“I Object to Being Made a Freak.”

17 Jul

In 1913 American League President Ban Johnson set out to put an end to the practice the Baseball Writers Association called “A growing Evil,” ghost-written articles appearing under the by-lines of famous ballplayers.

William Peet of The Washington Herald revealed the identities of the ghost writers in March of 1913; Gerhard “Roger” Tidden of The New York World had been the man responsible for articles bearing the name of Ty Cobb, but Tidden died just three months after the revelation.   While the practice waned after 1913, Cobb remained defiant, and continued “authoring” a syndicated column for the next several years.

Ty Cobb

Ty Cobb

Cobb’s articles, for the most part, steered clear of trouble with the league president, but the assertions he made about the Chicago White Sox and manager Clarence “Pants” Rowland in June of 1915 caused a major stir.

Cobb said:

“Battery signal stealing, which has been the cause of several scandals in big league baseball threatens to make more trouble this season if anyone is able to prove what is generally suspected about one of the American League clubs.

“I will not mention the name of the organization which has been accused by the opposing players…because I couldn’t present any proof.”

Cobb then went on for seven paragraphs trying to present proof, and provided enough hints to make it clear he was talking about the White Sox.

Cobb’s said

 “The team I have in mind has won almost all its home games…It looks mighty funny, though, the way this club could hit at home and the feeble manner in which it has been swatting on the road and almost all of the Tigers will take an oath that something out-of-the-way is coming off.”

Chicago, through 49 games, was in first place; 22-8 at home and 9-10 on the road.  Detroit was in second place a game back.  If he left any doubt Cobb said later in the column when discussing the American League pennant race in general:

“The White Sox, who burned up things at home, have not been doing so well on the road.”

Everyone, including American League President Ban Johnson, assumed Cobb was talking about the Sox.  Johnson said:

 “(Cobb) must prove the charges, or I will keep him from playing baseball.  If any man in the American League makes a charge of dishonesty and refuses to back up his charge with the absolute evidence, that man will have to get out of the game.”

The White Sox were less concerned; The Chicago Tribune said the charges made Sox players “grin,” and Rowland told reporters:

“I suppose we had out tipping instruments planted in the Polo Grounds when we made nineteen hits in New York the other day.”

Clarence "Pants" Rowland

Clarence “Pants” Rowland

In his next column Cobb issued a non-denial denial and at the same time openly, and loudly, defied Johnson:

“I made no specific charge against the White Sox…What I did say was that a strong rumor of sharp practice was abroad, and I reiterate that statement right here.”

___

“Mr. Johnson even went to the extreme of saying that he would drive me out of baseball.  He hasn’t done this yet and I expect to stay around for a few more days.  If the league president is willing to pay the salary that my three-year contract calls for, I will be perfectly willing to take a vacation at that, for I have long wanted to do a number of things that baseball interferes with.”

Cobb reiterated the charges and offered no evidence, but said he was justified in making the claims because his manager might have believed them:

“(Tigers) Manager (Hughie) Jennings thought the report sufficiently serious to detail one of our players for plain clothes duty in the bleachers, and he also wrote Manager (Bill) Donovan of New York, telling him of a warning we had received and cautioning him to be on the lookout.  So you see the signal tipping report was not a creature of my own imagination, but a matter of sufficient seriousness to warrant an investigation by our manager in his official capacity.”

Cobb’s only bit of backtracking was to say that if “it should be proved the White Sox tried signal stealing it would be without the knowledge of Mr. (Charles) Comiskey.”  Cobb said Comiskey “wouldn’t countenance anything of this sort for a moment.”

Cobb took one last swing at Ban Johnson, charging the league president with giving “sensational interviews” about him to get “the people excited artificially. If this is Mr. Johnson’s idea, I wish he would abandon it.  I object to being made a freak.”

If there was any doubt whether the American League’s star player or the league president wielded more power, it became obvious within a week.

Johnson, who The Associated Press said “long has been opposed to players permitting their name to be used over baseball stories,” decided not only had Cobb not written the columns, but claimed “a Detroit newspaperman” made up the allegations “out of whole cloth,” and incredibly said that Cobb had “no knowledge,” of the columns despite Cobb being quoted by numerous sources discussing the charges.

Ban Johnson

Ban Johnson

Hugh Fullerton of The Chicago Examiner summed it up best:

“We are rather surprised each morning upon picking up our newspaper to discover that Ty Cobb is still making two-base hits, two steals and catching a few flies instead of being driven out of baseball by (Ban) Johnson.  By the way how did Johnson get into baseball?”

As quickly as Johnson backed down, the charges went away.  Despite the strong start the White Sox faded, and continued to fade even after the acquisition of “Shoeless Joe” Jackson on August 21, finishing third, nine and a half games behind the pennant-winning Boston Red Sox and seven games behind the Tigers.

Cobb led the league for the ninth straight season, hitting .369.

The one legacy from the brief 1915 controversy seems to be Cobb’s dislike of Rowland, who later became a scout for the Tigers.  In his 1984 book “Ty Cobb,” Charles C. Alexander said Cobb only agreed to manage the Tigers before the 1921 season because he was told:

 “Pants Rowland, whom Cobb considered an incompetent fraud, might very well get it and Cobb would have to play for him.”

Rowland, who remained in baseball until 1959 as a manager, scout and executive with the Los Angeles Angels in the Pacific Coast League and Chicago Cubs in the National League, appears to have also held a grudge.   Up until his death at age 90 in 1969, Rowland often said two of his former players, Jackson and Eddie Collins were better than Cobb.

 In 1953 at the Old Timers Baseball Association of Chicago Banquet Rowland said “I wouldn’t have traded (Collins) for Cobb.  What made him greater than Cobb was that he inspired the entire ball club.  Ty was an individualist.  He was interested only in Cobb.”

Rowland called Jackson the “greatest natural hitter,’ he ever saw, and said Ted Williams, not Cobb, was the only player “of the same make-up.”

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One Response to ““I Object to Being Made a Freak.””

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Bill Setley | Baseball History Daily - October 1, 2014

    […] were many versions of the most often told story about Setley, and  Clarence “Pants” Rowland told the version that most often appeared in […]

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