20th anniversary: Charlie Gehringer diesby Chris Jaffe
January 21, 2013
Twenty years ago today, one of baseball’s best and most consistent players of all time passed away, Tigers Hall of Fame second baseman Charlie Gehringer. Passing away at age 89, he’d lived a full life.
Gehringer was never the best player in the game (though he did win an MVP in 1937), but he was among the best for a very long time.
He came to Detroit in 1924 at age 21, and as he later recounted in Baseball When the Grass Was Real, impressed the legendary player (and then Tigers manager) Ty Cobb. Gehringer even noted that Cobb took him under his wing, helping him learn the finer points of hitting before they had a falling out.
No matter. Between Cobb’s instructions and Gehringer’s ability, he took off. In 1927, just his second full season as a regular, Gehringer hit .300 for the first time, .317 to be exact. Once he started doing it, hitting .300 got to be a habit with him. He did it 13 times in 14 seasons, with a .298 mark breaking up the streak.
To be fair, those hits were a product of the time. The AL in the 1920s and 1930s was a hitter’s paradise, with historically inflated batting averages. Still, even by those standards, few hit like Gehringer. From 1927-40, he bopped out 2,595 hits, over 600 more than anyone else. Sure, that’s selective endpoints, and it’s also looking at Gehringer’s best stat, but that’s still an enormous lead. He was healthy, he was consistent, and he was damn good.
And it wasn’t all just empty singles, either. Though not a player remembered for his speed, Gehringer also topped the baseball world in triples from 1927 to 40, with 125. He led the league in triples with 19 in 1929, which was one of seven times he had double digits in that stat.
More impressively were his collection of doubles. In that 14-year prime, Gehringer hit 536 doubles. Second-most in that period was fellow Hall of Fame second baseman Billy Herman, way, way back with 346.
536 doubles in 14 seasons is historic. Only four others can top that: Tris Speaker (593), Stan Musial (577), Pete Rose (543), and Paul Waner (542).
But Gehringer’s problem is that he basically has just those 14 seasons, while those above had several additional campaigns. Each was among the best of the best in their primes, whereas Gehringer was merely great, but he was incredibly consistent in his greatness.
In fact, Gehringer’s consistency earned him the nickname “Mechanical Man,” as you could seemingly wind him up and watch him hit .320 or .330 year after year. The nickname also fit his personality. He was never flashy, never colorful, but he got the job done. It was like he was a cyborg sent from the future to hit 43 doubles a season.
So it isn’t too surprising that Gehringer quickly won election into Cooperstown in 1949. He was just 46 years old when he entered the Hall, and as it happened, he was barely halfway through his life. Gehringer lasted another 43 years before passing on in January, 1993, 20 years ago today.
Aside from that, many other events today celebrate either their anniversary or “day-versary” (which is something that happened X-thousand days ago).
1,000 days since Luke Hughes of the Twins homers in his first big league at-bat.
1,000 days since a new All-Star game rule is announced. There will be 34-man rosters, and a pitcher who plays on Sunday is ineligible and will be replaced on the roster, though he still will be recognized as an All-Star.
2,000 days since Brandon Phillips of the Reds steals second and third on one pitch, thanks to an extreme defensive shift the Nationals have against Adam Dunn.
3,000 days since Charlie Manuel becomes the new Indians manager.
5,000 days since Esteban Loaiza breaks his hand when he slams a car door on it.
5,000 days since Tom Kelly loses his 1,000th game as a manager. His record is 936-1,000.
6,000 days since Jim Thome belts his first grand slam.
6,000 days since the Mariners edge the Yankees, 13-12, in 12 innings. Seattle led 8-0 at one point, and it was 10-10 heading into the 12th inning.
9,000 days since the 1988 amateur draft. Among the highlights are Houston drafting Kenny Lofton and Luis Gonzalez, Philadelphia taking Mickey Morandini, Boston claiming John Valentin, the Dodgers getting Eric Karros and Mike Piazza, California claiming Jim Edmonds, Pittsburgh drafting Tim Wakefield, San Francisco claiming Kenny Rodgers and Royce Clayton, San Diego drafting Andy Benes, Atlanta drafting Steve Avery, the White Sox drafting Robin Ventura, Seattle drafting Tino Martinez, Cleveland drafting Charles Nagy, Montreal claiming Marquis Grissom, the Yankees drafting Deion Sanders, and Toronto drafting Woody Williams.
