“Black Mike” and Detroit’s Roaring ’30s

We know of him as “Mickey” or “Black Mike,” but his real name was Gordon Stanley Cochrane. He was born 107 years ago in Bridgewater, Massachusetts in the spring of 1903 to Scottish immigrant parents.

For Detroit Tigers fans, however, his life began in 1934 when owner Frank Navin was unable to acquire Babe Ruth in the off-season and instead brought Cochrane onboard to serve as player-manager. The Tigers traded Johnny Pasek and $100,000 to the Philadelphia Athletics to acquire him.

mickeycochraneCochrane was a fiery ballplayer and a fabulous catcher. He proved to be the missing ingredient the Tigers needed to bring a championship to Detroit. Cochrane led the Tigers to two consecutive World Series appearances — and their first World Championship in 1935.

Many Tigers historians consider the 1934 Detroit Tigers to be the best team the franchise ever fielded. Cochrane joined forces with Hank Greenberg, Charlie Gehringer, Billy Rogell, Goose Goslin, Schoolboy Rowe, Tommy Bridges and Elden Auker that year to compile a 101-53 regular season record which still stands as the team’s all-time best winning percentage at .656.

Unfortunately, the St. Louis Cardinals’ Gas House Gang defeated the Tigers in seven games in the World Series. Cochrane won the American League’s Most Valuable Player award in 1934 by batting .320 with a .428 on base percentage, 76 RBIs, and 32 doubles. He was the first catcher to be named the American League MVP.

The very next season, the Tigers were back at it in the post season — this time against the Chicago Cubs. The Tigers limped through the season at times and almost lost the pennant to the New York Yankees as the season came to an end. But they clung to a three game lead that gave them their second American League Pennant in a row.

The Cubs, on the other hand, were red hot when the 1935 World Series began. The team won an amazing 21 games in a row during the month of September. Every indication was that the Cubs were going to steam roll the ailing Tigers who ended the season by losing 6 of their last 7 games. Momentum was definitely on the side of the Cubs.

After losing Game 1 to the Cubbies, Hank Greenberg suffered a broken wrist in Game 2 and missed the remainder of the Series. Detroit won the game, but it looked as though fate, once again, was working against the Tigers.

Even without Greenberg, the Tigers continued to battle against Chicago. The Series ended at Detroit’s Navin Field on October 7 in the sixth and deciding game. Fittingly, it was Mickey Cochrane who crossed the plate in the ninth inning to score the winning run that gave Detroit its first World Championship since the Detroit Wolverines held the title in 1887.

What Cochrane gave to Detroit was a much-needed emotional lift as the population suffered through the Great Depression. As a result of his effort, many Detroiters think of the 1930s as a golden age despite the economic woes that plagued them. To this day, Detroit owes a tremendous debt of gratitude to “Black Mike” and the roaring Tigers of the 1930s.