Ty Cobb, Major League Baseball 1905­1928

"Ty Cobb, the greatest of ballplayers and an absolute shit," is the way Hemingway once put it. Correct on both points, Papa swore off his onetime friend after he witnessed the Georgia Peachpit decking a hunting guide for taking them down the wrong trail.

Cobb's legacy as a bully near matches his extraordinary statistical accomplishments. Highlights include battering a roommate over bathtub use, scores of serious punch-outs with teammates, a savage beating of an umpire ("I fight to kill," Cobb said at the time), an attack in the stands on a handicapped heckler, and the legendary sharpening of his spikes— the better to slash opposing infielders while sliding. Bucky Harris recalled Cobb's warning after a hard tag: "Do that again, and I'll cut you up for stitches."

However typical of its day, Cobb's record as a racist is particularly nasty. Selected lowlights:

1907: Cobb knocks a black groundskeeper to the ground, kicks him, and chokes the man's wife for interfering. Cobb is pulled away by teammate Charlie Schmidt, who later busts him up before cheering fellow Tigers.

1908: Cobb faces battery charges after assaulting an asphalt worker over a trouser stain. Later, he is discovered to have kicked a hotel chambermaid in the stomach for her negative reaction to his use of the N-word.

1909: Cobb slaps a Cleveland elevator operator and slaps a waitress back home. The former incident leads to a stabbing of a hotel detective. After beating the rap, Cobb later admits, "We bought this one."

1910: After avowing that "darkies' place is in the stands or as clubhouse help," Cobb refuses to join the Tigers on a Cuban tour. For a cash bonus, he eventually relents, but declines handshake with the Latin star who out-hits him.

In 1926, Cobb was implicated (with Tris Speaker) in a game-fixing scheme from seven years earlier. Threatening to reveal further "crookedness," Cobb was ultimately let off by Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis. In his autobio, Cobb bragged that Landis's verdict was "dictated to him by attorneys representing Speaker and myself."

Cobb, all-around bad guy and alleged game-fixer, was the first player ever inducted into baseball's Hall of Fame. Pete Rose, gambler and breaker of Cobb's most exalted record, total hits, can't make it in. Go figure.

 
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