In the spring of 1904, Ty earned himself a tryout with the Augusta Tourists of the Class C South Atlantic League (Sally League). The league had just been formed over the past winter, and had six teams spread across Georgia, South Carolina, and Florida. Con Strouthers, the Tourists' manager, was the only one who had replied to Cobb. Young Ty had to pay his own expenses and would be paid $50 a month if he made the team.
He tried out with reckless abandon, playing just as he had for the Reds and would continue to do until 1928. He was wild, anxious, eager, and young. He flew around the ballpark during tryouts and earned himself a spot on the bench for all of the team's exhibition games, including one against the Detroit Tigers, who trained nearby.
Ty found himself in the lineup on opening day, 1904, for the time-honored reason of attrition. The team's first baseman was in a contract dispute, so Strouthers had to move the center fielder to first and put Cobb in center field. He batted seventh, went 2-for-4 and scored twice in a losing effort. Cobb failed to get a hit the next day, and when the first baseman signed, Cobb was let go.
Luckily, another player who had just been released was going to Anniston, Alabama to tryout for a semipro team there, and invited Ty to come along. Ty was excited, but also afraid of what his father would say. He called home to ask his father's opinion. This is Cobb's account of the phone call, from his autobiography:
His voice was as commanding as ever. I fully expected him to order me home, but he demanded, "Well, if that's the case, what are you going to do?"
I fumbled, and then answered, "There's a job open with a team over in Anniston..."
"Go after it," he said. "And I want to tell you one other thingdon't come home a failure."
In giving me his blessing, his sanction of my quest for success in my hour of defeat, my father put more determination in me than even he knew. I had the shivers when I hung up (47).
Cobb and his friend, Thad Hayes, easily made the team, having already made an actual professional team, and Cobb became a starter. Before long, he was contending for the batting title. He was hoping that his success would be noted in a major paper in Georgia, but to no avail. To remedy what he saw as a problem, he began to write a series of postcards to Grantland Rice, the sports editor of the Atlanta Journal, hoping that he would warrant an article or visit from the great writer. Rice received several postcards from people named Jones, Jackson, Smith, Brown, McIntyre, and Kelly, all in different hands. Eventually, Rice wrote a small note in the Journal that a "young fellow named Cobb seems to be showing an unusual lot of talent." W.H. kept this press clipping in his wallet until his death, showing it to all as if it were a baby picture.
Cobb continued to tear up the league, and after about three months, he received a telegram from Augusta asking him to return. Con Strouthers had been released as manager, and the team missed his aggressive style. His return to Augusta proved unfruitful, as he finished the season hitting a meager .237 in 35 games.
Andy Roth, manager of Augusta, wanted Cobb back for 1905, but Cobb demanded a raise in the first of many salary disputes in his career. In his autobiography, he claims it was for $125 a month, and biographer Charles Alexander claims $90 a month. Either way, he was asking a lot for a teenager with less than a season's experience. Augusta nevertheless consented, and he rejoined the team in the spring of 1905.
The team under Andy Roth was what Cobb called a "joy club." In other words, they were a talented bunch that simply went through the motions. Cobb became complacent and began to lose interest in moving up to the big leagues. Roth was soon replaced as manager by veteran minor leaguer George Leidy. The managerial change did not change Ty's attitude, however. He relates this story that summarizes his feelings at the time:
One night, playing Savannah, I strolled to the outfield with a bag of popcorn in my hand. Alibi Ike, the Ring Lardner character, never was more nonchalant about earning his salary.
We had a 2-0 shutout going when my ex-manager, Roth, hit a fly ball my way. My dilemma washow to handle the fly without losing my popcorn? I did neither. The popcorn flew one way while the ball bounced off my glove. It was a gross thing to do, and a run scored (Cobb, 50).
Leidy knew that Cobb had the raw talent to make it to the big leagues and was hurt that Cobb seemed content to stay in Augusta. He took Cobb aside and helped him focus on becoming a better baseball player. He said to Ty:
"I think you can go down in the history books. I honestly believe that you can go on and have every boy in America idolizing you. But not unless you stop fooling around and keep your eye on the ball every instant" (Cobb, 51).
That discussion helped rekindle Cobb's passion to play ball and play it well. Cobb and Leidy worked on his bunting and place hitting every day. His attitude and statistics improved, and by August he was leading the league in hitting. He wouldn't be around for the end of the season, however, because after he rejoined Augusta after his father's funeral in August, 1905, he was told that he had been sold to the Detroit Tigers.
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