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Ty Cobb, who played for the Detroit Tigers for most of his career, is regarded by most knowledgeable baseball fans as the best player of the dead-ball era. However, his legacy has been overshadowed by allegations of racism and his reputation for being surly and unusually aggressive. The Detroit Free Press once described Cobb’s style of play as “daring to the point of dementia.” Babe Ruth put it more bluntly – “Cobb is a prick, but he sure can hit. God Almighty, that man can hit.”
According to Ty Cobb, baseball isn’t a sport for sensitive types. “Baseball is a red-blooded sport for red-blooded men,” Cobb said. “It’s a struggle for supremacy, a survival of the fittest.”
One of baseball’s great rivalries was between Ty Cobb and ‘Shoeless’ Joe Jackson. During Jackson’s 1911 rookie year with the Cleveland Naps, his American League batting average was significantly higher than Cobb’s. “He was the finest natural hitter in the history of the game,” Cobb said of Jackson. Though Jackson and Cobb were usually friendly with each other on and off the field, Cobb used mind games against Jackson, believing he could influence Jackson to “fall off” his game, so he could pull ahead of Jackson in the ranking. “I never could stand losing,” Cobb once said. “Second place didn’t interest me. I had a fire in my belly.”
During the 1911 series between the Detroit Tigers and the Cleveland
Naps, Cobb snapped at Jackson and repeatedly turned his back on him
while on the field. Baffled and hurt, Jackson went into a slump, and
Cobb snagged the prize – his season average was .420 to Jackson’s .408.
To this day, ‘Shoeless’ Joe Jackson still holds baseball’s
third-highest career batting average, at .356. Not to be outdone, Cobb
holds the all-time highest batting average – with .366.
In 1951, Ty Cobb said of his friend and rival, “Joe Jackson hit the
ball harder than any man ever to play baseball. I can still see those
line drives whistling to the far precincts.” While Cobb’s approach to
baseball was psychological and scientific, Jackson’s talent was
natural, simple and direct. “God knows I gave my best in baseball at
all times, and no man on earth can truthfully judge me otherwise,”
Thirty years after Joe Jackson was banned from baseball, Ty Cobb
stopped at a South Carolina liquor store, coincidentally owned and run
by Jackson. Jackson didn’t appear to recognize Cobb, so Cobb asked him,
“Don’t you know me, Joe?” “Sure I know you, Ty,” Jackson replied, “but
I wasn’t sure you wanted to speak to me. A lot of them don’t.”
David L. Fleitz, Shoeless: The Life and Times of Shoeless Joe Jackson, McFarland, 2001
Dick Heller, “Ted and Bob Go to Bat for Shoeless Joe,” Insight on the News, 3/23/98
Baseball Almanac, www.baseball-almanac.com
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