Simply Baseball Notebook's Legends

Ty Cobb

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Rogers Hornsby


Detroit Tigers 1905-26
Philadelphia Athletics 1927-28

On August 30, 1905, a demon was unleashed into Major League Baseball that would terrorize the diamond for the next 23 seasons.  Ty Cobb played the game with a fury that has went unmatched throughout history.  One of the truly great baseball players of all time, Cobb didn't make many friends along the way.

Tyrus Raymond Cobb was born on December 18, 1886 in the small town of Narrows, GA.  His mother, Amanda, was just 12 years old when she married W.H. Cobb and only 15 when she gave birth to Tyrus, the first of three children.

Growing up under a controlling, successful father that tried to push him into medicine and law, young Tyrus chose instead to run free and wild.  Daring and mischievous, Cobb was forced to play baseball behind his father's back.  The stern, respected, W.H. Cobb felt baseball was a game for "ruffians" and did not want his son to be associated with it.

Despite his initial concerns, the elder Cobb eventually relented and allowed his son to play only if his grades were up to par.  Despite being small for his age, Cobb starred on several local teams using superior speed, combativeness, and wit as his weapons.  By age 18, Ty Cobb found himself on the brink of making the major leagues, but then tragedy struck.

W.H. Cobb, who frequently traveled for weeks at a time, suspected his young wife of infidelity and told her he was leaving town.  On the night of August 8, 1905 he returned home only to hide on a window ledge outside of his wife's bedroom.  Amanda, noticing the figure on the ledge, panicked with fear, pulled out a shot gun and fired two shots at the mysterious stranger.  W.H. Cobb died on the scene.

"My father had his head blown off with a shotgun when I was 18 years old -- by a member of my own family," Ty Cobb once said.  "I didn't get over that."

Cobb chose to bottle up that fury and unleash it on opponents on the diamond.  In his major league debut with the Detroit Tigers on August 30, 1905, he lashed a double in his first at bat.  Highlights, however, were few and far between that season, as the rookie hit just .240 in 41 games.  His average would never sink anywhere near that low again.

After hitting .316 in 98 games in 1906, Cobb broke out in 1907, leading the AL in batting average (.350), hits (212), RBI (119), and stolen bases (49), as Detroit captured their first AL pennant. Cobb and the Tigers struggled in the World Series, however, as the team fell to the Cubs in five games and it's star hit just .200.

Detroit won the next two AL pennants but fell in the Fall Classic to Chicago again in 1908, and to Pittsburgh in '09.  The Tigers of that era remain the only team in history to lose three straight World Series.  Cobb would never again appear in a Fall Classic.

From 1907-19, a span of thirteen seasons, Ty Cobb won a unmatched 11 batting titles, and finished second the other two seasons.  He captured the Triple Crown in 1909 (.377, 9 HR, 107 RBI), but his best season came in  1911 when he hit a career high .420, and won the first ever AL MVP award.  Over one four year span (1910-13), he averaged .401.

As adept as he was with the bat, Cobb was as equally dangerous on the base paths.  Known to sharpen his spikes to slash opposing players, the cunning Cobb led the AL in steals six times, and finished with 892 (now fourth all time).

Despite being the most hated man in the game, Cobb became the cause of the first ever players' strike.  In 1912, the Tigers' star was suspended for 10 games after attacking a fan that had been hurling insults at him.  His teammates, angry about the decision, vowed not to play until Cobb was allowed back into the line up.  AL president Ban Johnson forced Detroit owner Frank Navin to field a team of replacement players.  Naturally, the Tigers were slaughtered 25-2 by the Philadelphia Athletics and Cobb persuaded his team to return to the field.

Never a fan of the home run, Cobb held the bat with his hands three inches apart for better control.  When Babe Ruth began swatting home runs in the early 1920s, Cobb grew weary of the questions and praise placed upon "the Bambino."  On May 4, 1925, he told reporters that hitting home runs took no special skill and proceeded to belt three in a game later that day.  To prove it was no fluke, he hit two more the following day.

The Tigers player-manager since 1921, Cobb and Indians' skipper Tris Speaker mysteriously retired following the 1926 season.  Later that winter, allegations surfaced that the two had  conspired to fix games back in 1919.  It soon became apparent that Ban Johnson had forced the them to retire.  After the investigation hit several roadblocks, Commissioner Kensesaw Mountain Landis cleared the two stars of any wrong doing and reinstated them.

Fed up with Detroit's management, Cobb signed on with Connie Mack's Athletics.  Although in his 40's, Cobb hit .357 in 1927 and .323 in 1928, his final season.  In his amazing career, Cobb posted an all-time best .367 batting average and collected 4,191 hits while scoring 2,246 runs (both second all-time).  Retiring with over 90 records, Cobb became an original member of the Hall of Fame in 1936, receiving 222 of 226 votes.

Following his playing days, Cobb fell back on the millions he had made in the stock market. Though he grew increasingly cranky and bitter with age, he always looked out for former ball players by sending them money when times got tough.  On July 17, 1961, after a long battle with cancer, Ty Cobb died in Atlanta at age 74.

-David Zingler, July 2003


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