Tag Archives: Frank Navin

Things I Learned on the Way to Looking Up Other Things: Ty Cobb Edition

25 Jul

“I didn’t make any bets but we won the Game”

After Swede Risberg and Chick Gandil alleged in late 1926 that the Detroit Tigers had thrown four games to the Chicago White Sox late in the 1917 season—a story that was contradicted by more than two dozen former Tigers and White Sox players—Ty Cobb told Bert Walker of The Detroit Times that the St. Louis Browns likely threw the final three games of the season against the Tigers in 1923.

cobb

Cobb

Walker said before the first game of the series on October 1, Browns players approached Cobb and said:

“’You are going to win today’s game.  We will not try to take it.  Those damned —–, meaning the Indians, have insulted us all season and we hope you beat them out.’”

Cobb told Walker:

“’I was in uniform at the time, and went to the office of (Tigers President Frank) Navin and told him the whole thing.  There was still more than an hour in which to get down bets on a sure thing.  I do not know if any bets were made or not.  I didn’t make any bets but we won the game.’”

The Tigers swept the season-ending series three game series with the Browns while the Indians split a four-game series with the Chicago White Sox, resulting in Detroit finishing a half game ahead of Cleveland.

“The Percentage of Those Whom I Have Spiked”

Cobb talked to The Dayton Herald in 1915 about why baseball was not a profession for everyone:

“It is hard to succeed in baseball, not because the game is hard in itself, but because of the rebuffs that a player receives from all sides…Several years ago when I broke into the big show, I was a target for all the remarks sport writers could not fire at anyone else.

cobb3

“It was simply because when I slid into a base and would put all the force I possessed into my slide, they said I was a rowdy and that I was trying my best to spike the other fellow.

“Well, if the records were kept, it would be shown that the percentage of those whom I have spiked would be no higher than that of any other major leaguer in the game.”

“Sure, I’ll hit, Watch me”

In 1925, Frank G. Menke of The New York Daily News marveled that Cobb was, at age 38, still one of the game’s best hitters—he was hitting above .400 when the article appeared in June and ended up fourth in the American League with a .378 average:

“No man can think of Ty Cobb without gasping over his bewildering ability as a ballplayer.

“There never was a player like him—none remotely approached.  And so long as the game endures there shall not be another like him because Cobb is superlative, peerless, and alone.”

Cobb hit 12 home runs that season, tying his highest career output.  Menke told the story behind Cobb’s biggest power outburst of the season:

cobb1

Ty Cobb

“Out in St. Louis (on May 5) some rabid fans proceeded to ‘bait’ Cobb.  They jeered him, called him a ‘has-been’—and dared him to do some hitting.  Scoffing and sneers take the fight and the heart out of some men; they serve merely as spurs to greater endeavor within others.  And Cobb is the latter type.

“’Want me to hit, hey’ sneered back Cobb at the hooting throng.  ‘Sure, I’ll hit.  Watch me.’

“And within two playing days Cobb banged out five home runs.”

“Cobb is Essentially an Individual Player”

29 Feb

In February of 1913, The Associated Press (AP) reported that Detroit Tigers second baseman Oscar “Ossie” Vitt had requested a raise from owner Frank Navin.  The AP said:

“Navin wrote Vitt that he was more than satisfied with his work last year, and would be ordinarily glad to increase his salary, but owing to the necessity of meeting the demands of (Ty) Cobb for $15,000.”

Ossie Vitt

Vitt

The Detroit Free Press disputed The AP’s, and Vitt’s account:

“Mr. Vitt did receive a letter from Mr. Navin, and this letter did pointedly refuse to add anything to the Vitt emoluments for 1913.  So far the story from the golden West is true.  But the reasons given  Oscar for not granting him an increase had nothing whatever to do with Mr. Cobb, nor was the star athlete’s name even mentioned.  Vitt was informed that he is mighty lucky to receive a contract for 1913 with as much money mentioned as the document recently sent him calls for.”

Whether Vitt believed Cobb was responsible for his lack of a raise is unknown, but he did take the opportunity 10 months later to take a swipe at Cobb in the pages of his hometown paper, The San Francisco Call.  Vitt wrote an article for the paper about the best player he had seen:

“I am picking the man who does most to win games for the club he represents.  That man is unquestionably Eddie Collins…Here is one player who is willing to sacrifice all personal gain to help his club.  When he is on the field it is the Athletics he is trying to help, and not Eddie Collins.”

 

Collins

Collins

Vitt said:

“Collins is great whether he is playing the defensive or offensive.

