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TY COBB : No Better Player Swung a Bat; No Worse a Person Played the Game

Times Staff Writer

You read of the life of Ty Cobb, the remembrances of men who played with him, memories of those who knew him, and you can’t help but wonder.

You wonder if in that marble family mausoleum where he rests today in Royston, Ga., he hears everything said of him. You wonder if he knows what Pete Rose has done.

If he does, Tyrus Raymond Cobb is not happy this morning.

Grantland Rice, the late sportswriter, in his book, “The Tumult and the Shouting,” recalled a 1935 lunch at the Detroit Athletic Club with Nig Clarke, the old Cleveland catcher, and Cobb.

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Seven years had passed since Cobb’s retirement. He was 49. But the fire had not been extinguished, as Rice wrote:

“Clarke was confessing to Ty over lunch how many tags at the plate he’d missed in his career, plays the umpires had missed, as well. But then he said: ‘I missed you at least 10 times at the plate, Ty--times when you were called out.’ Cobb was on Nig with a wild charge, shouting: ‘You cost me 10 runs . . . runs I earned !’ I had to pull Cobb off of him. Thirty minutes later, he was still burning.”

Those flames, always just beneath Cobb’s skin, powered a career that surpassed all others in baseball, not only those of his era, but all who came along long after he was gone.

Nearly six decades have passed since he last played, in 1928. Few today can say they saw him play the game. Time blurs fact and legend. He is a shadowy, elusive figure, whose lifetime batting average, .367, far above all other accomplishments, almost defies belief.

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Consider:

--From 1909 to 1922, from age 23 to 36, he averaged .383 . From 1911 to 1913, he hit .420, .410 and .390. In 1921 and ’22, when he was 35 and 36, he hit .389 and .401.

--He hit .400 three times.

--He won 12 American League batting championships, nine of them in a row.

--He stole more than 50 bases eight times, and his record 96 in 1915 lasted until 1962.

--And talk about contact hitters. In 11,429 at-bats over 24 years, he struck out 357 times. He struck out fewer than 30 times a season 13 times. He had 200 hits nine times.

--His achievements endure, and will continue to endure, long after Rose is gone. Although Rose has caught him in hits, Cobb still has a lead over everyone who ever played in runs scored, 2,245. Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron are tied for second, at 2,176, and Rose is next, at 2,140.

--Only Lou Brock, with 938, and a 19th Century player, William R. Hamilton with 937, stole more bases than Cobb’s 892. Cobb, who had only fair foot speed but nine different slides, was a great baserunner into his 40s. According to teammates and opponents, he had the ability to determine where the catcher’s throw would arrive by watching the second baseman’s eyes. He’s still the record-holder with 35 steals of home.

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But the one enduring number remains .367.

High lifetime averages of baseball’s early years are partially attributed by baseball historians to the difference in gloves of today’s and Cobb’s eras. They wonder how many more hits a year Rose and other batsmen would have today if infielders and outfielders had to wear the crude, unwebbed gloves of Cobb’s day.

But, as Cobb’s son, Jim, points out: “Gloves were just one difference between the two eras. Pete Rose never had to ride an un-air conditioned train from New York to St. Louis in September, check into a hotel so hot you had to sprinkle ice water on the sheets to get to sleep, and play the next afternoon in a flannel-wool uniform, either.”

It’s the number that won’t go away: .367 for 24 years. Comparisons: Rod Carew, who started this season hitting .330 for his career, was 33rd on the all-time list. George Brett at .313 was 78th. Rose at .305 was 133rd.

In the last quarter century, only one player, Ted Williams, in sixth place at .344, has been able to crack the all-time top 20. Before Williams, you have to go back to 1936 to find the next most recent addition to the list, Bill Terry, who finished at .341 for 17th place.

Conclusion: Cobb probably wouldn’t hit .367 today. But he wouldn’t hit .267, either. Call it something in between.

