Cobb! The greatest of all time
On so many hot summer nights as a young boy, I would sit in a rocking chair on the back porch with my grandpa listening to the radio broadcast of the Detroit Tigers.
A German-American, my grandpa was a quiet man who worked 40 years in the auto factories, and because of his black transistor radio, he never missed a baseball game. He loved the Detroit Tigers, and I developed that same passion for his team because I worshiped him. It’s also the very reason why I love listening to baseball on the radio.
We would just sit and listen to the game. It was special.
But it was during those special moments that I learned from him that my dad, Charles Leonard Fiebernitz, was named after Charles Leonard Gehringer, who was a Hall of Fame second baseman (1924-42) for the Detroit Tigers.
He also told me my uncle Mel was named after Mel Ott, a Hall of Fame outfielder for the New York Giants, and that my dad’s cousin, Bob Rush, was a pitcher for the Chicago Cubs, Milwaukee Braves and the Chicago White Sox. Rush was also an all-star selection in 1950 and 1952 and finished his career with 127 wins.
But I was more than fascinated when he told me that my dad’s older brother, Tyrus Raymond Fiebernitz, was named after the greatest baseball player ever, the Hall of Fame outfielder of the Detroit Tigers, Tyrus Raymond “Ty” Cobb.
Through my grandpa, I felt a kinship toward Gehringer, Rush, Ott and Cobb.
On a few occasions, my grandpa would fill the silence with stories of Gehringer, Ott and Rush, but it was Cobb, who was his favorite player and he never tried to hide that fact.
However, the only question I had as a boy for my grandpa that was never answered was why he named my uncle and not my dad after Ty Cobb?
When Cobb, who was nicknamed the Georgia Peach,” passed away on July 17, 1961, the New York Times’ headline echoed the conclusions of the majority of fans and baseball writers.
“Cobb, Hailed as Greatest Player in History, Mourned by Baseball World.”
Cobb’s baseball talents were at times overshadowed by his “take no prisoners” personality. He played every pitch, every inning of every game as if he was possessed by demons.
Even Cobb once described his play as, “something like a war.” He was cunning, calculating, intense, competitive, and combative.
In 2002, the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR), initiated its Baseball Biography Project. In the first paragraph of Ty Cobb’s biography, it states, “Ty Cobb was the dominant player in the American League during the Dead Ball Era, and arguably the greatest player in the history of the game.”
A 17-year-old Cobb left home to play in the minors and his father, a stern school master, warned him not to come home a failure. It was their last conversation.
While playing for the Augusta Tourists, he got a telegram informing him that his father was dead, shot by his mother. That event stayed with Cobb for the rest of his life. Three weeks later, he debuted in center field for the Detroit Tigers. On August 30, 1905, in his first major league at-bat, Cobb doubled off the New York Highlanders’ Jack Chesbro who had won a record 41 games the previous season. That season Cobb was 18 years old, the youngest player in the league by almost a year.
Cobb certainly ruled that period of baseball history known as the dead-ball era. He stood at the plate from the left side with his hands slightly apart so he could bunt, slap or punch the baseball exactly where he wanted. It wasn’t long after he arrived in the big leagues that he became the biggest draw.
In his first full season in 1906, the Georgia Peach hit .316, the second highest batting average ever for a 19-year-old. He would never hit below that mark again as Cobb led the Tigers to three consecutive American League pennants from 1907 to 1909.
But it was the 1907 season that started Cobb’s legacy as he won his first American League batting title with a .350 batting average (212 hits, 49 steals and 119 RBI). At 20 years, 10 months, Cobb was the youngest player to win a batting championship and held this record until 1955 when the Detroit Tigers’ Al Kaline won the batting title when he was 12 days younger than Cobb had been.
He would go on to win seven consecutive battling titles and a major league record 12 in 13 years.
Casey Stengel, who managed the New York Yankees teams that won a record five consecutive World Championships from 1949-53, called Cobb, “the most sensational of all the players I have seen in all my life.’
When Cobb retired in 1928 at age 42, he owned an incredible 90 all-time records, including the highest lifetime major-league batting average (.367). Below are several other of Cobb’s accomplishments on the field.
* Most career batting titles (12).
* Most career steals of home (54).
* Second in career hits (4,189 – first in AL and first when retired).
* Second in career runs scored (2,246 – first in AL and first when retired).
* Third in career steals (892 - first when retired), stole second, third, and home after reaching base on six separate occasions.
* Led the American League in hits eight times.
* Led the American League in runs scored five times.
* Scored 100 runs 11 times in his career.
* Reached 1,000 hit level by the age of 24 — the youngest of any major league player.
* Batted under .320 only once in his career — his first season.
* Batted over .400 three times (1911, 1912, 1922).
* Batted over .320 for 23 straight seasons.
* Had two consecutive game hitting streaks of 35 games or more (35 in 1917 and 40 in 1911), the only player to do so; his two streaks rank 6th and 11th on the all-time list; (George Sisler had streaks of 41 and 34 games).
* Five hitting streaks of 20-plus games: 40, 35, 25, 21, and 21.
* One of only two people to hit a home run before his 20th birthday and after his 40th birthday (the other is Rusty Staub).
* After subtracting home runs, Cobb drove in 1,843 runs, more than any other player.
* Won the prestigious Triple Crown in 1909.
* First player to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1936.
Unfortunately, Cobb was a mean spirited man and wasn’t liked very much. Only two baseball players, Mickey Cochrane and Ray Schalk, attended his funeral in Royston, Georgia.
But as a player, Cobb still is the greatest of all time.