Today is Ty Cobb’s 127th birthday. He doesn’t look a day over 115.
Cobb, of course, is one of the greatest hitters who ever lived. He was in the inaugural Hall of Fame class in 1936. His induction was well-deserved at that. He played for 24 years and hit over .300 in 23 of them. He had three seasons where he hit over .400, with a high of .420 in 1911. The “Georgia Peach” hit 297 triples, scored 2,245 runs and swiped 892 bases. He was clearly one of the best players who has ever lived.
Cobb also once physically attacked a black groundskeeper during spring training when the groundskeeper attempted to shake Cobb’s hand. During the attack the groundskeeper’s wife tried to defend him and Cobb choked her until his teammates physically pried his hands off the woman’s neck. Cobb also once attacked a laborer who was angry with Cobb after the Peach walked in wet cement the laborer was laying. Cobb was convicted of battery. Later, Cobb slapped a black elevator operator for being “uppity.” When a black night watchman intervened, Cobb pulled out a knife and stabbed him.
In 1912, Cobb went into the crowd at Hilltop Park in New York City and beat a heckler senseless. The heckler was missing one hand and only had two fingers on his remaining hand. Police had to pull Cobb off the guy. He once challenged an umpire to a fight. And they actually fought — with fists — under the grandstand after the game. Cobb punched the umpire out, pinned him to the ground and began choking him.
In 1910 Cobb had a slight lead in the batting race heading into the last day of the season. He sat out that day in order to preserve his lead. That ended up being pretty complicated, though. Cobb was once accused of conspiring to fix a game in 1919. There was a big investigation and hearing, but his accuser — Dutch Leonard — refused to show up. The matter was dismissed.
Cobb was a complicated, troubled and angry guy whose troubles and anger often were played out at the ballpark, alienating teammates and affecting the game. He was also a great ballplayer. It’s perfectly acceptable and totally understandable that historians keep these traits of Cobb’s separate when assessing his baseball career, for they are two distinct parts of the man. A Hall of Fame without Ty Cobb in it would be the most ridiculous thing imaginable.
As we find ourselves in Hall of Fame season, ask yourself: if a current candidate had attacked fans and umpires, had been accused — but not proven — to have cheated the game and to have shown himself to be an awful all-around person despite his amazing baseball prowess, what kind of Hall of Fame support would he get?
I bet he wouldn’t be a first-balloter like Cobb was. I bet he wouldn’t sniff induction.