THE PLAYER

He was not, by his own admission, a natural. H.G. Salsinger, who covered Cobb and the Tigers for the Detroit News for many years, once wrote of Cobb: “His is the story of a mighty brain and the driving force of genius that made him great when other men, superior in physical strength, natural ability and speed, remained mediocre.

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“Honus Wagner knew baseball, but not in the deep sense that Cobb did. Wagner lacked the extra touch, the spark, the flame; there was no fire to Wagner . . . he lacked imagination, he did not have Cobb’s inventive mind. In his greatest moments, Ty Cobb was the very soul of baseball.”

Cobb was born in Narrows, Ga., in 1886, but grew up in Royston and remembered long afterward that he was often the only boy in town with a hittable baseball. He made his own ball and had a cover made by a leather worker. Royston was proud of its town team, the Royston Reds, named for their bright red flannels. Cobb’s first team was the Royston Rompers, a team for the town’s young boys.

One day, when Cobb was a 90-pound 14-year-old, the Reds were short one player for an important home game, against Commerce. Young Cobb, pressed into service, handled eight chances without error at shortstop and hit three singles.

In his early baseball years, Cobb employed a hands-apart batting grip because the bats were too heavy for him to make a comfortable, full swing. He never left it. He also choked up on the bat. After that game with the Royston Reds, the die was cast. By the time Cobb was 19, he was in Detroit.

He was not a natural hitter, and admired those who were. Shoeless Joe Jackson and Ted Williams, he once said, were examples of hitters who had perfect swings the first time they ever swung a bat.

Cobb was a strong, muscular man, 5 feet 10 inches and 185 pounds in his prime, yet never hit more than 12 home runs in a season. He was a singles hitter, and possibly the greatest bunter in the history of the game.

There is a remarkable footnote to Cobb’s reputation as a singles hitter, however. In the 1920s, Cobb frequently derided the transformation of baseball from a finesse game to a Babe Ruth-inspired power game. He all but sneered at Babe Ruth’s home runs. According to author Charles C. Alexander, one day in 1925 in St. Louis, he told Salsinger he would try to hit home runs for the first time in his career.

He hit three home runs that day, May 5, then hit two more the next day, tying a record for homers in successive games that had lasted 41 years. He was 12 for 19 in that series, and went 6 for 6 in one game.

Wrote Alexander, in his excellent biography, “Ty Cobb”:

“In 1913, Walter Johnson remarked that he could never seem to get a strike by Cobb because ‘He just nips at the ball.’ Cobb often hit the ball a long way, but more often he slapped, poked or bunted it. Besides bunting to get on base, a skill at which nobody surpassed him, Cobb, playing in an era when even the most feared hitters were expected to give themselves up to to move runners along, he was also usually near the leaders in sacrifice bunts.”

But sportswriter Al Stump says Cobb once told him that next to his lifetime batting average of .367, he was most proud of stealing second, third and home on successive pitches three times in his career. He was a superb baserunner. He had good but not great speed--it was once written that he was timed in 10.2 seconds for 100 yards--but he made stealing a science.

Charles Comiskey was referring to Cobb’s baserunning when he once said: “Cobb plays baseball with every part of his anatomy--his head, his arms, his legs, his feet.”

Whenever he was on base, Cobb was a practicing psychologist. He would spend years setting up one infielder for a sucker play, on a day when he would need it most.

Hal Chase of the New York Yankees was one of the best first basemen of his day. On plays when Cobb reached third against the Yankees, he would deliberately take a long turn, forcing Chase to throw to third. Cobb made sure it was always a close play. This went on for years. Chase didn’t know it, but he was being set up.

One day in New York, when the Tigers needed a run to win in a pennant race, Cobb raced to third. He took the turn, as usual, but as Chase was in his throwing motion to third, Cobb kept running--and scored.

