In human history, only 12 men have walked on the
Tyrus Raymond “Ty” Cobb was one of the first truly great superstar baseball players in the game. He was also, and still remains, one of the most hated ball players in history. He was the sort of villain in the game whose villainy is passed down through generations of baseball fans; even I knew to hate Ty Cobb. But Cobb embraced his black hat, and was nevertheless an entertaining athlete on the diamond.
Cobb left his home in rural Royston, Georgia, to become a baseball player, and it wasn’t long before he was a sensational outfielder and hitter. His breakout year in 1907 coincided with the Tigers winning the AL pennant. That year, Cobb hit .350, and would win the batting title the next nine seasons. In 1911, Cobb batted an astounding .420 and stole 96 bases.
– Cobb won more batting titles (12) than any other player.
– He is still second on the all-time hits list in the MLB behind Pete Rose.
– In 1936, Cobb became the first player inducted into the Hall of Fame.
– Cobb, amazingly, still holds the record for lifetime batting average at .367.
On the field, Ty Cobb was a beast. But to his teammates and in his personal life, Cobb was generally a terrible person. He was a known racist, a tyrant, and a bad husband and father. Both of his marriages ended in divorce.
His darkness as a man started early on, when his mother was convicted of killing his father. “My father had his head blown off with a shotgun when I was 18 years old — by a member of my own family,” Cobb said. “I didn’t get over that.” Amanda Cobb, his mother, was acquitted on the charges after saying she mistakenly took Cobb’s father for an intruder.
Many of Cobb’s own teammates couldn’t stand him, and virtually all opponents hated him. He was loud, boisterous, cocky, and sought to pick fights whenever the opportunity presented itself.
– In spring training 1907, his first big year, Cobb got into a fight with a black groundskeeper because of the poor condition of the field. When the groundskeeper’s wife intervened, Cobb ended up choking her before the fight was broken up.
– One story involves Cobb stabbing a black night watchman who stepped in after Cobb slapped a black elevator operator for “being uppity.”
– One time, Cobb fought umpire Billy Evans after a game. The fight was stopped only after Cobb had pinned Evans and began choking him.
– In New York a fan was heckling Cobb. He went into the stands and began punching and kicking the man. Cobb was suspended by AL president Ban Johnson.
– In 1912, Cobb and his first wife were jumped by three thieves. Cobb pulled his gun, which he always carried, but it wouldn’t fire. He ended up chasing one of the men and beating him nearly to death with the butt of his gun.
– The myth always existed that Cobb wore razor-sharp spikes which he would keep high when he stole bases to keep fielders from approaching him. Cobb denied that he ever did that, but embraced the mythology because it made his base stealing much easier.
“I had to fight all my life to survive. They were all against me… but I beat the bastards and left them in the ditch.”
“Baseball is a red-blooded sport for red-blooded men. It’s no pink tea, and mollycoddles had better stay out. It’s a struggle for supremacy, a survival of the fittest.”
“When I began playing the game, baseball was about as gentlemanly as a kick in the crotch.”
“I have observed that baseball is not unlike a war, and when you come right down to it, we batters are the heavy artillery.”
Cobb retired from the game in 1928, still hitting .323 at that time for the Athletics. Despite his tyrannical behavior, Cobb was a savvy investor and ended up making millions in the stock market. He died in July 1961, eaten up by cancer at the age of 74.