A 1942 survey of former major league managers pointed the finger toward Ty Cobb as the greatest baseball player of all time. Many great players have surfaced on the diamond, but none out-hit, outplayed, or out-hustled the man they called “The Georgia Peach.” According to the Elias Sports Bureau, during 24 seasons, most with the Detroit Tigers and a couple with the Philadelphia Athletics, Cobb compiled a .367 batting average, the highest in the history of the game. He is the leader in runs scored with 2,245, and was the all-time hit leader until the mid-1980s when Pete Rose eclipsed him. In 1936, Ty Cobb became the first inductee of baseball’s Hall of Fame, earning 222 out of a possible 226 votes.
The eldest of three children, he grew up in Royston, Georgia, under the watchful eyes of his father, who was a schoolteacher, principal, newspaper publisher, state senator, and county school commissioner who urged Ty to study. When Ty went off to play professional baseball, his father sternly warned him, “Don’t come home a failure.” It is unlikely that anyone can beat his lifetime batting average. In his 24 seasons of playing baseball he topped the .300 barrier 23 times. Cobb’s first great season came in 1907, and the Tigers rode success all the way to the World Series. That season, the centerfield’s batting average was .350. Other league bests include 212 hits, 119 RBIs, and 49 stolen bases. Cobb did not stop there. He won nine consecutive batting titles starting in 1907. Cobb might be remembered best for his intimidating and harsh playing style. He was never afraid to go to extremes to win a game. He could take pain, as well as hand it out. “I recall when Cobb played a series with each leg a mass of raw flesh,” Grantland Rice wrote. “He had a temperature of 103 and the doctors ordered him to bed for several days, but he got three hits, stole three bases, and won the game. Afterward he collapsed at the bench.” Cobb looked for every possible way to win. He used his great speed and precision hitting as the best weapons available in the dead-ball, strong-pitching era. Cobb studied pitchers and took advantage of their weaknesses. Against Walter Johnson, the great Washington right-hander who was afraid of hitting batters with fastballs, Cobb crowded the plate. Johnson worked him outside, fell behind in the count, and finally threw slow pitches over the plate. Cobb clobbered ball after ball.
His best years were 1911, when he led the league in every major offensive category but homers and batted a career high .420, and in 1915 when he stole 96 bases.
Ty paid the price for success. He would practice sliding until his legs were raw. He would place blankets along the base and practice bunting a ball on the basket. During the winter he hunted through daylight hours in weighted boots so that his legs would be strong for the upcoming campaign. He overlooked no opportunity to gain an edge over his opponents, most of whom admired his drive to succeed.
Cobb appreciated the value of a dollar and engaged in annual haggles with Detroit executives before signing his contract. Cobb’s earnings were invested wisely, mostly in General Motors and Coca-Cola stock, which made him very wealthy and probably baseball’s first millionaire.