Cobb, Ty

views updated May 21 2018

Ty Cobb


American baseball player

Ty Cobb is arguably the greatest baseball player who ever put on spikes. During his 24-year career, he established records in virtually every area of the offensive game. His .367 lifetime average stands as the best in baseball history, a virtually unattainable goal for hitters. He is also number one among all-time runs scored leaders, number two in hits and triples, number three in stolen bases, and number four in runs batted in, doubles, at bats and games played. Cobb was a dazzling player. Nearly impossible to strike out, he was a batter who could hit to all fields, both for power and average, and he could drop bunts with pinpoint accuracy. He drove opponents to distraction in the base paths, always trying for the extra base and stealing almost at will. His approach to baseball was fierce and unrelentingevery game was a war with the diamond its battlefield. This competitive drive was a symptom of other, deeper character flaws. Possessed of a dangerous temper, a racist disposition and a tendency to brutal violence, Cobb alienated family, friends, opponents, and perfect strangers. Besides being supremely talented as a player, he was also supremely difficult as a person.

Tyrus Raymond Cobb was born on December 18, 1886 in Narrows, Georgia, to William Herschel Cobb and Amanda (Chitwood) Cobb. W.H. Cobb invented Tyrus's name himself after reading about the city of Tyre's stubborn resistance to the besieging armies of Alexander the Great. He could have but little suspected its appropriateness for his impulsive, headstrong son. Cobb's father, a school principal who placed a high premium on learning, hoped Tyrus would become a doctor or lawyer. From the time he was a child, however, the boy was infatuated with the game of baseball. As a teen he became the star player for a local team, the Royston Reds. In 1904, when a regular held out for more money, Cobb got to play with the Augusta Tourists of the South Atlantic (Sally) League. He hit a single and double in four at-bats his first game. Within days, however, the holdout was back and Cobb was released.

With the words of his father"don't come home a failure"in his ears, Cobb signed on with a team in Anniston, Alabama. A little later Grantland Rice, the sports editor of the Atlanta Journal, began receiving letters of praise for young Cobb. Impressed, Rice wrote in his column "over in Alabama there's a young fellow named Cobb who seems to be showing an unusual amount of talent." Years later Cobb would admit that he had written all the letters himself, using a variety of handwriting styles. Cobb did well enough at Anniston, however, that the Augusta team asked him to come back for the rest of the 1904 season, and eventually for the 1905 season as well.

The Detroit Tigers got their first look at Cobb during spring training at Augusta in 1905. After witnessing Cobb's antics on the basesstealing on nearly every pitch, trying to stretch every single to a double, and running from first to third on sacrifice buntssecond baseman Germany Schaefer described Cobb to Tiger management as "the craziest player I ever saw." Cobb's exhibition play impressed the Tigers and in August the team purchased his contract. By then, he was the best player in the Sally League: He won the batting

title with a .326 batting average; he was the first in the league ever to get 100 hits in a season; and his 40 stolen bases was third best in the league. He joined the Tigers for the last month of the season. During the next five years Cobb would single-handedly make Detroit over from the weakest market for baseball to the most lucrative. Cobb's play with the Tigers that year alternated between brilliance, foolhardiness and embarrassment. He lashed hits, ran into foolish outs and interfered with his own fielders. But he brought an element of excitement that few fans had ever experienced in baseball.

Despite being called up to the big leagues, 1905 and 1906 would be among the most difficult years of Cobb's life. In August, when he was preparing to join the Tigers, personal tragedy struck. His father was shot to death, and the killer was Cobb's own mother. Amanda Cobb thought her husband, who was climbing in her bedroom window at night, was a prowler, and in March 1906 she was found not guilty. W.H. Cobb's unexpected death robbed Cobb of the family member he was closest to, and possibly the only one capable of exerting a steadying influence on the headstrong youth. It also denied Cobb the chance to prove to his father that he had made good in baseball.

Cobb's difficulties did not end with his return to the Tigers in spring 1906. At a time when rookie ballplayers were routinely hazed by veteran players, the Tigers' treatment of Cobb was particularly harsh. He was refused his turn at batting practice; he was locked out of bathrooms in the team hotel; he was systematically ignored; his handmade ash bats were sawed in half. Cobb's southern origins did not help among a team of northerners. However, his treatment was exacerbated by his thin skin, hair-trigger temper, well-honed prejudices, and his ability to hold a grudge. By the end of 1906 he was sincerely disliked by most Tiger players. Through his 21 seasons with the team, long after he had established himself as a regular, he was never close to his teammates, who continued to dislike him.

The strain of the hazing eventually took its toll. In July 1906, the nineteen-year-old Cobb suffered a nervous breakdown that took him out of the lineup for nearly two months. He eventually returned to full form on the field, but his confrontations with his teammates continued, frequently concluding in vicious physical brutality on Cobb's part. With so many enemies, both real and imagined, he started a lifelong practice of keeping a loaded pistol nearby at all times. His ball playing performance in his first full season was remarkable. He hit .320fifth best in the American leagueand stole 39 bases. The Tigers as a team had played more disappointingly, finishing in sixth place, with a losing record, 71-78. That would change in 1907, with the first of three consecutive American League championships.

