If he were alive, Ty Cobb would be 125 years old today. At that advanced age, he’d probably have a hard time hitting .300, but I wouldn’t bet against it.
If anything, Cobb was tenacious, bent on proving his critics wrong and stamping his name on history.
”I had to fight all my life to survive,” he once growled. “They were all against me, but I beat the bastards and left them in the ditch.”
Cobb may have felt that everyone was against him, but he channeled that paranoia so well that he became the greatest ballplayer who ever lived. Sorry, Babe, Joltin’ Joe, and Willie. Apologies, Stan the Man, Hammerin’ Hank, and Phat Albert. And don’t even try to get into the discussion, Mr. Bonds.
After all these years, Tyrus Raymond Cobb still stands as the greatest ballplayer to ever play in the big leagues. Note my choice of words – “ballplayer”. Others may have been greater sluggers (a skill Cobb had no use for), greater fielders, or greater big game performers. But no one was ever as complete a ballplayer as Cobb. The term seems to have been invented with the Georgian in mind.
As a baserunner, no one was his peer. Cobb swiped bases at will, and he took extra bases so frequently and daringly that he demoralized the opposition. As one observer wrote, Cobb played as if he had “brains in his feet.” His record for steals of home (54) is 20 more than any other player. In 1912 he stole home eight times!
Did anyone ever hit a baseball as well as Cobb? He batted .400 three times, winning 12 batting titles. Over a four-year stretch, Cobb hit .402! This was during the “Deadball Era” when league batting averages hovered around .235. Cobb performed at a level that was unmatched and miles ahead of his competition. When he was in his 40s, Cobb still hit .343 and continued to run the bases with daring. As much as any other player in history, Cobb frequently scored runs and won games with his amazing baseball IQ.
If you wanted someone to hit the longball, Cobb could have done that too. He was not a slappy singles hitter, having led the league in doubles three times, triples four times, and extra-base hits three times. In 1909 he won the triple crown, leading the league in batting, homers, and RBI.
For a few days in1925, tired of hearing about the exploits of Babe Ruth, Cobb decided to prove a point.
“I’ll show you something today. I’m going for home runs for the first time in my career, ” Cobb told Detroit sportswriter H.G. Salsinger.
That day, May 5 at Sportsman’s Park in St. Louis, the 38-year old Cobb went 6-for-6 with three home runs, a double, and two singles. The next day, still swinging for the fences, Cobb slugged two more homers and a single. In the process of proving his point that he could – if he wished – hit home runs, Cobb had set several records. His 16 total bases in one game have never been surpassed, and his five homers in two consecutive games remains a baseball record that has only been tied. He also collected nine straight hits during the rampage.
After his eye-popping exhibition of home run hitting, Cobb returned to what he called “inside baseball”, which was hitting the ball to all parts of the field, choking up on the bat, and making his way around the bases with his smarts instead of his muscle.
Cobb probably wouldn’t care much for the modern game, with all of the home runs, strikeouts, and specialized player roles. But there’s one modern innovation that would work perfectly for “The Georgia Peach” – with the designated hitter rule, a 125-year old Cobb would have a spot in the batting order.