The Georgia Peach
Cobb struck out 357 times in his career, whereas Babe Ruth struck out 1,380. Maybe that's why Ty wasn't going for homers.
Augusta residents in 1911 saw a different side of Ty Cobb when he played a football hero in a play called The College Widow. He not only performed in Augusta; he also toured seven nights a week with the production throughout the East Coast as far north as Boston. Ty later noted in his autobiography, "it proved to me that actors more than ball players had to be iron men."
Woodrow Wilson, then governor of New Jersey, was visiting his childhood home in Augusta that year and went to see Cobb perform in the play. Cobb visited Wilson in the White House three years later.
In 1912 three men attacked Cobb on his way to a Detroit railroad station. His pistol jammed and Ty was cut in the shoulder by a knife. But not before Ty caught one of the assailants and pistol-whipped him.
"I used the gun sight to rip and slash and tear him for about 10 minutes until he had not face left," commented Cobb. "I left him there not breathing in his own rotten blood."
The next day, Ty wore a makeshift blood-soaked bandage and got two doubles and a triple. Two days later a man was found dead in an alley where Ty had reported the incident. Similarly, Ty once pounded umpire Billy Evans silly after a game.
Claire Hodgson, a Ziegfeld girl, was sleeping with both Ty and Babe Ruth at roughly the same period. Years later Claire said, "Ty was the greatest, but Babe was first in my heart." At the same time Babe was seeing Claire, he was married to Helen. Later on Babe cheated on Claire. (Now that's a shock!)
Race Relations & Diplomacy
In 1909 Ty got mad at a black elevator operator for taking him to the wrong floor. Ty beat the man and slapped him. A night watchman intervened and hit Cobb a few times with a nightstick. Then Ty really got mad. He pulled out a pocketknife and began slashing away at the guard. Ty finished by kicking him upside the head. Cobb showed for the game the following afternoon taped up like a mummy and got three hits, also making two great catches in a double-header.
That same year Ty said, "There will never be a darky in the majors. Darkies' place is in the stands or as clubhouse help."
In 1908, playing in Havana, Cobb was introduced to Negro League Star and Hall of Famer, Pop Lloyd. He refused to shake his hand. Lloyd batted .500 to Ty's .375. Lloyd also tagged him out three times trying to steal second.
Ty never played against a black team again. The Tigers won four games and lost eight in Cuba.
Four years later in 1912 a NY fan hollered at Cobb, "Your sister screws niggers and your mother is a whore." Ty held his temper for awhile, but finally lost it. He catapulted up 12 rows of seats, found the heckler, battered his head at least a dozen times, knocked him down, and kicked the man.
The fan had no hands.
When Ty was suspended, his teammates said they wouldn't play. The replacements lost to the A's 24 to 2 on May 18, 1912.
Early in his career Ty refused $100,000 to jump to the new Federal League. At the time he was making $9,000 a year. A year later the Federal League folded.
Ty's wife got 20 cents worth of bad perch. Ty went directly to the store and clobbered Howard Harding (the fish store owner's wife's brother). Harding, who was black, had a meat cleaver in hand when Ty hit him at least three times with his gun butt. He then took the youngster out into the street and nearly beat him to death.
Cobb's home was in Augusta, GA on 2425 William Street. He bought this home just before he went to war so his family could have a nice home if he didn't come back. His second floor "secret room", which was always under lock & key, contained trophies, racks of guns, contracts, bank papers, portraits of his father (not his mother), his very first bat, autographed presidential photos, books on Napoleon, Havana cigars, baskets of unanswered fan mail, and moonshine whiskey from his hometown.
There's a Tiger team photo with Cobb in it twice. He ran to the other side during a time exposure. Now there's a little sense of humor in the man!
Cobb was accused of throwing a game with Tris Speaker. Ruth said, "This is a lot of bull. I've never known a squarer man that Cobb. He's mean as hell, but he's as clean as they come."
At age 27 Cobb moved to Augusta with his wife Charlie (Charlotte Marion Lombard) and two kids, Ty, Jr. and Shirley in November of 1913. Son Herschel was born there in 1916. They moved to Atherton in Northern California in 1932, but he held on to his Augusta home until 1945.
Ty's Atherton home at 48 Spencer Lane is still standing. The neighbors remember him as a cantankerous man who launched empty beer bottles into their yard. Ty later divorced Charlie and his next two wives.
The Augusta house is still located near the Augusta State University. It's a two-story wooden home. Visitors during Ty's heyday included novelist Theodore Dreiser, band leader John Phillip Sousa, golfer Bobby Jones, baseball commissioner and bigot Kenesaw Landis, former coach Knute Rockne, and Coca Cola executive Robert Woodruff. In town Ty was briefly president and owner of the Ty Cobb Tire Company. The company advertised, 'Square Deal, Service First.'