“My stealing was 90% mental,” Cobb told Stump, in his authorized biography, “My Life in Baseball.” “I wasn’t extra fast, I had no mystic powers. My whole plan was to upset batteries and infields by dividing their minds, by upsetting and worrying them until their concentration was affected.

“I used about nine different slides: hooks, rolls, bent-leg, a fadeaway slide past the bag . . . I’d do the unexpected. Break when it doesn’t seem logical, fail to break when they expect you to run.”

Cobb had an illegal slide, too, the “scissors” slide. Casey Stengel frequently described Cobb coming into second with a runner at third. Cobb, sliding feet first, would take down the second baseman using his own legs to scissors the second baseman’s, which enabled the runner to score. Cobb always made it look accidental, and umpires rarely called interference.

He taught himself to run at full speed while looking over his shoulders, to see where the ball was. He also tried to get an extra inch or two out of every base.

“The bases themselves often were not strapped down tight,” he once said. “Writers used to mention my ‘superstitious’ habit of kicking the bag after I arrived at a base. What they didn’t know was that with each kick, I moved that bag a few inches closer to me, after I’d taken my lead. If I had to dive back, that inch or two might be the difference on a pickoff . . . never overlook the smallest percentage.”

In 24 years, Cobb’s legs took a terrible beating. More than one former teammate remembered blood seeping through his pants. His son, Jim, remembers his mother describing Cobb’s legs as “blood raw” after games.

In 1945, Arthur Daley of the New York Times wrote that Cobb rolled up his pants legs in a restaurant to show him the toll of the years. Daley was horrified at “the most amazing collection of scars ever seen outside a dissecting room.”

He was the thinking man’s Hall of Famer.

Wrote Salsinger, in 1955: “He had the ability to perceive a situation and take advantage of it before his opponents became aware of it. He was a keener student of the game than his contemporaries and understood the game better than they did. More than that, he understood them better than they understood themselves.

“He wasn’t the game’s greatest fielder, place hitter, slugger or the fastest player. His edge was mental. He thought quicker than any rival and put his mechanical skills to better use than they did.”

Salsinger, writing of Cobb’s capacity for hard work in the years he was learning the game, also said: “He worked hard. He was not a natural hitter. He couldn’t get loud fouls off left-handers when he came up. But in a couple of years he hit left-handers better than right-handers.

“He wasn’t much of a baserunner when he came up. He worked. He became the best in the game. He studied catchers, infielders, outfielders . . . nothing escaped him. He scored from first on singles, ran from first to third or scored from second on sacrifice bunts and infield outs.

“The delayed steal was his favorite. On a single, he’d take a big turn. If the outfielder had a habit of lobbing the ball to the infield, as soon as his arm would go back, Cobb would take off for second.”

One of Cobb’s teammates, Wahoo Sam Crawford, recalled one of Cobb’s baserunning tricks:

“A lot of times Ty would be on third and I’d draw a walk. As I’d start to go down to first, I’d sort of half-glance at Ty. We had a signal that told me he wanted me to keep going, to take off for second base.

“Well, I’d trot two-thirds of the way to first, then suddenly I’d speed up and go across first full speed and tear out for second. Sometimes they’d catch him at the plate, sometimes they’d fall for it and throw to second and sometimes they wouldn’t get either one of us.”

Cobb told Al Stump this story about suckering a big name catcher:

“The hardest catcher for me to steal on was Billy Sullivan of the White Sox. One day I told Billy at the plate: ‘Billy, if I get on, I’m going down on the second pitch.’ He didn’t say anything. I singled, and stole second on the second pitch. The next day, I told him exactly the same thing. I singled . . . and stole second on the first pitch. He didn’t even make a throw.”

Baserunning, Cobb believed, was an easier science to master than defensive baseball.

“Defensive plays are at least five times more difficult to make than offensive plays,” he said. “Errors can result from a variety of ways--bad throws, bad hops, muffs, a ball hitting the runner, throwing to the wrong base--but an offensive player can make the same (baserunning) play unerringly, without variation, 100 times.”

