Life’s Greatest Regret of Detroit Tigers’ Legend Mickey Cochrane

Being the son of a famous baseball player has often been a challenge for both father and son, unless of course your last name is perhaps Griffey or Bonds.

It is virtually impossible to live up to the name.

Mickey Cochrane's son, Gordon Cochrane Jr., at Lakeland, Florida in March of 1936.

Ask any kid who grew up in the household of a baseball player and most often you will hear that they did not see their father very much from February through September and even when they were home other obligations often took them away.

Mickey Mantles’ sons said that they never really got to know their father until he became sober just before his death.

I am told that when Al Kaline wanted to see his sons play little league baseball, he stayed in his car to watch the action so he would not draw the attention of fans or put extra pressure on his boys.

Sure there are advantages. Often the players’ kids can hang around the clubhouse, shag balls out in the field, or even in the case of the sons of Detroit Tigers in the 1960’s, play in the annual Father and Son game wearing a replica Tiger uniform. And you can bet that the kid is a minor celebrity in his school.

For Gordon Cochrane Jr., growing up as the son of Tiger manager and Hall of Fame catcher Gordon “Mickey” Cochrane in the 1930’s, could not have been easy.

The fiery manager with the Irish temper took losses hard and when he was leading the Tigers to a pennant in 1934 and a world championship in 1935 he was in high demand for public appearances, golf outings, you name it.

So how much time do you have to play catch with your kid in front of the house or otherwise try to be a “normal” Dad in the neighborhood? You certainly didn’t go on summer vacations since everything was geared around baseball. At least for Gordon “Black Mike” was around the house in the Fall and early part of the winter.

The photo that accompanies this piece is a shot of Gordon Cochrane Jr. in Lakeland Florida at Spring Training in 1936 wearing a first baseman’s glove that Hank Greenberg had fixed for him. (Maybe I am reading too much into his expression but it almost looks like the youngster is afraid of missing the ball for fear of catching hell from the old man.).

The next year Gordon’ Dad was nearly killed and his playing career suddenly ended after being hit in the head while batting against New York at Yankee Stadium. The following year Cochrane would also lose his managerial position when Walter O. Briggs summarily fired him in August of 1938. Cochrane was like a lost soul out of baseball and he would never have the opportunity to manage again in the big leagues.

But despite the bitter disappointment of losing his baseball career, nothing could compare to the loss he suffered in 1944.

At the time Cochrane was serving in the U.S Navy where he had enlisted in January of 1942 as a Lieutenant and managed the baseball team out of the Great Lakes Training Center in Chicago. His son Gordon had enlisted in the Army and was on front lines. His Dad felt guilty and asked to get more involved but was stationed instead to a reoccupied island in the Pacific.

In March of 1944 he learned that his only son had been killed in a farmhouse in Holland.

In an interview I had with former teammate Elden Auker, Cochrane’s former battery mate told me that “Mike never recovered after hearing of his son’s death and always felt guilty. I think he had been hard on his son and had not spent a lot of time with him because of his career, and he wished he had those years back.” Another teammate Doc Cramer told writer Donald Bevis that “Gordon wasn’t a hard driving guy like his father. He was easy going. That killed Mike.”

Major leaguers make a ton of money, but despite those riches and fame, there is a sacrifice for both the player and his family for the time that is lost.

And all the money in the world can’t get that back.