By In 100 Greatest, Baseball

No. 63: Charlie Gehringer

So, I have this friend everyone calls “Ghost.” We call him that because he has this tendency to just sort of disappear. It’s strange. You will be talking to him, turn around for a second, and he’s gone. You will be working in the chair next to him, and you turn to ask him a question and he’s not there. Then, you turn again, and he’s sitting there. Odd.

Ghost will tell you he always had this elusive quality. Once when he went on a family vacation, he went to the rest room at a gas station and when he came out, his parents had gone. They did not come back for more than an hour. It was at least 30 minutes down the road before they realized he wasn’t sitting in the back seat.

“What did you do?” I asked him.

“I sat down on the curb and waited,” he said. “I knew they’d be back.”

Whatever this trait is — this ability to dissolve into the background — Charlie Gehringer had it in abundance. Gehringer hit .324/.404/.480 in his long career and was a brilliant defensive second baseman for some great teams. And yet, whenever anyone remembered him, they could not help but reflect on how easy it was to overlook him.

“You wind him up on Opening Day,” his teammate Doc Cramer said, “and forget him.”

“He’d say hello at the start of spring training and goodbye at the end of the season,” Ty Cobb said. “And the rest of the time he’d let his bat and glove do all the talking.”

They called him “The Mechanical Man” for his astonishing consistency. “He’s in a rut,” Lefty Gomez said about him, “he goes two-for-five on Opening Day and stays that way all season. But it’s likely his nickname stuck not only because of regularity but because of the unemotional way he played. He almost never spoke. He almost never smiled. He almost never showed anything resembling frustration or surprise or joy. Gehringer told a great story about his days when he played baseball at Michigan. Ray Fisher* was the coach then, and at one point he pulled Gehringer aside at practice and told him, “Don’t get too excited about this game.”

To which Gehringer replied: “Don’t worry. I won’t.”

*This is an aside but interesting: Ray Fisher is one of only a handful of players to be reinstated after being permanently banned from baseball. He was a pretty good pitcher during the final years of Deadball. He was banned in 1921. The story is a bit confusing. He had reluctantly signed a contract with the Reds (for $1,000 less than he made the year before). During the season, he was unhappy and he applied to be baseball coach at Michigan — he apparently wanted to spend more time at home with his family. He would always say Cincinnati manager Pat Moran gave him permission him to interview.

Fisher was offered the job, and the Reds tried to keep him by offering him the grand they’d cut from his salary to stay. He took the Michigan job anyway. The Reds apparently had the league him on the ineligible list based on a technicality — he gave them only seven days of notice. He was required to give them 10. When Moran was interviewed by Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis, he said he had not given Fisher permission. Landis confirmed the lifetime ban.

It didn’t matter too much because Fisher stayed as coach at Michigan for almost 40 years (he actually coached Gerald Ford while working with the football team). But Fisher was on the permanent ineligible list for 60 years before finally being taken off without fanfare in the 1980s.

Charlie Gehringer grew upon a farm just outside Fowlerville, Michigan, a small village in the wide area between Detroit and Lansing. He would say that his parents realized when he was young that Charlie was not cut out for the farm. So — and this is quite different from many of these great baseball stories where the son has to rebel against his parents — Gehringer’s parents actually encouraged him to go to college and explore the world.

Gehringer had been a pitcher in high school and he said that he did not even letter in baseball in college. But he did play recreationally a lot. He would say that — through a friend of a friend — he was able to get a tryout with the Tigers. Those were different days when a player could get an actual tryout with the big league club. Cobb managed the Tigers then and he saw something in Gehringer he liked. The Tigers signed him that day. He played a couple of minor league years in Canada and then as a 23-year-old he became the Tigers every day second baseman in 1926. He would be the Tigers second baseman for the next 16 years.

Bill James has made this excellent point: There might not be a player in baseball history who IMPROVED as steadily and as often as Charlie Gehringer.


As a rookie, Gehringer hit .277 with a .322 on-base percentage and a .399 slugging percentage. He was a shaky fielder without great range.

The next year, his batting average jumped 40 points and his walks almost doubled.

In Year 3, he hit .320/.395/.451 and finished eighth in the MVP voting.

In Year 4, he led the league in runs, hits, doubles, triples and stolen bases. In Year 5, he more or less repeated himself.

As a 30-year-old, he scored 100 runs, hit .325 and, by the numbers, emerged into not just a good defensive second baseman but a fantastic one. The jump of the defensive numbers for Gehringer after he turned 30 is quite jolting.

At 31, he hit a career-high .356, led the league with 134 runs scored, had a career-high 127 RBIs and continued his otherworldly defense. He led the Tigers to their first World Series since 1909. The next year, the Tigers won their first ever World Series. Gehringer hit .330/.409/.502 with 123 runs and 108 RBIs.

At 33, he hit 60 doubles and slugged a career-high .555.

And then — only then — did he have his MVP season when he hit .371, scored 133 runs and slugged .520.

Gehringer was a famously quiet man. Leo Durocher once wrote, after Gehringer supposedly missed a tag on Dizzy Dean in the World Series, that he “hadn’t missed a tag or said a word in 15 years.” Gehringer lived with his mother throughout his career — she was diabetic and he took care of her. He and his mother would go to mass together every morning. He was utterly devoted to family. On the day he was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1949, he was in San Francisco instead preparing for his wedding.

