Born in Kearny, New Jersey, Tighe joined the professional ranks in 1936 as a catcher with the Charleston Senators, a Detroit farm club in the Class C Middle Atlantic League. A right-handed batter, he rose no further as a player than Class A1, two levels below the major leagues, with the Beaumont Exporters of the Texas League in 1938–39.
The following season, Tighe became a manager in the minor leagues. He was a Detroit coach for the latter half of the 1942 American League season, then resumed his minor league managerial career from 1944–53.
He was again named to the Tigers' coaching staff in 1955–56, and replaced his boss, Bucky Harris, as Detroit's manager following the 1956 season. Tighe led the Tigers to a 78–76, fourth-place finish in 1957, but when Detroit faltered early during the 1958 campaign, he was released in favor of Bill Norman. Tighe's career managing record: 99 wins, 104 defeats (.488).
He later managed and scouted in the Milwaukee Braves organization before returning to the Tigers' farm system, winning the 1967 Governors' Cup championship and the 1968 International League regular season pennant at the helm of the Toledo Mud Hens.