It was December 18, 1866, when the infant Tyrus Raymond Cobb drew his first breath. He would grow up to be one the most influential baseball players of his day, Ty Cobb.
For some, he was one of the greatest of all time. The man set a grip of records, 90 to be exact, during his 74 years on this planet. He’s a Hall of Famer, and Sporting News ranked him one of Baseball’s 100 Greatest Players in 1992.
Some of the records he set remain unbroken, even decades later. He was quite a player, one few people on earth today have had the pleasure to watch play.
Cobb not only leveraged his talents to win in a game set against him, he won by being a smart player who knew the game and his opponents in grave detail.
Growing up Cobb
Although Cobb would end up in Detroit for much of his adult life, he started life in Narrows, Georgia. His parents, William Herschel and Amanda Chitwood Cobb were somewhat famous in their time too.
William started in teaching but moved into politics as a state senator. By proxy, the whole family became politicians.
There wasn’t much action in Narrows so the family moved to Royston, a larger but still small town northeast of Atlanta. Narrows boasts itself the birthplace of Cobb, but Royston is where the boy grew up playing sandlot baseball.
The teacher side of Ty’s father wanted more of an academic career for Ty, but the boy took to baseball early and often. By 1904 he was already playing for money in the South Atlantic League, for the Augusta team.
Fans and scouts took notice of the young man’s aggressive and accurate style of play. The young man could hit a baseball.
Hitter in a Pitcher’s World
Baseball of Cobb’s day was a pitcher’s game. They could throw some dirty stuff over the plate, spitballs, dirt balls, clumps of sand from the mound, whatever.
Maybe not clumps of sand, but it sure seems like it looking back.
Hitters in that world were up against a tough battle. Cobb, however, prevailed. In his last amateur season, he hit .326.
Then Detroit picked him up. The balls got faster and greasier, but Cobb only fought harder to hit them. He started with a .320 his first year with the Tigers.
That put him at number five in the league, way ahead of any other hitter on his own team. Needless to say, his teammates and the Detroit fans had strong feelings about Cobb right away.
His teammates saw him as threatening, but the fans loved watching him do his thing.
Cobb maintained that hitting streak for the duration of his career, never dropping below .300, three seasons hitting over .400 with a .420 as his best. For the decade of the teens, there was nobody who could outhit Cobb.
Cobb wasn’t only a hitter. He had fielding skills and speed. He was so good, he frustrated the other players with taunting and his execution.
Cobb worked overtime to know the other team, to exploit that information to squeeze every point of each inning. For Cobb, it wasn’t enough to beat them. He had to crush the opposition in points.
These were not yet the days of Babe Ruth smashing balls into the stands. The offensive game at the time was all about smaller hits, bunting, and stealing bases.
This is where Cobb excelled once he got on base. He knew where and how each infield player on the other team would behave, then leveraged that information to accumulate bases and points.
When the game shifted from smaller plays and dirty pitching to big hits as Babe Ruth dug out his place in Baseball, Ty Cobb faded from the game.
He played for Detroit and managed some until 1926, then played one more year for Philadelphia Athletics.
One could write a whole blog about his career highlights, but safe to say there are many, American League MVP, Triple Crown, Batting Champion, on and on… He passed away on July 17, 1961.