Then, he would not have wanted to give that speech anyway. There are countless great stories about how muted Gehringer was. One of my favorites is that time he showed up at a banquet to speak. He reportedly stood up and said, “I’m known around baseball as saying very little. I’m not going to spoil my reputation. And he sat down.

Gehringer, though, would sometimes say his reputation was overstated.

“It’s not true,” he said. “If somebody asked me a question, I would answer them. If they said, ‘Pass the salt,’ I would pass the salt.

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27 Responses to No. 63: Charlie Gehringer

  1. Craig says:

    I had an intern with the same quality. We called her “Clark Kent,” because every time you looked for her, she was gone.

  2. Chad Meisgeier says:

    Another great article.

    My No. 63 is George Davis.

  3. Mark Daniel says:

    I knew a guy who disappeared a lot too. He was particularly hard to find when it was time to pay the bill.

  4. Dave says:

    One of my all-time favorite players. Clearly not in the Morgan-Hornsby-Collins debate for greatest 2B ever, but just as clearly one of the very best 2B in history outside of those three.

  5. ceolaf says:

    Two sentences from this post that should be considered together by all Hall of Fame voters, and anyone thinking about Pete Rose and the Hall of Fame.

    “But Fisher was on the permanent ineligible list for 60 years before finally being taken off without fanfare in the 1980s.”

    “On the day he was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1949, he was in San Francisco instead preparing for his wedding.”

    Just quoting’.

  6. Michael Green says:

    One story told about Gehringer is that he and his roommate, who was just as quiet, were having dinner when his roommate said, “Charlie, could you pass the salt?” Charlie stiffened and didn’t do anything. The roommate waited and said, “Did I do something wrong?” Charlie said, “You could have pointed.” Apocryphal, I’m sure.

    But Gehringer did an interview for one of Donald Honig’s books, and he was very interesting.

  7. Gareth Owen says:

    My number 63 is “Psychotic Reaction” by The Count Five, but I suspect this is an entirely different kind of list.

  8. DjangoZ says:

    For the record, I’m okay with Ray Fisher being on the HOF ballot.

  9. Baseball Guy says:

    So, the beginning of this article got me thinking…

    I hope Joe does articles on the #300-#400 greatest players in baseball history. I would have to hope that Graig Nettles somehow fits on that list.

    As a kid growing up Graig Nettles was my favorite player. He was a joy to root for. Great fielding, home runs, Yankees championships…

    I remember an ad for his APBA baseball card with his nickname “Puff” being on the card. I wondered what “Puff” was all about.

    It turns out Nettles had a way of showing up and disappearing like Joe’s friend at the opening of the article. This made me think, “I’d love to read a Posnanski essay on Nettles.”

    Then this made me think further, “I’d love to read Posnanski essays on Thurman Munson and Sparky Lyle and Mike Pagliarulo and Roger Maris and Jim Bouton and Joe Gordon and Spud Chandler and…”

    Joe, when this series is done, how about counting down the 100 best Yankees of all time?

    As a ten-year old I thought that Graig Nettles’ great play at third base in Game 3 of the 1978 World Series made him into a sure fire Hall-of-Famer. As I aged, I realized that Nettles wasn’t quite at that mark.

    I wish Nettles was a top tier Hall-of-Famer. Not just so that he’d be enshrined in the Hall, but more that I’d be eagerly awaiting the Posnanski essay on him..

    I’ll have to wait, I guess, for the essays counting down from the top 400 players. Would Nettles make that list?

    Joe, how about a random essay on the 372nd greatest player of all-time – Graig Nettles?

    • Nate Tungsten says:

      You should say “Graig Nettles” more.

    • invitro says:

      The Hall of Stats has Puffy ranked #133.

      I would love a #400-101 countdown after this, but I don’t think it’s gonna happen. You know what we should do is make a project — write it ourselves. Divide up players and everyone writes an essay on like three players. Then put it together.

  10. Daniel says:


    How about the 100 Greatest Royals of All-Time? 😀

  11. College Wolf says:

    Over/Under a May 1st completion date for this Top 100 series? Lol. Predictions?!?

  12. BobDD says:

    Just have a poll or something for all the BRs to vote a top 100 of who they want to get the Poz treatment.

  13. tombando says:

    Gehringer did everything well save toot his own horn, so winds up being a relative afterthought, kinda like the state of Delaware.

  14. Huskergut says:

    Strange how he had his best years we’ll into his 30s. Sounds like a PED user to me.

    • I’m just waiting for the “greenie guy” to jump on your comment and tell us why every player of every generation used some form of PEDs and how we are all hypocrites for being anti steroids.

    • Which hunt? says:

      He was clearly using Olde Doctor Mott’s Miracle Grape Seede Tonic! It cures constipation, baldness, and the gout permanently! Think of all those extra pounds he didn’t have to carry around.

  15. Your friend Ghost sounds awfully similar to Batman.

  16. Dr. Jay says:

    Didn’t Gehringe lead 2B in errors and fielding percentage in the same season?

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