A Mechanical Man, a Hammer, the Goose, and Black Mike: 1935 Detroit Tigers in the Hall of Fame

By Doug Lehman

This article originally appeared in "Detroit the Unconquerable: The 1935 World Champion Detroit Tigers" (SABR, 2014), edited by Scott Ferkovich.

Four members of the 1935 Detroit Tigers were later elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame. Three of them were among the finest players of their era, while the fourth was a very good player whose election was the subject of debate. All were instrumental in the Tigers’ winning the 1935 championship, their first.

Mickey Cochrane

Cochrane played 13 seasons in the major leagues, appearing in 1,482 games. A two-time All-Star and a two-time MVP, he compiled a .320 career batting average, a .419 on-base percentage, and a .478 slugging percentage. Never a power hitter, he had a single-season high in home runs with 23 in 1932, and had his only 100-RBI season that same year with the Athletics when he drove in 112 runs.

Cochrane first appeared on the National Baseball Hall of Fame ballot in 1936, the first year elections for the Hall were held. The eligibility guidelines used by the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA) were unclear and Cochrane and two other active players, Rogers Hornsby and Lou Gehrig, appeared on the ballot. Cochrane received the votes of 35.4 percent of those who cast ballots. Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, Honus Wagner, Christy Mathewson, and Walter Johnson were voted in as the inaugural class of the National Baseball Hall of Fame.1

Cochrane next appeared on the 1939 ballot, the year after his release as manager of the Tigers, and was named on only 10.2 percent of the ballots in an election that saw George Sisler, Eddie Collins, and Willie Keeler elected. Elections were not held every year during this early period and there was no election in 1940 or 1941. In the 1942 vote, 233 writers cast ballots and Cochrane came up short again, winning votes from 37.8 percent of the balloters. This was the year that Rogers Hornsby was elected.

The BBWAA voted again in 1945 and Cochrane won approval from 50.6 percent of the voters. For the first time, no players on the ballot received the necessary 75 percent approval. A separate Hall of Fame committee selected nine players and one manager whose careers covered the years between 1876 and 1915, leaving Cochrane out of the Hall again.

The following year, 1946, found a repeat of 1945, when no player received votes from the required 75 percent of the writers. Cochrane saw his percentage fall to 39.6 percent, and it appeared his support was waning. This was the first year when a runoff election was held, with the top 20 vote-getters on the ballot. Cochrane fared even worse in the runoff; only 24.7 percent of the writers voted for him.

For the first time since 1942, the BBWAA elected players to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1947, when Cochrane finished third with votes from 79.5 percent of the writers (128 votes out of 161 ballots) in his sixth time on the ballot. Cochrane became the first catcher elected to the Hall of Fame by the baseball writers.

In the early years of voting for the Hall of Fame, the rules seemingly changed every year. In 1947 Dan Daniel wrote, “In some writing circles, there is a feeling that the latest restriction – that no scribe who was not active before 1936, and no player who was active before 1925, can figure in the poll – should not be acceptable to the Baseball Writers’ Association for another canvass of its members. There is a belief that the Writers’ Association should be in the poll as a body or out of it.”2

Did the change in voting rules make it easier for Mickey Cochrane to be elected to the Hall of Fame? It makes for an interesting debate. Cochrane’s percentage of the vote had peaked at 50.6 percent in 1945 and had fallen off to 39.6 percent in 1946 and even further in the 1946 runoff election. A rule change may or may not have affected voting. It eliminated any writer who was not writing before 1936, when Cochrane had his greatest years as a player and as a manager. Perhaps he received an unexpected assist into the Hall of Fame. Regardless, Cochrane remains one of the greatest catchers in baseball and Detroit Tigers history, and his ability as a leader is evidenced by the Tigers’ finishes during his first years with the team.

Cochrane entered the Hall of Fame on July 21, 1947, at the induction ceremony in Cooperstown, New York. Cochrane was not there. The Sporting News wrote that pitcher Ed Walsh was the only inductee to attend and noted, “Walsh saw to it that he got the necessary time off from his job at the Meriden (Conn.) Water Works to attend the unveiling of the plaque dedicated to him, while Cochrane, Grove, Frisch and Hubbell were conspicuous by their absence.”3

Charlie Bevis quoted Mary Cochrane, Mickey’s wife, as saying, “It didn’t seem important to Mike. We were out West at the ranch at the time.” His daughter Sara said, “He never really talked about the Hall of Fame. I think he thought it was the kiss of death to be in the Hall of Fame. A lot of those players fell on hard times after their playing days were over.” She added, “Daddy never wanted the spotlight. The Detroit fans, they wanted too much of their hero.” In the 1950s Cochrane made a trip to Cooperstown with his father, a trip that Bevis believes may have been his way of showing his father he had been a success in baseball.4

