Credit: Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports
"“Ty Cobb wanted to play, but none of us could stand the son-of-a-bitch when we were alive, so we told him to stick it!” -Shoeless Joe Jackson in “Field of Dreams”"
We’ve had several no-brainers when it came to picking players on our All-Time Detroit Tigers team, and Ty Cobb was certainly a no-brainer. He is an easy unanimous choice for our all-time best Detroit Tigers centerfielder.
One of the best players in the history of the game, and easily the game’s premier player before Babe Ruth came along, Ty Cobb has left quite an uneasy legacy.
In the iconic baseball movie “Field of Dreams,” the above sentiment was echoed in the fictional baseball world where the ghost of Shoeless Joe Jackson, a man thrown out of baseball for fixing a World Series, didn’t deem Cobb worthy of his companionship.
“The Georgia Peach” was apparently an ironic nickname for Cobb, who came from a hard upbringing which saw his father accidentally gunned down by his mother. He was accused of being a vehement racist, beat up a black groundskeeper, and choked the man’s wife when she attempted to intervene.
The best moments of Cobb’s troubled life came on the baseball diamond. In his second full year in baseball, he batted a league-leading .350. In 1911 and 1912, he hit over .400 and never hit below .334 the rest of his time in Detroit, including his third .400 plus season late in his career (1922). He won the Triple Crown in 1909 and was named the AL MVP (in a forerunner to the award that would begin to be annually presented in the 1930’s).
Cobb wasn’t particularly liked by his teammates, and opponents despised his aggressive play on the field which included the dreaded spikes-first slide. In later years, Cobb served as player-manager for the Tigers before deciding to retire in 1926. The Philadelphia Athletics coaxed him back and he shed his management responsibilities to focus on playing. He retired one final time in 1928 after two very good years in Philly.
Cobb was the hits leader with 4,191 for many decades until Pete Rose surpassed him in 1985. He still holds the highest career batting average in baseball history at .366, and was a charter member of the Baseball Hall-of-Fame in 1936.
Some say Cobb mellowed out a bit later in life, though Al Stump’s biography of the legend spoke differently. The stories in that book, the basis for the 1994 movie “Cobb” with Tommy Lee Jones as the titular anti-hero, may have been exaggerated.
Cobb’s racism seemed to ease later in life as he often spoke in favor of baseball dropping its ban against African-Americans, saying:
"Let me say also that no white man has the right to be less of a gentleman than a colored man. In my book that goes not only for baseball, but all walks of life."
While his character will always be called into question, the fact that he is a Tigers’ legend on the diamond is not.