Driving up I-96 towards Lansing you’ll see signs for McDonald’s and a Ford dealer at the Fowlerville exit, but nothing to indicate that a legendary Tiger and one of baseball’s greatest players was born and raised in the little farming community.
There should be a billboard that reads, “Birthplace of Baseball Hall of Famer Charlie Gehringer.”
Nicknamed the “Mechanical Man” by Yankee pitcher Lefty Gomez, (“you wind him up on opening day and then forget him,”) Charles Leonard Gehringer was not only considered one of the games’ greatest second baseman, he was a dangerous hitter with a lifetime batting average of .320. Gehringer, who played all of his 19 seasons (1924 to 1942) with Detroit, lead second baseman in fielding percentage and assists seven times and remarkably had over 200 hits in a season seven times.
If you were a Tiger fan in the 1930s, your idol was either Gehringer or Hank Greenberg, the duo that held down the right side of the Detroit infield and lead the Bengals to an American League championship in ’34 and a world championship in ’35. Two years later, with a .371 batting average, Gehringer was named the American League MVP.
In ’49 Gehringer was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame but did not attend the induction ceremony because he was on his honeymoon with wife Jo. He would later serve as GM for the Tigers for a period during the 1950s, but he was not a successful baseball executive. (He was responsible for trading George Kell to Boston). Business was another story. For years he co-owned a manufacturers rep business that did quite well.
In 1983, Gehringer and Greenberg were honored at Tiger Stadium when their numbers 2 and 5 were retired.
I had the honor of speaking with Gehringer a couple of times when he kindly agreed to attend the Detroit Tiger Iron Man Luncheon, a charity luncheon that I chaired that benefited ALS of Michigan. (“Lou Gehrig’s Disease”) I remember standing behind him in line when Yankee caps were handed out as we entered an auditorium to see a one man play about Gehrig at Henry Ford Hospital. Gehringer handed the Yankee cap to his wife Jo, and turned to me and said, I swore I would never wear one of those hats.”
At one luncheon, before awarding Gehringer with a special plaque that commemorated his appearance in the very first All Star game, (he scored the first run on a Babe Ruth two run homer) Frank Beckmann mentioned that at one time the Detroit batters were tipped by someone with binoculars in the centerfield bleachers, but that Gehringer, always a man of honor refused to cheat.
Up until his death at age 89 in 1993, Jo Gehringer told me that Charlie faithfully signed all the baseballs and photos that were sent to him in the mail and he would drive up to the Birmingham post office to deliver the goods. Nobody had a better signature. Just check out any autographed Gehringer item on eBay to view a beautiful “Chas. Gehringer” signature.
Gehringer was a proud, but modest man, and nobody, and I mean nobody, wore the olde English D with more class.