Charlie Gehringer

A career .320 hitter, Gehringer drove in over 100 runs seven times and, while not known as a home-run hitter, accumulated 184 home runs over 19 seasons. While he twice led the league in errors at second base, he also frequently led in assists, putouts, and double plays turned. Seven times he led the league’s second basemen in fielding percentage. A look at the record indicates the impact he had on the Tigers as they built their mid-1930s championship team. In addition to being the starting second baseman for the Tigers during the 1934-1935 championship years, he also anchored second base on the 1940 American League champions.5 It was never a question of whether Gehringer would be elected; the question was more “When?” Gehringer first appeared on the ballot for the Baseball Writers Association of America to consider for the 1945 election. He received ten votes.

The following year, Gehringer finished in the top 20 with votes from 21.3 percent of the writers, qualifying him for the runoff election, in which he received only 8.7 percent (This was the first year in which a runoff was part of the process.)..

In 1947 Gehringer got votes from 65.2 percent of the writers, falling short of the required 75 percent for election. With no runoff election in effect in 1947, he finished in sixth place in his second year on the ballot. The top four finishers received enough votes to be elected and became the first players elected by the writers since 1942. This group included Gehringer’s old manager and catcher, Mickey Cochrane.6

If the pattern had held, Gehringer should have been elected in 1948, as historically those who came closest but were not elected would be elected the following year. This held true for Pie Traynor; for Gehringer, though, the voters were not so kind. Herb Pennock jumped from ninth place to first, and Traynor came in second, both with enough votes for election. With no runoff election in place, Gehringer was left to ponder his fourth-place finish with votes from 43 percent of the writers, a 22 percent decline from 1947.

The 1949 election saw a return to the runoff process. In his fifth year on the ballot, Gehringer broke through. He finished on top with 66.7 percent in the first election and 85 percent in the runoff election. No one else was elected by the BBWAA. “That’s the highest honor that can come to any man,” Gehringer said. “I’ve never been so thrilled. It’s a long way from Fowlerville [Michigan] to Cooperstown.”7 Gehringer was the sixth second baseman to enter the Hall of Fame and the fourth to be the only player elected in an election year.8 J.G. Taylor Spink wrote in The Sporting News, “There was never a ball player more effective than Gehringer after he had two strikes on him. That was when he was most dangerous. Other players change their grips, shorten their swings, and so on after the pitchers have two strikes on them, but not Gehringer; two strikes meant nothing to him” – further explanation of Gehringer’s clutch hitting for the Tigers.9

After the accolades faded during the summer of 1949 it was time for the induction ceremony in Cooperstown. Gehringer failed to show up for the June 13 induction ceremony. The Sporting News wrote that he “was forced to cancel his appearance at the last moment.”10 Shirley Povich, longtime writer with the Washington Post, took exception and gave Gehringer a bit of a tongue-lashing for missing the ceremony, writing, “I take no great satisfaction now in having cast one of the votes that might have helped to install Charley (sic) Gehringer in baseball’s Hall of Fame at Cooperstown, N.Y. At the dedication ceremonies the other day when they unveiled the plaques in honor of the five new installees, the guy didn’t bother to show up.”11

The next week the truth came out, and it appeared all was forgiven: Gehringer missed the ceremony because he had gone to California to marry Josephine Stillen. “To make the trip to California, Charlie had told Bob Quinn, director of the Hall of Fame, a little white lie,” wrote Watson Spoelstra. “He said he would be detained by a business commitment.” Spoelstra also addressed the disparagement of Gehringer by noting, “There was some open criticism of the former Detroit second baseman for his non-appearance. However, when the wedding bells rang out, Detroiters figured that the former Tiger second base star had a perfect alibi for going West instead of East to the Cooperstown ceremonies.” 12

In 1953 Gehringer became a member of the Hall of Fame Veterans Committee, a position he held until 1990. The Veterans Committee was not without controversy during his tenure. Writer James F. Vail argued that cronyism was at work in the election of many of the Veterans Committee selections, and that Gehringer may have influenced the selections of former teammates Heinie Manush and Goose Goslin.13 In 1994 Bill James wrote, “The Veterans Committee has always been prone to favoritism,”14 but we can never know for sure how much influence Gehringer may have had on their selections.

