Of all the legendary baseball players, perhaps none proved as controversial at “The Georgia Peach,” Ty Cobb.
Known for a burning desire to win every game – and for the fact many other players hated him – Cobb played with a wild abandon. He also had one of the sharpest batting eye’s the game has ever seen, retiring in 1928 with a stunning lifetime career batting average of .366.
Born in Narrows, Georgia, in 1886, Tyrus Raymond Cobb reached the majors in 1905 and spent 22 years with the Detroit Tigers. His last two years he played for the Philadelphia Athletics. His career spanned from 1905 to 1928.
These represent some of the more interesting facts about the man and the player.
Ty Cobb: Many Career Records
Cobb held an amazing number of regular season Major League Baseball records when he retired. The records include:
- Games played (3.035)
- At bats (11,434)
- Runs (2,246)
- Stolen bases (892)
He hit .320 or above for 20 consecutive seasons and hit over .400 three times. His career average of .366 remains the lifetime batting average record.
That’s the number of Baseball Hall of Fame electors who voted for Cobb to enter the hall after his retirement – 222 out of a possible 226 votes. The year was 1936, the first year for the hall of fame in Cooperstown, N.Y. That percentage remained the highest any player had received until 1992 when pitcher Tom Seaver got 98.84 percent.
Death of His Father
Cobb was the oldest son of a school teacher, W.H. Cobb, and a 15-year-old mom, Amanda Chitwood Cobb. He father wanted him to become a professional, but Cobb fell in love with baseball as a teenager. His father, a strict disciplinarian, finally agreed to let Cobb play when he got an offer from a semi-pro club in Anniston, Ala. His father told him, “Don’t come home a failure.” Cobb later said those words had a big impact on his life.
However, just about a month before the Tigers called him up to the big league, his father died. According to well-publicized story, Cobb’s father left the house on an August evening in 1905, telling Amanda he would not be back until the next day. However, he suspected his wife of having an affair, and returned to the house with a pistol. An altercation ensured, and Amanda shot and killed her husband. She said she mistook him for a burglar, but a grand jury indicted her on manslaughter charges. However, a trial jury found her not guilty in 1906.
The loss of his father apparently drove an already driven player into high gear. Cobb was known to play with reckless abandon. He would never have the chance to prove himself to his father. “The sudden, gruesome death of his 44-year-old father struck Ty a blow from which he admittedly never recovered,” wrote Al Stump in “Cobb: A Biography.”
When asked by Stump why he played so hard, making many enemies in the game, Cobb said, “I did it for my father…I knew he was watching me and I never let him down.”
Didn’t Like Ruth
Cobb had little regard for the stars coming into the league around the time of his retirement, including Babe Ruth. Cobb felt that big home run hitters didn’t understand the nuances of the game or play with the intelligence and fire he brought to the diamond. This was made clear in the movie “Cobb,” in which Tommy Lee Jones played Cobb and Robert Wuhl played Stump. Asked if he would ever give Ruth credit for anything, Cobb (in the movie) replied: “He ran OK for a fat man.” However, much of what Stump wrote about Cobb – especially in the 1994 book upon which the movie is based, called “Ty Cobb: The Life and Times of the Meanest Man Ever to Play Baseball” – has been called into question by experts.
Fight With a Fan Leads to a Strike
Cobb once went into the stands to take on a heckler at a game in New York against the Highlanders (which later became the Yankees) in 1912. That’s not something you will likely see these days, but back then it was not uncommon. What was uncommon was the heckler did not have one hand and was missing three fingers on another (lost in a manufacturing accident). When people screamed at Cobb to stop punching a man without hands, he replied, “I don’t care if he has no feet.” What many perhaps did not know was that the man had routinely and relentless heckled Cobb every time he played in New York and that Cobb’s teammates urged him to go into the stands.
When Cobb was suspended indefinitely for the incident, his teammates refused to play, only retaking the field when Cobb’s suspension was reduced to 10 days.
Because of his portrayal in Stump’s book (and the movie “Cobb”) many have a negative view of Ty Cobb. However historians and his own family have emerged over the past decades to report on his generosity, support of equality for African-American players and to dispel myths (like he sharpened his spikes to hurt opposing players).
Cobb certainly stands as one of the most controversial figures in baseball history. But one thing has never been in dispute: Cobb could flat out play like no one before or since.