Today (December 18th), Ty Cobb would have been 135 years old. Somehow it seems like if he were alive, he would still manage to hit .300.
Cobb played 24 seasons, and when he retired he held most of the records for batting and base stealing. His marks for hits, runs, runs batted in, and stolen bases were legendary, and it took decades for most of them to be surpassed.
Cobb’s iconic .367 career batting average remains the standard bearer in major league baseball. Rarely does a hitter even reach that mark in a single season. No batter in the last 50 years has retired with even a batting average as high as .340 for their career.
Here are five things you may not have known about The Georgia Peach:
#1. Played his first organized games against boys much older
When Cobb was growing up in rural Georgia there weren’t many opportunities to play baseball, especially against good competition. He started by playing for a local team of nine boys who ranged in age from 11 years old to 20. Within a year of playing for the team called the Rompers, Cobb was the best player on the team even though he was only 13. He later credited his ability to play against bigger, older boys to toughening him up.
#2. Never ventured north until he was called to the big leagues
In 1905, after a strong season for the Augusta Tourists in the Sally League, the 18-year old Cobb was purchased by the Detroit Tigers. He was summoned to Detroit at the end of August to join his new teammates. When he stepped off the train at the terminal in downtown Detroit on August 29, he was setting foot north of the Mason-Dixon Line for the first time in his life. Cobb was in a strange world, one he would seen have to navigate if he wanted to make it as a big leaguer.
#3. Refused to accept hazing from his teammates
There were few more odd sights than Ty Cobb as an 18-year old rookie with the Tigers in 1905. He was inexperienced, a little shy, and ill-fitted among his older teammates. Soon, as was the practice in professional ball at that time, Cobb was mercilessly hazed. His bats were sawed in half, his shoes were nailed to the clubhouse floor, and his teammates called him names that they felt befitted an upstart from the deep south.
Most young ballplayers just put their head down and accepted hazing. But Cobb didn’t take to it, and he fought back. His aggressive response to his unwarm welcome made him enemies on the Detroit ballclub. In addition, the outfielders saw Ty as someone who was trying to take their job. By the time he reported to play the 1906 season, Cobb had no friends on the team. Unfazed, he was determined to stick in the majors, and that season he batted .316 and earned a starting job. After his difficult transition to the big leagues, Cobb never let anyone: teammate, opponents, umpires, or fans intimidate him.
#4. Used off-season conditioning to keep his legs strong
In Cobb’s era there were no gymnasiums and no personal trainers. He was responsible for keeping himself in shape to play the long seven-month season of baseball. Cobb was an avid hunter and in the offseason he would often traipse through the Georgia woods with rifle in tow, keeping his legs fresh. He even used a secret method: Ty placed extra weights in his hunting boots to make him work even harder as he hunted in the winter months. He used those famous legs to steal nearly 900 bases and score more than 2,000 runs in his Hall of Fame career.
#5. More Hall of Fame votes than the Babe and Hans Wagner
When some crafty folks in Cooperstown decided to start a National Baseball Museum and Hall of Fame in their tiny little village in 1936, they enlisted the baseball writers to vote on players to be enshrined. In the first vote held in early 1936, Cobb received the most votes: 222 out of 226 cast. That was more than anyone else: more than Babe Ruth, more than Honus Wagner, and more than Christy Mathewson or Walter Johnson.
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