Perhaps the most defining aspect of Cobb's personality was his racism. Although he grew up in a time and place where behavior like his was common and accepted, it is extremely appalling to most people today. He simply felt that blacks were inferior and would never receive the same treatment from him that whites did.
Examples unfortunately abound. One day while walking in Detroit, he stepped in freshly poured asphalt and was yelled at by Fred Collins, a construction worker who happened to be black. Cobb responded by slapping Collins, knocking him to the ground, and continuing on his way. He was charged with assault and battery and found guilty, but received a suspended sentence. Collins then filed a civil suit, which Cobb settled out of court for $75.
An unfortunate incident in Cleveland's Hotel Euclid forced Cobb to go through Canada to avoid arrest during the 1909 World Series in Pittsburgh. Late one Friday night, Cobb got in an argument with the elevator operator and slapped him. The night manager, a black man named George Stansfield, came to aid the elevator operator and ended up in a shouting match with Cobb. Stansfield then hit Cobb with his nightstick, and the two rolled on the floor. Cobb drew his knife and slashed Stansfield, while Stansfield drew his pistol and hit Cobb again with the nightstick. Stansfield filed both criminal and civil suits against Cobb, but later dropped the criminal suit. But the case was still pending during the World Series, with an arrest warrant out for Cobb. Police waited for the Tiger train through Ohio en route to Pittsburgh for the World Series to arrest him, but Cobb was going through Canada. The civil suit was settled for $100 and court costs.
These incidents pale in comparison with what happened at Hilltop Park in New York in May 1912, and what that episode triggered. A fan whom Cobb recognized as a regular heckler was sitting behind the Tigers' dugout verbally abusing Cobb. He and Cobb traded insults for a while, but Cobb wanted to avoid trouble, so he stayed in center field carriage park area during the second inning. In the third, he went by the New York dugout to look for the owner to ask to have the fan removed. When he got back to the Tigers' bench, he yelled something to the fan about his sister. The fan, Claude Lueker, responded to Cobb by calling him a "half-nigger." Sam Crawford asked Cobb if he would take that from the fan, at which point Cobb charged twelve rows into the stands and began to beat the fan vigorously.
It was at this point that people alerted Cobb to Lueker's handicaphe had lost three fingers on one hand and all of his other hand in an industrial accident. Police pulled Cobb off Lueker, and he was ejected. AL President Ban Johnson was at the game and, after hearing Cobb's side of the story, suspended him indefinitely. Then, for perhaps the first time, the rest of the Tigers supported Cobb, and said that they would not play again until Cobb was reinstated. The team arrived in Philly for a series with the Athletics, and Cobb suited up with the rest of the team. When the umpires told Cobb he couldn't play, the rest of the team changed into street clothes and went into the stands with Cobb. The Tiger management had expected this to happen and had some semi-pro players ready to play. The scabs lost 24-2. Ban Johnson then fined each Tiger $100 after Cobb urged them to play in the next game, and suspended Cobb for 10 games and gave him a $50 fine. It was a spontaneous, united, and effective players' strike, supporting Cobb for standing up for his rights in the face of a heckler.
Cobb also got involved in altercations unrelated to race. While driving to the train station to head to Syracuse for an exhibition game in August 1912, he stopped with his wife to help three men who appeared to need assistance. When he stopped, they reached in Cobb's car and began to beat him. Cobb got out to fight back. The traditional story has always been that one of the men slashed Cobb's back with a knife, and then he chased one man into a dead end alley and beat him into unconsciousness, possibly even killing him, with the butt of his revolver. He is supposed to have gone to Syracuse and gone 2-for-3 the next day playing with a bloody wound on his back. Doug Roberts has determined ("Ty Cobb Did Not Commit Murder," The National Pastime 16 (1996), 25-28) that that did not actually happen that way. There is no police report or coroner's office report at all from that time of anyone being beaten about the face with a pistol. Roberts says that the three men had been sent to beat up Cobb in retaliation for a fight Cobb had started earlier, and all three fled unharmed. Then Cobb went 2-4 at Syracuse the next day, having had a "painful but not dangerous" wound cauterized and bandaged by a Syracuse doctor. Sometimes, truth is less exciting than legend. Cobb did not kill any of these men or beat any of them within an inch of his life.
Cobb was an extremely high-strung man who used violence and fighting as ways to defend his honor, his wife, his team, or anything that was important to him. He was unable to take a joke or laugh at himself, and anyone who made fun of him risked a beating, although blacks seem to have been more prone to such a response than whites.
| Home | | Family | | Skills | | Relationships | | Aftermath |