By mid-1907 Cobb was being called "Ty" for the first time in his life. He had developed a recognizable personality on the field too. In the batter's box he swung three bats. Although he threw right-handed, he batted left-handedhe would later say it started him off closer to first base. Playing in the so-called "dead ball" era, when emphasis was on base hits, sacrifice bunts, base running and stealing, Cobb gripped his bat in an unorthodox manner, with his hands about six inches apart, and would slide one hand up or down for better control. On the base paths he was "daring to the point of dementia." His philosophy was the more chances he took, the more likely opponents were to be forced into making an error, and he was usually right.

The 1907 Tigers took the American League pennant with a 92-58 record, before losing the World Series in four games to the Chicago Cubs. Cobb's .350 batting average won him the first of nine consecutive and 12 in total batting titles. He was already recognized around the American League as the finest all-around player in baseball. Secure in his position as one of the game's stars and a genuine box office attraction, Cobb held out for more money in 1908, eventually receiving $4,000 a year from the Tigers. More controversially, he spoke out against the reserve clause, which bound a player to a certain club. Ahead of his time, Cobb proposed an alternative: Limit the term of the reserve to five years, and then let a player freely sell his services to the highest bidder. Predictably, organized baseball considered such propositions radical and dangerous, and did not recognize free agency until the 1970s. Cobb earned his extra pay, winning his second batting title in 1908 and leading the Tigers to their second straight league pennant.


1886Born in Narrows, Georgia
1904Joins Augusta Tourists of the South Atlantic League
1905Joins Detroit Tigers
1905W.H. Cobb is shot to death by Amanda Cobb
1906Amanda Cobb found innocent of manslaughter
1907Tigers win the first of three American League pennants
1907-19Cobb wins 12 American League batting titles
1908Marries Charlie Marion Lombard
1909Causes uproar when he spikes Philadelphia's Frank Baker
1910Cobb's first child, Tyrus Raymond Cobb Jr., born
1912Enters stands in New York City to attack heckler Claude Lucker
1912Plays lead in stage play The College Widow
1915Cobb sets long-standing record of 96 stolen bases in single season
1915Becomes highest paid player in baseball
1916Stars in film Somewhere in Georgia
1918Joins Chemical Warfare Service
1921Becomes player-manager of Detroit Tigers
1926Resigns as player and manager
1926Accused of game-fixing and betting on baseball games
1927Signs with Philadelphia Athletics
1928Leaves baseball for good
1936Becomes first player inducted into Baseball Hall of Fame at Cooperstown
1945Endows the Cobb Memorial Hospital in Royston, Georgia
1947Divorces Charlie Cobb
1949Marries Francis Fairburn
1953Establishes the Cobb Educational Fund
1955Divorces Francis Fairburn
1960Starts working on his autobiography with Al Stumpf
1961Dies in Atlanta

Cobb played with a fervor that has rarely been matched. His rough style on the bases led players, fans, and writers in opposing cities to call him a dirty player. He was accused of deliberately sharpening his spikes to intimidate opposing infielders. Cobb occasionally denied such allegations, but in general he let them standthey served too well the psychological warfare he practiced on the diamond. Whether or not he sharpened his spikes, Cobb felt no compunction about sliding into base with spikes high, deliberately colliding with a defender to dislodge the baseball. In 1909, for example, Cobb's no-holds-barred play drew him into controversy at the height of a pennant race with the Philadelphia Athletics. Sliding into third, Cobb's spikes caused a small cut in the arm of Athletics third baseman Frank Baker. A fight was averted, but later in the game Cobb knocked over second baseman Eddie Collins. After the Tigers swept the series to take first place from Philadelphia, Connie Mack , the normally soft-spoken Athletics' owner, responded by calling Cobb the dirtiest player in the history of the game. As so often happened during his career, the notoriety Cobb gained from the incident only seemed to inspire him to better play. During that period, he hit at a .640 pace and stole one base or more per game. By the end of the season he had racked up an average of .377, hit 107 RBIs and nine home runs, and stolen 76 bases, leading the league in virtually every offensive category. Detroit finished in first place again but it would be the last time Cobb would play for a pennant winner.

Cobb's racism attracted regular, if unwanted, public attention. He instigated nasty fights with blacks. In 1907, for example, he started a slapping match with a black groundskeeper, and then choked the man's wife when she shouted at Cobb to stop. Not long after the Philadelphia incidents, Cobb got into a fight with a black night watchman at a hotel in Cleveland, trying to stab the man with his knife. A warrant was sworn out for Cobb's arrest in Cleveland, and the rest of the season, Cobb had to travel apart from the rest of the Tigers whenever they passed through the city.

Cobb's most infamous instance of ruffianism, one also tinged by his racist prejudice, occurred on May 15, 1912 in New York. Claude Lucker, a spectator behind the Tiger bench, targeted a stream of abuse at Cobb that lasted most of the game. Cobb requested that the man be removed from the park, in vain. When Lucker directed at Cobb a racial epithet normally reserved for blacks, Cobb lost control, charged up into the stands, and commenced to kicking and stomping Lucker, who was little able to defend himself, having lost a hand and three fingers in an industrial accident. The resulting publicity was highly critical of Cobb and the American League suspended him for ten games. Surprisingly, the Tiger players forgot their past animosities with Cobb and supported him, staging a strike that forced the Tiger management to field a team of semi-pros for one game.

