Book Review: Ty Cobb: My 20 Years in Baseball
85 years ago in 1925 Ty Cobb wrote a series of articles for the New York Evening Journal recapping his 20 years in baseball.
I just read those same memoirs in book form published by Dover Press in 2009. Before reading this book I had a mindset that Cobb was a great baseball player but a dirty baseball player who would go to any length to win a baseball game regardless of any injuries he may have to impose on his opponents.
The book is written in his own words telling how he played in an adult baseball league at the age of 12. It tells of how supportive his father was of his efforts to play baseball at a time when baseball players were looked down on and were not yet the role models they would become later.
Popcorn Crackerjack Incident
He tells of a minor league game when he was munching on a popcorn crackerjack in the outfield during the middle of the game. A ball was hit his way and he said he didn’t want to drop the popcorn ball or the ball coming toward him in the air. As fate would have it the popcorn crackerjack and the baseball both fell to the ground as he attempted to multi-task by eating the popcorn crackerjack and catch a baseball at the same time.
Needless to say his manager was not too happy about his outfielder dropping the baseball and he had a talk with his outfielder that was more interested in keeping his popcorn ball than catching the baseball. George Leidy his manager while Cobb was playing for Augusta in the South Atlantic League taught him a life lesson he would never forget.
He told Cobb that he needed to take baseball seriously because if every player had the attitude of Cobb baseball would die out. He learned a life lesson from his manager that would last the rest of his professional baseball career.
First Major League At Bat
Cobb goes on to tell about his first major league at bat in 1905 against Hall of Famer Jack Chesbro who had posted 41 wins in the 1904 season and no pitcher since then has won more games in a major league season in the last 106 years.
He was only 18 when he faced the 31 year old veteran Chesbro of the Yankees and was shaking when he was at the plate but he conquered his nerves and laced a double that would score two runs.
No More Headfirst Slides
In that same game Cobb learned a lesson from Kid Elberfield the Yankee shortstop. He had always slid headfirst in the minors but when he tried sliding headfirst into second base Elberfield lowered his knee which shoved Cobb’s head into the ground peeling off some skin.
That was the last time he ever slid headfirst into second base. It also taught him how to fight fire with fire as he later slid so hard into Elberfield that he knocked him five feet from the base.
Cobb’s style may not have been popular with the fans of other teams but the players on those teams knew to treat him with respect once he learned how to strike fear into the fielders by sliding with spikes high.
Attacks Heckler in 1912
The story about Cobb attacking the fan in New York on May 15, 1912 has been told many times but this is the first time I have heard it from his perspective.
Cobb had endured the heckling of a fan in New York named Claude Leuker many times in the past but Leuker was particularly abusive on this date using vulgar language with women in the stands. The fan asked Cobb what he was doing on a team with white people which infuriated Cobb.
His teammates told Cobb that if he didn’t attack the heckler he wasn’t much of a man and that they would support him. So Cobb went into the stands and struck the man several times knocking him out.
Later he would find out that the man was a crippled man and American League president Ban Johnson immediately suspended Cobb. This development angered his Tigers teammates who told Johnson in a telegram that if Cobb wasn’t reinstated they would not play in the next game.
Violin Student Pitches For Tigers
Johnson didn’t back off and neither did the players who didn’t play that day. Instead manager Hughie Jennings rounded up a substitute team by getting Allen Travers who wasn’t good enough to make the varsity team for St. Joseph’s in Philadelphia to round up a team.
He found some guys on a street corner and they became Detroit Tigers for that day as Cobbs states in the book.
Athletics Pound Tiger Team Misfits 24-2
Travers who was a violin student took the mound for the Tigers that day and the Athletics pounded the substitute Tigers 24-2. It would be the only game played by the team of misfits and Cobb was reinstated a few days later.
After reading the book I could tell Cobb was repentent for some of his actions on the baseball field and he says he would do some things differently if given the chance. The book may not sway baseball fans to his side but it does give him a chance to defend himself for his actions.
Best Hitter Ever
Cobb was clearly the best hitter in the history of major league baseball hitting .366 but Pete Rose has 67 more hits than Cobb according to baseball-reference.com. Rose hit safely 4,256 times while Cobb garnered 4,189 hits. At one time Cobb had been credited with 4,191 hits.
However, Rose batted 2,619 more times than Cobb which is more than five more 500 at bat seasons than Rose. There is a huge difference in their lifetime batting averages with Cobb hitting .366 while Rose barely hit over .300 with a .303 average with Rose listed 174th among all baseball players.
Won Eleven Batting Titles
Cobb would win eleven AL batting titles and would have won in 1922 when he hit .401 but George Sisler hit .420 that season. Pete Rose only won three batting championships during his career.
He only hit 117 home runs in his career which was mostly during the deadball era but drove in 1.938 runs which is seventh on the alltime list so he was more of a slugger than given credit for. He led the AL in slugging eight times and in OPS ten times.
Cobb won the Triple Crown in 1909 when his nine home runs led the AL and was voted the 1911 AL MVP. His 897 stolen bases is fourth best with only Rickey Henderson, Lou Brock and Billy Hamilton having more in their lifetime.