From Chicken Soup for the Baseball Fan's Soul

Still Dangerous

Cobb lived off the field as though he wished to live forever. He lived on the field as though it was his last day.

Branch Rickey

Ty Cobb is remembered as one of baseball’s all-time ferocious competitors. He owns the highest lifetime batting average in the history of the majors. Always controversial, the Georgia Peach was a legend in his own time, and his peculiar mystique seems to grow with each passing decade.

Cobb was a man driven to succeed. And while Ty’s confrontational style won him few friends, it did win him respect. Cobb was a force to be reckoned with, and everyone in baseball knew it . . . not least of all Cobb himself.

Two players dominated baseball in the early twentieth century: Ty Cobb and Babe Ruth. The two men couldn’t have been further apart, both in their approach to the game and in their unique personalities. Always in excellent physical shape, the fanatical Cobb was a percentage man, a baseball purist. Cobb would get on base any way he could . . . by a walk, getting hit by a pitch, bunting or punching line drives through the holes. And once on base he became a terror—stealing bases, heckling opponents and breaking up potential double plays with his infamously sharpened spikes. The Georgia Peach was definitely “old school.”

Ruth, of course, changed the game forever with his emphasis on the long ball. In an era when Frank “Home Run” Baker had led the majors with twelve round-trippers, Ruth came along to hit forty, fifty and eventually even sixty. Of course, the Babe also led the league in strikeouts. But his titanic blasts captured the imagination of an entire generation. Coupled with his proclivity for beer, hot dogs and practical jokes, Ruth’s bigger-than-life persona seemed the embodiment of excess . . . the perfect marketing package for the Roaring Twenties. Ruth was definitely not old school.

Inevitably, as the fans came to love the Babe, Cobb came to loathe him. He outwardly showed contempt for Ruth’s performance. Frustrated by the tremendous attention Ruth received, Cobb took his explosive anger out on opponents. He scratched for even more hits, stole more bases and piloted his Detroit Tigers to even more wins. Once, to prove his point that Ruth’s home runs were not a terribly difficult feat, Cobb told his teammates to pay close attention to his at bats in an upcoming two-game series with the Browns. On the first day Cobb changed his grip, his stance and his signature style. Swinging for the fences in imitation of Ruth, Cobb treated his Tigers to an awesome display of the long ball, belting three Ruthian blasts to the astonishment of many in attendance. The following day Cobb crushed two additional homers as an exclamation point, then returned to his “old school” ways. Obviously, there was no doubt in Cobb’s mind who the greatest player of the day was: Tyrus Raymond Cobb.

Several decades after his retirement, Cobb’s competitive fires still burned. When he was invited to participate in an “old-timers” exhibition before a regularly scheduled major-league game, Cobb gladly accepted. Although his fellow old-timers jogged the bases, showboated and basically clowned around, Cobb would have none of that nonsense. He was strictly business, just like the Ty Cobb of old. Despite being one of the most senior players on the field, the Georgia Peach charged after fly balls, smashed line drives and even stole bases. Not surprisingly, Cobb was named the event’s MVP. Afterwards, as a special guest of honor, Cobb was invited up to the broadcast booth for an on-air interview. The subject of Cobb’s gaudy lifetime .367 batting average was soon introduced.

“Ty, let’s talk about your lifetime average and all the changes that baseball has seen since you played,” segued the announcer. “Of course, it’s a totally new era today and an entirely different game. We have new rules, new ballparks and a new strike zone. The players are bigger and faster. We’ve seen the rise of the great black and Latin American players, plus the emergence of the relief pitcher as a specialty position. Ty, when you consider all these changes over the years, tell us, what kind of batting average do you think Ty Cobb would carry if he were playing today?”

“Oh, I don’t know,” Cobb shrugged. “That’s a hard question to answer. Anything I say would just be a guess.”

“Of course,” replied the announcer. “But in your opinion, what would you be batting if you were playing in the major leagues today?”

The Hall of Famer rubbed his chin and pondered for a moment.

“Well,” said Ty, “maybe .270 or .275.”

The announcer was stunned. “Mr. Cobb, let me make sure I understand you correctly. You’re saying that the great Ty Cobb, the man who once routinely hit over .400, would only hit for .270 or .275 if playing today?”

“It’s just a guess. But .275 seems about right to me,” Cobb confirmed.

“Well, I’m amazed, Mr. Cobb,” the announcer confessed. “I wouldn’t have guessed that. Why do you suppose your average would be so low?”

The Georgia Peach frowned and shook his head. “Listen, young fella,” he snapped. “You saw me play out here tonight. Look at me . . . let’s face it, I’m past seventy years old now. My wheels aren’t so good anymore and I can’t get down the first-base line like I used to. You wait till you’re seventy and see if you can still hit .400. To tell you the truth, I don’t think .275 would be all that bad for a man my age!”

Jack Myers

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