An Introduction to the Legends of Baseball
| Hank Aaron
| Yogi Berra
| Ty Cobb
| Joe DiMaggio
Lou Gehrig | Rogers Hornsby | Mickey Mantle | Willie Mays | Stan Musial | Cal Ripken Jr
Jackie Robinson | Pete Rose | Babe Ruth | Ted Williams | Cy Young | The Baseball Hall of Fame
Baseball is not unlike a war
Tyrus Raymond Cobb, known as 'Ty' Cobb and nicknamed the 'Georgia Peach' was perhaps the most determined, antisocial, fearless baseball player of all time as well as being one of the most fascinating. He was arguably the best player of the 'Dead-Ball Era1'.
His style was extremely intimidating. According to him, 'Every great batter works on the theory that the pitcher is more afraid of him than he is of the pitcher.' Many players were also afraid of him, but most people simply hated him. His speed when stealing bases often injured basemen, he was hostile to many people and did many other strange things. It's no wonder he was almost uniformly disliked amongst the other major league players. Almost every player ever to come in contact with Ty was jealous of him or despised him or both. When he came to baseball, he started playing better than those who were held as the greatest players in baseball. This ruffled a few feathers, to say the least.
He was even able to play with a 103 degree temperature and completely cut up sides. He prepared for this with intense training by hunting in the off season with heavy weights on his legs. He did everything he could to gain an edge, and it showed in his performance. Most importantly, Cobb knew that he had to work extremely hard to be as good as he wanted to be.
Cobb understood the psychology of each pitcher and used it to his advantage. He also used his study of phrenology2 to find the weaknesses of the pitcher. Cobb loved to embarrass pitchers in order to demoralise them, and used various techniques to do so - anything that would give him an advantage.
Cobb did more than tricks to gain an edge, though. He was genuinely great at batting, and had excellent control. There is a legend that he was being heckled during a game and hit seven consecutive foul balls at the hecklers.
Ty Cobb holds many great records. One of his more significant records is that he holds the highest lifetime batting average - .367. Another important record is the most runs scored, standing at 2,245. One important achievement (which isn't a record, but is quite impressive) is his 4,189 career hits. It stood as the most hits ever until Pete Rose broke it on 11 September, 1985.
Ty Cobb was the first inductee into the baseball Hall of Fame in 1936 earning 222 out of 226 votes (a record 98.2 percent).
His Life and Career
Cobb was born on 18 December, 1886 in Narrows, Georgia. He was raised in a racist time in the South, and it affected his life. He lived on a farm in Royston Georgia where Ty and his father William Herschel Cobb worked together. He was taught the values of perseverance and hard work, which would later show in his playing. When he wasn't working in the fields of their farm, Ty practiced baseball. All his life, (from early childhood), Ty was fiercely competitive. He said in his autobiography 'I was a man who saw no point in losing, if I could win'.
When he was young, he joined the local Royston Team, the Rompers. Around the same time, he started visiting his grandfather for hunting trips3, which he loved. He would later train in the off season by hunting.
When he was 17 years old, Ty tried out for the South Atlantic League for the Augusta Tourists, a minor league team.
Cobb earned a bench position in tryouts for the Tourists' exhibition games. On opening day in 1904, he was given a position in center-field. But after only a few games, Ty was taken off of the team. Luckily for him, he was asked to go to Anniston, Georgia to try out for a semi-professional team. His father is rumoured to have said to him 'Don't come home a failure'.
Cobb made the team along with a friend who had referred him to the tryouts. He did very well and showed a lot of talent. When news went back to his former Augusta team, he was asked to go back. He went back and hit a meagre .237 batting average. The Augusta Tourists wanted him back for the next season anyway, and he demanded the first of his infamous salary increases. He was reluctantly given what he demanded, even although he probably didn't deserve it at the time.
He returned to the Tourists for Spring Training in 1905. A new manager, George Leidy, motivated him to use his talent to play well. By August of 1905, he was leading the league in batting.
When he was 18, he was traded to the Detroit Tigers. At the same time, his mother shot his father to his death when he entered their home through a window. It's unclear if it was by accident or on purpose, as there were rumours circulating questioning her faithfulness. Many thought that she shot him so that he wouldn't find out her infidelity. This traumatised Cobb, and some have speculated that this affected his rough, intense playing style.