At the plate, the bunt was his favorite weapon. Cobb believed that all pitchers hated to field bunts. “If a pitcher is going good and you are unable to do anything with his delivery, start bunting,” he said. “Bunt to either side of the mound. It makes no difference if he throws you out or not, you’ve accomplished your purpose (interrupted his rhythm).”

Bunting was Cobb’s path out of slumps. He would bunt more frequently then. It sharpened his eye, he explained. Next, on full swings, he would concentrate on driving the ball through the center of the infield.

Cobb’s measure as a hitter clearly shows in his lifetime averages against 10 pitchers who later were inducted into the Hall of Fame: Herb Pennock, .397; Chief Bender, .370; Jack Chesbro, .364; Walter Johnson, .335; Ted Lyons, .327; Babe Ruth, .326; Cy Young, .324; Ed Walsh, .307; Eddie Plank, .306, and Rube Waddell, .302. He faced Johnson 245 times, more than he batted against any other pitcher.

“Walter had one weakness,” Cobb said. “He was terrified of the thought of hitting someone in the head with his fastball. So I always crowded the plate against him.”

In 1960, former National Leaguer Lefty O’Doul was talking to a group of college students in San Francisco. One asked him what Cobb would have hit in 1960.

“Oh, about the same as Mays, maybe .340, something like that,” he said.

“Well, then why do you say he was the best hitter ever, if he would only hit .340 today?” the student asked.

“Well,” O’Doul replied, “you have to remember--the man is 72 years old.”

THE MILLIONAIRE

Cobb is believed to have been one of sport’s first millionaires. At his death, in 1961, his estate was estimated at $8 million to $12 million. His biographer, Stump, says his income in his final years from dividends, interest and real estate properties was about $12,000 a month.

He was one of the first American athletes to make significant sums in the endorsement market. In 1915 alone, he endorsed rifles, suspenders, cigars, cigarettes, vitamins, gum, overcoats and underwear. The company that makes Louisville Slugger bats once offered him an endorsement deal for his signature on bats. Instead, he gave the firm his name in exchange for all the custom-made bats he wanted.

He made small fortunes in Coca-Cola stock and World War I cotton futures, although accounts differ on which came first.

According to his son, he was a good friend of Robert W. Woodruff, who in the early 1920s rescued the foundering Coca-Cola Co. and turned it into a mighty business empire.

According to author Charles C. Alexander, Cobb at one time owned 20,000 shares of Coca-Cola. When Cobb died, the Sporting News said he owned $1,780,000 worth of Coca-Cola stock.

Recalls Jim Cobb today: “Mr. Woodruff met Pop in 1919, in New York, and almost insisted that he buy stock. Pop said he didn’t have enough cash at the time, so Mr. Woodruff arranged a $20,000 loan for him from the Trust Company of Georgia, and Pop paid off the loan from Coca-Cola dividends. He used to tell me: ‘Investments-wise, I always seemed to be in the right place at the right time.’ ”

Indeed. In Detroit, as a young man, he befriended titans of the auto industry, including Henry Ford. While many of his teammates sampled Detroit’s night life, Cobb said years later, he used his free time to meet men of wealth. A favored hangout was the bar at the Hotel Ponchartrain, where the elite of Detroit often gathered.

According to author Alexander, Cobb bought into a copper mining venture in Bisbee, Ariz., in 1909 for $3 a share. It grew to be worth $1,000 a share. In the same year, he bought cotton futures for $1,000 and sold them for $7,500.

Cobb, more than a decade before Ruth, was breaking baseball salary records. In 1914, fans were astounded to learn that Cobb was holding out for $15,000. He got it.

Christy Mathewson, in a year he won 37 games, earned $6,000. Cy Young never made more than $3,500. Eddie Plank and Chief Bender, both Hall of Fame pitchers, made $4,000 in their prime. Honus Wagner had to win his fifth National League batting championship before reaching $9,000.

