In this regular feature, we will help you acquaint yourself with some of the finest practitioners of the most thankless task in baseball to ever don the “tools of ignorance” for our beloved Chicago Baseball teams. This week we feature Mike Tresh.
Can you name someone who was born in Hazelton PA, was a catcher, and was involved in big league baseball in Chicago? OK, can you name another?
Mike Tresh was born in Hazleton in 1914, but he went to high school in Detroit, where he caught the attention of the Tigers while playing for Southwestern HS in their backyard.
The Tigers signed him, then t age 18 he started playing the Moline in the Mississippi Valley League, which was D level baseball. Yes, there was once such a thing as D ball. He didn’t set the world on fire, hitting .204 with only three extra base hits, all doubles.
The following year he got moved up to C ball, with Shreveport in the Dixie League. He actually got going there, hitting .300 with a couple home runs before getting promoted to A ball, Beaumont of the Texas League. At age 19, he was still a little overmatched there, hitting .243.
For the 1935 season, he managed to play in A, B and C ball. He had the most success that year in B ball, with Springfield of the Illinois-Indiana-Iowa league. There he hit .352 in 125 at bats.
He spent all of 1936 with Toledo, still in the Tigers system, but at AA. He had a pretty decent year, hitting .277.
In 1937, he played in Portland of the Pacific Coast league, still in AA, with a few games in Toledo. Up at the big club, Mickey Cochrane was winding down his Hall of Fame career, but Rudy York was making a name for himself as a big power hitter, and he and Hank Greenberg combined for 75 home runs. So there was really nowhere in Detroit for Tresh.
So in December 1937 he was traded to the White Sox in a 6 player deal, and he had a shot at playing major league baseball.
He only caught 10 games in 1938, as 37 year old Luke Sewell still held the starting catching job.
In 1939, he became the starting catcher for the White Sox, playing in 119 games and slashing 259/377/284. Not altogether bad numbers for a starting catcher on a fourth (out of eight in those days) place team.
In 1940 he came into his own, slashing 281/349/340, and hitting his first major league home run. He finished in a three-way tie for 20th in MVP voting, as the award went to Greenberg.
Tresh stayed with the Sox throughout the war, and caught all the team’s games in 1945, making him one of three 20th century catchers to catch all his team’s games in one season.
After the 1948 season, the Sox waived him and the defending world champion Cleveland Indians picked him up. This enabled him to appear in the cinematic tour de force “The Kid From Cleveland“, in which a troubled youth (played by Russ Tamblyn best known for his role in “West Side Story”, along with being father to Amber Tamblyn, actress and wife of David Cross) gets adopted by the team to keep him out of trouble. While it’s not exactly “Citizen Kane”, it at least put a few extra fishnagels into Tresh’s pocket.
After the 1949 season, Tresh was done as a player, but he spent some time as a scout. And while he never got to play in a World Series, his son Tom played in three with the Yankees, 1962-64. And both were all-stars, Mike in 1945 (although there was no game), Tom in 1962 for both games, and in 1963.
Mike Tresh passed away in 1966 after a battle with cancer.