On Sept. 17, 1928, Ty Cobb called reporters to his hotel room in Cleveland, Ohio and announced his retirement from baseball. "I will be leaving baseball with a lot of regrets and still with a light heart," he said. "It's hard to pull away from a game to which one has given a quarter century of his best manhood and which paved the road to lift me to a place of prominence and affluence."
The Saginaw paper reported Ty as saying, "I'm baseball tired and want to quit. I realize the best days are behind me. Before me baseball was a virgin. When I was through, it was American."
Ty owned 15 hunting dogs at the Augusta home. The family also had a Shetland pony, a Billy goat, pigeons, canary, and a show horse. Sounds like Dr. Doolittle.
He loved classical music and was very strict with his children. His grandson Charlie was 7 years old when his famous grandfather died. Grandpa Ty gave Charlie his American League All-Star game gold watch.
"Grandpa was very kind to us grandkids and took us out on his inboard boat," said Charlie.
Loose Ends and Fly Balls
Ty left three quarters of his estate to his family. Before he passed away, Cobb commented that "The great trouble with baseball today is that most of the players are in the game for the money, and that's it, not for the love of it, the excitement of it, the thrill of it."
At age 69 Cobb punched out a heckler in a nightclub, shoved a businessman into a fishpond, and was hauled off to jail for abusing a policeman.
The lady at the Augusta Historical Society told me in confidence: "I shouldn't say this, but Ty's personal lawyer was disbarred and sent to prison. And Ty's personal doctor was disbarred and asked to leave town." One thing people have learned in Saginaw is never tell Richard Curry anything in confidence.
Ty Cobb was elected into the Hall of Fame with 98.23% of the vote. He outvoted Babe Ruth. Ty was polled the number one selection for the Cooperstown Hall of Fame with 222 first place votes from the 226 writers. Only Tom Seaver later was higher in all-time H.O.F. voting at 98.84%.
In retirement Ty visited Shoeless Joe Jackson at his liquor store in Illinois. When Ty walked in, Joe said, "I thought you would never speak to me again." Ty replied, "No, you will always be my friend." He then walked over and gave him a big hug. Hugging people earlier would have made Ty's life a lot easier.
Ty was also a Detroit Tiger to the end. I found an eight-page letter Cobb sent to Tiger manager Bill Norman in 1958 three years before Ty's death advising Bill on how to improve his team.
Ty Cobb's final days in Atlanta's Emory University Hospital were spent with his three surviving children and first wife, Charlie, who divorced him after 39 years of marriage.
"There was never anyone else in my mom's life," Mrs. Thomas (Beverly) McLaren related. "She was there at the hospital in his last days. He recognized that he drove everyone very hard and was sorry for the unhappiness that had gone on before."
The Cobb's other daughter, Mrs. Richard (Shirley) Beckworth observed, "I know he said more that once, 'There's only one Mrs. Ty Cobb'. If they get it all settled at the end, that's fine. I never asked her about it. That was a private thing between her and dad."
Shirley said that after her mother died, she came across letters written to her mom by Cobb from Detroit and other places during his career. "They were the most tender and sweetest letters I have read. What he wanted was honesty from everybody, but mostly from his own family. Cobb never turned his back on his family financially. He was interested in our well-being and in developing our intellect."
Around 1957 Cobb decided to move back to Georgia and live out his final years in the North Georgia hills of his youth. He lived in a white-columned former governor's summer home in Mt. Airy, GA adjacent to Cornelia for awhile. Later he rented a small brick apartment in Cornelia, which became his last residence. He planned to build a home on 65 acres he owned atop Chenocetah Mountain, just outside Cornelia, but his plans were never realized.
Weeks before dying, Ty said, "If I had my life to live over again I'd do things a little different. I would have had more friends."
Only three former ball players went to Ty's funeral: Ray Schalk, Mickey Cochrane, and Nap "out of the shower" Rucker. Seldom mentioned, they were all financially supported by Cobb when they hit upon hard times. Four hundred people were at Ty's funeral. Most were local little leaguers.
Bill Terry, former New York Giants player & manager said upon hearing of Cobb's death, "The best baseball player in the world has died." Then U.S. Senator Herman Talmadge of Georgia observed, "Georgia and the nation have lost not only one of baseball's immortals, but also a dedicated citizen whose philanthropies were legion. The first Hill-Burton Act Hospital constructed during my administration as Governor of George was made possible through his generosity."
The Cobb movie with Tommy Lee Jones never showed Ty's moments of kindness or the fact that he used his money to benefit his hometown and help in the education of hundreds of deserving young adults.
Ty has a banner at his museum. It reads: "Ty Cobb - fierce, calculating, feared, revered, famous, infamous, benevolent, and a gentleman." That pretty much sums up the life of Ty Cobb, except that they did leave out 'racist zealot'.
There is a stage play on Cobb's life in New York City at the Melting Pot Theatre. Stages of Cobb's life - player in his prime; middle aged man with business smarts; man stricken with cancer.
Theme: This was a man who let his self-confidence destroy his personal relationships.