In 1914, Henry Ford announced that he was going to pay assembly line workers an unheard of $5 a day. The next day, so many job-seekers showed up that police had to turn fire hoses on them.

In 1915, Cobb signed for $20,000 a year for three seasons. In 1925, he made $50,000.

He completed his 22nd season in Detroit in 1926, as player-manager, then played his last two seasons with the Philadelphia A’s. He was paid about $70,000 in 1927, slightly less for his final season, 1928.

In his final season, in 95 games at age 41, he hit .323.

THE SON

Jim Cobb, 64, won’t let his father’s record of 4,191 hits go without an argument.

Ty Cobb’s youngest son sat in his office in his Santa Maria home one recent morning and showed a visitor a letter he’d saved from the Sporting News. It was written in 1979 by a South Carolina fan, chiding coverage of Pete Rose tying Cobb’s record of nine 200-hit seasons. The letter writer said that too many baseball writers were overlooking that Cobb played in 154-game seasons, Rose in 162-game seasons.

” . . . it would be like the Kentucky Derby spotting the favored horse an eight-length lead and then declaring him the winner after he wins by a nose,” the letter-writer wrote. “Given enough games, Joe Garagiola might have had 200 hits a season.”

Jim Cobb said: “I’m not in any way minimizing Rose’s career. Pop would have liked the way Pete Rose plays baseball, I’m sure. But the fact is, if Rose had been playing 154-game seasons all his career, he wouldn’t even have 4,000 hits yet. I went over all of Rose’s box scores for the last eight games of all his seasons and he had an extra 631 at-bats and 195 hits in 163 extra games, going into this season.”

Jim Cobb, a retired property control analyst with Lockheed, recalls his father being a terrible nag on a subject he considered fundamental to hitting success--choking up.

“Pop used to tell me: ‘Hold a long pole, any length, in your hands and ask yourself this question: ‘Do you have more control over the other end of it if you hold it at the end or by moving your hands up a couple of feet?’ ”

Stump recalls days in 1961, when a terminally ill Cobb was a guest at his Santa Barbara beach house. From a patio, Cobb could look down on a daily beach softball game.

“He was quite sick then, and wore a bathrobe and sat in a chair,” Stump said. “But he would watch those softball games and was frequently hollering: ‘Choke up! Choke up!’

One time, he all but ordered one kid--they were all college students, I think--up onto the patio and the old man gave him quite a lecture about choking up on the bat. To this day, not one of those kids has any idea who that old man was.”

Cobb’s son showed the visitor the memorabilia on his office wall. In a small wooden frame was a gold lifetime pass, given Cobb on his induction into the Hall of Fame.

“Pop carried this with him quite a bit,” Jim said. “I remember attending a game in the 1930s in Washington with Pop and my mother. He didn’t think much of modern-day players, and he kept complaining about how they weren’t running the bases right, or sliding or bunting properly. Finally, the guy in front of us turns around and says: ‘So I suppose you’re in the Hall of Fame, or something?’

“Pop pulled this pass out of his shirt pocket, showed it to him, and said: ‘As a matter of fact, yes, I am.’ ”

Jim pointed to a framed photo of what was considered the all-time outfield in the 1920s, Cobb, Babe Ruth and Tris Speaker.

“Not many fans today have any idea who Tris Speaker was,” he said. “Gosh, that man could run like a deer.”

He was asked what his father would hit in today’s game.

“Oh, we’ll never know,” he said. “The game is so different. He would’ve studied the game awfully hard, he would’ve been the keenest student of the game around. He used to tell me about how he’d learn how to ‘read’ pitchers, how to tell what kind of pitch was coming. He always looked for some psychological edge. He liked talking about a pitcher--I can’t remember who it was--who, Pop said, just before throwing a curve, his ears would wiggle.

