I follow a fantastic artist named Graig Kreindler on Instagram. He is an American painter and illustrator. He is best known for his oil paintings depicting vintage, historical baseball scenes. Many of you have probably already seen his work. For those of you that haven’t, I highly recommend checking him out. You can find his work here.
Today his Instagram post pointed out that on this day in 1905, Ty Cobb received a telegram from Joe Cunningham, his longtime friend from home. The telegram read: COME AT ONCE STOP VERY SORRY STOP YOUR FATHER DEAD IN A SHOOTING ACCIDENT STOP HURRY. It was Cobb’s mother that had pulled the trigger. She would later be acquitted of murder as she claimed that she thought her husband was an intruder in the house. He was to have been out of town that day but had returned early.
Cobb was only 18 years old in 1905 when he joined the Detroit Tigers. He was as rare as a buffalo head penny on that Detroit team. A true southerner on a team of primarily northern teammates, he was just a kid and had never been outside of the state of Georgia. With his father gone and now having to financially support his mother after a lengthy and expensive trial, Cobb would stop at nothing to prove himself as a valuable member of the Tigers. The pressure was on.
His ambition would not go over well with many of his teammates. Veterans typically did not take kindly to rookies and why should they, it was the rookies who were after their jobs. The hazing that Cobb would endure during the 1905 and 1906 seasons was especially brutal and he took it particularly badly, which prompted even worse treatment.
The ringleader of this hazing was star center fielder Matty McIntyre. McIntyre resented the young Cobb and the excitement surrounding the rookie. With Cobb in left field and McIntyre in center, McIntyre would call for fly balls hit between the two and then at the last-minute stop and let the ball fall in for a hit. He would chastise Cobb right there on the field in an attempt to make him look bad to the other players and fans. Detroit pitcher Ed Siever bought into it and after one such play, attacked Cobb in the team’s hotel, accusing him of having lost the game. Having none of it, Cobb knocked down Siever and kept punching him until teammates intervened.
In one game, Cobb and McIntyre were both convening on a ground ball hit into the gap. As they approached each other, they both stopped, locked eyes and stared each other down as the ball rolled all the way to the outfield wall.
While Cobb was on deck, he would often swing three bats to warm up. He felt that once he dropped the two extra bats and stepped in the box with his bat of choice, the lighter weight would give him better bat speed. The veterans thought that swinging three bats was a brash and unnecessary display. To put him in his place, they sawed several of Cobb’s home made ash bats in half.
Other hazing included hitting Cobb in the back of the head with wet newspaper wads, nailing Cobb’s cleats to the clubhouse floor, calling the end to batting practice before Cobb had a chance to hit, and locking him out of hotel washrooms. The more his teammates pressed, the more pissed Cobb got. Things eventually deteriorated to the point where Cobb slept with a pistol under his pillow.
It never got better between Cobb and McIntyre. McIntyre begged management to trade Cobb but they refused. Instead, management made their position clear as they would start trading away those players that could not get along with Cobb. After a poor 1909 season, McIntyre would find himself on the bench and soon, traded to the White Sox. He would play only one more year before returning home to Detroit and finding himself running a local pool hall.
Cobb would go on to play 16 seasons with the Tigers and subsequently, would have the best two seasons of his career in the first years after McIntyre left.
He batted .420 in 1911, and .409 in 1912.