Ty Cobb

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Ty Cobb : biography

18 December 1886 – 17 July 1961

In February 1936, when the first Hall of Fame election results were announced, Cobb had been named on 222 of 226 ballots, outdistancing Babe Ruth, Honus Wagner, Christy Mathewson and Walter Johnson, the only others to earn the necessary 75% of votes to be elected that first year. His 98.2 percentage stood as the record until Tom Seaver received 98.8% of the vote in 1992 . Those incredible results show that although many people disliked him personally, they respected the way he had played and what he had accomplished. In 1998, The Sporting News ranked him as third on the list of 100 Greatest Baseball Players.

By the time he was elected to the Hall of Fame, Cobb had become a heavy smoker and drinker, and spent a great deal of time complaining about modern-day players’ lack of fundamental skills. He had positive things to say about Stan Musial, Phil Rizzuto and Jackie Robinson, but few others. Even so, he was known to help out young players. He was instrumental in helping Joe DiMaggio negotiate his rookie contract with the New York Yankees.

Cobb’s competitive fires continued to burn after retirement. In 1941, he faced Babe Ruth in a series of charity golf matches at courses outside New York, Boston and Detroit and won them all. At the 1947 Old Timers’ Game in Yankee Stadium, he warned catcher Benny Bengough to move back, claiming he was rusty and hadn’t swung a bat in almost 20 years. Bengough accordingly stepped back to avoid being struck by Cobb’s backswing. Having repositioned the catcher, Cobb cannily laid down a perfect bunt in front of the plate and easily beat the throw from a surprised Bengough.

Another bittersweet moment in Cobb’s life reportedly came in the late 1940s, when he and sportswriter Grantland Rice were returning from the Masters golf tournament. Stopping at a Greenville, South Carolina liquor store, Cobb noticed that the man behind the counter was none other than "Shoeless" Joe Jackson, who had been banned from baseball almost 30 years earlier following the Black Sox scandal. But Jackson did not appear to recognize him, and after making his purchase an incredulous Cobb asked, "Don’t you know me, Joe?" "Sure I know you, Ty," replied Jackson, "but I wasn’t sure you wanted to know me. A lot of them don’t."

Cobb was mentioned in the poem "Line-Up for Yesterday" by Ogden Nash:

Later life

At 62, Cobb married a second time in 1949. His new wife was 40-year-old Frances Fairbairn Cass, a divorcee from Buffalo, New York.Stump (1994), p. 412 Their childless marriage also failed, ending with a divorce in 1956.

When two of his three sons died young, Cobb was left alone with few remaining friends. He became generous with his wealth, donating $100,000 in his parents’ name for his hometown to build a modern 24-bed hospital, Cobb Memorial Hospital, which is now part of the Ty Cobb Healthcare System. He also established the Cobb Educational Fund, which awarded scholarships to needy Georgia students bound for college, by endowing it with a $100,000 donation in 1953 (equivalent to approximately $ in today’s funds).

He knew that another way he could share his wealth was by having biographies written that would both set the record straight on him and teach young players how to play. John McCallum spent some time with Cobb to write a combination how-to and biography titled The Tiger Wore Spikes: An Informal Biography of Ty Cobb that was published in 1956. But after McCallum had completed his research for the book, Cobb was again alone and had a longing to return to Georgia. In December 1959, he was diagnosed with prostate cancer, diabetes, high blood pressure and Bright’s disease. He did not trust his initial diagnosis, however, so he went to Georgia to seek advice from doctors he knew who confirmed that his prostate was indeed cancerous. They removed it at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta, but that did little to help Cobb. From this point until the end of his life he criss-crossed the country, from his lodge in Tahoe on the northern-California-Nevada border to the hospital in Georgia.