Cobb dominated baseball to such an extent between 1910 and 1920 that the period came to be known as the "Cobbian" era, in distinction to the "Ruthian" era of home runs that would follow the First World War (named for baseball great Babe Ruth ). Between 1910 and 1919, Cobb would win the batting title every year except 1916, including a squeaker over Napoleon Lajoie in 1910 that is still disputed by some fans. In 1911 he hit.420, the second highest season average in modern baseball history. He led the league in stolen bases four times, including 1915 when he stole 96 bases, a record that stood until Maury Wills shattered it in the 1960s. Cobb's presence was felt off the diamond in those years as well. In the winter of 1912 he appeared in a stage play, The College Widow, that toured the South, the Midwest and the eastern seaboard. In 1916 he was the first pro athlete to star in a movie, Somewhere in Georgia. He counted among his friends presidents William Howard Taft, Woodrow Wilson, and later Warren G. Harding. Beginning in 1915 his $20,000 a year from the Tigers made him the highest paid player in baseball. By that time he hardly needed the money. He had invested shrewdly in real estate ventures and had gotten in on the ground floor with new companies such as General Motors and Coca-Cola that would help make him a millionaire well before his playing days had ended.

Awards and Accomplishments

1905-27Stole home 54 times, an all time record; 46 inside-the-park HR, a career AL record
1907Led American League in RBIs and hits
1907-15, 1917-19American League batting title
1908Led American League in triples
1909Triple Crown, American League, 9 HR, .377 BA, 107 RBI, plus led majors in stolen bases
1911Chalmers Most Valuable Player Award; batting title, .420 average; led American League in hits, runs, doubles, RBIs, and stolen bases.
1912Stole home 8 times for a major league record
1915Led major leagues with 96 stolen bases
1936First player elected to National Baseball Hall of Fame


Ty Cobb's last lonely, bitter years are the subject of the dark 1995 film Cobb. Cobb is less a traditional baseball movie than a compelling character study of a man who happened to be both the greatest baseball player in history and a monster of epic proportions. Its story describes the experiences of young Al Stump (portrayed by Robert Wuhl), a writer hired by Cobb to put his autobiography onto paper. Expecting to encounter a great old ballplayer when he arrives at Cobb's Nevada home, Stump finds a angry alcoholic with a dangerous penchant for shooting the pistol ever at his side whenever he gets upset. On a long drive from Nevada to Cooperstown, Stump confronts the man and the legend, and must decide how he will eventually tell Cobb's storythe sugar-coated success story or the ugly truth. The film was directed and written by Ron Shelton, who had earlier made another excellent baseball movie, Bull Durham. Tommy Lee Jones as Cobb gives the performance of his career, which left many reviewers wondering how he could have been passed over for an Oscar nomination.

By the 1920s, as the home run ball was replacing the era of inside baseball, years of unfettered base-running and abandoned slides had taken their toll on Cobb's legs and knees. He could no longer run like he used to, but he still hit with the best, with a 1920 average of.334. That winter, following the resignation of longtime Tiger manager Hughey Jennings, Cobb was offered the managership of the team. Cobb had reservations about accepting the job, but it was difficult to resist $35,000 a year, a sum that made him the highest paid player or manager in baseball, except for John McGraw. Cobb vowed to bring a new style to managing the Tigers. Rather than the sarcasm and invective that Jennings relied on, Cobb intended to use encouragement and advice. It was a promise that the quick-tempered, demanding Cobb was ill-equipped to keep. Before long, he was belittling and demeaning players who did not play the game his way. He fomented feuds between players. He benched good players against whom he held some grudge. In the end, despite strong hitting by the Tigers, they only finished in sixth place under Cobb. They improved in 1922, finishing third, and second in 1923. That was the best Cobb could achieve in five years as manager. By his last season in 1926, the Tigers were back in sixth place. The fault was not entirely Cobb's though. He was hampered by a poor pitching staff and an owner who refused to spend money to get better players. When he resigned, he quit both as a manager as a player. Ty Cobb said he had played his last game.

Cobb reentered baseball, just months later after being implicated in the biggest scandal of his career. In spring 1926, Dutch Leonard, a former Detroit pitcher, had told league officials that during a Cleveland-Detroit series in September 1919, Indians manager Tris Speaker had arranged with Cobb to deliberately lose a game with the Tigers to help Detroit finish in third place. Moreover, according to Leonard, they arranged to place bets on the game's outcome. At the time of Leonard's allegations, baseball was still reeling from revelations that members of the 1919 Chicago White Sox had conspired with gamblers to fix the outcome of the 1919 World Series. The Tigers had indeed won the game in question, but questions lingered about whether it was fixed. Cobb had been unable to get a hit, while Speaker hit two triples. Further complicating the matter, it turned out Leonard secretly held Cobb and Speaker responsible for ending his career in the majors. In the fall of 1926, Ban Johnson, the president of the American League, quietly told Cobb and Speaker to leave baseball. Meanwhile the affair came to the attention of the imperious commissioner of baseball, Kenesaw Mountain Landis, who publicly opened his own investigation. Cobb acknowledged writing a letter to Leonard that connected him with bets on the game. However, he insisted that he was only an intermediary, he had not wagered on the game himself. He also insisted that Speaker was not connected with the affair at all. The scandal unleashed a wave of national publicity arguing the comparative merits of Cobb vs. Leonard. Most observers agreed that whatever Cobb's faults as a man, he was not dishonest and he had no history as a gambler. In January 1927, Judge Landis announced that Cobb and Speaker had been completely exonerated, and were restored to the active rosters of their former teams.