All those guys sign. The most prominent players drafted who don’t sign at this time include Toronto with Scott Erickson, the Yankees and Fernando Vina, Cincinnati with Paul Byrd, Philadelphia with Scott Hatteburg, and Milwaukee with Alex Fernandez.
10,000 days since Mike Greenwell makes his big league debut.
10,000 days since Willie Randolph hits two homers in one game for the only time in his career. He’s 4-for-4 on the day. In all, Randolph hits 54 homers in 9,462 plate appearances.
Also, at some point today it’ll be 1,000,000,000 seconds since the birth of Twins star Justin Morneau.
1867 Mike Tiernan is born. He’ll become one of the first players to hit over 100 homers.
1886 Joe Benz, White Sox pitcher, is born. He’ll lead the league in losses in 1914 with 19.
1893 The Braves trade second baseman Joe Quinn to St. Louis for Cliff Carroll.
1899 Lew Fonseca is born. He’ll lead the AL in batting average in 1929 at .369.
1919 The Phillies trade Milt Stock, Dixie Davis, and Pickles Dillhoefer to the Cardinals for Gene Packard and two others.
1921 Judge Landis signs a seven-year contract as baseball commissioner.
1922 Orator Shaffer dies at age 70. He was an 1870s star who led the league in OPS+ in 1878 at 184.
1922 Sam Mele is born. He’ll manage the Twins to the 1965 World Series.
1928 The Cardinals buy the Rochester minor league franchise in the International League and place all of Syracuse’s players in their farm system.
1933 The Pirates sign free agent pitcher Waite Hoyt.
1943 Brooklyn signs future Hall of Famer Paul Waner.
1946 Longtime Rangers manager Johnny Oates is born.
1952 The A’s release Wally Moses.
1952 Mike Krukow is born. The longtime Giants announcer went 20-9 as a pitcher for the 1986 Giants.
1955 Dave Smith, longtime Astros closer, is born.
1955 Mike Smithson is born. He’ll pitch for the Twins and lead the league in starts, earned runs allowed, and batters hit in 1985.
1959 Hooks Wiltse dies at age 79. The former Giants pitcher went 23-14 for the 1908 team and 20-11 in 1909.
1959 Giants shortstop Jose Uribe is born.
1960 Andy Hawkins, Padres/Yankees pitcher, is born.
1969 Rusty Greer, Rangers outfielder, is born.
1972 Alan Benes, former Cardinals pitcher, is born.
1978 Texas signs free agent Mike Jorgensen.
1981 The Reds trade Cesar Geronimo to the Royals.
1983 The Mets release Bruce Bochy.
1987 Vida Blue comes to terms with the A’s to pitch in Oakland. However, he’ll announce a surprise retirement next month.
1989 Former Dodgers rightfielder Carl Furillo dies at age 66.
1997 The Expos sign Lee Smith for what will be the last year of his career.
2000 The Tigers sign free agent Hideo Nomo.
2000 The National Labor Relations Board refuses to overrule the election that removed the longtime head of the umpire’s union, Richie Phillips. A new union will represent the umpires.
2002 There is a three-way trade between the Rockies, Brewers, and Mets. The Brewers get Glendon Rusch, the Rockies acquire Todd Zeile and Benny Agbayani, and the Mets get Jeromy Burnitz.
2004 The Cubs sign free-agent pitcher Ryan Dempster.
2009 Jeff Kent announces his retirement.
2010 Former big league player and manager Bobby Bragan dies at age 92.
2010 The Royals sign free agent outfielder Rick Ankiel.
2011 The Cardinals sign infielder Nick Punto.
2011 The Rays sign aging veterans Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez.
2011 The Blue Jays manage to trade Vernon Wells to the Angels.
History instructor by day, statnerd by night, Chris Jaffe leads one of the most exciting double lives imaginable; with the exception of every other double life possible to imagine. Despite his lack of comic-book-hero-worthiness, Chris enjoys farting around with this stuff. His new book, Evaluating Baseball's Managers is available for order. Chris welcomes responses to his articles via e-mail. Oh, and now he's on twitter.