“They say I ran wild”

6 Apr

In 1937, Grantland Rice of The New York Herald Tribune met Ty Cobb for a round of golf at Pebble Beach:

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Grantland Rice

“His hair was a trifle thinner and he had put on a few pounds in weight since the big years of his career. But he still looked fit—life had given him a better break than any other retired major league star in history…The legs that carried him at a headlong pace around the bases for 24 years still had enough left to take home through the wilds of Montana, Oregon or Wyoming after quail, deer, or mountain lions—day after day on extended hikes.”

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Cobb

Rice asked Cobb what he thought about the current state of baseball:

“I haven’t seen much baseball or followed it closely, for two reasons. One is that 24 years of hard competition in more than 3000 ballgames burns away most of the lure. The other is that the introduction of the rabbit ball took away most of the science from the game I knew and loved so well. It has been a different game.

“In those years we had to battle for a run. I used to lay plans days or weeks ahead to use against some club to get that run. They say I ran wild. I did it with a purpose—but only when we had a good lead and I could afford to waste a play. I wanted them to think I was a crazy runner—in order to hurry the play of either infield or outfield—to upset what you might call their mental balance. Today, in the main, they wait around for someone to hit a home run. A single run rarely means anything.”

Cobb said he understood he had a reputation “as a rough rider around the bases,” but:

“I recall only three men I spiked in 24 years. I don’t believe the total would be over six or seven”

He told Rice the famous 1909 spiking of Frank “Hone Run” Baker:

“I barely scratched his arm…The Baker incident gave me a reputation I never deserved.”

cobbbaker

Cobb slides into Baker, 1909

Later, Rice asked Cobb about the best pitchers he faced:

 “My number one pitcher would be Cy Young. Cy won more than 500 ballgames in two big leagues. He was still a fine pitcher after more than 20 years…Ate the age of 65, in the veterans’ game, old Cy pitched three run less innings. He had a world of stuff—he had a game heart and he had control.

“Next to Cy, I’d name (Walter) Johnson who led them all in shutouts and strikeouts. That’s the main answer”

Cobb called Big Ed Walsh:

 “The most valuable five-year pitcher I ever saw. In one season (1908)  he worked 66 games, won 40 and saved 12 others [sic, 6]. Right after this he stepped in and pitched almost every game in the Chicago City series. Big Ed was the star workhorse of them all for about five years before the arm gave out.

Cobb told Rice his “Biggest day, I suppose was that afternoon against the Yankees just after a ball pitched by Carl Mays killed Ray Chapman.”

The New York Tribune said the fans were “in an uproar” over comments Cobb had allegedly made to Associated Press (AP) reporters. On the day of Chapman’s death, The AP reported:

“Ty Cobb, the Detroit star asserted that summary measures should be taken against Mays immediately.”

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Mays

The AP also said in a separate article:

“After the funeral of Roy Chapman has been held, Ty Cobb will have a few things to say regarding Carl Mays…’I am too upset over the death of Chapman to say anything now,’ he said. Cobb, however, added

That he had his own experiences with Mays’ bean-ball and that he would be willing to give some of his opinions about the Yankees submarine pitcher when he does talk.”

chapman

Chapman

It was also reported that Cobb was among a group of players who would refuse to play against Mays.

Describing the scene at the Polo Grounds nearly 17 years late, Cobb told Rice:

“I had been misquoted and when I came into the park there was the loudest chorus of boos and hisses, I ever heard.

“Naturally I felt bitter about this. It isn’t a pleasant feeling to be booed and hissed by 35,000 of your fellow citizens, I went out to show them up I happened to have one of my best days.”

Cobb’s “Biggest game” was actually the second game of the series. During the first game of the series on August 21, The Tribune said:

“(T)he booing and hissing were violent every time Cobb came to bat. This roused Cobb’s belligerency and he exchanged some sharp repartee with the crowd by the Detroit dugout. He was surrounded by a growling mob as he left the field, but Cobb, who rather enjoys being a storm center, walked off the field slowly and deliberately”

Cobb, who went 1 for 4 with a stolen base, told reporters after Detroit’s 10 to 3 win:

“Some Boston people who have a grudge against Carl Mays used me as a smoke screen. I did not say a word against Mays, and I attended no meeting to boycott him.”

The following day, August 22, with 37,000 fans in the Polo Grounds was the “Biggest day,” Cobb was 5 for 6 with a double and three stolen bases and scored two runs in an 11 to 9 victory.

Back to the game at Pebble Beach, Rice said of Cobb:

 “Golf is one game that has left him baffled. Once in awhile he breaks 80, but his average score is around 82 or 83. He hits a long ball and he is a first-class putter but is still erratic on the in between shots. Always full of tension…If he could relax more, there would soon be a great improvement in his game. But the mental habit of a lifetime isn’t so easily overcome. The more delicate shots give Ty his greatest trouble. This is where tension nearly always takes its toll. The mental factors that make a great ballplayer or football player may be ruinous for golf.”

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