Warming up for the New York Highlanders was the legendary Wee Willie Keeler, onlt 5 feet 4 1/2 inches and 140 pounds, but a placement hitter beyond compare. With his choked-up bottle bat, Keeler had averaged as high as .432. A fourteen-year veteran, he had yet to hit under .300. At second base was the great Kid Elberfield himself. The New York pitcher was Jack Chesbro, the original master of the spitball who'd won a record 41 games the season before. On our side was Wahoo Sam Crawford and Bobby Lowe, first man to hit four home runs in one game. And Germany Schaefer, who stole bases in reverse to demonstrate his genius. Until that day- my first in a big-time park -I'd never dreamed that men could field and hit so wonderfully. Such speed, class, style, speedy maneuvering, and lightning thinking! It seemed miles beyond anything that I could ever do. When the bell rang, I found myself in a duel by artists at the art of extracting every last inch of opportunity from every situation. And they went at it with a red-eyed determination I could not believe. On one play, Kid Elberfield tried to bump Schaefer off his running line as he raced for third, and Germany dumped him on his head for it. "Rowdy Bill" Coughlin, our third baseman, flew at umpire Silk O'Loughlin and was thrown out. Frank Delahanty of New York made a diving, somersaulting catch that left me wide-eyed. Later, Delahanty was carried away after tearing ankle tendons while trying to stretch a double into a triple. He was through for the season.And in terms of his matchup against Chesbro?
When Chesbro cranked and fired his overhand spitter-loaded with slippery elm-it came up to the plate like a standard fastball, and then took a diabolical dive under your bat.A few things stand out to me from the two italicized passages. One is that I love the use of the word "Twirler" to describe the pitcher. I'm going to try and bring that word back into usage. LOL. Second is how Cobb describes how Chesbro was the master spitballer. Cobb on page 57 goes into what pitchers used to gain mastery in the delivery of the spitter:
Armour had me, a babe-in-the-woods, batting fifth in the line-up!
What did they say about me the next day? The Detroit Journal of August 31, 1905, wasted few words: "Cobb, the juvenile outfield from Augusta, made his first appearance and was given a hospitable hand. He comes up to expectation."
The Free Press had a little more to say:
"Cobb got away well. For a young man anxious to get along in the world, it was not an auspicious situation as he faced Mr. Chesbro, the American League's finest twirler. In addition, Tyrus had the bad luck to confront Chesbro on two occasions when two men were out and a man waiting to score-a base hit being the only thing of value. First time up, Chesbro pour two fast strikes past the uneasy lad. But then the Georgian whaled the next one over Eddie Hahn's head and off the center field wall, for a delightful double that scored his man. Second time up he drew a walk and was thrown out stealing. In the field he was adequate
"Tyrus was well-received and may consider a two-ball pry-up a much better career opener than usually comes a young fellow's way."
We beat Chesbro 5-3, and I actually made a clean hit off the meanest delivery in the business. That night I was floating off the ground.
Pitchers dosed baseballs with licorice, talcum, slippery elm, and saliva flavored with tobacco until they came at the hitter so discolored that he could hardly pick them out of the shadows.It is always a treat for me to read the exploits of a by-gone era of Baseball History in the words of players that played the game. In today's era of the instant blurb and quip on social media and the 24-hour news cycle on a multitude of sports channels, to reach back into history for the exact feelings of a player such as Cobb is more than I can ever do in placing words down on this blogpost.
Well, there you go. Straight from the Georgia Peach's mouth. Here boxscore for Ty Cobb's debut in the majors August 30, 1905 from the New York Times August 31, 1905.
Regardless of how you personally feel about Cobb, there's no denying that we'll never see a player like him in today's baseball. Some might say thankfully so, but they definitely broke the mold when Cobb was made.
Until Then Keep Playing Ball,
For Further Reading:
- Click Here to access Ty Cobb's career statistics from Baseball Reference.com
- Click Here to access the article The Knife in Ty Cobb’s Back: Did the baseball great really confess to murder on his deathbed? by Gilbert King from the Smithsonian Magazine website dated August 30, 2011