Tyrus Raymond Cobb
(The Georgia Peach)
- Bats Left, Throws Right
- Height 6' 1", Weight 175 lb.
- Debut August 30, 1905
- Final Game September 11, 1928
- Born December 18, 1886 in The Narrows, GA USA
- Died July 17, 1961 in Atlanta, GA USA
" ...it is still one of the most fascinating arguments in baseball... which was the greater player, Cobb or Ruth. (There are) millions of Cobb supporters." - Frank Gibbons of the Cleveland Press, writing in the May 1960 issue of Baseball Digest
Ty Cobb, The Georgia Peach, was by any measure one of the greatest ballplayers ever. He ranks first all-time by both the Gray Ink method and Hall of Fame Monitor, second in Black Ink, and sixth by Hall of Fame Standards. He has the highest major league batting average of all time, won a record twelve American League batting championships, and once led the league in OPS+ nine times in a row.
He was an unequaled power hitter in the Dead Ball Era, garnering eight slugging titles and a Triple Crown, yet was so fleet afoot he rapped 724 doubles and 295 triples. His modern records for most steals in a season (96) and career (897) both stood for nearly half a century. No player was his peer, nor any even similar, with the only player with a score higher than 670 on his Top 10 list being contemporary Tris Speaker, a fellow Hall of Famer he was often compared to but strongly overshadowed during their playing days.
A final example of how great Cobb was, and high his esteem among those who saw him play, is his placing first in the Hall of Fame's introductory class of five enshrinees in 1936, ahead even of Babe Ruth. The great Cy Young and his 511 victories could not even make the cut, squeaking by with just 76.1% in his second year of eligibility. Fifty-six years would pass and 166 Major League playing greats would be added to Cooperstown before Cobb's 98.2% share of Baseball Writers' ballots would be surpassed by Tom Seaver's 98.8%.
A Young man from Georgia
"Ty Cobb was still fighting the Civil War, and as far as he was concerned, we were all damn Yankees." - Sam Crawford
Cobb was born in a farming community in Georgia called simply "The Narrows", no more than a dozen homes or homesteads a dozen miles by the crow from the city of Rome, GA. The family moved to Royston, GA a few years later, a town that is sometimes incorrectly listed as Cobb's birthplace. His father, William Herschel Cobb, was an educated man, a school teacher, a state senator and fond of philosophy; his mother came from a prominent family. His father expected Tyrus to become a lawyer or doctor, but he had no interest in studies. Instead, he attended a tryout organized by the Augusta team of the South Atlantic League early in 1904 and made the team, only to be cut after two games. He found a position with a semipro team in Anniston, AL, and played well enough to obtain a second chance with Augusta at the end of the year. In 1905, the Detroit Tigers of the still young American League trained in Augusta, and were impressed by the young outfielder. He still had some ways to go, but under the tutelage of manager George Leidy, he became one of the top hitters in the league.
Two momentous events then occurred which turned Cobb's life around in August 1905. First, his father died under tragic circumstances, shot by his mother, who claimed she had mistaken him for a burglar - he was apparently stalking her bedroom as he suspected she was having an affair. Cobb had to go back home for the funeral and to help sort out matters, then returned to Augusta. At that point, the Tigers bought his contract for $700 and, still shaken by the recent events, he reported to the ball club. He had never been outside the South and was a fairly unsophisticated young man.
A Hazing for the Ages
Cobb showed up in Detroit in late August of 1905, hitting a modest .240 in the team's last 41 games. He was hazed, as most rookies were in those days, which continued into the 1906 season. Cobb took it particularly badly, prompting even worse treatment. Compounding his sophomore year was his mother being indicted for his father's shooting death that March; though she was eventually acquitted of manslaughter, the hazing and family scandal combined to stress Cobb and sour his relationship with teammates. Boss Schmidt and Matty McIntyre were among the ringleaders, and he responded by fighting back, taking out his aggression with his bat, on the basepaths, and upon anyone who might stand in his way. One of McIntyre's ploys was to feint that he would try to catch a fly ball hit between the two, only to stop and let the ball drop, making the rookie Cobb look bad. After one such play, pitcher Ed Siever attacked Cobb in the team's hotel, accusing him of having lost the game; Cobb knocked down Siever and kept punching him until teammates dragged him away. Seething, violent, and consumed by a passion to excel, he continued to make enemies at every turn. In his native South, which had no Major League team closer than Washington, D.C., he was portrayed as a gallant defender of the region's honor against the Yankee hordes and was extremely popular.