When the Tigers released him, Cobb accepted an offer estimated at $70,000 a year to play for Connie Mack's Philadelphia Athletics in 1927. By that time he didn't need the money, but it was certainly an incentiveit made him the highest paid player in the game once again. Above and beyond the money, he was anxious to play with a club that was a pennant contender. He also considered his comeback as a means of vindicating

his name in the public eye. Lastly, however, baseball had been the central focus of his life since he could lift a bat. Despite his aging legs and accruing injuries, it would have been difficult for him to walk away from the game. His comeback was a total success. In 134 games, Cobb batted a resounding .357, including 32 doubles and 5 home runs. He even managed to steal 22 bases. In 1928, his last year as a player, Cobb hit a respectable .323. He stole only 5 bases, but one was a steal of home, an exploit he had specialized in as a young player. Despite his high hopes, however, the Athletics did not win the American League pennant while Cobb was on their roster.

When Cobb left baseball for good after the 1928 season he had the credentials to demonstrate irrefutably that he had been the greatest all-around player in baseball up to that time. He had the highest lifetime average of any player in history, had more hits, the most runs batted in, the most runs scored, the most stolen bases, the most steals of home, and the season high for stolen bases. He was second in all-time doubles and triples. He had an extremely low strikeout rate, only 357 in 11,429 at bats. These remarkable achievements, together with the excitement he had generated, led the nation's baseball writers to name him, nearly unanimously, as the first player elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1936.

Ty Cobb's life after baseball was restless and apparently unhappy. Already a millionaire, he did not have to work. He refused offers to become a ball club executive or manager, and opportunities to purchase clubs fell through. He used part of his fortune for philanthropic purposes in his home state of Georgia, funding the construction of the Cobb Memorial Hospital in Royston to perpetuate his parents' names. He also established the Cobb Educational Fund, to provide scholarships-nonathletic scholarships-to worthy Georgia students.

Cobb's relations with his family were less than ideal. He was a strict, demanding, anger-prone husband and father. He was estranged from his first son for most of Tyrus Jr.'s short lifehe died of a brain tumor in 1951. After filing for divorce on several occasions, Cobb's wife, Charlie, finally went through with it in 1947. His second marriage in 1949 to Frances Fairburn foundered seven years later, thanks to Cobb's abusive temper, which was fueled by his excessive drinking.

By January 1960, Ty Cobb's health was in rapid decline. He had been diagnosed with diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, degenerative kidney disease, and prostate cancer. His last days were spent in loneliness, traveling from hospital to hospital with an envelope containing millions of dollars in negotiable securities and a loaded Luger pistol. His one frequent companion was Al Stump, a writer whom Cobb had contracted to work with him on his autobiography. Stump completed his research just months before Cobb passed away on July 17, 1961 in Atlanta, Georgia. Three ex-ballplayers and a Hall of Fame official were baseball's only representatives at the funeral of the greatest ball player who ever lived.


Busting 'Em Out and Other Stories. New York: Edward J. Clode Publishers, 1914.

"Batting Out Better Boys." Rotarian 71 (July 1947): 10-12.

"They Don't Play Baseball Any More." Life 32 (March 17, 1952): 136-38f.

"Tricks That Won Me Ball Games." Life 32 (March 24, 1952): 63-64f.

Career Statistics

DET: Detroit Tigers; PHI: Philadelphia Athletics.

(With Al Stump) My Life in Baseball: The True Record. Garden City: Doubleday, 1961.



Alexander, Charles C. Ty Cobb. New York: Oxford University Press, 1984.

The Baseball Encyclopedia. Tenth edition, New York, Macmillan, 1996.

Cobb, Ty, with Al Stumpf. My Life in Baseball: The True Record. Garden City, Doubleday 1961.

Stump, Al. Cobb: A Biography. Chapel Hill, Algonquin Books, 1994.

Stumpf, Al. "Ty Cobb's Wild Ten-Month Fight to Live," True. 14 (December 1961).

"Ty Cobb, Baseball Great, Dies; Still held 16 Big League Marks." New York Times. July 18, 1961.

Sketch by Gerald E. Brennan

Cobb, Ty

views updated Jun 08 2018

Ty Cobb

BORN: December 18, 1886 • Narrows, Georgia

DIED: July 17, 1961 • Atlanta, Georgia

Baseball player

Ty Cobb is considered by many baseball historians to be the greatest player ever to play the game. He is also viewed as one of the most controversial players in the history of the sport. Nicknamed the "Georgia Peach," Cobb was the first player elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame (1936). As of 2006, his career batting average of. 367 has never been equaled.

"The great American game should be an unrelenting war of nerves."

A simple childhood

Tyrus Raymond Cobb was the first of three children born to Amanda and William Cobb. William was a schoolteacher and Baptist minister who had married his wife when she was just twelve years old. The family spent most of Cobb's childhood in Royston, Georgia. Here they lived on a farm, where Cobb learned the value of hard work. He worked side by side with his father, and developed a respect and reverence for him that would last his lifetime.