His father never saw him play a major league game. He had always been incredibly competitive, but after his father's death he was even more so, feeling that he had to prove himself to his father.
He arrived in Detroit for his first Major League game on 29 August, 1905. He debuted at bat against Jack Chesbro of the New York Americans4 and hit a double. Soon, he would become noted for his strange grip on the bat. The next game on 30 August, he slid for a base head-first only to have a knee dug into his neck. He learned something from that and from then on infamously slid cleat-first into the base, often injuring the basemen.
The Tigers decided to sign him for the 1906 season on a 1,500 dollar contract.
Although he only achieved a batting average of .240 in his 1905 season, he would rise to a .316 batting average in 1906. This marked his first batting average above .300. He would run a record streak of batting averages over .300 for the next 23 seasons.
This is considered the season that Cobb began to play smarter than his opponents. He started employing a thinking style of play that involved a system of bunts and stolen bases.
This year, Cobb also helped lead the Tigers to the Pennant. He would do this in 1907 and 1908 again, bringing the same result each time though - a losing Series. Despite his help, the Tigers wouldn't win another Pennant with Cobb onboard. Cobb would never win a World Series in his career.
When Walter Johnson joined professional baseball, he was a force to be reckoned with. His pitches were amazingly fast and Cobb couldn't hit them like he wanted to. Through his knowledge of phrenology he determined that Johnson was afraid to hit pitchers with fastballs, so Cobb would crowd the plate. Johnson threw balls and eventually slow pitches, which Cobb hit easily. He continued to do this regularly.
Six times in his life, Cobb reached first base, stole second, stole third and then stole home. He did it for the first time in 1907. Very few people can do this.
In 1908, Cobb once again captured the American League batting title with a .324 average and led the Tigers to the World Series. And once again, they lost, this time to Chicago, probably because of weak pitching.
August 1909 saw the greatest controversy Cobb had ever faced. His base-running always raised some eyebrows, since he usually slid into the basemen and knocked them down. One day, he tried to steal first, but the ball beat him to the third baseman 'Home Run' Baker. He hoped to beat Baker to the base by sliding, and slid into Baker. The spikes on his cleats cut Baker in his arm. Many felt that this was crossing the line, though he was never really punished.
This year he won the prestigious Triple Crown of baseball. He hit a .377 batting average, nine home runs and 107 runs batted in.
1910 saw more controversy involving Cobb. Late in the season, Ty Cobb and Napoleon Lajoie of Cleveland were tied for the American League Batting Average title and a free Chalmers car. On the last day of the season, Cobb was slightly ahead and declined to play in the last game so that he could keep his average higher than Lajoie's.
In Lajoie's last game, he was playing against St Louis and got seven hits to capture the Batting Average title. Six of those hits were bunts that should have been caught by the third baseman, but were missed. It emerged that the St Louis manager had instructed the third baseman to not catch them, since the manager, as were many people, was angry and jealous at Cobb consistently outclassing his best players. When this was discovered, Cobb was awarded the Batting Average title by the Baseball Commissioner. After this, a sportswriter named Heywood Broun would sum up the thoughts of the time in his column -
As the world knows now, Tyrus Raymond Cobb is less popular than Napoleon Lajoie. Perhaps Cobb is the least popular player who ever lived. And why? Whether you like or dislike this young fellow, you must concede him one virtue: what he has won, he has taken by might of his own play.
The next season, the Chalmers company decided to sponsor an award for the Most Valuable Player, and the League MVP Award was born.
Perhaps his best year was 1911, when he led the League in almost every major offensive statistic. This year also saw his career high batting average of .420.
May of 1912 saw one of the most famous acts of violence Cobb ever committed. He exchanged insults with a heckler in the crowd, which was nothing new. Cobb had been heckled by hundreds of people. He handled it relatively calmly at first, but asked for the heckler to be removed. After a brief exchange, the heckler suddenly called him a 'half-nigger'. This infuriated Cobb, who ran up 12 rows of seats and beat the heckler.
Cobb was ejected and banned indefinitely. Then the rest of the Tigers stood up for Cobb, and had a players' strike. They protested, and when Cobb couldn't play, they took off their uniforms and sat in the stands with Cobb. Replacement players were used and lost 24-2. They were all fined and Cobb was suspended for ten days, but it was one of the first effective players' strikes.