Ty hit very well in 1906, hitting .316/.355/.394 in 98 games as the team's main center fielder, then moved to right field in 1907 with Sam Crawford patrolling center. He almost was traded before the season, as the Tigers had a deal worked out with the Cleveland Naps for Elmer Flick, until Naps manager Napoleon Lajoie nixed the trade. The Boston Americans were also reportedly interested in acquiring Cobb, when it looked like the Tigers would not be able to keep both him and his main antagonist, Schmidt, on their team. Fortunately, the Tigers thought better of it. That season is when Cobb emerged as a superstar, the best hitter in the American League, winning his first of three consecutive batting titles (and ten overall) (.350/.380/.468) and leading the Tigers to their first pennant. In 1908, he formed the second-best outfield of all-time, according to Win Shares, with Crawford and McIntyre; he would be part of the best outfield ever in 1912, with Bobby Veach replacing McIntyre as the third member. In 1909, he won the AL Triple Crown, his only season of leading the league in home runs, batting .377/.431/.517 with 9 home runs and 107 RBI. He was also embroiled in controversy that season, as he spiked the Philadelphia Athletics' Frank Baker on a close play at third base in August, prompting death threats from A's fans. He also got into a fight in a Cleveland hotel with an African-American night watchman, and a police warrant was issued for his arrest. Cobb pleaded guilty to assault and battery after the season, paid a $100 fine, and settled a civil suit with the man he assaulted.
From 1907 to 1909, the Tigers won the pennant each year, and Cobb played in three consecutive World Series. The results were underwhelming: he hit .262/.314/.354 over 17 games, and the Tigers lost all three championships, to the Chicago Cubs in 1907 and 1908 and to the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1909. He would never play in a Fall Classic again.
The Most Famous Player in Baseball
From the time he won the Triple Crown until the emergence of Babe Ruth as a power hitter, Cobb was almost universally acknowledged not only as the best player in baseball, but as the greatest to ever play the game. He would win the batting title year after year, and place among the league leaders in all important hitting categories. Controversy continued to hound him. In 1910, he was so unpopular with other players that St. Louis Browns manager Jack O'Connor instructed his third baseman, Red Corriden, to play well back on the last day of the season to throw the batting title to Cleveland Naps star Napoleon Lajoie, who was locked in a tight race with Cobb. Colluding with the fix, Lajoie dropped bunt after bunt down the third base line that day, going 6 for 6 and stealing the crown.
On May 15, 1912, Cobb got into a fight at New York's Hilltop Park with heckler Claude Lueker, a disabled man, going into the stands to assault him. American League President Ban Johnson was appalled when he heard about the incident and suspended Cobb indefinitely. Cobb's teammates, supported by owner Frank Navin, went on strike to support him. On May 18th, Johnson ordered the Tigers to field a team or face massive retribution. Navin obliged by hastily putting together a team of semipro players who were destroyed by the Philadelphia Athletics, giving up 26 runs. Fearful that the season would turn into a farce, Johnson relented and reduced Cobb's suspension to 10 days.
Cobb hit .419/.466/.620 in 1911, then .409/.456/.584 in 1912 and .401/.462/.565 at age 35 in 1922. But the Tigers were no longer competing for the pennant in those days, despite Cobb's great hitting. His .400 average in 1922 was tainted with controversy, as when the season ended, an official of the AL noticed a discrepancy between league records and those of the official scorers: at a game against the New York Yankees on May 15th, a ball hit by Cobb was listed as an error by shortstop Everett Scott in the official scorer's report, whereas league records had it marked as a hit, based on a newspaper report; with the error instead of the hit, Cobb's average would fall to .398. When the discrepancy was discovered, AL President Ban Johnson, who had been at the game, ruled the play a hit, giving Cobb his third .400 season. Fred Lieb, chief baseball writer for the Associated Press, was irate that the official scorer's decision (with which he agreed) could be overturned, but Johnson's ruling stood. Remarkably, the .401 average was only good for a second-place finish to George Sisler of the St. Louis Browns in the batting race. With the addition of Heinie Manush as a regular left fielder in 1923, Detroit boasted an all "Hall of Fame" outfield with Harry Heilmann in right and Cobb in center, a feat that has never been matched.
