Wednesday, March 3, 2010
#28 Charlie Gehringer
Charlie Gehringer was born in 1903 in the small farming community of Fowlerville, Michigan. He attended the University of Michigan for a year, before being spotted by Detroit Tiger's former outfielder Bobby Veach, who recommended his friend and Tiger manager Ty Cobb sign him. Gehringer left school and in 1924, made his debut with the Tigers after some time in the Michigan-Ontario League. He returned to Toronto in 1925, despite hitting well in his late-season call-up in 1924. By 1926, he joined Detroit to stay.
Over the next 15 years, Gehringer set the standard for second basemen in the American League. After hitting .277 in his first full season in 1926, he hit .300 or better in 13 of the next 14 seasons, with the exception being .298 in 1932. Teaming with Bill Rogell at shortstop, Hank Greenberg at first and Marv Owen at third, he was part of the best infields in major league history, leading the Tigers to two pennants in 1934 and 1935. That infield alone knocked in a record 462 runs in 1934. Gehringer had 60 doubles in 1936, and won the AL batting title (with a .371) and the leagues MVP award in 1937. In 1940, he hit .313 and lead the Tigers to a third pennant in 7 years.
In 1941, at age 38, his numbers dropped off dramatically and after a 1942 season that saw him hit a mere .267, Gehringer decided to join the army. He came from the war in fine physical condition, and toyed around with rejoining the Tigers to try to get the 161 hits he needed to reach 3000, but decided against it. He finished his career with a .320 average and .490 slugging percentage.
Gehringer's life to this point was two things: baseball and his mother. His mother, widowed when Gehringer was young, was in poor health with diabetes and needed someone to look after her, which Gehringer gladly did. This meant Charlie was a bachelor through his playing days, but when his mother passed, Gehringer finally met his bride-to-be, and they were set to wed in 1949. Gehringer was also elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1949, and the induction ceremony was five days before his planned wedding. Rather then tempt fate and allow something to happen while travelling that could delay or postpone his nuptials, Gehringer chose to skip the induction in Cooperstown and stay home to prepare for the wedding. To make up for his absense, Gehringer would be in attendance at every Induction for the next 40 years.
In 1951, Gehringer became the general manager of the Tigers, a position he held through 1953 before resigning. He returned to work full time for his own company, which manufactured fabrics used on automobile seats. He ran the company until selling his interest in 1974. He died in January of 1993 at the age of 89 following a stroke.
He also owned a gas station in Detroit in the 30's.
Much has been written about Gehringer's quiet personality and robot-like skill. He is also one of those guys you never hear a bad word about from anyone. He was always kind and polite, and kept to Teddy Roosevelts credo about walking softly and carrying a big stick. Satchel Paige said he was the toughest out he ever faced, and Bill Rogell told this blogger that Charlie was the kind of guy you wanted all your friends to be like. I remember very well the day he died, and the tributes poured in to the local media from all around even though lots of his contemporaries had already passed. He is on the short-list of great second basemen, along with Collins, Hornsby, Morgan, Alomar....
I knew a girl who was related to Gehringer. She was like a second cousin or something... not close enough to be in the will, but not too distant to have not met him on several occasions. I always thought that was cool be related to ballplayer. I used to tell people I was related to Nemo Leibold. However, since A) my last name is not Leibold and B) no one knows who Nemo Leibold is, no one seemed to care and it did not get me any closer to hooking up with chicks, which is one of the only two reasons to lie in life (the other is money). Maybe being related to Nemo would have got me in with the Gehringer chick, but she kinda looked like Charlie, so with all due respect to the Mechanical Man, I don't look at that as a missed opportunity.
The Autograph: Gehringer has one of the nicest autographs in sports history. Even in age, it stayed nice and steady. He must have passed his penmanship skills on to Rick Ferrell, because you can see similarities in the two.