- April 11, 1917
- 6' 1"
- 184 lbs
- Major League Debut:
- 4-18-1939 with DET
McCosky hit .300 in six of his first seven seasons and was an integral part of the Tigers' drive to the 1940 AL pennant. The league's finest leadoff hitter in his first two seasons, he hit .311 with 120 runs (fourth in the AL), 14 triples (second), and 20 steals (fourth, and caught only four times) in his 1939 rookie season and led AL outfielders in putouts. In his career season in 1940, he reached career highs with a .340 batting average (sixth in the AL), 123 runs (third), 19 triples (first), 200 hits (tied for first), and 39 doubles. In the World Series, he hit .304 and scored five runs as Detroit lost to the Reds in seven games. He declined to .324 and .293 in the next two seasons, and then lost three years in the military (1943-45). When he returned in 1946, he hit just .198 for the Tigers, who traded him to the Athletics that May for George Kell. He rebounded, hitting .354 the rest of the way, and had two more .300 seasons (95 runs in 1948). But he lost all of 1949 to a back injury and was never the same afterwards.
McCosky was born in Coal Run, Pennsylvania, the last of nine children. His mother died when he was one year old, and McCosky moved to Detroit at age 4 with his older brother Tony McCosky. McCosky grew up in Detroit in the midst of the Great Depression. He later recalled: "Nobody had any money. We took mustard sandwiches and ketchup sandwiches to school." (Richard Bak, "Cobb Would Have Caught It: The Golden Age of Baseball in Detroit" (Wayne State 1991), p. 285.) McCosky attended Southwestern High School in Detroit, Michigan, where he was All-City and captain in both baseball and basketball. McCosky had a .727 batting average his senior year—a Detroit public school record.
In 1936, McCosky was signed out of high school by scout Wish Egan. In 1936, he hit .400 for Charleston, West Virginia and led the Mid-Atlantic League his first year in professional baseball. He played next for Beaumont, Texas, and in 1939 the Tigers invited him to spring training in Lakeland, Florida. A photograph of McCosky as a rookie in spring training can be seen on the Lakeland Public Library web site. McCosky made the team and was the Tigers' starting center fielder on Opening Day in Detroit.
Major League Playing career
In an 11-season career, McCosky was a .312 hitter with 24 home runs and 397 RBI in 1170 games played. McCosky was a good contact hitter who hit over .300 in six of his first seven seasons. A fine outfielder with a strong throwing arm, he collected a .984 fielding average with only 41 errors in 2579 chances.
In 1939, McCosky's rookie season, he was an immediate success both at bat and in the field. He hit for a .311 batting average—trailing only Hank Greenberg and his boyhood hero, Charlie Gehringer, among the Tigers starters. With great range and speed in the outfield, he also led all American outfielders with 428 putouts. His 1939 Range factor of 3.00 was a career-high and 0.65 points above the league average. He was also near the top of the American League leaderboard in 1939 with 120 runs scored (4th in the AL), 190 hits (4th in the AL), 20 stolen bases (4th in the AL), 262 times on base (5th in the AL), 33 doubles (6th in the AL) and 14 triples (2nd in the AL). He placed No. 27 in the American League Most Valuable Player voting.
His most productive season came for the 1940 Detroit Tigers American League champions, when he was among the AL league leaders with a .340 batting average (6th in the AL), 200 hits (tied for 1st in the AL), 19 triples (1st in the AL), 123 runs (3rd in the AL), 264 times on base (4th in the AL), and 39 doubles (7th in the AL). In the World Series, he hit .304 (7-for-23) with five runs as Detroit lost to the Cincinnati Reds in seven games. McCosky finished No. 16 in the MVP voting for 1940. Since 1940, the only Tiger to exceed McCosky's 19 triples is Curtis Granderson in 2007.
McCosky had another solid season in 1941, as he hit .324 and finished No. 15 in the American League MVP voting.
McCosky lost three years in the prime of his career (at ages 26–28) to military service during World War II, as he entered the U.S. Navy in December 1942 and was discharged in October 1945.
McCosky returned to Detroit in 1946. After a disappointing .198 start in 25 games, he was traded to the Philadelphia Athletics in mid-May for George Kell. In his autobiography, Kell recalled being shocked that the Tigers would trade a "legitimate star" and "hometown boy" like McCosky for an "unknown third baseman." At the time of the trade, McCosky told Kell: "You'll be better off here in Detroit. You're going to love it here. I hate to leave because this is home. I've had good years here." (George Kell, "Hello Everybody, I'm George Kell" (Sports Publishing 1998), pp. 42–43.)
Playing for manager Connie Mack, McCosky broke out of his early season slump and hit .354 for the A's. And in 1947, McCosky batted .328 (2nd best in the AL) for the Athletics and finished a career-best No. 11 in the AL MVP voting. In 1948, he hit .326 (5th best in the AL), had a .405 on base percentage (6th in the AL), and scored 95 runs.
McCosky missed the entire 1949 season after a back injury, and was never the same batter afterward. He returned to the Athletics in 1950, but his average dropped 86 points from .326 in 1948 to .240 in 1950.
On April 26, 1951, McCosky broke up a no-hitter bid of Washington Senators Connie Marrero with a home run. One week later, McCosky was sold to the Cincinnati Reds. He was then released and picked up off waivers by the Cleveland Indians. He managed only 37 hits in 1951 for a .268 average. McCosky finished his career paying with the Indians, as his batting average dropped further to .213 in 1952 and .190 in 1953.
Six times he was considered in the American League MVP vote (1939–42, 1947–48). In 1995, he was inducted into the National Polish-American Hall of Fame.
Life after baseball
After his baseball career ended, McCosky operated a party store on Joy Road between Greenfield and Southfield and also worked as a car salesman. (Richard Bak, "Cobb Would Have Caught It: The Golden Age of Baseball in Detroit" (Wayne State 1991), p. 284.) McCosky died in 1996 at age 79 in Venice, Florida.
In 1957, a baseball little league was named after McCosky on the west side of Detroit. The league, founded by John Hubacher with the slogan "BETTER BOYS THROUGH BETTER BASEBALL", expressed the sincere feelings of all the original members of the organization. The league was a member of the National Baseball Congress for many years.
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- Barney McCosky