"It was Cobb who made Heilmann a great hitter. He made Heinie Manush." - Fred Haney
"Ty Cobb was a great manager. He took a bunch of punks and finished third in 1922, second in '23 and third in '24, when he should have been deep in the second division." - Fred Haney
In 1921, Ty was named playing-manager of the Tigers, succeeding Hughie Jennings, who had held the reins since 1907. The team improved slightly under his leadership, but never threatened to win the pennant. His greatest contribution was to have mentored Harry Heilmann into one of the best hitters of the 1920s, the sixth-year player's batting average jumping 85 points to an AL-leading .394 and leaving Cobb as a bridesmaid at .389. Heilmann won three more batting titles, and Cobb never again. Cobb is also credited with discovering the young Charlie Gehringer, a hard-hitting future Hall of Fame second baseman. He was much less successful with pitchers however, sending Carl Hubbell back to the minors and trading away Howard Ehmke while he still had a number of good years left.
Cobb's association with the Tigers came to a crashing end at the end of the 1926 season. He had led them to a respectable 79-75 record that year while hitting .339/.408/.511 in part-time play. On November 3rd, the club announced that he was stepping down as manager, soon followed by Cleveland's player-manager, and fellow legend, Tris Speaker. The reason became clear shortly thereafter, when accusations from former pitcher Dutch Leonard were made public, alleging that Cobb, Speaker and Cleveland outfielder Joe Wood had conspired to throw a game between Detroit and Cleveland on September 25, 1919. Leonard produced two letters written by Wood to support his claim, but refused to come to Chicago to testify in person. On January 27, 1927, Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis ruled that the players were not guilty, as there was not enough evidence in support of the allegations.
Ty threatened to sue after the case was dismissed, but then was quieted by a generous salary offer from Connie Mack, owner/manager of the Philadelphia Athletics - for his part, Speaker found work with the Washington Senators. Cobb took well to his new home, batting .357/.440/.482 in 134 games for the A's in 1927, and following that with a .323/.389/.431 average in 95 games at age 41 in 1928. At that point, he retired and returned to live in Georgia.
Cobb's brother, Paul Cobb, played minor league ball from 1907 to 1916. During World War I, Cobb was a Captain under Branch Rickey's CWS Chemical Warfare unit; he never saw action although he did make the trip to France.
He made a fortune by investing in Coca-Cola and a company that would become part of General Motors. He was a personal friend of the Woodruff family, who were the principal owners of the Coca Cola Company and, like Cobb, native Georgians. Cobb's endorsements of their product helped to hone his own business acumen.
Cobb had a brief career as an actor, both on stage and in movies. After the 1911 season, he toured around the United States for ten weeks in a production of The College Widow in which he played the leading man. He received fairly good reviews for his performance, but did not like the grind of touring, thinking it would detract from his preparations for the next baseball season. After the 1916 season, he was hired to star in the silent movie Somewhere in Georgia, based on a story by sportswriter Grantland Rice. The film, of which no copy remains, received only limited distribution and mixed reviews. He made a few cameo appearances in other films in later years, including the original Angels in the Outfield in 1951.
Cobb's legacy is dogged by a story that he once killed a man after being mugged by he and two accomplices. It goes that, on the way to the park in Detroit one day, Cobb was attacked by a couple of men. He fought them off and chased them away. He caught one and beat him into such a bloody pulp that the man's face was impossible to distinguish and he was having trouble breathing. Cobb went to the park, and, despite a knife wound in the back, played that game and got a few hits. Shortly after, the badly beaten body of a John Doe was found not far from the park. Cobb later told a sportswriter that he believed he killed that man.
