The American League introduced a new, cork-centered baseball for the 1911 season. The impact was immediate. Run-scoring zoomed as 1-0 duels were replaced with 7-6 games. No team took advantage of the new baseball more than the Detroit Tigers, who were led by their center fielder, Ty Cobb.
On May 15, Cobb went 2-for-4 against Smokey Joe Wood of the Red Sox. The next day he went 3-for-5, and after that he proceeded to get a hit in every game for seven weeks. His hitting streak of 40 games was a new American League record. During the streak he hit a blistering .476 (80-for-168) with 40 runs scored. He recorded 26 multiple-hit games during the streak, and never went more than two at-bats without reaching base via a hit or a walk. Finally, on July 4th, in the first game of a doubleheader against the White Sox in Detroit, Ed Walsh halted Ty’s streak. In the second game of the doubleheader, Ty lined collected two singles and proceeded to hit safely in 14 of his next 16 games.
But Cobb’s skills went far beyond hitting the baseball. On the base paths he was nearly impossible to contain. In one game he stole second, third and home on successive pitches, announcing his intentions prior to each play. On another occasion, Cobb scored from second base on a sacrifice bunt, stunning the opposing catcher. Another time, Cobb scored from second base on a fly ball, prompting a New York scribe to write: “In base running Cobb slides at every opportunity, with a wiggly, fade-away twist that makes him as elusive as an eel.”
By the middle of the season, Cobb was on a pace to break the all-time record for runs scored, hits, and batting average. Sportswriter E.A. Batchelor placed Ty on a lofty perch when he said, “In my considered opinion, he was, all things considered, the greatest ball player that ever lived and the most valuable piece of property ever owned by any ball club.”
With his batting average in the rarified air of the .440 mark, Cobb became ill in August (most likely from exhaustion) and missed four games against Chicago. When he returned he was refreshed – piling up four consecutive multi-hit games. But the Tigers had fallen out of the pennant race. Cobb did his best to rally the team in September, stringing together a 16-game hitting streak that kept his average near the .420 mark. But Philadelphia wrapped up their second straight pennant and the Tigers limped to a second place finish, 13 1/2 games back of the Mackmen.
Despite his impressive season, Cobb declined to play the last four games of the schedule, preferring to get an early start on his off-season. Had he played he would have added to his staggering 1911 numbers: 248 hits (a new major league record), 147 runs scored, 47 doubles, 24 triples, eight homers, 127 RBI, and 83 stolen bases. The latter figure was a new league record.
Cobb’s .420 batting average secured his fifth straight batting title, and it placed him in the exclusive circle of .400 hitters. One opposing manager said of Cobb, “I believe he carries brains in his feet. At least he plays that way.”