Of the four member of the ’35 Tigers in the Hall of Fame, Gehringer is the only one originally from Michigan, and was the only one to spend his entire career with the Old English “D” on his uniform and cap. His career was exemplary and Gehringer remains one of the greatest second basemen in the history of baseball.

Hank Greenberg

Hank Greenberg was noted for his power, but he was a good all-around hitter as well. He led the major leagues twice in doubles, once in runs scored, three times in home runs and RBIs, twice in total bases, and once in slugging percentage and walks. Greenberg had a .313 career batting average, 331 home runs, 1,276 RBIs, and a .605 slugging percentage. He played in four All-Star games and was selected MVP twice.

Greenberg first appeared on the Hall of Fame ballot in 1945 when he received three votes. Greenberg was still in the military when the voting took place in January 1945. Election guidelines at this time allowed writers to vote for any player since 1900 with at least one year in the major leagues and who was not active the year before. One sportswriter suggested that some voters “apparently named eight or nine leaders and then cast a “favorite-son” vote.”15 (Given that there was no guarantee that Greenberg would return to the major leagues, this line of reasoning makes sense.)

In 1949 Greenberg got votes from 43.8 percent of the writers and made it into the runoff for the top 20 vote-getters. In the runoff he fell to 23.5 percent.16 The 1950 election saw no one elected by the BBWAA. That year, which did not have a runoff, Greenberg got 38.1 percent in his second year on the ballot, good for tenth place. In 1951 he got 29.6 percent and fell to 12th place.

Greenberg languished outside the top ten in 1952 and 1953, with 32.1 percent (11th) and 30.3 percent (11th) respectively. (To demonstrate just how tough the voters were, Joe DiMaggio earned only 44.3 percent of the vote in 1953, his first year on the ballot.) Then Greenberg gathered more support as the players above him were elected to the Hall of Fame. In 1954 he got votes from 38.5 percent of the writers, moving up to eighth place. The following year he won 62.5 percent, his highest total since his first year on the ballot.

The 1956 BBWAA election brought Greenberg permanent recognition among baseball’s greats. With votes from 85 percent of the writers (he was the leading vote-getter), he entered the Hall. Among first basemen, his 85 percent was the third highest percentage, trailing only Lou Gehrig and George Sisler. “I never dreamed that this would be the final result. I’m deeply grateful and humble,” Greenberg said.17

Unlike Cochrane and Gehringer, Greenberg did show up at the induction ceremony, on July 23, 1956. In his induction speech he expressed his appreciation for what baseball had given him. “It must be a wonderful country when a boy from the Bronx … can win such honors with a baseball bat,” Greenberg said. He said he hadn’t expected to be nervous during his speech, “but I have the same butterflies as when I used to anticipate hitting against Lefty Grove, Lefty Gomez or Red Ruffing with the bases loaded.”18

With Greenberg ensconced in the Hall of Fame it seemed that all of the Tiger greats from 1935 had been honored and the story had come to a close. This turned out to be not quite true.

Goose Goslin

Goslin was a career .316 hitter with extra-base power (500 career doubles, 173 triples, 248 home runs). He twice led the American League in triples when he was a young player with the Senators. He led the American League in batting when he hit .379 during the 1928 season while playing for Washington. Goslin was an RBI machine, driving in over 100 runs 12 times. A member of one All-Star team (1936 with Detroit) and six times appearing in the top 20 voting for the MVP award, but never finishing higher than sixth (twice), Goslin appeared to be a marginal candidate for membership in the Hall of Fame in the estimation of the writers. Yet, he made it.

Goslin was definitely a factor for the 1935 Tigers. He drove in 109 runs (second on the team) with a .292 batting average. The case could be made that without Goose Goslin the Tigers might not have won the pennant.

Lawrence Ritter may have been the first to publicly make a case for Goslin’s election to the Hall of Fame. In his 1966 book, The Glory of Their Times, he noted that several of Goslin’s career statistics surpassed those of 14 Hall of Fame players, including Bill Dickey, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Charlie Gehringer, Harry Heilmann, Tris Speaker, and Rogers Hornsby. Why not the Goose?” Ritter said.19

It is assumed by many that Goslin’s champion for election to the Hall of Fame was former teammate Charlie Gehringer, a member of the Veterans Committee, but it appears that Ritter also weighed in, using the platform of his book to make a case for Goslin. Perhaps the combination of the two resulted in Goslin being elected to the Hall of Fame by the Veterans Committee in 1968.