So Cobb may have thought. And so reported Al Stump, the co-author of Cobb's autobiography who never bothered to investigate the claim (or really anything for the book) before later repeating it. Here's what is known: in 1912, after Cobb's infamous run-in with heckler Claude Lueker in New York, which resulted in the Tigers going on strike, Cobb and his wife were ambushed by three men in Detroit. They were not going to the ballpark, but were driving to the train station so Cobb could travel to Syracuse to play an exhibition game. The men acted as if their automobile was broken down and waved down Cobb. When Cobb got out of his car, the men attacked him. Cobb brandished a gun and chased one of the men who was fleeing. According to Stump, Cobb claimed in 1961, that he killed that man in an alley. This is highly unlikely, since no bodies were found in Detroit during this period that match that story. Most likely, though we will never know; Cobb fought the three men, chased one down and may have pistol-whipped him. But he almost certainly did not kill a man, although it is possible that Cobb, who was in a diminished mental state when he spoke to Stump, could have made such a claim. The attack was reported in the papers and the Tiger trainer stitched Cobb up on the train, so it would have been news if a body had been found in an alley or a street in Detroit that matched a murder by beating at the same time. Cobb did play in the exhibition game and performed well. That part of the story is true.
Cobb never ceased being a competitor. It is claimed that in an Old Timer's Game at Yankee Stadium between former Yankees and other former major leaguers, Cobb told the catcher to "stay back, I don't know how well I can hold on to the bat," then proceeded to bunt down the third base line. Despite the tactic, Cobb was still thrown out at first and was slightly miffed about it, at least for a few seconds.
In spite of his accumulated riches, his later life was not particularly happy. He was divorced twice and had a strained relationship with his five children. He was famously known for refusing autograph requests (the story usually told is that if the autograph seekers sent him a self-addressed stamped envelope, he would steam off the stamp to re-use it and throw the envelope away) and turning back any admirers who wanted to pay homage or meet him. He was an alcoholic who railed against the fact that his growing reputation as a nasty man meant that his playing exploits were becoming less and less appreciated. It is true that his reputation took a fall in the 1950s and 1960s, because of his relative lack of home runs and his poor personal reputation, but more recent statistical studies have contributed to restoring his reputation as a player, by demonstrating that his offensive contribution was phenomenal in the context in which he played. His reputation as a man, though, still suffers.
His son, Tyrus Cobb, played in the minor leagues.
Cobb was an unmatched combination of speed and power. He has the highest career batting average in major league baseball history, for many years believed to be .367 and so memorized by many a schoolchild. Subsequent archival research has reduced it a point, although some sources still list him at .367. He won a record 12 batting titles and hit over .300 for 23 years in a row. In fact, from 1940 to 2000, only 13 times has a player maintained a higher single-season batting average than Cobb's career average.
When he retired, Cobb was also the all-time leader in hits (4,189), runs scored (2,244), and stolen bases (897), though these numbers are also different than those a century of baseball fans were familiar with. He holds the major league record for most hits with one club, 3,900 as a member of the Detroit Tigers. Famed for coming in spikes high, he was a six-time AL steals champ. He also held the modern record record for thefts in a season with 96. Most of these marks stood for close to half a century or more. Cobb stole home a record 54 times.
Cobb was rarely recognized for his power but he led the league in slugging percentage 8 times and OPS+ 11, including an incredible nine years running. His power was so prodigious for his day he won a Triple Crown in 1909, was in the top 5 in home runs 7 times, and led the league in RBI 4 times. In later life, he sneered at the new breed of power hitters, claiming that he could have hit a bunch of home runs if he had wanted to but that he preferred a more scientific approach to the game any way. This boast was part of his furious rivalry with Babe Ruth, who threatened to take away from him the title of "greatest baseball player ever". On May 5, 1925, he hit three home runs in one game, reputedly to prove to reporters that he was indeed serious about this boast. It is also true that, despite his excellent power, he was an outstanding bunter, and made defenses pay if they tried to play him back.
He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame on February 2, 1936 by the Baseball Writers Association of America. He received more votes in the first election to the Hall than Babe Ruth and Honus Wagner, who were his main contenders for title of greatest baseball player of all-time at that point. It was again half a century and over 150 Hall of Fame ballplayers later before his mark of 98.2% of the Baseball Writers' votes was surpassed.