This year he had a very brief stint as an infielder. He had a knee injury that kept him off the field a few weeks. He couldn't play outfield, so he talked second baseman Hughie Jennings into letting him play there, just so he could get into the batting lineup. He was horrible and made three errors in five opportunities.
This year, he again captured the batting title at .390.
1915 was one of his best seasons ever. It was the year that he stole a record 96 bases. This record stood until broken in 1980 by Rickey Henderson. Around this time, Cobb earned a great reputation as a base stealer. His speed was so great that when one player asked his coach what to do if Cobb started stealing second base, the coach told him to throw it to third.
In 1916, Cobb became the first baseball player to star in a movie. He played himself in the silent, black and white film Somewhere in Georgia. It was a drama by Grantland Rice. He would later make a cameo appearance in Angels in the Outfield in 1951.
He had an impressive 35 game hitting streak in 1917. This was his longest hitting streak and a very impressive streak, especially for that era.
1919 was the year when Babe Ruth was given a place in the Red Sox batting lineup. He premiered as a great slugger, hitting frequent home runs. It should be noted that Cobb was not a power hitter. (In fact, no person before Ruth was really a power hitter.) He had perfected an intelligent style of playing that took advantage of gaps in the outfield, bunts and stealing bases.
Both styles were effective, but Ruth's slugging gave him a better record than Cobb and brought much wider popularity. In their first game against each other, Ruth hit three homers and a triple while all Cobb got was a single. The public loved Ruth and just stopped paying attention to Cobb. This infuriated Cobb. Although the public loved Ruth, people who studied the game still felt that Cobb was the better.
Besides hating Ruth through jealousy and for his style, Cobb hated Ruth personally. His style of life, which involved drinking, womanising and generally doing unchristian things only worsened his contempt for Ruth.
In June 1924, Ruth and Cobb had their most famous of conflicts. Ruth was at bat and the Tigers pitcher threw the ball at him. Ruth warned the next batter, Bob Meusal that Ty Cobb had instructed the pitcher to throw at him. When the ball hit Meusal, he charged at the pitcher and a player riot erupted. Cobb and Ruth almost exchanged blows, but others intervened.
After they both retired though, they became something like friends. They held a charity golf tournament and even spent time together.
In 1921, the Tigers were in seventh place and their manager quit. Ty Cobb became their new manager while still playing center field, which surprised many people because he rarely got along with the other players. He immediately gained some favour by giving the players better conditions in Spring training. Unfortunately, he soon fell out of favour with some unusual practices in the batting lineup. He was too zealous in his contention that right handed batters should face left handed pitchers and vice versa. He often changed the pitcher after one batter, which annoyed the players. Besides this, his frequent visits to the pitchers mound delayed the game and annoyed the fans.
On 19 August, 1921 he collected his 3,000th career hit as well as hitting a .401 batting average.
Cobb was unable to generate much of a better team. His one key mistake was trying to push the other players as hard as he pushed himself. However, he typically blamed the owner of the Tigers for not cooperating with him.
In November 1926 he headed home to Georgia upon mysteriously5 announcing his retirement after a 22 year career for the Detroit Tigers. Evidence surfaced that he was forced to resign as player-manager when allegations about him betting on his own team surfaced. The allegations were placed by Dutch Leonard, who had a grudge against Cobb. After he resigned, Leonard was unable to prove anything and the courts let Cobb return to baseball as a free agent.
He decided not to re-sign with the Tigers though. Instead, he picked the Philadelphia A's. The team was new and bright, unlike the Tigers team he had left.
The 1927 season with the A's was bright and good. They engaged in a close pennant race with the Yankees, but finished in second place in the American League. This was a great season for Cobb and he made his 4,000th career hit.
By 1928, Cobb was an aging giant. He couldn't play as often as he once did because of his age. The rest of the team, however, were relatively young and did well. They ran an unsuccessful Pennant race with the Yankees, and in one of those games, Cobb had his last hit. He then announced his retirement, effective at the end of the 1928 season.
After Cobb's retirement, he spent most of his time hunting, golfing and fishing. He reportedly didn't really enjoy retired life, because he only knew life as a baseball player.
