Detroit Legends Howe & Cochrane Nearly Died from Head Injuries

We have certainly seen a great deal of coverage regarding concussions suffered by athletes in the news lately, especially football and hockey players.

Injuries of course are always associated with sports but two of the most serious examples in history involved Red Wing legend Gordie Howe and Tiger player manager Mickey Cochrane.

Following the 1933 season the Detroit Tigers acquired Mickey Cochrane as their manager and catcher and he quickly became one of the most beloved Tiger players in the history of the franchise.

Detroit Tigers legend Mickey Cochrane being carried off the field after sustaining a severe head injury.

In his first two seasons, Cochrane not only lead the Tigers to consecutive American League pennants and their first World Championship, some said he lead the city out of the Great Depression. It was only fitting that Cochrane scored the winning run in the bottom of the ninth inning of game six of the 1935 World Series to give Detroit its first world championship.

On May 25, 1937 in New York, Yankee pitcher Bump Hadley threw a fastball that sailed in on Cochrane, hitting him on the right temple and knocking him out cold. Eldon Auker and Schoolboy Rowe helped carry Cochrane off the field on a stretcher.

“He just lay there and quivered. I thought for sure he was going to die,” Auker told me in a sad tone several years ago.

Cochrane lay in critical condition in a New York hospital with three skull fractures. For several days grieving baseball fans across the country stay tuned for bulletins as Cochrane hovered near death. Although he returned to the Detroit bench as manager two months later, he never played again.

After the beaning, Cochrane was not as an effective manager relegated to the bench. “It was so pitiful to see him sitting there, frustrated at not playing. He almost went crazy he couldn’t stand it. We all felt terrible,” said Auker.

By the middle of the next season, the Tigers struggled, and following a lopsided loss to Boston, owner Walter O. Briggs summarily fired Cochrane sending shockwaves throughout the community. Hundreds of tearful Tiger fans gathered at City Airport the next day to wave goodbye to their beloved hero.

Gordie Howe in his Harper Hospital bed recovering from a severe blow to the head.

Playing in his fourth season in the NHL as the right winger on Detroit’s famous “Production Line” along with Ted Lindsay and Sid Abel, Gordie Howe was turning into the game’s greatest player and would help lead the franchise to seven consecutive first place finishes and four Stanley Cups.

However on March 28, 1950, more than the Stanley Cup was on the line.

Just three days before Howe’s twenty second birthday, number 9 plunged head first into the boards at Olympia Stadium in the semi-final opener against Toronto. Depending on the angle, some say the Leaf’s Teeder Kennedy butt-ended Howe while others say Gordie stumbled or tripped. In any event Howe was unconscious and rushed to Harper Hospital in Detroit in critical condition with an apparent hemorrhaging of the brain, a fractured nose and cheekbone, and a badly lacerated eyeball. In a 90 minute operation a surgeon drilled a small opening in Howe’s skull to drain fluid to relieve pressure on the brain.

Radio station in North America carried updates on his condition. Miraculously Howe was on the ice in street clothes when the Wings won the Cup a couple of weeks later.

Unlike Mickey Cochrane, as we all know Mr. Hockey continued on with his incomparable Hall of Fame career. (and no he does not have a metal plate in his head).