Select Page



by William H. Benson

November 4, 1999


     Thirty men were named to the All Century Team.  Lou Gehrig was named Player of the Century beating out both Babe Ruth and Ted Williams, but it was Pete Rose who received the longest ovation on Sunday night at the beginning of the 1999 World Series.  Despite his lifetime ban from baseball for gambling, Pete Rose holds one distinct record; he broke Ty Cobb’s record career hits of 4191.  And who is this guy named Ty Cobb?

     He was an outfielder for the Detroit Tigers who played in the majors from 1905 until 1928, and he also made the All Century Team.  Ty Cobb never received the fame that Babe Ruth or Mickey Mantle or Joe DiMaggio achieved, and that was probably because he was the meanest man to ever play baseball.

     The story is quite true that Cobb filed his spikes to razor sharpness to gore his opponents when sliding into base, and then to utterly intimidate them from then on.  Fear was all on his side.

      One ex-teammate said, “A few of us who really knew him well realized that he was wrong in the head–unbalanced.  He played like a demon and had everybody hating him. . . . He was always in a brawl, on the field, in the clubhouse, behind the stands, in the stands, on the street.  He carried a gun and scared all of us.  He was mean, tricky, and dangerous.”

     Babe Ruth said, “Cobb’s the meanest, toughest player who ever walked out onto a field.  He couldn’t stand to lose.  All he wanted was to beat you on Saturday and twice on Sunday.  Otherwise, he was miserable.”

     He was one of baseball’s greatest.  Some of Ty Cobb’s records stood for decades.  It was finally Pete Rose who exceeded Cobb’s 4191 career hits but not until 61 years later.  Cobb was the professional hitter with a lifetime batting average of .367, the best ever recorded.  Two seasons he hit over .400, something only Ted Williams has done since.  He scored 2244 runs, won 12 batting titles, and stole 892 bases.  Who was named first to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1936?  Not Babe Ruth, but Ty Cobb, by a landslide vote.  Joe DiMaggio said, “Everytime I hear of this guy again, I wonder how he was possible.”

     Cobb was just 18 years old when the Detroit Tigers called him up midseason from the Georgia bush league to play outfielder.  A few months later his mother accidently shot his father at their home in Royston, Georgia.  Ty never got over the loss, for his father never saw Ty play one game of baseball.  The accident warped and twisted his young spirit into something ugly and vicious.  All those around him hated him.  He played and did things on the field that it seemed no human could possibly do.

     In 1928 he retired from baseball, but he did not retire his mean streak.  He got in a terrible fight with Ted Williams and refused to ever talk with him again.  Rude, ingrateful, and hateful, he swore and cursed and brutalized everybody who got in his way.  Long ago estranged from his former wives and children, he died in July 1961 in a hospital bed alone.  His gun lay on top of a paper bag filled with money on the table beside him.  He was worth $12 million and owned two mansions, (one in San Francisco and the other at Lake Tahoe), but neither had electricity because he had refused to pay the bill.  He, a dying old man, had stumbled and fumbled around with candles.

     Babe Ruth had died in 1948, and a quarter of a million distraught people filed by his coffin placed in the center of Yankee Stadium.  At Ty Cobb’s funeral three men showed up.