Ty Cobb was a legend of baseball, one of the best players in the majors during the first half of the 20th century. Even though most baseball fans today weren’t alive when Cobb played, they all know his name and that he was one of the best hitters in his era.
But there was a darker side to Cobb that most people don’t know about. There is a story that when he was on his death bed, Cobb confessed to a murder. The legitimacy of the story is questionable, but it’s something that baseball fans should know about. Because it’s unknown how truthful the story is, here’s a look at both sides.
Ty Cobb’s legendary baseball career
Cobb spent 24 seasons in the big leagues, from 1905-1928, all but two of them with the Tigers. He played in more than 3,000 games in that span, recording 4,189 hits with a staggering .366 batting average, 117 home runs, and 1,944 RBI; he also stole 897 bases.
Even almost a century after he retired, Cobb is still the all-time leader in career batting average, with a minimum of 3,000 plate appearances. He was named the American League MVP in 1911 and was voted into the Hall of Fame in 1936, earning more than 98% of the vote in his first year of eligibility.
Ty Cobb had some violent tendencies
Cobb was battling cancer at that point in his life and in great pain. While he was sharing stories with the writer, Cobb told Stump “in 1912 — and you can write this down — I killed a man in Detroit.”
While he told Stump he could write that down, the story never made it into the book. Instead, the autobiography makes the story seem like more of a “comeuppance” than a murder.
Violent confrontations, especially involving Cobb’s racial intolerance, were a common situation for the outfielder, but what happened in 1912 may have been the most violent of all.
A true death bed confession?
As the story goes, Cobb and his wife were going to the train station in Detroit to catch a train to Syracuse for an exhibition game. Three men waved them down in their car and, thinking they needed help, Cobb stopped to see what the men wanted.
They immediately attacked Cobb, who slid out of the car and started to fight back. The book continues with Cobb’s recollection of what happened, in Cobb’s words. “One of the mugs I knocked down got up and slashed at me with a knife. I dodged, but he cut me in the back. I couldn’t tell how bad it was. But my arms were still working.”
He chased one of the men down after they retreated, “leaving him in worse condition than he’d arrived in.” When another from the group cornered Cobb, he recalled the part of the story that implies the possible murder.
“I had something in my hand, which I won’t describe … I used it on him at some length. If he still lives, he has the scars to show for it.” Cobb’s entry in the book ends with “leaving him unconscious, I drove on to the depot.”
Ty Cobb’s complicated legacy
While Cobb’s story of the murder has never been proven, it is part of a complicated legacy that Cobb left behind following his tremendous baseball career and eventual death.
We mentioned his racial intolerance earlier. Some examples of that include an incident at spring training in 1907 when black groundskeeper Bungy, who Cobb had known for years, tried to greet him with a handshake or pat on the shoulder.
That got Cobb mad, and the player slapped Bungy and chased him out of the clubhouse. He also choked Bungy’s wife, who tried to intervene. The next year, Cobb was found guilty of battery for attacking a black laborer who reprimanded him for accidentally stepping in freshly poured asphalt.
Cobb remains a fascinating, if not complicated, figure in the history of the MLB.
All stats courtesy of Baseball Reference