I doubt any marches were staged. I can’t imagine the fans showing up and dressing in the team colors of the opponents. Certainly no sports talk radio back then, so no rabble-rousing would have been going on in that manner. No websites to get the blood boiling. No fans in other cities holding up placards screaming a similar two-word chant.
But were there “Fire Gehringer” signs in the 1950s in Detroit? Did anyone stop stuffing telephone booths or sitting on flagpoles or put their burger, fries, and malt dinner on hold long enough to get their cardigan in a knot over the abysmal performance of Charlie Gehringer as Tigers GM?
Even a generation later — when I was actually around to see it — I don’t recall much of a movement to kick Dickie Vitale out of town when he was ruining the Pistons. I think that was because it all happened so fast, though — leaving us too stunned to react. Besides, the owner gave him the ziggy with a quick trigger, though not quick enough to stop the hemorrhaging of one franchise and the dynasty-rebuilding of another.
Great players, or loudmouthed college coaches, don’t a good general manager make, necessarily. Obviously. Nor do hotshot sons of GMs, or radio announcers, or PR guys. We’ve had ’em all in Detroit.
Gehringer, as the MUCH more successful player
Maybe no GM has been allowed to hang around long enough to compile the mind-numbing 24-72 record that Matt Millen has forged with the Lions. It’s all relative. Ninety-six NFL games are like 972 MLB games, or 492 NBA/NHL contests. And none of the above — with the exception of the Boy Wonder Randy Smith (the son of Tal Smith) were in Detroit anywhere near as long as Millen. Even Elgin Baylor, mostly unsuccesful during his interminable run with the Los Angeles Clippers, has tasted the playoffs on occasion.
But Gehringer, the marvelous, Hall of Fame second baseman for the Tigers, was the first in Detroit to display his decidedly non-knack for being an executive when the team hired him on August 10, 1951. But unlike Millen, who was plugged into the NFL as a longtime TV analyst, Gehringer had been out of baseball for about ten years.
“I hated the job,” he recalled years later. “I had been out (of baseball) for ten years. I didn’t know who was and who wasn’t.”
Not that it stopped him from trying trades. Gehringer, like Vitale a quarter-century or so later, ran amok, like a kid with a cache of bubble gum cards in front of a drugstore with his pals.
In ’52, Gehringer shuffled his deck of bubble gum cards fevrishly. He traded George Kell. He picked up Johnny Pesky from the Red Sox. He got Walt Dropo. He sent Dizzy Trout packing, along with Kell. Hoot Evers, too, was dealt. So was Vic Wertz. He fired his manager and gave the job to one of his pitchers, Fred Hutchinson. When the dust settled, the Tigers finished 50-104 and dead last in the league, 14 games out of 7th place.
In 1953, the Tigers won ten more games but that was still only good enough for sixth place, 16 games out of fifth. And again Gehringer tried trading his way out of quicksand. Among those Gehringer picked up that season was Ralph Branca, famous for giving up Bobby Thomson’s home run in the 1951 NL playoff.
After ’53, Gehringer was out — his record in two seasons 110-198. A winning percentage of .357 — awful but still 100 points higher than Millen’s .250 with the Lions.
Fifty years after the Tigers hired Gehringer, the Lions inked Millen.
Matt Millen, it appeared, had all the right stuff to make good decisions about football. He was an outstanding middle linebacker who played in nothing but winning programs: Penn State, the Oakland Raiders, the San Francisco 49ers, the Washington Redskins. He was connected to the league by virtue of his work with Fox Sports. He knew good football people.
Sadly, Millen never surrounded himself with those good people. He never created a football posse and delegated to them key areas of expertise. He could have, from the beginning, hired some of the most brilliant minds in the game — folks who would have leapt at the chance to work for him and Bill Ford Sr. But he tried to do it all himself, and now, Matt Millen is damaged goods. He can’t hope to attract those kinds of people now.
Doesn’t have the same ring to it, does it?