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by Harold Friend
There wasn't a murmur of protest. In 1934, Lou Gehrig won the American League's Triple Crown, batting .363, hitting a career high 49 home runs, and driving in 165 runs. Detroit Tigers' playing manager, Mickey Cochrane, was voted the American League's Most Valuable Player.
The Tigers Won the Pennant
Mickey Cochrane batted .320, hit 2 home runs, and had 60 RBIs, numbers that pale in comparison to Gehrig's, but the Tigers won the pennant, the Yankees finished second, seven games behind, and player evaluation was not statistics-driven.
Mickey Cochrane's Season
Baseball writers described Mickey Cochrane as one of the most inspiring, dynamic leaders in baseball history who was the bellwether of the Tigers pennant drive. He was a great defensive catcher, making only eight errors the entire season, while handling the Tigers' pitching staff with great skill.
Lou Gehrig Was Not Even the Yankees' MVP?
What is more amazing is that Tigers' second baseman Charlie Gehringer finished second in the voting and Yankees' ace Lefty Gomez finished third. Triple Crown winner Lou Gehrig wasn't even considered the most valuable Yankee. Gomez finished at 26-5, with a 2.33 ERA and a 175 ERA+.
The key to Cochrane's selection was that in the 1934, the Baseball Writers' Association of America defined "Most Valuable Player" literally. The key parts of the instructions given to voters are as follows:
- Actual value of a player to his team, that is, strength of offense and defense.
- Number of games played.
- General character, disposition, loyalty and effort.
Second is Not First
Mickey Cochrane led the Tigers to the pennant. There is little doubt that if he had not been their catcher, the Yankees would have beaten them out. The writers were not seduced by Lou Gehrig's dominant season, which was not enough to lead his team to the top. Of course the Yankees would not have finished second without Gehrig, but second is not first.
Lou Gehrig was more valuable to the second place Yankees than Cochrane was to the first place Tigers, but the key must have been that Cochrane's (and second place finisher Gehringer's) contributions led to a championship.
Triple Crown Winners
Another factor is that in 1934, few realized how difficult it was (and would be) to win the Triple Crown. From 1901 to 1933, Nap Lajoie (1901), Ty Cobb (1909), Rogers Hornsby (1922, 1925), Chuck Klein (1933), and Jimmy Foxx (1933) were Triple Crown winners. Yes, in 1933, each league had a winner, which made Gehrig winning it the following year less remarkable, but since 1934, the only winners have been Joe Medwick (1937), Ted Williams (1942, 1947), Mickey Mantle (1956), Frank Robinson (1966), and Carl Yastrezemski (1967). Ted Williams was not MVP in either of his Triple Crown seasons (Joe Gordon in 1942 and Joe DiMaggio in 1947).
Lou Gehrig, Mickey Cochrane, Albert Pujols, and Joe Mauer
Lou Gehrig was the most valuable player in the American League in 1934. Mickey Cochrane was the most valuable player on the Detroit Tigers in 1934.
If the voting were to occur today, Lou Gehrig would be a unanimous MVP selection. The St. Louis Cardinals won the 2009 National League Central Division. They had the league's fourth best record and didn't win a playoff game, but Albert Pujols had a dominant season in which he batted .327, hit 47 home runs, batted in 135 runs, all of which Gehrig topped in 1934. But this is 2009, and Pujols was a unanimous selection.
Minnesota Twins' catcher Joe Mauer was the American League MVP. Mauer received all but one first place vote. He had a better offensive season than Mickey Cochrane had in 1934, batting .365, which is the highest batting average of any catcher in history, hitting 28 home runs, and batting in 96.
If a modern player had Mickey Cochrane's 1934 season and were pitted against a player who had a Lou Gehrig 1934 season, he wouldn't have a chance of winning the MVP. It is a different century, and it is a different game. Not a better game. A different game.
By The Associated Press.. (1934, October 19). COCHRANE CHOSEN IN BASEBALL POLL :Tiger Manager Is Voted Most Valuable American League Player for Second Time. GEHRINGER 2 POINTS BACK Rowe, Gehrig and Gomez Among the Leaders While Foxx Is Ranked in Tenth Place.. New York Times (1857-Current file),p. 31. Retrieved November 25, 2009, from ProQuest Historical Newspapers The New York Times (1851 - 2006). (Document ID: 118005480).