Cobb was never close to his mother, and when he was just eighteen years old, their relationship suffered a major blow. Rumors were circulating throughout their small hometown that Amanda was unfaithful to her husband. On the night of August 8, 1905, Cobb was out of town playing baseball, and his two younger siblings were staying overnight elsewhere. Cobb's father told his wife he had out-of-town business that would keep him away for the night, but what he really planned to do was check to see if the rumors about his wife were true.

Armed with a pistol, Cobb's father climbed the family home to the outside of his wife's bedroom window. When she heard someone trying to open the locked bedroom window, she took the loaded shotgun kept by her bedside and opened fire through the window, killing her husband. Although charged with voluntary manslaughter, an all-male jury found her not guilty. Her alleged faithlessness was never proved, and she never remarried.

His father's death at the hand of his mother devastated young Cobb. Ultimately, he used his unending respect for his father—and his own desire to make him proud, even in death—to fuel his motivation to be the best baseball player he could be.

Dreams of greatness

Cobb's father was never in favor of his eldest child pursuing a career in baseball. The sport was different during that time than it is in the twenty-first century. Many of its players built reputations of being hard-drinking, gambling, foul-mouthed womanizers. But Cobb spent much of his free time playing the game with neighborhood boys, and his natural abilities were immediately recognized. Young Cobb proved to be a fierce competitor for whom losing was not an option.

In 1903, Cobb grew weary of playing ball as a hobby. He wanted more and had the confidence in his own talent to believe he could do better. He wrote letters to managers of baseball clubs in the South Atlantic League. The one response he received came from the manager of the Augusta Tourists. If Cobb paid his own expenses, he could try out for a spot on the team the following spring.

Despite his father's reservations about a baseball career, Cobb received his blessings as well as six checks, each made out for $15. Cobb took his first step in the journey toward a career in professional baseball. In his autobiography, Cobb remembered his father's parting words. "You've chosen. So be it, son. Go get it out of your system, and let us hear from you."

Unimpressive beginnings

Cobb earned a spot on the Augusta Tourists team. As a center fielder, he did not impress his manager, who released Cobb early in the season. Not one to give up, Cobb followed a teammate to Anniston, Alabama, to try out for a semiprofessional team there. Worried what his father would say, Cobb phoned him and told him of his plans. According to his autobiography, Cobb's father told him to go after the job. "And I want to tell you one other thing," his father said. "Don't come home a failure." Those words would inspire Cobb to greatness.

Cobb made the team, and this time, his playing reflected his true abilities. He proved himself a more-than-capable batter. Within three months, he was asked to return to his old team, the Augusta Tourists. The team was under new management, so Cobb took a chance. He demanded a pay raise, which he got, and rejoined the team for the 1905 season.

Cobb did not enjoy playing under the team's new management, but he did not have to wait long for a leader he could respect. George Leidy took over the Tourists. Leidy immediately recognized great potential with Cobb. He helped Cobb focus and gave him the encouragement he needed. Together they worked on Cobb's batting skills. By August 1905, Cobb had shown much improvement. Thatmonth, however, would not be one of celebration for Cobb, who had to return home for his father's funeral. He did not finish the season with the Tourists, but instead learned he had been sold to the Detroit Tigers of the American League. He would stay with the team for the next twenty-one years, as both player and, later, as player-manager.

Rises to fame

Almost immediately, Cobb encountered difficulties with his new team-mates. He was one of only a few southerners in the major leagues, and one of even fewer in Detroit. By nature a shy person, his quiet ways were mistaken for conceit, and his teammates did not appreciate his desire to spend his time alone. Fist fights and brawls with other team members were not uncommon. By the middle of the first full season in 1906, Cobb had to be hospitalized for a stomach ailment, the details of which have never been made clear. It was not an easy year for Cobb, who maintained the lowest batting average he would see in his career:. 320 in ninety-eight games.

The following season was his first great year, and he helped his teammates reach the World Series. Although they were defeated by the Chicago Cubs, Cobb enjoyed a. 350 batting average, which gave him the first of nine consecutive batting titles. He would eventually hold twelve batting titles. He also led the league that year with 212 hits, 49 steals, and 116 runs batted in (RBIs). The 1908 and 1909 seasons brought more of the same: each year, Cobb won the batting title and the Tigers won the pennant (league championship). But each time, they were again defeated in the World Series (in 1908, by the Cubs again; and in 1909, by the Pittsburgh Pirates). Despite an amazing career, Cobb would never again play in another World Series.

Around this time, Cobb developed a reputation as a violent, almost crazy, player. For his own part, Cobb did everything he could to encourage that reputation. In his mind, psychological warfare was as important as skill in the game of baseball, and he mastered the art of intimidation (making another timid or fearful). His tendency to be a loner further supported others' perception of him as a dangerous personality. He was known for his racism as well, the kind many white southerners embraced during that era. Anyone who disagreed with or was different from Cobb, he disliked. According to, he kept a list of people he did not like, and no one was off limits.

