by Harold Friend
It is easy to understand why, until Babe Ruth and the home run became king, Ty Cobb was considered the greatest of all baseball players, a conclusion that is still held by some experts. Taken in the context of his era, Ty Cobb was vastly superior to all but a few players. Only Honus Wagner, who was better than even today's hero, Derek Jeter, could seriously challenged Cobb's supremacy.
Ty Cobb's Triple Crown
Ty Cobb won batting titles in 1907 and 1908, but in 1909, he became the young game's second Triple Crown winner since the turn of the century. Cobb batted .377, hit nine home runs, and batted in 107 runs. He had a .431 on base average, and slugged .517, both of which led the league.
In 1909, American League batters hit an anemic .244, or .134 less than Cobb. The league had a .303 on base average, and slugged all of .309.
In the Senior Circuit, Honus Wagner led batters with a .339 average, Wagner hit five home runs and batted in 100 runs. National League teams scored 3.65 runs a game, and batted .244.
A Few Great Players
There were some great players 100 years ago. Eddie Collins, Nap Lajoie, Sam Crawford, Frank Baker, and Tris Speaker in the American League, and Wagner, Larry Doyle, and Fred Clarke rank among the better players, but pitchers dominated, and it is difficult, if not impossible to project how many players would fare in other eras.
Wagner's Pirates Beat Cobb's Tigers
Ty Cobb was one of the most competitive individuals to play the game. Interestingly, he was never on a World Champion. In 1909, Cobb's Tigers met Wagner's Pirates in the World Series. It went seven games, with the Pirates coming out on top. Cobb made a poor showing, batting only .231, while Wagner batted .333 and stole six bases.
Friends Off the Field
Baseball writers and fans argued the merits of the two greats, and both Cobb and Wagner wanted to win as badly as a fat kid wants to eat cookies, but Cobb and Wagner were friendly competitors in 1909.
The Hunting Invitation
During the season, Cobb told Wagner that Georgia was a great place to go hunting. Ty invited Hans to visit him in Georgia so they could hunt together. The two corresponded during the season and at the beginning of December, Wagner went to Macon, Georgia. They hunted for four days, after which Wagner expressed his disappointment.
"Yes, I went to Macon, and we looked about for some game. I could have had a crack at a ground squirrel or two and perhaps, a barnyard chicken, but as for hunting, Georgia won't do. Mr. Cobb is one of the most genial gentlemen I ever met, but there are two things we will never agree on -- game and baseball. The south is all right, and Cobb's all right, too, but I wish he hadn't told me about that swell hunting in Georgia."
Yankees and Red Sox
Two of the fiercest competitors fraternized. The next time some Yankees' fans meet some Red Sox' fans in the winter, it would be nice if they remember that even Ty Cobb and Honus Wagner were friends. Better yet, it would be nicer if those in the media who have bashed Mr. Cobb realize that Honus Wagner had nice things to say about the second greatest player in baseball history.
Special to The New York Times.. (1909, December 7). WAGNER AND COBB HUNT :But Game Was Scarce in Georgia and Hans Came Home Disgusted.. New York Times (1857-Current file),p. 10. Retrieved October 5, 2009, from ProQuest Historical Newspapers The New York Times (1851 - 2006). (Document ID: 101908502).