In 1903, Charles Leonard Gehringer was born in Fowlerville, Michigan. He grew up there and then attended the University of Michigan for one year before signing to play baseball for the Detroit Tigers. He joined the team briefly in the 1924 and 1925 seasons and then became the starting second basemen in 1926, a job that he held until he left for service in the Navy in 1942.
Gehringer had a spectacular career, hitting above .300 thirteen seasons and finishing with a career batting average of .320. Ty Cobb, who was managing the Tigers when Gehringer arrived from the minor leagues, took credit for recognizing that his amazing bat control gave him remarkable abilities as a hitter. Compared to today’s star hitters, Gehringer just did not strike out. For sixteen seasons, Gehringer was the Tiger’s starting second baseman, playing in most of their games. At the end of those seasons, his strike-out totals ranged from a low of 16 to a high of 42. Although Gehringer had some power, he was never compared to his first baseman, Hank Greenberg. Gehringer’s speed allowed him to turn many singles into doubles so he drove in many of his runs with his doubles. Indeed, early in his career, Gehringer was fast enough to lead the league in stolen bases in 1929. His batting and defense were crucial to propelling the Tigers to the World Series three times: in 1934 when they lost to the St. Louis Cardinals in seven games, in 1935 when they beat the Chicago Cubs for the World’s Championship and in 1940 when the lost to the Cincinnati Reds in seven games. For five straight years in the 1930s, Gehringer got more than 200 hits in the season. In 1937, he hit .371 and won the Most Valuable Player award. Six times he was chosen for the American League All Star team. This is quite an accomplishment since he played with the Tigers for 11 years before the first All Star game.
The mid-1930s were, perhaps, the most troubled years in the history of the city of Detroit since the Americans surrendered it to the British in the War of 1812. Vehicle production in the Depression fell to one-quarter what it was in the late 1920s. Were it not for various welfare and public works programs, it is quite possible that some Detroit residents would have died from deficiency diseases. After the city ran out of money, Mayor Frank Murphy paid city employees with script, not with cash. Frank Navin, however, invested in his Detroit Tigers and produced winning ball clubs. Attendance—with tickets priced at either $1.00 or fifty cents—soared with a total of more than 900,000 in 1934 and, for the first time, the Tigers attendance went above a million in 1935. There were 16 major league teams at that time. In 1934 and 1935, the Tigers accounted for one-third of total major league attendance. The 1934 infield was a phenomenal group of hitters. Their runs-batted-in total was 538: 139 from Hall of Famer Hank Greenberg at first; 127 from Hall of Famer Charlie Gehringer at second, 100 from long-time Detroit city councilmen Billy Rogell who played short, 96 from third basemen Marv Owen and then 76 more from manager and Hall of Famer Mickey Cochrane who was the catcher. They played in a Navin Field that did not have the short porch in right field. Sixty nine years later the Tigers fielded an impotent last-place team that, in total, drove in only 553 runs.
Charlie Gehringer was a quiet, undemonstrative and taciturn man. He lacked flash but everyone in baseball knew about his excellent fielding, his consistently high batting average and his power hitting, albeit for doubles rather than home runs. Lefty Gomez, the Yankee’s Hall of Fame pitcher, called him the Mechanical Man because of his unfailingly consistent performance as the most accomplished second basemen of his era.
His achievements fell off sharply in 1941 when he was 38. He began the next seasons with the Tigers but then served three years in the Navy. He did not attempt a return to playing baseball after he was mustered out of service but joined the Tigers in administrative capacities. Just seven years after playing for the Tigers, Charlie Gehringer was elected to baseball’s Hall of Fame. During the Walter O. and Spike Briggs ownership, he served as General Manager from 1951 to 1953 and then continued as Vice-President until 1959 when he retired. For many years subsequently, he chaired the committee that selected veteran players for the Hall of Fame. Charles Gehringer died in Bloomfield Hills at the age of 90.
Sculptors: Julie Amrany, Omni Amrany and Gary Tillery
Date of Dedication: 2000
Use in 2005: Public Art honoring the baseball tradition in Detroit
City of Detroit Local Historic District: Not Listed
State of Michigan Registry of Historic Sites: Not Listed
National Register of Historic Places: Not Listed
Photograph: Ren Farley; September 14, 2005
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