Ty Cobb was portrayed by actor Tommy Lee Jones in the movie Cobb. He was also portrayed by Pete Rose, who had broken his record for lifetime hits, in the 1991 television movie Babe Ruth. His autobiography, entitled My Life In Baseball: The True Record, co-authored by Al Stump, was published shortly after his death and filled with all sorts of claims that were never verified or out-and-out lies manufactured by Stump in an effort to increase book sales.
Cobb was a promoter of a patent medicine called "Nuxated Iron", which contained strychnine. He appeared in ads promoting the concoction starting in 1915. See here for details: .
His main teammates included Sam Crawford (11554), Donie Bush (8581), Bobby Veach (8414), Harry Heilmann (7108), Hooks Dauss (6621), George Mullin (5706), Wild Bill Donovan (3660), Matty McIntyre (2801), Lu Blue (2604), Jim Delahanty (2556), Johnny Bassler (2221), Howard Ehmke (2026).
- AL MVP (1911)
- AL Triple Crown Winner (1909)
- 11-time AL Batting Average Leader (1907-1909, 1911-1915 & 1917-1919)
- 7-time AL On-Base Percentage Leader (1909, 1910, 1913-1915, 1917 & 1918)
- 8-time AL Slugging Percentage Leader (1907-1912, 1914 & 1917)
- 10-time AL OPS Leader (1907-1912, 1914, 1915, 1917 & 1925)
- AL At Bats Leader (1917)
- 5-time AL Runs Scored Leader (1909-1911, 1915 & 1916)
- 8-time AL Hits Leader (1907-1909, 1911, 1912, 1915, 1917 & 1919)
- 6-time AL Total Bases Leader (1907-1909, 1911, 1915 & 1917)
- 6-time AL Singles Leader (1907, 1909, 1911, 1912, 1915 & 1917)
- 3-time AL Doubles Leader (1908, 1911 & 1917)
- 4-time AL Triples Leader (1908, 1911, 1917 & 1918)
- AL Home Runs Leader (1909)
- 6-time AL Stolen Bases Leader (1907, 1909, 1911 & 1915-1917)
- 100 RBI Seasons: 7 (1907-1909, 1911, 1917, 1921 & 1925)
- 100 Runs Scored Seasons: 11 (1909-1912, 1915-1917, 1921, 1923, 1924 & 1927)
- 200 Hits Seasons: 9 (1907, 1909, 1911, 1912, 1915-1917, 1922 & 1924)
- 50 Stolen Bases Seasons: 8 (1909-1913 & 1915-1917)
- Baseball Hall of Fame: Class of 1936
|Detroit Tigers Manager
Year-By-Year Managerial Record
|1921||Detroit Tigers||American League||71-82||6th||Detroit Tigers|
|1922||Detroit Tigers||American League||79-75||3rd||Detroit Tigers|
|1923||Detroit Tigers||American League||83-71||2nd||Detroit Tigers|
|1924||Detroit Tigers||American League||86-68||3rd||Detroit Tigers|
|1925||Detroit Tigers||American League||81-73||4th||Detroit Tigers|
|1926||Detroit Tigers||American League||79-75||6th||Detroit Tigers|
- Batting average, career, .366
- Batting average, left handed batter, career, .366
- Quickest player to reach 3,000 Hits (2,135 games) in MLB history
- Quickest player to reach 4,000 Hits (2,884 games) in MLB history
- Youngest player to reach 1,000, 2,000, 3,000, & 4,000 Hits in MLB history
- Hits, left handed batter, career, 4189
- Runs, left handed batter, career, 2246
- Games with five or more hits, career, 14
- Singles, left handed batter, career, 3051
- Times reached base, left handed batter, career, 5532
- Seasons leading the league in batting average, 11
- Consecutive seasons leading the league in batting average, 9
- Seasons with 10 or more triples, 17 (tied)
- Seasons batting .400, 3 (tied)
- Seasons batting .300, 23
- Consecutive seasons batting .350, 11
- Consecutive seasons batting .300, 23
- Highest batting average over three consecutive seasons, .408 (1911-13)
- Games, outfielder, career, 2934
- Steals of home, career, 54
Sources and Further Reading
- Charles C. Alexander: Ty Cobb, Southern Methodist University Press, Dallas, TX, 2006 (originally published in 1984).
