One of baseball’s most surehanded second basemen and a dependable hitter, the taciturn and undemonstrative Gehringer was called The Mechanical Man. “You wind him up Opening Day and forget him,” teammate Doc Cramer said. Detroit manager Mickey Cochrane explained, “Charlie says `hello’ on Opening Day, `goodbye’ on closing day, and in between hits .350.” His silence and lack of color were legendary. During a game in the 1930s Detroit shortstop Bill Rogell captured a windblown pop fly well on the second-base side of the infield and accidentally spiked Gehringer. “I can catch those too,” Gehringer said mildly and limped back to his position.
He covered second base in a smooth, seemingly effortless style. He had quick hands and rarely lost a ball he got his glove on. Gehringer led all AL second basemen in fielding percentage nine times, led or tied for the lead in assists seven times, and had the most putouts three times. Baseball authority H.G. Salsinger wrote: “He lacks showmanship, but he has polish that no other second baseman, with the exception of the great Napoleon Lajoie, ever had. He has so well-schooled himself in the technique of his position that he makes the most difficult plays look easy.”
Following one year at the University of Michigan, Gehringer was signed by the Tigers in 1924 on the recommendation of former Tigers star Bobby Veach. The legend persists that then-manager Ty Cobb doubted the slim youngster’s ability to hit ML pitching. Cobb later said, “I knew Charlie would hit and I was so anxious to sign him that I didn’t even take the time to change out of my uniform before rushing him into the front office to sign a contract.” In 1926 Gehringer became the Tigers’ regular second baseman.
A reliable hitter with good power, he led the AL in batting in 1937 with a .371 mark. He was chosen MVP that season. He had more than 200 hits in seven different seasons and led the league in hits and runs scored in 1929 and 1934. He led once in triples and twice in doubles, ranking tenth all-time in two-base hits. Seven times he had more than 100 RBI. In 1929 he topped the AL in stolen bases. His controlled, lefthanded batting swing made him difficult to strike out. In 16 full seasons, his strikeouts ranged from 16 to 42.
Gehringer starred for Tigers pennant winners in 1934, 1935, and 1940. He slumped badly in 1941, then entered the Navy for three years. In 1949 he was elected to Baseball’s Hall of Fame. From 1951 through 1953 he served as Detroit’s GM and vice president, continuing in the latter position through 1959. At the time of baseball’s centennial celebration in 1969, a special committee of baseball writers named him the game’s greatest living second baseman.