A Look at Ty Cobb in 1924

Back in 1994, the Washington Times reprinted its 1924 profile of Cobb to commemorate the 1924 Senators, the last Washington team to win a World Series. It appeared sometime in the late summer of 1924. Here it is:

At 6 feet 1, he looked to be about 175 pounds. His face, once lean and tight, was round and a bit jowly. His hairline stood back a good ways from his forehead, and there were deep lines around his eyes and mouth. His face, neck and hands were baked hard by the sun.

When he had finished with the papers, he turned his attention to an interviewer. After 19 years in Detroit, his voice still has a Georgia twang. His manner was friendly. Away from the field, Cobb can be engaging. He’s keen-witted and a good conversationalist.

“I remember we were the first team Walter Johnson ever pitched against us,” he said with a smile. “It was Aug. 2, 1907, and we ragged the rube [Johnson was raised on a farm in Kansas] as the game started, mooing like cows and yelling, `Get the pitchfork ready – the hayseed’s on his way back to the barn.’ But then we saw him throw. It was the most threatening sight I ever saw on a ballfield.

“We managed to beat Walter that day only because we bunted on him and he couldn’t field them. Afterward, several Tigers went to club officials and urged them to buy Johnson. I told [owner] Frank Navin, ‘Even if it costs $25,000, get him.’ They didn’t listen to us.”

The question of his retirement came up. Cobb will be 38 in December. His personal fortune is estimated at between $5 million and $7 million, the result of shrewd dealings in the commodities market and investments in Coca-Cola and automobile manufacturers. He has won about every honor there is to win in baseball.

“I can see the finish, and it’s not far off,” he said. “Frankly, my eyes are not what they used to be. I’ve had to remodel my stance to see better. But where I’ve reached the end of my rope is my nervous system. I get tired and stale. I no longer have the energy to do the things I used to do. The old energy is gone.”

It was a remarkable statement, though similar to ones he’s made in recent years. Since taking over as manager of the Tigers in 1921 and continuing as a full-time player, Cobb often has talked of retirement. Managing has been hard on him. He’s been criticized for trades he has made and for his inability to handle players, particularly pitchers.

“He lacks the patience to make allowances for men who don’t think as fast as he does or have his mechanical ability,” a knowledgeable baseball man said. “Like so many other great performers, he is impatient with stupidity, lack of ambition and lack of what he considers normal baseball ability.”

But to see him on the field, at bat or running the bases, is to wonder if the man ever will lose that “old energy” and truly grow old.

Currently, he is hitting .355 and again challenging for the American League batting title. Though not the base stealer that he once was, Cobb continues as a great base runner.

“The standing rule in baseball is to throw the ball one base ahead of Ty,” said second baseman Eddie Collins of the Chicago White Sox. “It’s no joke.”

And Cobb is every bit as intense and controversial as ever.

This season he’s being accused of ordering his pitchers to throw at the heads of opposing batters, a charge he denies.

The New York Yankees blame Cobb for a near-riot in Detroit last month after Bob Meusel was hit by a pitch. They insist Cobb ordered the beaning from his position in center field, another charge Cobb denies.

In Philadelphia in May, Cobb punched a stadium attendant after words were exchanged.

It seems every month there’s a new story or accusation. It has been that way since 1905, his first year with Detroit: Cobb punches someone, Cobb spikes someone, Cobb feuds with teammates.

“I don’t take any pride in the popular picture of me as a spike-slashing demon with a wide streak of cruelty in him,” Cobb said. “The fights I’ve been in have been slanted to put me in the wrong. I’ve never looked for trouble.”

He hasn’t had to. Trouble has been a constant companion, attracted no doubt by his fanatic drive to excel and a playing style that approaches viciousness.

For all his accomplishments – 12 batting titles, three seasons over .400, 18 consecutive years over .300, eight 200-hit season, to name a few – Cobb is, and probably will continue to be known as much for his personality as for his abilities.

“He behaves as if he was fighting the Second Battle of Bull Run,” is the way one writer characterized him.

Cobb does not deny or make excuses for his aggressive behavior. He insists, however, that the characterization of him as some sort of monster is incorrect and blames the press.

“The charges that I’m a dirty player, that I wage war in the guise of sport come from those anointed with press cards,” he said.

The evidence suggests otherwise, though. A few examples:

* During the tight pennant race of 1909, Cobb spiked Philadelphia Athletics third baseman Frank Baker, opening a 10-stitch cut in Baker’s leg. During a series in Philadelphia, Cobb required a police escort to and from the park because of threats on his life.

* St. Louis Browns third baseman Jimmy Austin once tagged Cobb out at third by knocking his foot from the base after a slide. Cobb lay on the ground, looked up at Austin and said, “Mister, don’t you ever dare do that no more.”

* After one game, Cobb fought umpire Billy Evans under the stands. According to a witness to the episode, teammates had to pry Cobb’s fingers from Evans’ throat.

* Two of his more famous off-field incidents involved slashing a waiter with a knife in a Cleveland restaurant and beating up a delivery boy who had brought groceries to his home.

Through it all, Cobb insists that his actions have been justified.

“I do retaliate, that I freely admit,” he said. “If any player takes unfair advantage of me, my thought is to strike back as quickly and effectively as I can and put the fear of God into him. Let the other fellow fire the first shot. I’ll go looking for him. And when I find him, he’ll regret his act and rarely repeat it.”

Published in: on July 23, 2010 at 6:10 am  Leave a Comment  
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