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Del Baker, who had filled in several times in an interim basis for manager Mickey Cochrane, finally headed to spring training in 1939 with a team of his own. The Tigers had finished with a winning record for five years in a row, including two pennants and a World Series. They had the great Hank Greenberg and the aging but still good Charlie Gehringer. Young players like outfielders Barney McCosky and Pete Fox were blending into the lineup nicely. And there was veteran leadership with Gehringer, C Birdie Tebbetts and 3B Pinky Higgins, acquired in the off-season from Boston.

So it wasn't like Baker was managing chopped liver.

But the Tigers weren't the only team with talent in the American League. There was, as usual, the New York Yankees, and other contenders included the Boston Red Sox, the Cleveland Indians and the Chicago White Sox. Could the Tigers beat them all out? It seemed to be a tall order.

A seven-game losing streak that dropped the Tigers to 6-12 proved just how tall of an order it would be, after all. In early-June, the Tigers ripped off nine wins in a row to put them 28-25 and provide a spark of hope. But all the aforementioned teams were still ahead of them in the standings.

The order, in the end, was indeed too tall. The Tigers weren't a bad team---they finished with a winning record for the sixth year in a row---but they weren't nearly good enough, either. Greenberg dropped from 58 homers to 33, and from 146 RBI to 112. Gehringer hit .326 at age 36. McCosky hit .311. On the mound, Tommy Bridges and Bobo Newsom, acquired from the St. Louis Browns in May, each had 17 wins.

The Yankees ran away with the pennant, which was hardly unusual in those days. The Bronx Bombers went 106-45 and won the league by 17 games. The Tigers ended at 81-73, in fifth place. The 1935 World Series win was getting further away in the rearview mirror. Who knew when the Tigers might return to the Fall Classic?

By GregEno
 

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Tagged:
Barney McCosky, Birdie Tebbetts, Bobo Newsom, Charlie Gehringer, Del Baker, Detroit Tigers, Hank Greenberg, Mickey Cochrane, Pinky Higgins, Tommy Bridges

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