While the Detroit Tigers captain “jinx” almost cost George Moriarty his captaincy in 1912, he was also nearly traded to the Cleveland Naps in December of 1911. The reason given for the Tiger’s desire to trade Moriarty was an alleged fight with Tigers star Ty Cobb.
Whether the fight actually took place is questionable, and an oft-told story about Cobb and Moriarty that grew out of the fight rumor is almost certainly untrue.
In December of 1911, The Associated Press reported the “Real reason for proposed trading of Moriarty.” The wire service said:
“A battle royal between George Moriarty and Tyrus Cobb one day late in the season of 1911, is the reason why Detroit now wishes to dispose of the star third sacker. Moriarty and Cobb started their argument upon the field at Detroit, and followed it up with an angry controversy at the club office. Finally Cobb grabbed a bat and threatened to hit the big third baseman. The latter armed himself in a similar manner, and they started to beat each other up.”
The story said the fight was broken up by teammates, and “Cobb then issued his ultimatum which was that he would not play with the Tigers if Moriarty was on the team, unless Moriarty apologized to him.”
Within days, both players and Tigers management denied that there had been any fight. Cobb said:
“There has been a lot of talk that Moriarty and I almost had a fight in the clubhouse last season. George and I are the best of friends. We roomed together in the spring and were on the friendliest terms throughout the season. The story that I put it up to (Tigers owner Frank) Navin to sell or trade George is a fabrication. In the first place I had no grounds for such action, and in the second place I wouldn’t take such a step if I did have. I wouldn’t put the Detroit club in a compromising position.”
While the story of a fight was told and retold over the next twenty years, Cobb and Moriarty always denied it happened.
The story that is still included in nearly every mention of Moriarty is that as he and Cobb were preparing to fight, Moriarty said “A fellow like you needs a bat to even things up when fighting an Irishman.”
The quote first appeared in a 1932 column by New York World-Telegram sportswriter Joe Williams when, as an American League umpire, Moriarty’s reputation as a fighter was renewed. The Associated Press said after a double-header sweep by the Cleveland Indians, Chicago White Sox catcher
“Charlie Berry followed the umpire into the runway of the clubhouse, accusing him of ‘missing’ a third strike on Earl Averill just before the Indian broke up the second game with a ninth-inning triple.
“Berry challenged Moriarty to a fight…Milt Gaston, Chicago pitcher, advanced himself. The umpire felled Gaston…Then Berry, Frank Grube and Lew Fonseca rushed Moriarty, beating him until he was rescued by the Indians.”
In response to mentions of a fight with Cobb in the reports of the 1932 fight, Moriarty renewed his denial of a fight with Cobb, a denial he had also made in 1927 when he replaced Cobb as Detroit manager:
“Say anything else you like about me, but don’t spread the report that Ty and I fought. We were roommates, and while we may have disagreed we never came to blows.”
Cobb and Moriarity relished their reputations as fighters, the fact that both continued to deny they fought long after it mattered would indicate that they often retold story is more wishful thinking than fact.
One more bit of trivia about Moriarity: His grandson Michael Moriarty starred as Henry Wiggen in one of the greatest baseball movies, “Bang the Drum Slowly” with Robert De Niro.