One of Cobb's most devastating approaches to baseball and perhaps the one that left the most lasting impression was his psychological intimidation. One part of that particular program was to nurture his image as a monster that both he and the media were creating. The more horrible that opponents thought that he was, the more that he felt that he could manipulate them to his advantage. For example, it was a good thing that opposing fielders thought that he sharpened his spikes. It seems that in 1908 at Highland Park in New York, a couple of Detroit benchwarmers sat outside their dugout sharpening their spikes. Eventually, the story became that Cobb would sit "with mouth twisted and eyes ablaze" filing his spikes in front of the dugout. Cobb waited until after his playing days to publicly refute those allegations, since they undoubtedly helped add to the Cobb aura.
Another psychological advantage of Cobb's was his quick thinking. Opponents already feared him, with his legend growing almost daily, and he used their fear and uncertainty to his advantage as fielders would stop and ponder their fate while he would tear around the bases forcing bad throws. A perfect way to summarize that strategy is the simple, "It helps you if you help them beat themselves" (Cobb, 177). He liked to think that it was his constant threat to do any and everything on the bases that would scare opponents into making mistakes. If half his stories are true, it worked.
Another time when Cobb helped himself was by helping Joe Jackson beat himself out of the 1911 batting title. Cobb's story goes a little like this: Although Cobb himself was having a banner year in 1911, coming down the stretch Shoeless Joe had a 9 point lead on him in batting average. The Tigers had a long series (6 games in 4 days) against Jackson in Cleveland very close to the end of the season. Since Cobb and Jackson were fellow Southerners, they had often been friendly on and off the field in the past. Cobb then used that past friendliness to his advantage. Every time Jackson would greet him, Cobb would ignore him for some time and then snap at him angrily. He flustered Jackson, making him wonder what he could have done to so anger Cobb. Meanwhile, Cobb says, "My mind was centered on just one thing: getting all the base hits I could muster. Joe Jackson's mind was on many other things. He went hitless in the first three games of the series, while I fattened up. By the sixth game, I'd passed him in the averages" (Cobb, 176). Then, just for good measure, Cobb completed his ploy by giving Jackosn a hearty good-bye just as the Tigers were leaving town. Cobb feels that it was those mindgames of his that caused Jackson to "fall off" to a final average of .408, while Cobb himself sailed home with a .420 average.
Since Cobb viewed baseball as a war, he sought not only to beat the enemy, but also to humiliate utterly everyone he faced. It was never enough simply to win; he wanted to win big. He felt that if he could run up the score on his opponents, they would be demoralized the next time they played and expect to be beaten again.
Cobb liked to think that he had the advantage at all times. When that was in doubt, he would do what he could to remedy the situation. He liked to swing three bats in the on-deck circle. Some claim that he did it just to show off and play to the crowd. He claims that it was all about making the one bat that he'd hit with feel lighter so he could generate more bat speed at the plate. With Cobb, seemingly the master of exploiting the little things, I'd have to imagine that it was a little bit of both.
He was able to hit the way he did by working himself into a hateful frenzy before each at bat. If he could hate the pitcher, then he would go up to bat ready to humiliate the pitcher in front of all the fans in the stands. To further annoy and irritate pitchers, he would sometimes act as if he didn't care about or even notice the pitcher. He would bend over to pick up a handful of dirt when the pitcher was beginning his delivery, frazzling the pitcher. One time, with Eddie Cicotte pitching, he kept his back turned and talked to Sam Crawford, waiting in the on-deck circle. Cicotte did not know how to react to this and was unable to throw a strike, walking Cobb on four pitches. Not only that, Cobb claims, but his little stunt so infuriated Cicotte that he had to be taken out of the game.
The little things, letting them think he knew more than they did, were what Cobb loved about the game. He'd exploit them, work them to no end for his advantage. Sometimes the advantage was little, sometimes it was great, but the threat of him doing something outrageous was probably his biggest advantage of all. As he said:
My whole plan on base was to upset batteries and infields. How? By dividing their minds, by upsetting and worrying them until their concentration was affected. I was always looking to create a mental hazardby, as some writer once put it, the establishment of a threat (Cobb, 165).
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