Ty Cobb

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Ty Cobb : biography

18 December 1886 – 17 July 1961

A game that illustrates Cobb’s unique combination of skill and cunning occurred on May 12, 1911. Playing against the New York Highlanders, he scored from first base on a single to right field, then scored another run from second base on a wild pitch. In the seventh inning, he tied the game with a two-run double. The Highlander catcher vehemently argued the safe call at second base with the umpire in question, going on at such length that the other Highlander infielders gathered nearby to watch. Realizing that no one on the Highlanders had called time, Cobb strolled unobserved to third base, and then casually walked towards home plate as if to get a better view of the argument. He then suddenly broke into a run and slid into home plate for the eventual winning run. It was performances like this that led Branch Rickey to say later that Cobb "had brains in his feet."

While taking advantage of the moment, Cobb would also have his eye on the long view. Describing his strategy in 1930, he said, "My system was all offense. I believed in putting up a mental hazard for the other fellow. If we were five or six runs ahead, I’d try some wild play, such as going from first to home on a single. This helped to make the other side hurry the play in a close game later on. I worked out all the angles I could think of, to keep them guessing and hurrying." In the same interview, Cobb talked about having noticed a throwing tendency of first baseman Hal Chase, but having to wait two full years until the opportunity came to exploit it. By unexpectedly altering his own baserunning tendencies, he was able to surprise Chase and score the winning run of the game in question.

On May 15, 1912, Cobb assaulted a heckler, Claude Lueker, in the stands in New York’s Polo Grounds where his Tigers were playing the Highlanders. Lueker and Cobb had traded insults with each other through the first three innings, and the situation climaxed when Lueker called Cobb a "half-nigger." Cobb, in his discussion of the incident in the Holmes biography,Cobb & Stump, pp.131-135 avoided such explicit words but alluded to Lueker’s epithet by saying he was "reflecting on my mother’s color and morals." He went on to state that he warned Highlander manager Harry Wolverton that if something wasn’t done about that man, there would be trouble. No action was taken. At the end of the sixth inning, after being challenged by teammates Sam Crawford and Jim Delahanty to do something about it, Cobb climbed into the stands and attacked Lueker, who it turns out was handicapped (he had lost all of one hand and three fingers on his other hand in an industrial accident). When onlookers shouted at him to stop because the man had no hands, he reportedly retorted, "I don’t care if he got no feet!"

The league suspended him, and his teammates, though not fond of Cobb, went on strike to protest the suspension, and the lack of protection of players from abusive fans, before the May 18 game in Philadelphia.Stump (1994), pp. 208-209 For that one game, Detroit fielded a replacement team made up of hastily recruited college and sandlot players plus two Tiger coaches and (not surprisingly) lost, 24–2, thereby setting some of Major League Baseball’s modern-era (post-1900) negative records, notably the 26 hits in a nine-inning game allowed by Allan Travers, who pitched one of the sport’s most unlikely complete games. The pre-1901 record for the most hits and runs given up in a game is held by the Cleveland Blues’ Dave Rowe. Primarily an outfielder, Rowe pitched a complete game on July 24, 1882, giving up 35 runs on 29 hits. The current post-1900 record for most hits in a nine-inning game is 31, set in 1992 by the Milwaukee Brewers against Toronto; however, the Blue Jays used six pitchers.

The strike ended when Cobb urged his teammates to return to the field. According to him, this incident led to the formation of a players’ union, the "Ballplayers’ Fraternity" (formally, the Fraternity of Professional Baseball Players of America), an early version of what is now called the Major League Baseball Players Association, which garnered some concessions from the owners.Stump (1994), pp. 209-210 Cobb, during his career, was involved in numerous other fights, both on and off the field, and several profanity-laced shouting matches. For example, Cobb and umpire Billy Evans arranged to settle their in-game differences through fisticuffs under the grandstand after the game. Members of both teams were spectators, and broke up the scuffle after Cobb had knocked Evans down, pinned him and began choking him. He once slapped a black elevator operator for being "uppity." When a black night watchman intervened, he pulled out a knife and stabbed him. The matter was later settled out of court.