Tyrus Raymond Cobb
Nickname: The Georgia Peach
Born: Dec. 18, 1886 in Narrows, Ga.
Died: July 17, 1961 in Atlanta, Ga.
Debut: 1905 | Pos: OF
Ht: 6’1″ | Wt: 175 | B: L | T: R
>> Visit the Ty Cobb biography on Baseball Almanac for complete statistics.
One of the greatest tributes to the ability of Ty Cobb rests in the the fact that, when he retired after the 1928 season, he held 90 major records in professional baseball. Cobb’s ability, as great as it was, often played second fiddle to his reputation as one of the toughest players to ever take the field.
One of the funnier incidents attributed to Cobb comes when an interviewer asks Cobb how he would hit under the baseball conditions of the late 1950s. Cobb replied, “Oh, I’d hit .310, .315!” The interviewer asked Cobb why he would only hit .310. Cobb replied, “I’m 72 years old now!”
Another of the stories attributed to Ty Cobb tells of how he got tired of answering questions about Babe Ruth and his abilities to hit home runs. Cobb told reporters that it didn’t take any special skills to hit home runs. Cobb then slid his hands down on his bat and hit 3 home runs in the game. The next day, he hit 2 more.
When Cobb became a Detroit Tiger in 1905, he was just 18 years old. That first season, a nervous Cobb only hit .240 in 150 at bats. Two years later, Cobb hit .350 and won the league batting title. Cobb would win 12 batting titles — still a record — in his baseball career. That 1907 batting title was also the first of Cobb’s nine batting titles in a row — also a record. Cobb had 30 outfield assists in 1907, led the league in assists in 1908, and finished his career second all-time in assists and double plays among outfielders.
The Tigers won their third straight AL pennant in 1909 with the help of some controversy from Cobb. In the first game of a three game series against the A’s, Cobb sharpened his spikes and cut A’s third baseman Frank Baker. The Tigers were motivated to sweep the series and take sole possession of first base. By the time the teams met again in Philadelphia, Cobb had received numerous telegrams that threatened his life. Cobb had to have a police escort to and fron the park. However, the Tigers managed to win the pennant and Cobb won the only triple crown of his career with 9 home runs, 107 runs batted in and a .377 average.
In the 1909 World Series, Detroit faced a Pirate team led by Honus Wagner. In the second game, after scoring the Tigers’ first run on a steal of home, Cobb found himself on first. He yelled down at Wagner, “Watch out, Krauthead, I’m comin’ down on the next pitch!” On the next pitch, Cobb took off. The 200-lb Wagner calmly took the throw and applied a none-too-gentle tag right in Cobb’s mouth. The Tigers lost their third straight Series.
It looked as if Cobb would win a fifth straight batting title in 1910, the year auto maker Chalmers decided to award the batting champ in each league with a new car. Cobb had a lead over the Indians’ Nap LaJoie. However, Cobb was sidelined the final game of the season. Lajoie was in St. Louis for a doubleheader, needing a perfect day to take the batting title. The Browns, like everyone else, wanted Lajoie to beat out the hated Cobb, and did all they could do to help Lajoie.
In his first at-bat, Lajoie got a triple when his fly ball was “lost in the sun.” Lajoie lined a clean single his next time up. Browns manager Jack O’Connor ordered rookie third baseman Red Corriden to play deep on the outfield grass, and the swift Lajoie exploited the alignment with six straight bunt singles. The final figures gave Cobb the title, .38415 to .38411, but Chalmers gave both players cars.
O’Connor and Browns coach Henry Howell were later fired by the Browns. Years later, however, research proved that LaJoie had been the victim of poor record-keeping and had actually won the batting title outright. In 1911, Cobb set an AL record by hitting in 41 straight games. Newcomer Joe Jackson challenged Cobb for the batting title when the Tigers visited Jackson’s Indians for a six-game set late in the season, the occasion of another apocryphal story.
Jackson, batting over .400, was a fan of Cobb and tried to be friendly, but Cobb purposely ignored him. The slight supposedly flustered Jackson and affected his hitting. Cobb went on to win the title with a .420 average, while Jackson finished at .408.
In 1912 Cobb’s actions led to the first strike in baseball. In a May 15 game against the Highlanders, fans were sending down a stream of insults at Cobb. Cobb charged into the stands and attacked a fan. Cobb was suspended. Even though most of his teammates didn’t like Cobb, they knew they couldn’t win without Cobb. The Tigers declared they would not play again until Cobb was reinstated.
Frank Navin, owner of the Tigers, was ordered to field a team for Detroit’s game in Philadelphia the next day, ore he would face a $5,000. Detroit’s players refused to take the field. Navin and manager Hughie Jennings filled a team with amateurs. The Tiger fill-ins were pounded 24-2. Jackson’s suspension was cut and the Tigers went back to work. Cobb hit .400 for the second straight season. Jackson finished second in the batting title race with .395.
Until Lou Brock arrived on the scene, Cobb held baseball’s stolen bases record. Another of those Cobb stories says a young catcher asked his manager what to do if he saw Cobb stealing second. “Throw to third,” the manager said.
Cobb’s run of batting titles ended in 1916 when he lost out to Tris Speaker. Cobb rebounded to win the next three years. Cobb became player-manager of the Tigers in 1921 and also hit his career high 12 home runs that season. Cobb hit .401 that season, but lost the batting title to George Sisler.
Cobb had five winning seasons as a manager, but decided to retire after the 1926 season. The move surprised many people. However, Dutch Leonard, a former player, alleged that Jackson and Tris Speaker had schemed to fix a game on Sept. 24, 1919. After hearing the allegations, AL president Ban Johnson forced Cobb and Speaker to retire.
But Commissioner Kennesaw Landis cleared and reinstated both players when Leonard refused to leave California to testify. Cobb ended up in Philadelphia with Connie Mack, who defended Cobb during the ordeal, and Cobb played two more years before retiring for good after a .328 season in 1928.
Cobb also possessed some strong business skills. During his playing days, Cobb invested in real estate, automobiles, and cotton, and bought a great deal of Coca-Cola stock. By the time he retired, Coca-Cola had made Cobb one of the richest players in the game.
In 1936, despite an enduring reputation as the meanest player in the game, Cobb became the leading vote-getter among the first to be elected into the brand-new Hall of Fame. He received 222 of a possible 226 votes, seven ahead of Ruth and Wagner.
The wealthy Cobb tried to clean up his image in his later years with philanthropy. In 1948 Cobb contributed $100,000 to a new hospital in his hometown of Royston, Georgia.
Corrections made to article
12/28/2006 — Changed Red Corrigan to Red Corriden