If the Tigers thought they wore the target in 1935 as defending AL Champs, they did even more so as defending WORLD Champions in 1936. They were two-time pennant winners and there was no sneaking up on anyone this time. And the mighty Yankees were cranky and restless, having not won a pennant since 1932---a long drought for them.
Again the Tigers returned pretty much the same cast as they had the year prior, plus they added future Hall of Fame outfielder Al Simmons to the mix, so again they rightfully believed they could contend for the pennant. Why not?
Here's one reason: an injury to Hank Greenberg.
On April 29, Greenberg collided with Washington's Jake Powell and broke his wrist. At the time of the injury, Greenberg had accumulated 16 RBI in 12 games and was batting .348. But just like that, Hankus Pankus was gone for the season---after 12 games and 46 AB.
It was a crippling, crushing blow for the Tigers. Greenberg was among the game's greats---easily the best power hitter the Tigers had ever seen. You just don't replace a player of that magnitude. And the Tigers certainly didn't.
The very next day after Greenberg got hurt, the Tigers traded for 1B Jack Burns of the St. Louis Browns. Burns did OK, batting .283, but he had no power and simply wasn't Hank Greenberg, not that there's any shame in that.
Simmons, at age 34, did his part, batting .327 and knocking in 112 runs while playing center field. Charlie Gehringer was, well, Charlie Gehringer (.354 BA and leading the league with 60 doubles). But catcher-manager Mickey Cochrane was more manager Cochrane than catcher Cochrane. But sadly, midway through the season, Black Mike wrestled with some demons.
Always high-strung, Cochrane suffered a nervous breakdown and took a leave of absence from the Tigers---as player and manager. Once again, coach Del Baker was pressed into duty as the team's skipper. From June 10 through July 21, Baker managed the Tigers while Cochrane recuperated. Perhaps flustered by their manager's troubles, the Tigers dropped their first seven games under Baker. But they recovered and the team did OK under Baker, yet by the time Cochrane returned, the pennant race didn't include the Bengals.
Tommy Bridges and Schoolboy Rowe again led the pitching staff, but although Bridges had a good year (23-11, 3.60 ERA), Rowe wasn't as dominating as he'd been during the pennant-winning years. His ERA ballooned to 4.51.
The Tigers, despite the injury to Greenberg and the loss of their catcher and manager for a large chunk of time, still managed a second place finish. But it was a distant second---some 19.5 games behind the first-place Yankees. The Tigers went 83-71, which wasn't bad considering all they had to overcome.
At least Hank Greenberg would be healthy in 1937!By GregEno
- Al Simmons, Charlie Gehringer, Del Baker, Detroit Tigers, Hank Greenberg, Jack Burns, Jake Powell, Mickey Cochrane, Schoolboy Rowe, Tommy Bridges