Goslin received votes in nine Hall of Fame elections, ranging from 0.4 percent to 13.5 percent in 1956, one of only two elections in which he was named on more than 10 percent of the ballots. (The other year was 1960, at 11.2 percent.)

Goslin was finally enshrined in 1968, when the Veterans Committee selected him. While Goslin’s election answered Ritter’s question, “Why not the Goose?,” there still remains the question, “Was Goose Goslin Hall of Fame material?” He may not have been. He did lead the league in a few categories in individual seasons, but not on a level with many of the members of the Hall of Fame. Looking at his overall career numbers, and current-day advanced metrics, a stronger case can be made for the outfielder.

Baseball-reference.com includes many recent statistical analyses that were not available to the members of the Veterans Committee, such as WAR or WAR Position Players.20 In the category WAR Position Players, Goslin during most of his Washington career was frequently in the top ten in the American League in this metric. For his career he ranked 89th, with a 66.1 WAR. Goslin is in good company as Hall of Famers Pee Wee Reese, Joe Cronin, and Duke Snider are ranked just above him, while Andre Dawson, Willie McCovey, Dave Winfield, and Billy Williams, all Hall of Famers, are ranked just below him.21 While this is just one way of measuring Goslin’s value to his teams, it does make the point that perhaps the election of Goslin by the Veterans Committee was not cronyism, but rather a good choice based on the information available to the committee.

James F. Vail, in his 2001 book, Outrageous Fortune: What’s Wrong with Hall of Fame Voting and How to Make It Statistically Sound, goes into great detail reviewing Hall of Fame elections. He concludes that Goslin has “relatively unassailable statistical credentials.”22 C.C. Johnson Spink, editor and publisher of The Sporting News, wrote, “As a working baseball writer, we hate to believe there has to be a committee to correct some of our mistakes. It appears that way, though. Goose Goslin and Kiki Cuyler were not named to the Hall of Fame by the BBWAA when the two great outfielders came under the writers’ jurisdiction. But now they have been chosen unanimously by the Veterans’ Committee. If their credentials were good enough for the veterans, why were they turned down by the writers?”23

On July 22, 1968, when Goslin was inducted into the Hall of Fame, he was overcome with emotion. The Sporting News reported Goslin as saying, “I want to thank God, who gave the health, (and) the strength to compete with these great players. I will never forget the honor and will take it with me to the grave.”24 The fourth member of the 1935 world champion Detroit Tigers would have his plaque on the wall beside those of his teammates Cochrane, Gehringer, and Greenberg.

DOUG LEHMAN is the library director at Wittenberg University in Springfield, Ohio, and a lifelong Tigers fan. He grew up in northwestern Ohio listening to Ernie Harwell on the radio at night and dreaming of taking Al Kaline’s place in right field.

 

Sources

Books

Bevis, Charlie, Mickey Cochrane: The Life of a Baseball Hall of Fame Catcher. (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland, 1998).

Greenberg, Hank, Hank Greenberg: The Story of My Life. (New York: Times Books, 1989).

James, Bill, The Politics of Glory: How Baseball’s Hall of Fame Really Works. (New York: Macmillan, 1994).

McConnell, John, Cooperstown by the Numbers: An Analysis of Baseball Hall of Fame Elections (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland, 2010).

Ritter, Lawrence, The Glory of Their Times: The Story of the Early Days of Baseball Told by the Men Who Played It. (New York: Macmillan, 1966).

Rosengren, John, Hank Greenberg: The Hero of Heroes. (New York: New American Library, 2013).

Skipper, John C., Charlie Gehringer: A Biography of the Hall of Fame Tigers Second Baseman (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland, 2008).

Vail, James F., Outrageous Fortune: What’s Wrong With Hall of Fame Voting and How to Make It Statistically Sound. (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland, 2001).

Vail, James F., The Road to Cooperstown: A Critical History of Baseball’s Hall of Fame Selection Process. (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland, 2001).

Newspapers

Conners, Dick, “Many Notables Join Cooperstown Pilgrimage: New Plaques Dedicated at Hall of Fame,” The Sporting News, June 22, 1949.

Connors, Dick, “Medwick, Goslin, Cuyler Enter Hall of Fame,” The Sporting News, August 3, 1968.

Daniel, Dan, “Four Voted in Hall of Fame by Less Than Half of BBWA,” The Sporting News, January 29, 1947.

Flynn, Arthur, “94 Nominated, None Gains Hall of Fame,” The Sporting News, February 1, 1945.

Miller, Lou, “Greenberg, Cronin Voice Gratitude to Game,” The Sporting News, August 1, 1956.

