Ty Cobb


Ty Cobb : biography

18 December 1886 – 17 July 1961

Major League career

The early years

Three weeks after his mother killed his father, Cobb debuted in center field for the Detroit Tigers. On August 30, 1905, in his first major league at-bat, he doubled off the New York Highlanders’ Jack Chesbro, who had won a record 41 games the previous season. Cobb was 18 years old at the time, the youngest player in the league by almost a year. Although he hit a mere .240 in 41 games, that was apparently enough for a lucrative $1,500 contract from the Tigers for 1906.

Although rookie hazing was customary, Cobb could not endure it in good humor and soon became alienated from his teammates. He later attributed his hostile temperament to this experience: "These old-timers turned me into a snarling wildcat." Tigers manager Hughie Jennings later acknowledged that Cobb was targeted for abuse by veteran players, some of whom sought to force him off the team. "I let this go for a while because I wanted to satisfy myself that Cobb has as much guts as I thought in the very beginning," Jennings recalled. "Well, he proved it to me, and I told the other players to let him alone. He is going to be a great baseball player and I won’t allow him to be driven off this club."Kashatus (2002), pp. 72–73.

The following year, 1906, Cobb became the Tigers’ full-time center fielder and hit .316 in 98 games, the second highest batting average ever for a 19-year-old. He would never hit below that mark again. After being moved to right field, he led the Tigers to three consecutive American League pennants in 1907, 1908 & 1909. Detroit would lose each World Series (to the Cubs twice and then the Pirates), however, with Cobb’s postseason numbers much below his career standard. He never played on a pennant-winning team again.

Five times in his career, and for the first time in 1907, Cobb reached first, and then stole second, third and home. He finished the 1907 season with a league-leading .350 batting average, 212 hits, 49 steals and 119 runs batted in (RBI). At age 20, he was the youngest player to win a batting championship and held this record until 1955, when fellow Detroit Tiger Al Kaline won the batting title twelve days younger than Cobb when he did it. Reflecting on his career in 1930, two years after retiring, he told Grantland Rice, "The biggest thrill I ever got came in a game against the Athletics in 1907 [on September 30]… The Athletics had us beaten, with Rube Waddell pitching. They were two runs ahead in the 9th inning, when I happened to hit a home run that tied the score. This game went 17 innings to a tie, and a few days later, we clinched our first pennant. You can understand what it meant for a 20-year-old country boy to hit a home run off the great Rube, in a pennant-winning game with two outs in the ninth."http://www.baseballspast.com/film/cobb.html

Despite great success on the field, Cobb was no stranger to controversy off it. As described in Smithsonian Magazine, "In 1907 during spring training in Augusta, Georgia, a black groundskeeper named Bungy, whom Cobb had known for years, attempted to shake Cobb’s hand or pat him on the shoulder." The "overly familiar greeting infuriated" Cobb, who attacked Bungy. When Bungy’s wife tried to defend him, Cobb choked her. The assault was only stopped when catcher Charles "Boss" Schmidt knocked Cobb out.When Cobb Met Wagner: The Seven-Game World Series of 1909 by David Finoli, McFarland, 2010, page 230. In 1908, Cobb attacked a black laborer in Detroit who complained when Cobb stepped into freshly poured asphalt; Cobb was found guilty of battery but the sentence was suspended.

In September 1907, Cobb began a relationship with The Coca-Cola Company that would last the remainder of his life. By the time he died, he owned over 20,000 shares of stock and three bottling plants (in Santa Maria, California; Twin Falls, Idaho; and Bend, Oregon). He was also a celebrity spokesman for the product.

In the off-season between 1907 & 1908, Cobb negotiated with Clemson Agricultural College of South Carolina, offering to coach baseball there "for $250 a month, provided that he did not sign with Detroit that season." This did not come to pass, however.Bryan, Wright, "Clemson: An Informal History of the University 1889–1979", The R. L. Bryan Company, Columbia, South Carolina, 1979, Library of Congress card number 79-56231, ISBN 0-934870-01-2, page 214.