Ty Cobb and the Tigers’ Amazing Pennant Race of 1915

Ty Cobb summarized his philosophy when he said that “baseball is a red-blooded sport for red-blooded men, a struggle for supremacy, survival of the fittest.” At no other time was that more apparent than during the 1915 season, when Cobb and his Detroit teammates battled the rival Boston Red Sox for the pennant. That battle was often heated and on more than one occasion bloody.

By 1915, Cobb was the undisputed king of the diamond, a perennial batting champion who terrorized opposing teams with his powerful bat and daring baserunning. Over the previous five seasons, from 1909 to 1914, Cobb had batted .397 with an average of 59 steals per.

Never one to rest on his laurels, Cobb displayed more daring base running during the 1915 season than in any other in his illustrious career. He stole home five times, including four times in June, when he swiped a total of 28 bases – a major league record for a single month.

His play, along with that of outfield partners Sam Crawford and Bobby Veach, kept the Tigers in the hunt for the flag. Pitchers Harry Coveleski and Hooks Dauss held up the staff. But as much as the Tigers tried, they couldn’t seem to supplant the Red Sox. Like shadow boxers, the two teams were within two or three games of each other almost the entire season.

Despite a 10-5 mark in the first two weeks of September, the Tigers trailed Boston by two full games when the two teams met at Fenway Park for a crucial four-game series beginning on the 16th.

The bad blood between Cobb and the Boston pitching staff dated back several years, and had been heightened by Boston pitcher Dutch Leonard’s head-hunting earlier in the season. The animosity came to a head in game one of the showdown. Throughout the contest Cobb was brushed back by tight pitches from Rube Foster and Carl Mays. Finally, Cobb was fed up, and in the eighth inning – after being knocked on the seat of his pants by a pitch aimed for his skull – Cobb hurled his bat toward Mays, who ducked for cover. On the very next pitch, Mays hit Cobb in the wrist, prompting a near brawl, with Cobb hollering obscenities at Mays, the Boston bench, and the frenzied crowd. As he trotted to first base, Cobb was pelted with garbage thrown from the stands. Most appalling to the partisan Boston crowd was the fact that the Tigers built a 6-1 lead, which stood up as the final score.

When Cobb recorded the final putout of the game, policemen were unable to keep the rowdy crowd from storming onto the field. The mob quickly surrounded Cobb in center field. As most of his teammates retreated to safety, Cobb defiantly strolled through the sea of hateful fans, receiving their taunts and the barrage of garbage that was thrown at him. Sportswriter E.A. Batchelor, a witness to the incredible scene, wrote, that “none of the mongrels in the crowd had the nerve to attack him – each waiting for somebody else to strike the first blow.” Indeed, photos of the scene show a 3-4 foot halo around Cobb, as fans stayed at arm’s length from the fiery southerner.

After surviving the harrowing throngs of Boston fans in the opener of the crucial series, Cobb and the Tigers lost the last three games, placing them a distant four games back of the Red Sox. Though the Tigers would eventually end the season with a team-record 100 wins, they fell 2 ½ games shy of first place. It was their best showing since their 1909 pennant-winning season.