Povich, Shirley, “‘Business Pressure’ Kept Gehringer Away,” The Sporting News, June 22, 1949.

Smith, Ken, “Gehringer Only Player to Be Elected to Diamond Shrine in ’49 Run-Off Vote,” The Sporting News, May 11, 1949.

Spink, C.C. Johnson, “We Believe: Who Belongs in Shrine?” The Sporting News, February 10, 1968.

Spink, J.G. Taylor, “Hall of Fame Gehringer Called ‘Perfect Player’: ‘Mechanical Man’ Made Difficult Plays Look Easy,” The Sporting News, May 11, 1949.

Spoelstra, Watson, “‘Never So Thrilled,’ Charlie’s Comment,” The Sporting News, May 11, 1949.

Spoelstra, Watson, ”Why Gehringer Passed Up Cooperstown – Charlie Went to Coast to Be Married,” The Sporting News, June 29, 1949.

“Hank, Grateful and Humble, Tosses Orchids at Joe Cronin,” The Sporting News, February 1, 1956.

“What Do Stars Owe The Game,” The Sporting News, August 6, 1947.

Online

Baseball-reference.com

 

Notes

1 John McConnell, Cooperstown by the Numbers: An Analysis of Baseball Hall of Fame Elections (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland, 2010), 4.

2 Dan Daniel. “Four Voted in Hall of Fame by Less Than Half of BBWA,” The Sporting News, January 29, 1947, 2.

3 “What Do Stars Owe The Game,” The Sporting News, August 6, 1947, 12.

4 Charlie Bevis, Mickey Cochrane: The Life of a Baseball Hall of Fame Catcher. (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland, 1998), 160.

5 John C. Skipper, Charlie Gehringer: A Biography of the Hall of Fame Tigers Second Baseman (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland, 2008), 136.

6 McConnell, Cooperstown, 17.

7 Watson Spoelstra, “‘Never So Thrilled,’ Charlie’s Comment,” The Sporting News, May 11, 1949, 10.

8 Ken Smith, “Gehringer Only Player to Be Elected to Diamond Shrine in ’49 Run-Off Vote,” The Sporting News, May 11, 1949, 2.

9 J.G. Taylor Spink, “Hall of Fame Gehringer Called ‘Perfect Player’: ‘Mechanical Man’ Made Difficult Plays Look Easy,” The Sporting News, May 11, 1949, 2.

10 Dick Conners, “Many Notables Join Cooperstown Pilgrimage: New Plaques Dedicated at Hall of Fame,” The Sporting News, June 22, 1949, 13.

11 Shirley Povich, “ ‘Business Pressure’ Kept Gehringer Away,” The Sporting News, June 22, 1949, 13.

12 Watson Spoelstra, “Why Gehringer Passed Up Cooperstown -- Charlie Went to Coast to Be Married,” The Sporting News, June 29, 1949, 9.

13 James F. Vail, The Road To Cooperstown: A Critical History of Baseball’s Hall of Fame Selection Process (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland, 2001), 107.

14 Bill James, The Politics of Glory: How Baseball’s Hall of Fame Really Works (New York: Macmillan, 1994), 166.

15 Arthur Flynn, “94 Nominated, None Gains Hall of Fame,” The Sporting News, February 1, 1945, 5.

16 McConnell, Cooperstown, 19.

17 “Hank, Grateful and Humble, Tosses Orchids at Joe Cronin,” The Sporting News, February 1, 1956, 6.

18 Lou Miller, “Greenberg, Cronin Voice Gratitude to Game,” The Sporting News, August 1, 1956, 15.

19 Lawrence Ritter, The Glory of Their Times: The Story of the Early Days of Baseball Told by the Men Who Played It. (New York: Macmillan, 1966), 251.

20 Baseball-reference.com. Wins Above Replacement – a single number that shows how many games the player added to the team win total versus a player from a Triple-A team. For a single season, a score of 8+ indicates an MVP-type season while 5+ would be equated to an All-Star season and 2+ equals a starter.

21 Baseball-reference.com.

22 James F. Vail, Outrageous Fortune: What’s Wrong with Hall of Fame Voting and How to Make It Statistically Sound, (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland, 2001), 180.

23 C.C. Johnson Spink, “We Believe: Who Belongs in Shrine?” The Sporting News, February 10, 1968, 14.

24 Dick Connors, “Medwick, Goslin, Cuyler Enter Hall of Fame,” The Sporting News, August 3, 1968, 5.