 1929, 1930 and 1931. The Great Depression forced A’s owner Connie Mack to sell many of his stars including Cochrane was went to Detroit and became player-manager of the Tigers.

Bevis writes:

The Detroit job propelled Cochrane into greatness, a role for which he was unprepared and, in many respects, ill suited. While Cochrane won two straight pennants in Detroit in his first two years there, 1934 and 1935, the success cost him his health and nearly his life in the process. Cochrane never liked the limelight in Detroit and was even burdened by it.

“When I was a player I worried only about myself. Good money and easy work,” Cochrane once said, according to a 1960 profile in Sport magazine. “Now I have to worry about everybody. I have to see that they’re in shape and stay in shape. If one of them eats something that makes them sick, I get sick too.”

Cochrane was perceived as such a civic savior that his picture graced the cover of Time magazine on October 7, 1935. Inside that issue was a story that noted, “Cochrane’s arrival in Detroit coincided roughly with the revival of the automobile industry and the first signs of revived prosperity. His determined jolly face soon came to represent the picture of what a dynamic Detroiter ought to look like.”

Cochrane as a player

13 Yrs 1482 6207 5169 1041 1652 119 832 857 217 .320 .419 .478 .897
PHA (9 yrs) 1167 4860 4097 823 1317 108 680 612 157 .321 .412 .490 .902
DET (4 yrs) 315 1347 1072 218 335 11 152 245 60 .313 .444 .430 .874
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 11/2/2012.

Cochrane as a manager

Rk Year Tm Lg G W L W-L% Finish
1 1934 Detroit Tigers AL 154 101 53 .656 1 AL Pennant Player/Manager
2 1935 Detroit Tigers AL 152 93 58 .616 1 WS Champs Player/Manager
3 1936 Detroit Tigers AL 1st of 3 53 29 24 .547 2 Player/Manager
4 1936 Detroit Tigers AL 3rd of 3 67 36 31 .537 2 Player/Manager
5 1937 Detroit Tigers AL 1st of 5 29 16 13 .552 2 Player/Manager
6 1937 Detroit Tigers AL 3rd of 5 47 26 20 .565 2 Player/Manager
7 1938 Detroit Tigers AL 1st of 2 98 47 51 .480 4
5 years 600 348 250 .582 2.0 2 Pennants and 1 World Series Title
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 11/2/2012.

Cochrane suffered a breakdown in 1936 after being elevated to general manager in addition to his World Series player-manager duties.

After his recovery, on May 25, 1937, he was beaned by Yankee pitcher Bump Hadley ending his major league playing career.

But there is a little more to the story…

As I wrote, in my book Walkoffs, Last Licks, and Final Outs:

Other than Ted Williams, Mickey Cochrane is the only Hall of Famer to end his career with a homer on his last official time at bat.

The key word is “official.”  After homering off the Yankees’ Bump Hadley (the same pitcher who surrendered Ty Cobb’s last hit in 1928) on May 25, 1937, the Tiger catcher-manager was hit on the temple by a fastball with an errant 3-1 pitch.  Black Mike was unconscious and critical for 48 hours and hospitalized for 10 days.  While in the hospital, Cochrane indicated that getting hit was his own fault: “I lost the ball.” He never played another inning.

Cochrane resumed managing the team from the bench on July 26 and stayed on until he was fired on August 6, 1938. He never managed again in the major leagues.

If you are looking for two more Cochrane trivia items:

1. On April 14, 1925, Cochrane made his MLB debut catching Lefty Grove, who was also making his major league debut. It’s the only time two future Hall of Famers debuted as teammates as a battery in the same game.

2. As a hero to many, families named their children after Cochrane which is what one father in Oklahoma named Mutt Mantle did.