Since Cobb always negotiated so effectively, he valued his money. When he retired, he bought stock in companies like Coca-Cola and General Motors as well as several other now successful companies. He was baseball's first millionaire player. A Ty Cobb Museum opened in Royston Georgia in 1937. He bought a large home and died on 17 July, 1961 from cancer.
After his death, a movie called Cobb was made. The year he died, his autobiography, Cobb was published.
Cobb's behaviour, on and off field was antisocial. He concentrated solely on playing the game, rarely making time for other players off the field. He refused to share hotel rooms with other players on the road and always ate alone. He was simply a difficult person to get along with.
One of the reasons he did not like his team mates was perhaps that none of them were from the South. In fact, few major leaguers were from the South at the time. Detroit being in a far north state, the players and the city did not understand his Southern ideas, not least of which was racism.
From the beginning of his career in 1905, the other players didn't like him. They felt threatened by his power and thought that he would be given any position in the field that he wanted. They also considered him arrogant. In his autobiography, he reasoned that it was better to be arrogant than to be a bad hitter.
On one occasion, he and Matty McIntyre, another outfielder that he particularly despised were arguing in the outfield over who should catch a fly ball. Of course, the ball wasn't caught and the batter made an inside-the-park home run. This led to a fight in a hotel lobby with pitcher Ed Siever (which Cobb apparently won). Although he was fearful enough of his team mates that he usually slept with a loaded gun, the night after the fight he didn't sleep at all, but just stayed up all night with a loaded gun in his lap.
This was not an isolated incident by far. He got in many fights with his team mates, more often than not winning them. It came to the point that some players demanded to be traded to another team.
Somehow, the players all respected Cobb for his baseball skills though. Even those who hated him most recognised his obvious talent for the game.
As Cobb came from the South, where racism was acceptable, he often displayed behaviour that Northerners couldn't accept. He simply felt that blacks were inferior to whites and he wouldn't accept any behaviour from a minority that he found rude. It seemed perfectly fine for him to slap a black person or hit them and simply continue what he was doing. This is how he was raised.
In one case, he was involved in an altercation in the Hotel Euclid in Cleveland. He slapped an elevator operator, and the manager came to argue with Cobb, and the manager hit him with a nightstick. Cobb slashed the manager with a knife and the manager hit Cobb with the nightstick again. There was a warrant placed for Cobb's arrest and he had to go through Canada to get to the 1909 World Series, as police were waiting on the route the rest of the team took. Cobb settled the dispute for 100 dollars in court.
Cobb was often portrayed by the media as a monster6, an image that he used to his advantage. His reasoning was that if he could intimidate a player, he would be able to take advantage of them better. In his autobiography, he said 'It helps you if you help them beat themselves.'
Mind games were used on and off the field. In one case, he turned friendship to his advantage. He was friendly with Joe Jackson, a fellow southerner. In 1911, they were both chasing the batting average title of the year and the Tigers were playing Jackson's team, the White Sox in a six game series. When he saw Jackson before the games, he was hostile to him and snapped. This thoroughly confused Jackson, and he began wondering why Cobb seemed so angry with him. Cobb stated that this helped him claim the title, as Jackson's mind was preoccupied during the series. Cobb finished the season with a .420 average and Jackson with a .408.
A famous legend about Cobb was that he sharpened the spikes on his cleats so that he could injure any basemen that he slid into. Cobb liked people to believe it at the time, to further intimidate them, but later publicly denied doing so.
Cobb also employed another principle that he believed gave him an edge. He wanted to embarrass other teams and other players, not just win. He thought that this would make them expect a loss in the future and not completely try.
Another interesting thing about Cobb was his relentless negotiating of his contracts. He understood the value of money and never settled for a first offer.
There is a legend that demonstrates this.
Cobb was a friend of Joe DiMaggio's family. When Joe was just starting out in the Major Leagues, Cobb offered to help him negotiate a contract with the Yankees. He asked Joe to sit down and write a letter to the Yankees as he dictated. In it, he rejected the initial offer of 3,500 dollars and continued rejecting offers until he received this reply -
Dear Joe. Our final offer is $5,000 per year. And you can tell Ty Cobb that he can stop writing those letters for you
Career Hitting Statistics
|Games||At-Bats||Hits||Doubles||Triples||Home Runs||Runs||RBI||Batting Average||Stolen Bases|