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Mickey Cochrane

Mickey Cochrane

Position(s):
C, OF
Nicknames:
Black Mike
Born:
April 6, 1903
Bats:
Left
Throws:
Right
Height:
5' 10"
Weight:
180 lbs
Major League Debut:
4-14-1925 with PHA
Allstar Selections:
1928 MVP, 1934 MVP
Hall of Fame:
1947

One of the greatest catchers in baseball history, Mickey Cochrane is considered by many historians of the game to be the finest receiver to play in the major leagues during the first half of the 20th century.  An exceptional line-drive hitter, Cochrane posted the highest lifetime batting average (.320) and on-base percentage (.419) of any catcher with more than 5,000 career at-bats.  An outstanding team leader as well, Cochrane played for five pennant-winning teams and three world championship squads in his 13 major league seasons.  He helped lead Connie Mack's Philadelphia Athletics to three straight pennants and two world championships from 1929 to 1931, before piloting the Detroit Tigers to back-to-back pennants in 1934 and 1935, and to victory in the 1935 World Series as the team's player-manager.


The son of Northern Irish immigrant John Cochrane and Scottish immigrant Sadie Campbell, Gordon Stanley "Mickey" Cochrane was born on April 6, 1903 in Bridgewater, Massachusetts.  After graduating from Bridgewater High School, Cochrane attended Boston University, where he played five sports.  Cochrane exhibited his outstanding athleticism and leadership skills on the football field, serving his team at quarterback, punter, and running back.  The extremely competitive and hot-tempered Cochrane first acquired his nickname "Black Mike" in college, often erupting into fits of rage when either he or one of his teammates failed to perform up to expectations.

Cochrane got his start in professional baseball while still in college, batting .327 for the Dover Senators of the Eastern Shore League in 1923.  He spent the following season with Portland in the Pacific Coast League, before joining the Philadelphia Athletics at the start of the 1925 campaign.  A poor defensive receiver when he first arrived in the major leagues, Cochrane honed his catching skills under the watchful eye of Cy Perkins, the A's incumbent at the position.  Although it took Cochrane some time to develop into an above average defender, he excelled as a hitter from the very beginning, posting a .331 batting average in his first full season in the majors.  Injuries limited the young receiver to 120 games in 1926, causing his batting average to fall to .273.  However, Cochrane rebounded the following year to bat .338, compile a .409 on-base percentage, drive in 80 runs, and score 80 others. 


Cochrane batted .293 and scored 92 runs in 1928, capturing A.L. MVP honors despite hitting only 10 home runs and knocking in just 57 runs.  The lefthanded hitting catcher's fiery temperament and leadership skills impressed the baseball writers who selected him.  Cochrane's MVP qualifications were further enhanced by Philadelphia's strong second-place finish, and by the ineligible status of both Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig of the pennant-winning Yankees (neither man was eligible to win the award at the time since they each had previously been named league MVP).    


Cochrane developed into one of the American League's top offensive players over the course of the next three seasons, serving as a catalyst on Philadelphia's championship teams of 1929, 1930, and 1931.  He batted .331 in the first of those years, while knocking in 95 runs and scoring 113 times himself.  Cochrane posted a career high mark of .357 the following season, driving in 85 runs and scoring 110 others.  He performed brilliantly again in 1931, batting .349, hitting 17 home runs, knocking in 89 runs, and scoring 87
others.    


Cochrane's tremendous offensive versatility enabled Manager Mack to insert him into any number of places in the batting order, although he typically batted third in the lineup, right before righthanded sluggers Al Simmons and Jimmie Foxx.  Cochrane had surprising speed for a catcher, handled the bat extremely well, and annually compiled an on-base percentage that exceeded .400, making him an excellent third-place hitter.  


Equally important was the receiver's ability to handle the A's pitching staff, which included the temperamental Lefty Grove.  Perhaps Cochrane understood Grove better than most since he shared the lefthander's volatile disposition, competitive nature, and strong distaste for losing.  Outfielder Doc Cramer, who played with both men on the A's, discussed the fierce temper of his former teammates when he said, "Lose a one-to-nothing game, and you didn't want to get into the clubhouse with Grove and Cochrane.  You'd be ducking stools and gloves and bats and whatever else would fly."


