Tyrus Raymond “Ty” Cobb (1886-1961) was one of the fiercest competitors, one of the greatest hitters and quite possibly the greatest player to ever play the game. He was notorious for his aggressive and often over-the-top ruthlessness on the base paths. After playing locally near his Georgia home as a boy, Cobb began contacting clubs in the South Atlantic League pleading for the opportunity of a tryout. He eventually signed on with the Augusta Tourists. Despite his father’s goading for Ty to become a professional, he encouraged the young outfielder to “Go for it… and don’t come home a failure.” This never-say-die spirit drove Cobb to be the best that he could be to honor his father. Over two seasons in Augusta, Cobb impressed as he batted .364 in 140 games, including two exhibitions against the Detroit Tigers who purchased Cobb in 1905. While in Augusta, Cobb suffered through a slump following his mother’s accidental shooting of his father and the subsequent trial that eventually acquitted her. Then, when he joined the Tigers in August of 1905, he was subjected to relentless hazing from his teammates considering this “the most miserable and humiliating experience” he’d ever experience. These two incidents shaped Cobb’s hard-nosed, warrior-like playing style, often typical of the Deadball Era. By 1906, Ty was the regular centerfielder for Detroit and in 1907, he became joined the best in the league as he led the Majors in hits (212), batting average (.350), stolen bases (53), slugging percentage (.468), total bases (283) and RBI (119). He also led the Tigers to the American League pennant before the mighty Chicago Cubs beat the Tigers in a four-game sweep. The Tigers won the next two American League pennants, but lost again to the Cubs and then the Honus Wagner-led Pittsburgh Pirates in 1908 and 1909, respectively.
Despite the innocuous nickname, the Georgia Peach continued to play with the take-no-prisoners style as he led the league 12 times in batting average, eight times in hits and slugging percentage, seven times in on-base percentage, six times in stolen bases and total bases, five times in runs scored, four times in triples and RBI, three times in doubles and once in home runs. Cobb played centerfield for 22 seasons with the Tigers (1905-1926) before finishing his career with the Philadelphia Athletics (1927-1928). During his career, Cobb hit an astounding .366 with 23 consecutive seasons hitting over .300, including three seasons that topped the .400-mark. Ty Cobb won twelve batting titles; stole home 54 times (the most in a career at the time he retired), was the 1911 American League Most Valuable Player and captured the 1909 American League Triple Crown. Ty Cobb was one of the most feared competitors of his era accumulating 4,191 hits, 2,245 runs, and 892 stolen bases in 3,033 career games. Cobb gained a reputation of being temperamental and ornery in the clubhouse, which he converted into ferocity that no other player possessed. Hall of Famer Sam Crawford said of Cobb, “He didn’t outhit the opposition and he didn’t outrun them. He outthought them!” Amazingly, Ty Cobb never won a world championship, but his legacy spoke for itself. In 1910, as Cobb and Cleveland Naps star Napoleon Lajoie battled for the batting title, Cobb deliberately sat out to the final two games to preserve his potential victory. As the Naps faced the St. Louis Browns in a doubleheader to end the season, Browns manager Jack O’Connor, who hated Cobb, ordered his third baseman to play deeper than usual, allowing Lajoie to reach first and increase his numbers to snatch the AL batting title away from Cobb. Lajoie dropped down seven bunts singles and went 8-for-8 to edge out Cobb by one point, .384 to .383, respectively. In his final six years in the Motor City, Cobb served as player/manager, compiling a 479-444 record in 933 games. In 1936, Tyrus Raymond Cobb was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame with the most votes of any player, 222 of a possible 226, in the inaugural class known as the “First Five” along with Babe Ruth, Honus Wagner, Christy Mathewson and Walter Johnson.
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