“In few departments of the game is he excelled.  He is a brilliant fielder, who thinks quickly, and he makes but few mistakes.  At the bat he has few superiors.  He has a wonderful eye, and when he hits the ball he meets it fairly, usually sending it away from the plate on a line for a clean drive.  He can lay down a bunt with equal skill, and it is hard to figure him when he faces a pitcher.

“The point that I admire in Collins is the fact that he never plays to the grandstand.  He adopts the play that will help his club and not the one that will win him applause from the spectators… I don’t think there is another player in the game today who wins as many games for his club than this fellow Collins.”

After lavishing praise on Philadelphia’s Collins, Vitt said of his teammate:

“Cobb is a remarkable ballplayer. I have been with him for two seasons, and while I consider him greater than Collins in many respects, I do not think he is as valuable to a club as Collin… His spectacular style of play is popular with the fans, and while the Tigers were rather lowly in the pennant race, they were good drawing cards, because the crowds would go out to see Cobb bat and steal bases.

Cobb

Cobb

“If Cobb would play the game like Collins I think he would be the greatest of them all, but he does not.  Cobb is essentially an individual player.  He is unlike Collins in this respect.  However, the fans like to see Cobb, and they must be pleased.”

While Vitt equivocated, calling his teammate an “individual player,” while at the same time putting, at least, some of the blame for it on the fans who “must be pleased,” he took his biggest swipe at his teammate in another passage without ever naming him:

“You take a great player like Collins, who is so sincere in his work, and he naturally becomes a prime favorite with the other members of the club, because of his efforts to help them.  He gets them all in that stride, and I attribute (Connie) Mack’s success to that reason.”

Cobb’s only public reply came weeks later in The Detroit News:

“I think Vitt might help the team if he would accumulate a little better individual average and not attack his fellow players.”

Vitt hit .243 over seven seasons in Detroit.  He and Cobb remained teammates through the 1918 season.

“Branding us as if we were a Band of Convicts”

1 Aug

When the directors of the Pacific Coast League (PCL) met in Los Angeles in January of 1912, The Los Angeles Examiner said the league would be introducing a new innovation:

“President (Allan) Baum said each player will be given a uniform bearing upon the left arm a number he will wear throughout the season.  On all score cards sold at games every man of each team will be named in consecutive order.”

The plan wasn’t immediately embraced.  The Portland Oregonian said several players on the Portland Beavers were against the idea, pitcher Frederick “Spec” Harkness said:

“Of course, I don’t like this branding us as if we were a band of convicts…Hap Hogan (Wallace “Happy Hogan” Bray, manager of the Vernon Tigers) must have been the man who got this freaky legislation past the magnates at Los Angeles for the numbers go nicely with Vernon’s convict suits.”

Frederick "Spec" Harkness

Frederick “Spec” Harkness

The idea was actually the inspiration of Oakland Oaks president Edward Walters.

Major League players and executives also objected to the idea, Tigers president Frank Navin was quoted in The Detroit Times:

“It is a 10-1 bet that the players would rather suffer salary cuts all along the line than be labeled like a bunch of horses.”

Despite early objections, PCL players eventually accepted the inevitable, even Harkness who caused a stir among superstitious teammates when he requested number thirteen.

Roscoe Fawcett, sportswriter of The Portland Oregonian said:

“(Harkness) has put superstition to rout by sending in a request for number 13 under the new Pacific Coast League system of placarding players.”

By March the numbering idea gained some acceptance, and the desire for number 13 had caught on; there was a competition for the number among the Portland Beavers.  The Oregonian said Harkness “now finds his claim disputed by Benny Henderson, Walter Doan and others.”

In the end Harkness (who was born on December 13) received the number.  Given the rampant superstitions of early 20th Century players, most teams simply didn’t issue number 13 to any player.  The only other player in the PCL reported to have worn the number was Oakland pitcher Harry Ables.

Harry Ables

Harry Ables

The PCL’s experiment in uniform numbers was largely unsuccessful.  The Oregonian said the armbands were too small and “cannot be read from 90 feet away.”

By the end of the season, Vernon manager Hogan and Portland manager Walter “Judge” McCredie both of whom enthusiastically supported the numbers, were of the opinion that “the present trial has been a fizzle.”

The biggest criticism of the experiment was the failure of the system to achieve its chief goal, “numbering the men did not help out the sale of scorecards.”

Numbers were eliminated before the 1913 season and the PCL did not use uniform numbers again until the early 1930s.

Moriarty and Cobb

5 Feb

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.

George Moriarty

George Moriarty

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.”

Ty Cobb

Ty Cobb

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.

Moriarty and De Niro in "Bang the Drum Slowly"

Moriarty and De Niro in “Bang the Drum Slowly”