Nicknamed the "Mechanical Man" because of his consistency and effortless grace, Charlie Gehringer is arguably the finest all-around second baseman in American League history. In nineteen years with the Tigers he compiled a lifetime batting average of .320; hit 184 home runs; stole 182 bases; and banged out 2,839 base hits in 2,323 games. He batted .321 in three World Series, started the first six All-Star Games, and was voted the league's Most Valuable Player in 1937, the season he won the batting championship. He also was amazingly durable, twice compiling consecutive-game playing streaks of more than five hundred games.
Charlie Gehringer was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame on June 18, 1949 -- a ceremony he missed because he was being married in California. Gehringer lived in a large, secluded house in Beverly Hills, Michigan, until his death on January 21, 1993.
CHARLIE GEHRINGER: I think it was Lefty Gomez of the Yankees who gave me the "Mechanical Man" name. He made the statement to the papers once that "you wind Gehringer up in the spring and turn him off in the fall and in between he hits .340." Unfortunately, it's not quite that easy. Like anything, it's a lot of hard work and practice.
Looking back, I'd have to say that starting in pro ball was plain luck. I grew up on a farm outside Fowlerville. It was a big farm, fifteen cattle and about 230 acres, and it took two or three people to keep it going. My parents had a feeling that I wasn't going to like it on the farm. My older brother was doing most of the heavy work, driving the tractor, and running the heavy equipment. My dad was still alive and we had a hired man, too, so it gave me a chance to go away to college for a year.
I had an idea that I'd like to be in sports, maybe coaching. I took phys ed classes at the University of Michigan. I went with more or less a baseball background, but I went out for football. I remember Ray Fisher, who was coaching baseball then, caught me on the sidelines one day at practice.
"Don't get too excited about this game," he said. "Don't worry," I said. "I won't."
Funny thing is, I won a letter in basketball but I didn't get one in baseball.
I'd pitched all through high school. Just lost one game. That was 2-1 to Detroit Northern, who always played us in a doubleheader whenever they came out to play Howell, the next little town. I pitched a little bit in pro ball, but after they started knocking me around pretty good I said, "Well, there must be a difference." So I decided to try second base. I always could hit pretty good.
We used to have a super fan back home who hunted with Bobby Veach, the old Tiger outfielder. He asked Veach if it was all right for me to go down to Detroit for a workout. Today, of course, you couldn't hide a prospect if you wanted to. But this was 1923, and it was possible to get a tryout with a major-league club fairly easy, providing you had some potential. They didn't want you cluttering up the field. So I went down for about a week in the fall of the year.
Ty Cobb was the manager then, and apparently he was so impressed he went up in his uniform to Mr. Navin, the club owner, and got him out of his office to take a look at me. I signed a contract with the Tigers, and I can't remember if I got a bonus. Maybe five hundred dollars. But I would've signed for nothing.
When I was a kid, you see, I used to keep a kind of scrapbook. I used to paste newspaper pictures of Cobb and Veach and Harry Heilmann, and here I was going to play with them.
From Cobb Would Have Caught It by Richard Bak.
Copyright © 1991 by Wayne State University Press. Reprinted with permission.