Although "Black Mike" was known more for his hitting and leadership skills, he gradually developed into a solid defensive receiver.  After committing a career-high 25 errors in 1928, he finished in double-digits in miscues only one other time the remainder of his career.  He ended up leading American League catchers six times in putouts, and twice each in double plays, assists, and fielding percentage.  Cochrane also developed a reputation second-to-none in terms of his ability to block home plate.  Doc Cramer discussed that particular aspect of the catcher's game by saying, "There were few things as exciting as watching somebody trying to get in there on a close play with Cochrane.  Home plate was his, you see.  You had to take it away from him.  Tough?  Just the same as a piece of flint."


Still, Cochrane received much of the blame for Philadelphia's loss to St. Louis in the 1931 World Series, after the Cardinals stole eight bases during the Fall Classic, including five by Pepper Martin.  However, the A's pitchers must be held at least partly responsible due to their inability to properly hold on the St. Louis baserunners.


Although the A's failed to repeat as American League champions in 1932, Cochrane had the most productive offensive season of his career.  In addition to batting .293, walking 100 times, and compiling a .412 on-base percentage, he established new career highs with 23 home runs, 112 runs batted in, and 118 runs scored.  Cochrane followed that up by batting .322 and scoring 104 runs in 1933, while also posting a league-leading .459 on-base percentage. 


Connie Mack didn't wish to part with Cochrane when he started to disassemble his team for financial reasons after the conclusion of the 1932 campaign, but he finally relented when his catcher expressed a desire to manage the following year.  Mack sold Cochrane to the Detroit Tigers prior to the start of the 1934 season, and the receiver led his new team to the American League pennant in his first year as a player-manager.  Although Cochrane hit only two home runs, knocked in just 76 runs, and scored only 74 others, his .320 batting average and exceptional leadership skills convinced the MVP voters to select him over Lou Gehrig in the balloting for the annual award, even though the Yankee first baseman won the A.L. Triple Crown.  The Tigers subsequently lost the World Series to the Cardinals in seven games, with their catcher posting a .214 batting average during the Fall Classic.


Detroit captured the American League pennant again in 1935, with Cochrane batting .319 and scoring 93 runs.  This time, though, the Tigers defeated Chicago in the World Series, with Cochrane compiling a .292 batting average during the six-game Series.


The 1935 campaign turned out to be Cochrane's last full season in the majors.  Injuries limited the 33-year-old receiver to only 44 games in 1936, and Cochrane's career came to
an abrupt end the following year when he was hit in the head with a fastball thrown by New York Yankee hurler Bump Hadley.  The pitch fractured Cochrane's skull, causing him to lie unconscious in the hospital for ten days before finally awakening.  Ordered by doctors not to play baseball again, Cochrane returned to the Detroit dugout to manage the team the remainder of the year, but his playing days were over.  He continued to manage the Tigers until the team replaced him at the helm midway through the following year.  Cochrane ended his managerial career with a record of 348-250, for a .582 winning percentage.  In addition to his .320 batting average and .419 on-base percentage, Cochrane's career numbers as a player include 119 home runs, 832 runs batted in, 1,041 runs scored, and only 217 strikeouts in more than 6,200 total plate appearances.  He batted over .330 on five separate occasions, scored more than 100 runs four times, and compiled an on-base percentage in excess of .400 in 10 of his 13 years in the league.


After leaving the game as an active player and manager, Cochrane spent time as General Manager of the Athletics, served briefly as a scout for the Yankees and Tigers, and also coached for Connie Mack on the 1950 Philadelphia Athletics.  Cochrane also served in the United States Navy during World War II, managing the Service All-Stars at Cleveland on July 7, 1942, piloting the Great Lakes team from 1942 to 1944, and heading the fleet recreational center in Guam during the final year of the war. 


In 1947, Cochrane became the first catcher elected into the Baseball Hall of Fame, preceding his long-time rival Bill Dickey, who joined him in Cooperstown seven years later.  A heavy smoker throughout most of his adult life, Cochrane died of lymphatic cancer in 1962 in Lake Forest, Illinois, at the age of 59.  

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Tagged:
1947 Hall of Fame, AL MVP 1928, AL MVP 1934, Al Simmons, Baseball History, Connie Mack, Detroit Tigers, Doc Cramer, Hall of Fame, Jimmie Foxx, Mickey Cochrane, Philadelphia Athletics

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