In a brief but brilliant stint with the Detroit Tigers, Hall of Fame catcher Mickey Cochrane served as a player/manager for the club. He won an MVP award in 1934 and led the team to their first championship in 1935. The majority of his career was spent in Philadelphia, where he was one of the best all-around catchers in the game. Despite his short tenure in Detroit, Cochrane's achievements earned him 25% of the vote in a tightly contested poll and the #13 place in our countdown.
*Played for the Philadelphia Athletics from 1925 to 1933.
Gordon Stanley Cochrane was born on April 6th, 1903 in Bridgewater, Massachusetts. After a successful two-sport career at Boston University, Cochrane signed with the Portland Beavers, a Pacific Coast League team. Philadelphia Athletics manager and owner Connie Mack acquired Cochrane prior to the 1925 season. Cochrane's rookie season was a huge success, as he hit .331/.397/.448 with six home runs and 55 RBI in 134 games.
Cochrane quickly became one of the best catchers in the American League, finishing fourth in the MVP voting in 1927 at just 24 years old. He won his first MVP the following season despite a drop in offensive production from the year prior, hitting .293/.395/.464 with 10 home runs and 92 runs scored. Throughout his A's career, Cochrane was viewed primarily as a run scorer. He frequently hit in front of big bats like Al Simmons and Jimmie Foxx, and scored at least 90 runs in five of his final six seasons in Philadelphia.
Prior to the 1934 season, Connie Mack sold Cochrane to the Tigers, who named him player/manager. Cochrane's offensive numbers once again took a dive, but he won his second career MVP after hitting .320/.428/.412 with a pair of home runs and 76 RBI. Sabermetricians were outraged at the decision, as Lou Gehrig's 10.7 WAR dwarfed Cochrane's 3.9 that season. The Tigers' overall success won out, however, as the team won 101 games, tied for the third-most in franchise history. They lost to the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series in seven games that year.
Thanks to Cochrane's leadership and uptick in slugging during the 1935 season, the Tigers made it back to the World Series despite winning eight fewer games than the season prior. Cochrane's managerial skills were put to the test in the series after star slugger Hank Greenberg broke his wrist in Game 2. However, the Tigers won three of the next four games to win their first championship.
Cochrane's career was cut short when he was hit in the head by a pitch from New York Yankees hurler Bump Hadley in early 1937. Cochrane was hospitalized and never played baseball again, ending his career at age 34. He was hitting .306/.452/.490 prior to his injury, and likely would have added to his gaudy career totals for another season or two had he not been so unfortunate. Regardless, Cochrane was voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1947.
Despite his injury, Cochrane is widely considered to be one of the best catchers of all-time. He ranks 11th among all catchers with 50.6 WAR, and all but two of the 10 players above him on that list played at least 500 more games than Cochrane. His .413 wOBA is tops among all catchers with at least 1,000 career plate appearances, and his .897 OPS is second only to Mike Piazza.
While his career with the Tigers was brief, he helped deliver the franchise's first championship and one of the most successful regular seasons in team history. His name is listed on the outfield wall of Comerica Park with other past legends whose numbers have been retired, though his #3 jersey still remains in circulation. His .582 winning percentage as a manager ranks as the best in team history among those who were at the helm for at least 100 games.