As a batter, Cobb often used his natural ability to hate. He would work himself into a state where he approached the plate with the intention to humiliate the pitcher in any way possible. Sometimes this meant bending over and picking at clumps of dirt, just as the pitcher was about to deliver the ball. Other times, he completely ignored the pitcher and took his time preparing for the pitch. Opposing team players came to despise Cobb not only because his talent was usually far greater than their own, but because he played mind games with them.

Cobb became as well known for his antics as he did for his abilities. Yet he was in demand as a player, because everyone would rather have him on their team than against them. Cobb cemented his popularity with fans in 1909 when he won the Triple Crown (the best batting average, most homeruns, and most RBIs) with a. 377 batting average, 9 home runs, and 107 RBIs.

Baseball is war

For Cobb, baseball was war. He used every tactic available to him not only to win but also to make his opponents feel as bad as possible. He studied each individual pitcher and took advantage of his weaknesses. He practiced sliding until his legs were a bloody, raw mess. Pain was something to overcome, not give in to. On the official Ty Cobb Web site, he is quoted as having said, "I have observed that baseball is not unlike a war, and when you come right down to it, we batters are the heavy artillery." Although he agitated players in the major leagues with his racism and violent outbursts, he was respected for his ambition and dedication to the game.

Cobb's violence infiltrated his personal life as well. One of the longest-standing rumors is that he once killed a man when he and his wife stopped along the roadside to help three men whose car appeared broken down. The men reached into the car and began beating Cobb, who turned the tables on them and started to beat them back. According to legend, every time Cobb told the story of that event, it was slightly different. Sometimes the men recognized him and apologized, and there was no harm done. Telling the story at other times, he said that he got out of the car and chased them into an alley, where he beat them senseless, possibly to death. No official reports of beatings or any deaths for that day exist, so the story remains just another Ty Cobb legend.

The best years ever

As a hitter, Cobb enjoyed his best year ever in 1911, when he finished with a batting average of. 420. This was also the year Cobb would be first featured on a baseball card.

The years immediate following were equally impressive, as Cobb continued to hold the batting average title. In 1915, he set a major league record when he stole 96 bases and scored 144 runs. The following year ended his nine-year streak as the batting-average king. His. 361 average was just behind that of Tris Speaker (1888–1958), who batted. 386. Cobb bounced back, however, and recovered his title for three more consecutive years, with averages of. 383,. 382, and. 384.

Becomes manager

In 1921, thirty-four-year-old Cobb became Detroit's manager. He immediately initiated some changes regarding spring training (for example, he made arrangements for the team to stay at higher-quality hotels with better food) that were popular with the team and thus boosted his reputation in the eyes of his men. In his six seasons as the team's player-manager, the Tigers played above. 500 in five, and Cobb remained in the top ranks of the league's hitters with batting averages that never dipped below. 338.

Cobb's popularity as manager waned eventually, as players tired of his odd habits. He switched pitchers constantly, going back and forth between right- and left-handed men. He also slowed down the game considerably with his numerous visits to the pitcher's mound throughout the games. In November 1926, Cobb left the Detroit Tigers under questionable circumstances. He was accused by former teammate Dutch Leonard (1892–1952) of fixing (planning the victory or loss ahead of time) a 1919 game against the Cleveland Indians. Leonard claimed Cobb and Cleveland Indians players Tris Speaker and Joe Wood (1889–1995) were in on the scheme. The matter was referred to baseball commissioner Kenesaw Landis (1866–1944), who judged the men not guilty. Cobb, however, resigned as manager shortly thereafter. The Tigers released him as a player in January 1927.

Final days

On February 8, 1927, Cobb signed with the Philadelphia Athletics. On July 18, 1927, he had his four thousandth hit. By the end of his career in 1928, Cobb would hold the league record with 4,191 hits. It remained the record until September 11, 1985, when Cincinnati Reds player Pete Rose (1941–) broke it.

After retiring in 1928, Cobb continued to behave in ways that contributed to his aggressive reputation. He frequently argued and spent his later years drinking heavily, habits that led his first wife of thirty-nine years to divorce him. He remarried at the age of sixty-two, but that marriage ended in divorce as well.

One of the highlights of Cobb's career came in 1936, when he earned 222 of 226 votes to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. He beat out the legendary Babe Ruth (1895–1948), a rival he disliked the most, which brought him great personal satisfaction. Ruth, since his entrance on the baseball scene in 1919, was the only player on the field who posed a real threat to Cobb's abilities. As Ruth's popularity grew, so did Cobb's disdain for him. Ruth became known as the home-run king, a fact that never ceased to annoy Cobb. Having earned 98.2 percent of the ballot into the Hall of Fame, Cobb felt that he had proved his superiority. That ballot record was not broken until 1992, when pitcher Tom Seaver (1944–) received 98.8 percent of the vote.

Cobb spent his later years alone; he had very few friends and two of his five children had already died. Having made wise investments with his money throughout his career, Cobb had an estate he wished to use to better the lives of those less fortunate. He donated $100,000 to his childhood town of Royston for a hospital to be built. He also established the Cobb Educational Fund, which awards college scholarships to needy students in Georgia. Another $100,000 went to that organization in 1953.

