After Ruth broke the 40-year-old record for home runs in a season in 1919 with 29, he started 1920 on a pace to destroy his own record. Therefore, when Cobb and the Tigers showed up in New York to play the Yankees for the first time that season, writers billed it as a showdown between two stars of competing styles of play. Ruth easily won this mini-battle, with two homers and a triple, while Cobb got only one single in the entire series. One New York Times reporter wrote:
Cobb was in eclipse for the first time since he began to show his remarkable ability. Ruth has stolen all of Cobb's thunder (Alexander, 148).
But the people who really knew baseball still favored Cobb, according even to Ruth's own manager, Miller Huggins. The venerable Tris Speaker once said, "Babe was a great ballplayer, but Cobb was even greater. Ruth could knock your brains out, but Cobb would drive you crazy." Most of the fans, however, even in Cobb's own home city of Detroit, now came to watch Ruth instead of Cobb. The fans began to prefer the excitement of the home run rather than the strategy and cunning moves of the hit and run and double steal.
As Ruth's popularity grew, Cobb became increasingly hateful of the Sultan of Swat. Cobb saw Ruth not only as a threat to his style of play, but also to his style of life. While Cobb preached ascetic self-denial, Ruth gorged on hot dogs, beer, and women. Perhaps what angered him the most about Ruth was that despite Ruth's total disregard for his physical condition and traditional baseball, he was still an overwhelming success and brought fans to the ballparks in record numbers to see him set his own records.
After enduring several years of seeing his fame and notoriety usurped by Ruth, Cobb decided that he was going to show that anybody could hit home runs if he chose to. On 5 May 1925, Cobb began a two-game hitting spree better than any even Ruth had unleashed. He was sitting in the dugout talking to a reporter and told him that, for the first time in his career, he was going to swing for the fences. That day, Cobb went 6 for 6, with two singles, a double, and three home runs. His 16 total bases set a new AL record. The next day he had three more hits, two of which were home runs. His single his first time up gave him 9 consecutive hits over three games. His five homers in two games tied the record set by Cap Anson of the old Chicago NL team in 1884. Cobb wanted to show that he could hit home runs when he wanted, but simply chose not to do so. At the end of the series, 38-year-old Cobb had simply gone 12 for 19 with 29 total bases, and then went happily back to bunting and hitting-and-running.
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