AN ARTICLE FROM THE MONTHLY BASEBALL MAGAZINE
Fate attached itself to Lou Gehrig like a thin gossamer sheet, covering him softly and then fluttering back and forth like a butterfly. It whispered moments of glory into his ear, teasing him with greatness and quickly snatching it away from him. His body, wide and muscular was capable of unbelieveable things and yet in the end destroyed him.
His career fitted itself with shadows that always followed him. Time and again he would do something wonderful only to have some event overshadow him. Some moment would eclipse his actions and diminish his achievement.
The Babe, a cataclysm of almost god-like ability, the embodiment of Herculean talent, eclipsed Gehrig in game after game, year after year. In another time, under different circumstances, Gehrig would have stood alone. The stage would have been his. How could anyone have challenged Ruth in anything? The aura of the Babe covered Gehrig constantly throughout his career.
We go to another period of Gehrigs life. Something touched his inner being and enabled him to accomplish a baseball feat that had never happened before. He hit four homeruns in one game and only an incredible catch by Al Simmons prevented him from hitting a fifth. For that time it was unheard of. But once again time fooled him & fate intervened. Instead of the press featuring Gehrigs feat, the headlines the next day read, John McGraw, the Little Napolean retires from the Giants after managing them for thirty years. Gehrigs monumental four homeruns were relegated to small blurbs and given passing mention.
1934 was a wonderful year for Gehrig. He hit .363, had 49 homeruns and 169 RBIs. All three categories led the American League. He won the Triple Crown and of course he won the MVP that year too but wait a minute he didnt win it that year! Mickey Cochrane, Black Mike was the winner. How could that be? How does a man who wins the Triple Crown not win the MVP? Cochranes numbers were not even close to Gehrigs that year.
We are all aware of the iconic stature of Lou Gehrig. He was a colossus, just a step or two below Ruth. His tragic death made him legendary. Black Mike though is another story. Fate embraced him in a different way and dealt him a blow that to an extent matched Gehrigs.
Nobody during his time was an overall better catcher. His stocky, coal-miner like body, moved gracefully around the plate whether digging balls out of the ground or throwing out batters attempting to steal. He still holds the highest lifetime batting average for a catcher. He was brilliant at calling a game, tenacious, and filled with a willpower that was honored with a Hall of Fame selection in 1947. His hatred for losing made his temper unbearable. In the dugout, the players would give him as wide a girth as they could. After a loss he would pace back and forth and anything he could lay his hands on would end up flying somewhere across the room. His personal life suffered because of it as well. A competitive fire burned within him. At times it would become unbearable and prove too much for him to handle.
In 1936 Black Mike was consumed by it. Images, moments, plays, ballplayers, tumbled around in his head. He could not communicate with people without it costing him an emotional, draining effort. There were people who were conspiring against him, efforts were being made to usurp his authority in all phases of his life, and nobody but nobody understood what he was all about (or so he thought). For days on end he would keep to himself. On the playing field it was clear that his ability was being impaired by what was going on inside him. Something had to be done and then it was done by Cochrane himself. He suffered a severe nervous breakdown and had to be hospitalized. He received treatment for several months and then recuperated for the rest of the season.
Coming back in 1937, he seemed to be handling things well enough. His skills were still there. The temper and fierce desire were still there also but he seemed to be handling it well. There was a control that hadnt been there before. And then he faced Bump Hadley.
Bump Hadley was a good, tough pitcher who believed in doing everything he could to win a game. Not known as a dirty pitcher he was however not adverse to throwing a tight pitch to a batter when he felt it was called for. Facing Hadley on a bright, cool day in Yankee Stadium, Mickey Cochrane hit a towering homerun into the centerfield stands. As Black Mike circled the bases it seemed apparent that Hadley wasnt too pleased about things. When Cochrane came up to bat again, Hadley threw a fastball which careened off Cochranes head. In those days players did not wear helmets. The blow fractured his skull. For ten days afterwards he hovered between life and death. At one time things looked so bad that some of the doctors attending him felt that it was just a matter of time before he would be gone. Maybe that towering force within him took over but in time he improved and then was out of danger. After awhile he was told that his playing days were over and he now had to learn to live a different kind of life.
He went on to manage and later was the general manager with Philadelphia for awhile. Business ventures failed, money disappeared, alcohol stepped in and Black Mike, fierce, a whirlpool of tempestuous energy, was reduced to accepting handouts and charity from friends and others.
Gordon Stanley Cochrane and Lou Gehrig became historically intertwined with each other in 1934. It was Gehrigs fate to once again become eclipsed by the doings of someone else. Cochrane won the Most Valuable Player award, Gehrig although he achieved a Triple Crown, did not. Cochrane had a very good year, Gehrig had a fantastic year.
Once again, as it had so many times before, fate twisted, turned, and slithered over and past Lou Gehrig. In the end though, time and destiny shortened both their careers and tragedy culminated in the final chapter of their lives.
GEHRIG IN 1934: 210 (HITS) 40 (DBLS) 6 (TRPLS) 49 (HRs) 165 (RBIs) .363 (BA)
COCHRANE IN 1934: 140 (HITS) 32 (DBLS) 1 (TRPL) 2 HRs) 76 (RBIs) .320 (BA)