Born in Georgia in 1886, Ty Cobb overcame family tragedy to forge one of the greatest careers in big-league baseball history. He established records with his 12 batting titles and .366 career average, but also developed a reputation for his fierce play and terrible temper. Voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in the inaugural election of 1936, he died in 1961 in Atlanta.
Tyrus Raymond Cobb was born on December 18, 1886, in Narrows, Georgia, and grew up in nearby Royston. The eldest of three children of dad William Herschel Cobb, an educator and politician, and mom Amanda Chitwood, Cobb developed a love for baseball at a young age.
Cobb played for the Royston Rompers and the semipro Royston Reds, and in 1904 he joined the minor league Augusta Tourists over the objections of his father. In August 1905, William Cobb was shot at home by his wife, who claimed to have mistaken him for a burglar. Less than a month later, the Tourists sold Cobb to the Detroit Tigers of the American League.
Hall of Fame Career
The end of the 1905 season was difficult for Cobb, who was subjected to intense hazing from his new teammates while he was still grieving for his father. But by 1906, the "Georgia Peach" was well on his way to forging one of the greatest careers in Major League history. He earned the first of a record 12 batting titles in 1907, and in 1909 he won the "triple crown" by topping the AL in batting average, home runs and RBIs. Cobb enjoyed his best season in 1911, when he set personal bests with 248 hits, 147 runs, 127 RBIs and an incredible .420 batting average.
Playing in what has become known as the "dead-ball era," in which power hitting was virtually nonexistent, Cobb had no equal. He wielded his bat with a distinct split grip for expert control and ran wild on the basepaths, barreling into fielders with his sharpened metal spikes tearing through the air. However, the burning intensity that pushed him to greatness often erupted, with terrible consequences. In one instance, during a game in 1912, he charged into the stands and began beating a heckler who had been crippled in a printing press accident.
Cobb took over as player-manager of the Tigers in 1921, holding the dual position until suddenly announcing his retirement at the end of 1926. It was soon revealed that he had been accused of fixing games, along with Cleveland Indians star Tris Speaker, but Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis exonerated the two players in early 1927.
Cobb signed with the Philadelphia Athletics, and played two more seasons before retiring for good in 1928. He left the sport as the all-time leader in dozens of categories, including batting average, hits, runs scored and games played. When the baseball writers gathered in 1936 to elect the inaugural group of players into the Hall of Fame, they named Cobb on the highest percentage of ballots.
Post-Playing Years and Legacy
Having successfully invested in Coca-Cola and General Motors, Cobb enjoyed the luxuries of wealth in his later years. Despite his reputation for surliness, he was generous enough with his money to build a hospital in Royston and establish the Cobb Educational Fund.
Cobb died of prostate cancer on July 17, 1961, in Atlanta, but his legacy as one of baseball's greatest and fiercest competitors endured. In 1998, The Sporting News ranked him No. 3 among the Top 100 players in baseball history. While many of his storied records have fallen, his career batting average of .366 remains unchallenged.
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