All-Time A's #6:
To many the catcher is the most important player on the Diamond. He's more involved with every aspect of the game than anybody else. He calls the pitches, he calms the pitchers, he is responsible for curbing the running game and virtually every defensive play he is required to make requires top notch reflexes and a hard, precise throw. On top of that, he's also asked to hit. Not surprisingly, most catchers lag behind in the offensive department.
Who are the greatest catchers of all-time? Bench, Campenella, Berra, Gibson, Rodriguez, Campenella, Piazza and, of course, Mickey Cochrane are included in any debate. Piazza is almost unquestionably the best hitter in the group but his defense is reflective of a catcher picked in the 62nd round. For all-around play, few ever can match the grit, hustle or defensive prowess of Black Mike. Even fewer put up the offensive numbers that allowed him to win two MVPs. Putting those traits together leaves him in truly rarefied territory.
Cochrane's career began in 1925 with something of a dubious distinction. He became the first player since the turn of the century to hit three homeruns in a single game ... while failing to hit ten over the course of the season. He hit six in 134 games for the Philly A's while batting .331. The 22 year old had joined the A's after a very successful career at Boston University where he was the Quarterback of the foot ball team, a trainer and a coach ... when he was not busy starring for the baseball team.
Cochrane won two MVPs. Oddly enough, neither of them were any either of his two best seasons with the bat. In 1933 he had his best year with the bat, hitting .322 while knocking 15 homeruns and 49 extra base hits while walking more than 100 times. His 156 OPS+ was spectacular by any standards, but especially so for one of the best defensive catchers of his time. That same year, though, his teammate, Jimmie Foxx was peaking and posted an astounding OPS+ of 200, winning his second consecutive MVP.
Cochrane's second best year led the A's to their third consecutive World Series in 1931. Despite Cochrane's great year, he had a poor series and he failed to inspire his teammates to the peaks they had maintained for the past three years. The A's failed in their pursuit of a three-peat, dropping game seven to the Cardinals on October 10. Ten days later, however, Cochrane's inspiration lived again as two proud parents in Spavinaw, Oklahoma named their brand new baby boy Mickey Mantle, after the A's gritty catcher.
As has been the case far too often in the A's history, Cochrane was let go following the 1933 season as the team cut costs and headed into oblivion. He was sold to the Detroit Tigers where he became a player-coach. In nine seasons for the A's he batted .321, hit 108 homeruns and was the unquestioned leader both despite and because of his fiery competitiveness. After a tough loss, the A's clubhouse could be an unpleasant place to be as Cochrane and Lefty Grove would hurl anything that wasn't nailed down along with plenty of obscenities - earning Cochrane the nickname Black Mike.
Cochrane would continue to prove his many talents. As manager, he led the Tigers to 2 World Series in his five years, winning one. His .582 winning percentage is the highest of any Tigers manager who spent at least one year at the helm and he managed his own usage well enough to earn MVP honors his first year with the Tigers.
While still a great player, Cochrane's playing career ended abruptly on May 25, 1937. A fastball from Yankee Bump Hadley connected straight with his head, fracturing his skull and leaving the unconscious Cochrane with a visible dent in his head. Cochrane was in critical condition for two days and was even read his last rites. He recovered however and finished the season and one more as Tiger's manager.
During World War II, Cochrane was commissioned Lieutenant Commander and served as the coach of a naval base's team - going 48-2 in 1944. After the war he bounced around in several position for the A's, Yankees and Tigers.