“I’m sure Pop would have enjoyed hitting against the bright, clean balls they use today. In his day, they’d play a whole game with one or two balls. Pitchers or catchers would mark them up with emery or mud. One pitcher discolored the ball somehow with coffee grounds.”

Jim Cobb was one of five Cobb children. Herschel died of a heart attack at 34 in 1951. Ty Jr. died a year later, of a brain tumor. Jim has two sisters, Shirley and Beverly, both of whom live in Woodside, Calif.

In 1947, Cobb and his wife, Charlie, divorced, ending a 39-year marriage. Cobb married Frances Fairburn in 1949, but that marriage also ended in divorce, in 1956.

THE DARK SIDE

Flames, just beneath the skin . . .

Al Stump remembered an evening in a Scottsdale, Ariz., hotel room, in the spring of 1960. Cobb and Ted Williams were writing down their all-time baseball teams.

“Ty was well into a bottle of bourbon,” Stump recalled. “They agreed on every position, I remember, until they got to second base.

“Williams said: ‘Well, second has to be Rogers Hornsby, greatest right-handed hitter who ever lived.’

“Cobb said: ‘No, second has to be Eddie Collins, the best second baseman ever.’

“They got into quite an argument. And when Cobb said Hornsby was over-rated as a hitter, Williams came back with: ‘Well, he outhit you several times!’ Cobb’s face went white. He leaped up and physically pushed Williams out and slammed the door. He looked at me and said: ‘That’s it, he’s out of the will.’

“I was shocked. I said: ‘Ted Williams is in your will?’

“And he said to me: ‘He was, for a quarter of a million.’ ”

Cobb apparently was, from his first seasons in baseball, a humorless man. Certainly, by all accounts, he could not laugh at himself.

In Lawrence S. Ritter’s book about early day baseball stars, “The Glory of Their Times,” teammate Sam Crawford said decades later: “Every rookie got a little hazing, but most of them just laughed it off. Cobb took it the wrong way. He figured everybody was ganging up on him. He came up from the South, you know, still fighting the Civil War.”

Said Davy Jones, another teammate: “Trouble was, he had such a rotten disposition that it was damn hard to be his friend. I was probably the best friend he had on the ballclub. I used to stick up for him, sit and talk with him on the train trips, try to understand him.

“Ty didn’t have a sense of humor, see. Especially, he could never laugh at himself. Consequently, he took a lot of things the wrong way . . . what would be an innocent wisecrack would become cause for a fist fight. It was too bad. He was one of the greatest players who ever lived, and yet he had so few friends. I always felt sorry for him.”

Any beginning student of psychology would have a field day with this paragraph, which Cobb had Stump write for his autobiography:

“My enemies were a sneaky lot, always operating behind a facade of innocence, because, by now, they knew that I always went armed. I kept a weapon of a lethal nature close by me at all times, and I had eyes in the back of my head. If they jumped me some dark night, they’d find one Georgia boy who wouldn’t hesitate to even the odds with extreme means, if fists failed to save me.”

Cobb biographers have long attributed much of Cobb’s flawed personality to a tragedy that occurred in his parents’ home in August, 1905, late in his final season in the minor leagues, at Augusta. Cobb’s mother, Amanda, had shot and killed her husband, William H. Cobb, with two shotgun blasts, apparently as he was attempting to enter their bedroom through a porch window.

Cobb remained with the family for a week, rejoined Augusta and about a week later was called up by the Tigers. Amanda Cobb was arrested and later indicted on a charge of voluntary manslaughter, according to Alexander. Later, she was found not guilty by a jury.

Cobb was also, by several accounts, a racist, and a violent one at that. Alexander describes several incidents. The first involved a fracas with a black groundskeeper and his wife in 1907, at the Tigers’ Augusta spring training camp. Cobb slapped the groundskeeper, for reasons unknown, then began choking the groundskeeper’s wife, who’d come to assist her husband.

