|Cobb ... was terrific, no doubt about it. After all, he stole almost 900 bases and had a batting average of of .367 over 24 years in the Big Leagues. You can't knock that. I remember one year I hit .378 -- in 1911, it was -- and I didn't come anywhere close to leading the league: Joe Jackson hit .408 and Cobb hit .420. I mean, that's mighty rugged competition!
I played in the same outfield with Cobb for 13 years, from 1905 through 1917. I was usually in right, Cobb in center, and Davy Jones and then Bobby Veach in left. Davy Jones, he was the best lead-off man in the league .... The lineup usually was Davy Jones, Donie Bush, Cobb, and Crawford, although sometimes I batted third and Cobb fourth. That Donie Bush was a superb shortstop, absolutely superb. I think he still holds a lot of records for assists and putouts.
They always talk about Cobb playing dirty, trying to spike guys and all. Cobb never tried to spike anybody. The base line belongs to the runner. If the infielders get in the way, that's their lookout. Infielders are supposed to watch out and take care of themselves. In those days, if they got in the way and got nicked they'd never say anything. They'd just take a chew of tobacco out of their mouth, slap it on the spike wound, wrap a handkerchief around it, and go right on playing. Never thought any more about it.
We had a trainer, but all he ever did was give you a rubdown with something we called "Go Fast." He'd take a jar of Vaseline and a bottle of Tabasco sauce -- you know how hot that is -- mix them together, and rub you down with that. Boy, it made you feel like you were on fire! That would really start you sweating. Now they have medical doctors and whirlpool baths and who knows what else.
But Ty was dynamite on the base paths. He really was. Talk about strategy and playing with your head, that was Cobb all the way. It wasn't that he was so fast on his feet, although he was fast enough. There were others who were faster, though, like Clyde Milan, for instance. It was that Cobb was so fast in his thinking. He didn't outhit the opposition and he didn't outrun them. He outthought them!
A lot of times Cobb would be on third base and I'd draw a base on balls, and as I started to go down to first I'd sort of half glance at Cobb, at third. He'd make a slight move that told me he wanted me to keep going -- not to stop at first, but to keep on going to second. Well, I'd trot two-thirds of the way to first and then suddenly, without warning, I'd speed up and go across first as fast as I could and tear out for second. He's on third, see. They're watching him, and suddenly there I go, and they don't know what the devil to do.
If they try to stop me, Cobb'll take off for home. Sometimes they'd catch him, and sometimes they'd catch me, and sometimes they wouldn't get either of us. But most of the time they were too paralyzed to do anything, and I'd wind up at second on a base on balls ....
Cobb was a great ballplayer, no doubt about it. But he sure wasn't easy to get along with. He wasn't a friendly, good-natured guy, like [Honus] Wagner was, or Walter Johnson, or Babe Ruth .... He wrote an autobiography, you know, and he spends a lot of time in there telling how terrible he was treated when he first came up to Detroit, as a rookie, in 1905. About how we weren't fair to him, and how we tried to "get" him.
But you have to look at the other side, too .... Every rookie gets a little hazing, but most of them just take it and laugh. Cobb took it the wrong way. He came up with an antagonistic attitude, which in his mind turned any little razzing into a life-or-death struggle. He always figured everybody was ganging up against him .... Well, who knows, maybe if he hadn't had that persecution complex he never would have been the great ballplayer he was. He was always trying to prove he was the best, on the field and off. And maybe he was, at that.
-- Sam Crawford
The Glory of Their Times (Ritter)
The Glory of Their Times, Lawrence S. Ritter
Copyright 1966 by Lawrence S. Ritter
Published by Random House (New York), 1966
available at AMAZON