In the 1930’s Philadelphia A’s manager/owner Connie Mack made some moves that would probably make Wayne Huizenga blush. As the Great Depression took its toll on the nation it also sent Mack and the A’s into financial dire straits. Starting with the 1932 sale of Al Simmons (along with Mule Hass and Jimmy Dykes) to the Chicago White Sox for $100,000, Mack proceeded to trade three other future Hall of Famers over the next five seasons. On December 12th, 1933, he sent Lefty Grove to the Boston Red Sox and in 1935 Jimmie Foxx followed him. On that same day in 1933, Mack also traded catcher Mickey Cochrane to the Tigers in exchange for catcher Johnny Pasek and $100,000.
Cochrane had spent nine seasons with Philadelphia. He was the American League MVP in 1928 and helped the club make it to three World Series (winning in 1929 and 1930). When he joined the Tigers his leadership skills were put to the test as he became player-manager of the club. This move proved exceptional as the Tigers won the American League by seven games over the New York Yankees, but lost in the World Series to the St. Louis Cardinals in seven games. Cochrane somehow won the American League MVP in 1934 beating out Lou Gehrig who won the Triple Crown (Gehrig finished fifth). In 1935, Cochrane led the Tigers to their first World Series championship, and even scored the series winning run in game six over the Chicago Cubs.
Cochrane quickly gained popularity among Tigers fans, but the good times were behind him after those first two seasons. In 1936, Cochrane suffered a nervous breakdown, and Del Baker managed the team for 34 games. In 1937, he was beaned by Yankees pitcher Bump Hadley. He nearly died, and while he made it back to the dugout he never played on the field again. Cochrane eventually was fired during the 1938 season after several disputes with management, and replaced by Baker who managed the club until 1942.
Only spending four seasons in Detroit, Cochrane was popular enough to have National Avenue renamed Cochrane Street. In 1969, he was selected by Tigers fans as the greatest Tigers catcher ever. He was honored with other Tigers Hall of Famers during a ceremony in 2000 at Comerica Park. His number 3 was not retired during this ceremony, but many modern-day Tigers fans would argue that shortstop Alan Trammell (who wore 3 from 1977-96) is more deserving of that honor.
Cochrane was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1947, and the Michigan Sports Hall of Fame in 1957. Cochrane was later a scout and vice-president of the Tigers before dying of cancer in 1962.
Benfitting from the financial needs of the A’s, the Tigers grabbed the fire that was needed to lead the club to their first World Series. Unfortunately, medical issues, a near-death experience and a tempermental owner in Walter Briggs possibly kept Cochrane and the Tigers from achieving more. Over the past 40 years Cochrane catchers like Bill Freehan, Lance Parrish and Pudge Rodriguez have come and gone, but Cochrane’s name is still regarded by many as the greatest behind the plate for the Tigers ever.