In 1908, while leaving the Ponchartrain Hotel in Detroit one day, Cobb inadvertently stepped into fresh asphalt that street workers had just put down. A black street worker yelled at Cobb to stay out of the asphalt. According to Alexander, Cobb knocked the worker down.

In 1909, in Cleveland, he got into an argument with a black elevator operator in a hotel. A black night watchman intervened and struck Cobb with his night stick. They fought. Cobb produced a knife and slashed at the night watchman, who struck Cobb again with the night stick, knocking him to the floor.

Also in 1909, Cobb went into the stands after a black heckler, but Detroit police restrained him. Wrote sportswriter E.A. Batchelor that day: “Ty is a Southerner born and bred, and naturally holds ideas of his own regarding the right of a colored man to abuse him in public.”

Says Stump today: “Cobb believed baseball was a game for white gentlemen. Even though he lived not far from Candlestick Park during the Giants’ first years in San Francisco, he dreaded the thought of going to games, for fear some photographer would ask him to pose with Willie Mays.”

Even his relationships with teammates were often bad.

One of Cobb’s teammates was catcher Charlie Schmidt, who was said once to have gone four rounds with heavyweight boxer Jack Johnson. Alexander reports that Schmidt enjoyed hammering nails into the clubhouse floor with his fists.

Schmidt had two fights with Cobb. On the second occasion, in spring training in 1907, he broke Cobb’s nose and blackened both eyes.

But if Cobb’s teammates hated him, they admired his considerable courage, which he demonstrated throughout his career. Fans in rival cities hated Cobb for his aggressiveness, his defiant demeanor and for all the times he beat their teams with his baserunning or a timely hit.

He was the target of more than one death threat. Extra police were often in the ballpark when he played. Once, when angry fans in Philadelphia swarmed onto the field at the end of a game and surrounded Cobb, he walked through them, defiantly, to the dugout, where teammates were emerging, with bats, to protect him.

On another occasion in Philadelphia, a group of Cobb haters gathered outside the Tigers’ hotel. It was known that Cobb took a long walk, alone, after dinner. Alexander described the mob as about ready to lynch him, and wrote:

“Like the heroes in the Western dime novels of those years, he walked right into the crowd, which parted mutteringly and let him go on his way.”

He frequently carried a revolver. Once, in an argument in a butcher shop, he pistol-whipped a black worker, breaking his own thumb in the process.

Cobb inadvertently was responsible for baseball’s first strike, in 1912, after an incident in New York during which Cobb went 12 rows into the stands after a heckler, who had called him a “half-nigger.”

An umpire and a policeman had to pull Cobb off the man, who, it turned out, had lost all the fingers of one hand and three fingers of the other hand in an industrial accident.

During the fray, someone pointed out to Cobb that the man had no hands. “I don’t care if he has no feet,” answered Cobb, and he continued to beat the heckler.

Ban Johnson, American League president, suspended Cobb indefinitely, but each of Cobb’s teammates signed a telegram sent to Johnson, informing him that they wouldn’t play until Cobb was reinstated. The strike lasted a day, during which the A’s defeated a semipro team wearing Detroit uniforms, 24-2.

The Tigers suited up when Johnson threatened them with lifetime banishment, but he also reduced Cobb’s suspension to 10 days and a $50 fine.

Stump endured a stormy several months with Cobb, collaborating on his autobiography. When they finished, in early 1961, Cobb was about to be driven from Stump’s Santa Barbara home to Los Angeles International Airport. Cobb wanted to fly home, to Georgia, to die.

Stump wrote: “He got in the car and the last thing he said to me was: ‘Well, do you think they’ll remember me?’ I looked at him and said: ‘Ty, they’ll always remember you.’ ”

On June 5, 1961, Cobb was taken to Emory Hospital in Atlanta, clutching a brown paper bag of negotiable securities and a Luger pistol. He was 73 when he died on July 17, 1961.


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