In the late 1950s, Cobb was diagnosed with cancer as well as Bright's disease, a fatal kidney disorder. By spring of 1961, the former baseball great was spending most of his time in the hospital getting treatments for his cancer, which had moved into his spine and skull. It was not until the last few days of his life that he expressed regrets about some of the choices he had made and the way he had lived his life. He entered the hospital for the last time in June, and he took his final breath on June

A Brief History of Baseball Cards

As baseball gained in popularity in the 1860s, companies began producing trading cards that featured drawings of baseball teams or individual players on one side and advertising for a particular product on the other. Early trading cards reached the height of their popularity in the 1880s, when children began collecting and saving trading cards as a hobby.

Historians and collectors generally consider the sporting goods company Peck and Snyder to be the first publisher of baseball cards. It made sense: They sold baseball equipment, and the cards gave them an easy way to advertise. In the twenty-first century, a Peck and Snyder card is worth up to $20,000.

Trading cards were a smart way for businesses to get advertising into the hands of potential customers. Adults knew their children enjoyed collecting trading cards, so they made it a point to get them. Naturally, once in hand, parents would read the cards. It was an inexpensive way to communicate to consumers in an age before mass communication. By the turn of the century, trading cards lost their wide appeal as many businesses turned into mail-order companies and began printing catalogs.

By the 1880s, tobacco companies cornered the market on baseball cards. Between 1886 and 1890, they produced most of the century's cards that people immediately recognize as baseball cards. The companies competed with one another, but Goodwin & Co. is generally considered the first major producer of "modern" baseball cards. Cards were inserted into cigarette packs, and the companies tempted smokers to buy their products by including coupons, which could be saved to be redeemed for a larger, higher-grade card. These were the first cards to feature photography rather than illustration or woodcut prints.

By 1895, the major companies within the tobacco industry had formed a monopoly (total control of an industry which does not allow for competition). Now that competition was no longer an issue, there was no need to produce baseball cards as a way to get people to buy their brand of tobacco. As a result, very few baseball cards were issued during those final years of the nineteenth century and the first few of the twentieth. At that time, federal regulations broke up the monopoly. Baseball cards once again became a means of beating out the competition.

Tobacco companies began issuing albums in which to store their cards. Each pack of cigarettes came with a coupon. Once a consumer had saved enough coupons, they could be redeemed for an album. But whereas the tobacco industry once was the only provider of baseball cards, now other industries were using the idea to attract customers. Candy manufacturers began including baseball cards in their packages of candy, and sports magazines included cards in each issue. The popular candy Cracker Jack, famous for the small toys and other items to be found in each box, used baseball cards as one of their first hidden prizes.

World War I (1914–18) changed America's economy, and card production was temporarily halted. They would not reappear on the market until the 1930s. In 1933, Goudey, a chewing gum company, began offering free cards with every gum purchase, and soon gum became associated with baseball cards. The major gum companies began competing for the rights to include specific players on their cards. Topps became the number-one baseball-card producer for more than twenty years, well into the 1960s.

At that time, other food companies began offering cards with their products, including hot dogs, cereal, and gelatin desserts. In the 1980s, other bubblegum companies began issuing baseball cards. In the early twenty-first century, a company called Wizards of the Coast produced a line of collectible cards that could also be used in a playing-card game. As of 2006, only two companies marketed and sold traditional baseball cards: Topps and Upper Deck.

17, 1961. Despite an admirable career that spanned more than twenty years, only three baseball players attended his small funeral. Cobb left one-quarter of his estate to the Cobb Educational Fund and the remaining $11 million to his children and grandchildren.

For More Information


Bak, Richard. Peach: Ty Cobb in His Time and Ours. Ann Arbor, MI: Sports Media Group, 2005.

Cobb, Ty, and Al Stump. My Life in Baseball: The True Record. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1961. Reprint, Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1993.

Holmes, Dan. Ty Cobb: A Biography. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2004.

Kramer, Sydelle. Ty Cobb: Bad Boy of Baseball. New York: Random House, 1995.

Okkonen, Mark. The Ty Cobb Scrapbook: An Illustrated Chronology of Significant Dates in the 24-Year Career of the Fabled Georgia Peach. New York: Sterling, 2001.


Bak, Richard. "Forget the Babe, Baseball's Best Is Named Tyrus Raymond Cobb." USA Today (Society for the Advancement of Education). (September 2005). This article can also be found online at

Cobb. DVD. Ron Shelton. Hollywood, CA: Warner Home Video, 2003.


"The Illustrated History of Baseball Cards: The 1800s." (accessed on August 21, 2006).

Library of Congress. "Baseball Cards: 1887–1914." American Memory. (accessed on August 21, 2006).

The Official Web Site of Ty Cobb. (accessed on July 6, 2006).

Schwartz, Larry. "He Was a Pain … But a Great Pain." (accessed on August 21, 2006).

"Ty Cobb." Baseball (accessed on August 21, 2006).

"Ty Cobb." National Baseball Hall of Fame. (accessed on August 21, 2006).

Ty Cobb Educational Foundation. (accessed on August 21, 2006).

Cobb, Ty

views updated May 18 2018

Ty Cobb

Born: December 18, 1886
Narrows, Georgia
Died: July 17, 1961
Atlanta, Georgia

American baseball player

Ty Cobb is regarded by some as the greatest all-around baseball player who ever lived. During his career, Cobb set dozens of records, including lifetime batting average, which still remains unbroken.

