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Eastern Shore Legends: Mickey Cochrane

Two-time MVP was catching powerhouse in ’20s, ’30s
May 7, 2020

Mickey Cochrane’s time on the Eastern Shore was not long, but it was instrumental in making him into one of baseball’s all-time greats. The legendary catcher started his professional career in Dover before becoming a two-time American League MVP and three-time World Series champion. Gordon Stanley Cochrane was born in

Mickey Cochrane’s time on the Eastern Shore was not long, but it was instrumental in making him into one of baseball’s all-time greats. The legendary catcher started his professional career in Dover before becoming a two-time American League MVP and three-time World Series champion.

Gordon Stanley Cochrane was born in Bridgewater, Mass., on April 6, 1903, the son of immigrant parents from Canada’s Prince Edward Island and the now-Northern Irish County Tyrone. He earned the nickname “Black Mike” due to his fierce competitiveness in all sports.

While studying at Boston University in the early 1920s, he played baseball, basketball, and football. He considered playing pro football, but he would not have been able to support his family in the then-fledgling NFL. Thus he set his sights on Minor League Baseball.

Cochrane made his professional debut in the Eastern Shore Baseball League, signing with the Dover Senators in 1923, just the league’s second year in existence. He played under the pseudonym Frank King for reasons unknown and became the Senators’ catcher because the team did not have one. In his 65 games for Dover, the 20-year-old Cochrane hit .322 with 12 doubles, six triples, and five home runs. Thanks largely to the young rookie’s play, the Senators went 51-24 and won the ESBL pennant for manager Edward “Jiggs” Donahue.

The next season Cochrane signed with the Portland Beavers of the Pacific Coast League, continuing his development at the plate by batting .333 with seven homers in 99 games. He then caught the attention of famed Philadelphia Athletics owner-manager Connie Mack; the A’s signed him in time for the 1925 season.

Building on the catching skills he picked up in the minors, Cochrane learned much from veteran A’s backstop Cy Perkins, who had been a regular Shibe Park since 1918. Not that he needed much help: he was a star from the onset, batting .331 with a .845 OPS in his rookie season – in a time when there was no Rookie of the Year Award, he would’ve been a shoo-in – for a Philadelphia team that finished second in the AL standings.

All-time batting champion Ty Cobb closed out his storied career with the A’s in 1927 and 1928, passing along some of his knowledge to teammates. Under the tutelage of the Georgia Peach, Cochrane truly blossomed. He won his first MVP award in his age 25-season of 1928, hitting .293 with 48 extra-base hits and an .859 OPS over 131 games. In an era long before the designated hitter, Cochrane suited up as catcher in an astounding 86 percent of Philadelphia’s contests.

After years of finishing just behind the Washington Senators and New York Yankees in the standings, Cochrane and the A’s finally broke through in 1929, winning three straight AL pennants and back-to-back world championships in 1929 and 1930. Despite the team’s success, the famously frugal Mack sold off the team in the early 1930s. Cochrane was no exception: the A’s flipped him to the Detroit Tigers in 1934.

Success in the Motor City was immediate for Cochrane, who became player-manager. He won his second MVP award in 1934 – beating out Lou Gehrig in his Triple Crown season – and led the Tigers to their first pennant since the days of Cochrane’s eventual teammate, Ty Cobb. Though they lost the World Series to the famed “Gashouse Gang” Cardinals, Detroit claimed redemption the next season, winning their first world title. Cochrane played in the brand-new All-Star Game those first two seasons with the Tigers, reaching the pinnacle of his fame by appearing on the cover of Time magazine on October 7, 1935.

Cochrane became the third catcher inducted into Cooperstown in 1947. BaseballHall.org

The fame came at a price for Cochrane, though. He suffered a nervous breakdown during the next season, which was compounded by his added duties as the Tigers’ general manager. His life took a turn for the worse in 1937 when Yankees pitcher Irving “Bump” Hadley accidently hit Cochrane in the back of the head (batting helmets were unheard of at the time and would not become mandatory until 1956). His skull fractured and his life threatened, Cochrane would never play again.

Cochrane stayed active after his playing days came to an end. He served in the U.S. Navy during World War II alongside fellow catching legend Bill Dickey and future catching superstar Yogi Berra. In 1947, Cochrane was voted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame, becoming the third catcher inducted after Roger Bresnahan and William “Buck” Ewing. His frame on the Philadelphia Baseball Wall of Fame sits in the Philadelphia Athletics Museum in Harboro, Penn. Detroit named a road after him outside of old Tiger Stadium and his name is emblazoned across the outfield wall of Comerica Park with the franchise’s other retired names and numbers.

Perhaps the greatest honor of all, in 1931 an Oklahoma miner named Mutt Mantle named his son after Cochrane, already a legend in the prime of his career. Mickey Mantle honored his namesake and then some, becoming one of the most storied athletes of the 20th century.

A heavy smoker, Cochrane passed away from lymphatic cancer at age 59 in 1962. Nearly 40 years later he was nominated for the MLB All-Century Team, and the Sporting News deemed him the 65th-greatest player of all-time. Cochrane’s .320 career batting average stood as the best-ever for a catcher for decades, surpassed only recently by Minnesota star Joe Mauer.