Teams: Detroit Tigers, 1906-1926; Philadelphia Athletics, 1927-1928
Manager: Detroit Tigers, 1921-1926
Managerial record: 479-444
When the first Hall of Fame vote was taken in 1936, Ty Cobb was named on 222 of the 226 ballots cast, to lead all candidates for enshrinement. The shock was not that "The Georgia Peach" outpolled every other player in major-league history to that time, including Babe Ruth and Honus Wagner, but that four voters could ignore Cobb's towering credentials.
This slight was understandable only when it was taken into consideration that he was not just the greatest player who ever lived -- he was also the most despised.
When Ty Cobb retired, he held almost every major batting title -- and still
holds the record for career batting average.
No story better illustrates both his fiery determination and the reason for his unpopularity with opponents and teammates alike than the one told about a 1905 fracas between Cobb and Nap Rucker, his roommate while both were playing in the minors for Augusta. Rucker returned to their hotel room ahead of Cobb after a game and drew a bath for himself. When Cobb found him in the tub and began upbraiding him, Rucker only looked bewildered. "Don't you understand yet?" Cobb roared. "I've got to be first all the time -- in everything."
About any other player but Cobb such a tale might seem apocryphal. In any case, there is no common explanation for the zealous desire he brought to the field. As a result of his unquenchable thirst to win and his reckless slides with spikes high whenever he tried to take a base, he was shunned by other players.
Yet, if wanting to be first was what ignited Cobb, no one can deny that he got his wish. When he retired in 1928 after 24 seasons, he held almost every major career and single-season batting and baserunning record. Most have since been broken, owing largely to today's longer schedule, but one that almost certainly never will be is his mark for the highest career batting average. Precious few players in the past half century have managed to hit .367 for one season, let alone a 24-year period.
Cobb's deepest regret was that he never played on a World Series winner. The closest he came to it was in 1909, when the Tigers took the Pirates to seven games before succumbing. Only 22 years old at the time and playing on his third consecutive American League-championship team, Cobb seemed destined to play in many more World Series before he was done. Sadly, the 1909 classic proved to be his last taste of postseason competition.
Whether playing for an also-ran or a contender, though, Cobb gave the same relentless effort. It was thus difficult to credit a story that surfaced after he was fired as the Tigers player-manager following the 1926 season.
Reportedly both he and Tris Speaker had helped rig a 1919 game between Detroit and Cleveland. The only part of the story that was consistent with the Cobb everyone knew was that it had been foreordained that Detroit would win the contest. Cobb, not even for all the money in the world, would ever have agreed to finish less than first in something.
Despite the 1926 scandal, Cobb was allowed to sign with the Philadelphia Athletics. He retired after two seasons in Philadelphia, never again to have a full-time job in baseball. For the next 33 years he continued to live on the terms under which he had played, comfortably fixed but essentially alone. Cobb died in Atlanta, Georgia, on July 17, 1961.
Here are Ty Cobb's major league totals:
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