On Sunday, we detailed the Tigers' greatness in the 1930s and '40s. Hank Greenberg was the biggest bat of that generation, leading the league in RBIs on four separate occasions across 15 seasons. He wouldn't have been able to do it without the contributions of Charlie Gehringer, the best second baseman in franchise history and the #5 player to ever suit up for the Detroit Tigers.
Gehringer was born in 1903 in Fowlerville, Michigan. He attended the University of Michigan for a year before signing with the Tigers at the behest of then-player/manager Ty Cobb. He debuted with the Tigers in 1924 as a 21 year old, but only played in 13 games across his first two seasons.
That soon changed, however. From 1925 to 1941, Gehringer played in at least 100 games per year, earning him the nickname "The Mechanical Man." He led the league in games played on four separate occasions, and played in at least 150 games in nine separate seasons.
Gehringer's longevity underlies how great he was, however. A career .320/.404/.480 hitter, he led the league in hits twice and won a batting title in 1937. He also won his only Most Valuable Player award in '37, when he hit .371/.458/.520 with 14 home runs, 90 RBI, and 133 runs scored. He also made the All-Star team that year, one of six* consecutive berths in the midsummer classic.
*The first All-Star game was played in 1933, halfway through Gehringer's career. It's likely he would have made twice as many All-Star teams had the event been created a decade earlier.
Despite "only" winning one MVP, Gehringer finished in the top 10 of MVP voting on seven different occasions. From 1927 to 1940, he only had one season where his batting average dipped below .300 (a .298/.370/.497 line in 1932). However, Gehringer's success may be described best by this passage from his Wikipedia page.
Playing for the "small ball" oriented Cobb, Gehringer also had a career-high 27 sacrifice hits in 1926. Six Tigers from the Cobb era (Donie Bush, Ty Cobb, Harry Heilmann, Bobby Veach, Sam Crawford, and Ossie Vitt) rank in the Top 50 all time for sacrifice hits. After Cobb's departure, Gehringer never again came close to 27 sacrifice hits.
Gehringer's bat wasn't all he was known for, however. He was an excellent defender, amassing over 10 wins above replacement on defense alone throughout his career. He produced at least a full win in five separate seasons, including a whopping 2.3 wins in 1933.
He was also known for his quiet nature. Former Tigers player/manager Mickey Cochrane said "He says hello on Opening Day and goodbye on Closing Day, and in between all he does is hit .350." Gehringer was also presented with a set of right-handed golf clubs during "Charlie Gehringer Day," but was rumored to be "too polite" to tell anyone that he golfed left-handed (he hit left-handed as well). Instead, he learned to golf right-handed.
Both on and off the field, Gehringer was truly one of the greatest players in Tigers history, and easily one of the best second basemen of all-time.