- Ry E. Brownell II: "Was Ty Cobb a Power Hitter?", in The Baseball Research Journal, Society for American Baseball Research, Cleveland, OH, # 35 (2007), pp. 34-39.
- Herschel Cobb: Heart of a Tiger: Growing Up With My Grandfather, Ty Cobb, ECW Press, Toronto, ON, 2013. ISBN 978-1770411302
- Ty Cobb, William R. Cobb and Paul Dickson: My Twenty Years in Baseball, Dover Publications, Mineola, NY, 2009 (originally published in 2002).
- Ty Cobb and Al Stump: My Life In Baseball: The True Record, Bison Books, University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln, NE, 1993 (originally published in 1961).
- William R. Cobb: "The Georgia Peach: Stumped by the Storyteller", in Baseball in the Peach State, The National Pastime, SABR, Volume 40 (2010), pp. 84-101.
- Donald Dewey and Nicholas Acocella: "Ty Cobb", in The New Biographical History of Baseball, Triumph Books, Chicago, IL, 2002, pp. 73-76.
- Rob Edelman: "Ty Cobb, Actor", in Baseball in the Peach State, The National Pastime, SABR, Volume 40 (2010), pp. 102-110.
- Dan Ginsburg: "Tyrus Raymond Cobb", in David Jones, ed.: Deadball Stars of the American League, SABR, Potomac Books, Inc., Dulles, VA, 2006, pp. 546-550.
- Tim Hornbaker: War on the Basepaths: The Definitive Biography of Ty Cobb, Sports Publishing LLC, New York, NY, 2015. ISBN 978-1613217658
- Rick Huhn: The Chalmers Race: Ty Cobb, Napoleon Lajoie, and the Controversial 1910 Batting Title That Became a National Obsession, University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln, NE, 2014. ISBN 978-0-8032-7182-1
- Bill James: "Ty Cobb", in The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract, The Free Press, New York, NY, 2001, pp. 721-723.
- Chuck Kimberly: The Days of Rube, Matty, Honus and Ty: Scenes from the Early Deadball Era, 1904–1907, McFarland, Jefferson, NC, 2019. ISBN 978-1-4766-7610-4
- Herm Krabbenhoft: "How Many Hits Did Ty Cobb Make In His Major League Career? What Is His Lifetime Batting Average?", Baseball Research Journal, SABR, Vol. 48, Nr. 1, Spring 2019, pp. 92-97.
- Jimmy Lanier as told to Millard Fisher: "Ty Cobb Through the Eyes of a Batboy", in Baseball in the Peach State, The National Pastime, SABR, Volume 40 (2010), pp. 111-114.
- Charles Leehrsen: Ty Cobb: A Terrible Beauty, Simon & Schuster, New York, NY, 2015. ISBN 978-1451645767
- Brian Marshall: "The Three, or Was It Two, .400 Hitters of 1922", The Baseball Research Journal, SABR, Volume 43, Number 1 (spring 2014), pp. 95-99.
- Trent McCotter: "Ty Cobb's Splits", The Baseball Research Journal, SABR, Vol. 38, Number 2 (Fall 2009), pp. 51-56.
- Bill Miller: "Baseball’s Surprising Stats: Ty Cobb", The On Deck Circle: Baseball History, Commentary and Analysis 
- Marc Okkonen: The Ty Cobb Scrapbook: An Illustrated Chronology of Significant Dates in the 24-Year Career of the Fabled Georgia Peach, Sterling Publishing Company, New York, NY, 2002. ISBN 978-1402700781
- Amber Roessner: Inventing Baseball Heroes: Ty Cobb, Christy Mathewson, and the Sporting Press in America, Louisiana State University Press, Baton Rouge, LA, 2014. ISBN 978-0-8071-5611-7
- H.G. Salsinger: Ty Cobb: Two Biographies, McFarland, Jefferson, NC, 2012. Includes "Our Ty: Ty Cobb's Life Story" (1924) and "Which Was Greatest: Ty Cobb or Babe Ruth?" (1951). ISBN 0786465468
- Tom Stanton: Ty and the Babe: Baseball's Fiercest Rivals, Thomas Dunne Books, St. Martin's Press, New York, NY, 2007.