The obscure pitcher who gave Ty Cobb fits

In his Hall of Fame career, few pitchers gave Ty Cobb difficulty on a consistent basis.

When it came to beating up on pitchers, nobody did it as brilliantly and for so long as Ty Cobb.

In compiling a dazzling lifetime batting average of .367 over 24 big-league seasons (a full nine points over runner-up Rogers Hornsby), Cobb was an equal-opportunity abuser, smacking righthanders, lefthanders, speedballers, curveballers, spitballers, and knuckleballers with a remarkable consistency.

Against arguably the two greatest pitchers of all time, Walter Johnson and Cy Young, he hit .366 and .340, respectively. He knocked around “Smokey Joe” Wood to the tune of .429. In 91 at-bats against junkballer Jack Quinn, he cracked out 43 hits – a .473 average. He was almost unstoppable against such journeyman pitchers as Allan Sothoron (.500), Alex Ferguson (.520), Rollie Naylor (.516), and Hugh Bedient (.571).

However, there was one fellow who gave Cobb fits – an obscure pitcher named Bill Bayne. The little southpaw lost one more game than he won during his undistinguished nine-year career, the bulk of it spent with the St. Louis Browns. But the Pittsburgh native limited the great Georgia Peach to just five hits in 36 career at-bats – a meager .139 average. This was Cobb’s worst performance against any pitcher he faced at least 30 times.

Bayne’s handling of Cobb defies easy explanation. One theory is that Bayne was a lefthander with good control, the kind of moundsman that Cobb admitted gave him the most trouble. Bayne also had an exceptionally “wicked” curveball. Perhaps the key to Bayne’s success against Cobb was that he was used primarily as a middle reliever and mop-up man, denying Ty the extra at-bats it often took him to “solve” a pitcher during a game.

On May 5, 1922, Bayne carried a no-hitter into the bottom of the ninth at Detroit’s Navin Field. Cobb, who was managing the Tigers as well as playing center field, had already gone hitless in three at-bats against his nemesis. Cobb inserted a pinch-hitter, Larry Woodall, for second baseman Danny Clark, and Woodall broke up Bayne’s no-hit bid. Cobb was due up next. Instead, the man with a dozen batting titles under his belt paid Bayne the ultimate sign of respect. He sent Bob Fothergill, a righthanded hitter, up to the plate to bat for him. It was the first time since 1906, Cobb’s first full season in the majors, that somebody hit for the great man himself.

Cobb’s surrogate had no better luck against Bayne. Fothergill struck out.