Early life and career

Tyrus Raymond Cobb was born on December 18, 1886, in Narrows, Georgia, to William Herschel Cobb, a school administrator and state senator, and Amanda Chitwood. Cobb grew up in Royston, Georgia, and began playing sandlot ball (playground baseball) as soon as he could swing a bat. While his father wanted him to pursue an academic career, Cobb was determined to make it as a professional baseball player.

In 1904, despite family objections, he signed with the Augusta baseball team of the South Atlantic League and soon attracted notice. Cobb's aggressive play won him a contract in Augusta that would pay him $125 a month. Grantland Rice (18801954), the famous sportswriter, saw him play for Augusta and named him the "Georgia Peach," a title that Cobb wore proudly.

Dominating the game

At a time when pitchers dominated the game and batting averages were low, Cobb was a brilliant exception. He hit .326 in his last season in the minors before joining the Detroit Tigers of the American League on August 27, 1905. In 1906 Cobb hit .320, the fifth best average in the league and 35 points ahead of anyone else on his team. The next year he won the American League batting championship, hitting .350 and leading Detroit to the World Series. He quickly became the biggest attraction in baseball and would hit .300 or better for twenty-three straight years. During that time, he hit over .400 in three different seasonshis all-time high being .420 in 1911. Cobb led the league in hitting twelve times, nine of them in a row. During his peak years, 1909 to 1919, he so dominated baseball that historians refer to it as the era of the "Cobbian game."

In 1909, for example, Cobb had the best year of any baseball player to that date, leading both leagues in hitting with an average of .377 and leading the American League in every offensive category. Once again he led the Tigers to a pennant (league championship), though they lost the World Series. As most of his teammates were markedly less talented than Cobb, he would never be on a world championship team, about the only honor available to a ball player that he did not win. This remained so even during his years as a player-manager for Detroit from 1921 to 1926, when the team never finished better than second place.

A baseball genius

Cobb, in addition to his batting skills, amazing fielding, and talents as a base runner, was the fiercest competitor in baseball. Not satisfied with simply winning, he had to run up the highest possible score and therefore put ruthless pressure on the opposition until the last man was out. A perfectionist in an era of what was called "inside baseball," which emphasized hit-and-run plays, base stealing, and bunting, he mastered every aspect of his craft. Cobb was also a supremely intelligent player, a kind of baseball genius. "Know thy enemy" was his guiding rule, and his thorough knowledge of every competitor enabled him to "read" the opposition as no one else could.

The reasons why Cobb's intelligence was so much admired in his playing days can be read in his autobiography (a book written by a person about their life). The chapter on hitting is a brilliant essay on how to keep the opposition off balance by never doing the same thing twice. "I tried to be all things to all pitchers," Cobb wrote, summing up his teachings nicely. If that chapter is all about technique, the next one, "Waging War on the Base Paths," is all about psychology (the study of mental behavior).

Once Cobb, annoyed by a catcher who was always telling journalists that Cobb's reputation was overblown, performed an astonishing feat. On stepping up to the plate, he told the catcher that he was going to steal every base. After singling to first, Cobb then stole second, third, and home on four straight pitches.

Later career and legacy

Cobb remained a star after 1920, when the rise of Babe Ruth (18951948) and the introduction of a livelier ball changed the game to one in which batting power mattered more than strategy. But the new "Ruthian game" was not to Cobb's taste, and although he remained a skillful batter, his legs began to give out. In 1927 Cobb signed with the Philadelphia Athletics, and even though he averaged .357 at the plate, it was clear that his days as a player were numbered. He spent most of 1928 on the bench and retired at season's end.

When Cobb left baseball, he held forty-three records. Although all but one have since been broken, his fantastic lifetime batting average of .367 appears safe. That he was the best all-around player who ever lived was recognized in 1936, when he led everyone in votes for the first group of Baseball Hall of Fame inductees. He came in ahead of legends Ruth, Honus Wagner (18741955), Christy Mathewson (18801925), and Walter Johnson (18871946)the other four original selectees.

Cobb the man

As a player Cobb was godlike, but as a man he had little to offer. Angry, ready to argue, touchy, and a loner, his teammates at first hated him for what one of them called his "rotten disposition" (bad attitude). He was tolerated only after his value became obvious. A bully on the field, Cobb was also the same off of it. In a racist age (a period where many believed one race was superior to another) he was notably abusive to African Americans. Cobb was a poor husband and father too. Both his marriages ended in divorce, and even though he had five children by his first wife, his relations with them were not close. As sometimes happens, he did better as a grandfather.

Like many ex-athletes, Cobb was restless in retirement, living simply despite his wealthmuch of which he gave away. In 1953 he founded the Cobb Educational Foundation, which awarded college fellowships to needy Georgia students. Among his other charitable works was the hospital he built in Royston as a memorial to his parents. Cobb died in Atlanta, Georgia, on July 17, 1961, widely admired but not loved, unlike the other great ballplayer of his time, Babe Ruth.

For More Information

Alexander, Charles C. Ty Cobb. New York: Oxford University Press, 1984.

Cobb, Ty, and Al Stump. My Life in Baseball. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1961.

Creevy, Patrick. Tyrus. New York: Forge, 2002.

Stump, Al. Cobb: A Biography. Chapel Hill, NC: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 1994.