Ty Cobb: Baseball's Greatest Player

Harold FriendChief Writer IFebruary 24, 2010

It was announced on Feb. 2, 1936, that the Baseball Writers Association of America had elected Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, Honus Wagner, Christy Mathewson, and Walter Johnson to the Hall of Fame in the first-ever balloting.

Cobb received 222 out of a possible 226 votes. Ruth and Wagner each received 215 votes, Mathewson had 205 votes, and Johnson finished with 189.

The Greatest

When Ty Cobb passed away on July 17, 1961, the New York Times' headline echoed the conclusions of the majority of fans and baseball writers.

"Cobb, Hailed as Greatest Player in History, Mourned by Baseball World."

The praise came from all quarters. Current players, former players and managers, executives, and, of greatest significance, baseball scouts heaped praise on Cobb.

"The best of all time." "A great player." "A legend in American sports." "An inspiration to all."

New York Mets' general manager Lonesome George Weiss, who built the New York Yankees' dynasty of the late-1940s and 1950s, said, "There was no denying that Cobb stood alone as a baseball player, undoubtedly the greatest of all time."

No less an authority than Dizzy Dean: "We've lost a lot of great ball players. Now we've lost the greatest."

Casey Stengel, who managed the Yankees' teams that won a record five consecutive World Championships from 1949-53, called Cobb, not Mantle or Mays, "the most sensational of all the players I have seen in all my life.'

"By sensational, I mean he surprised all his opponents. He would shock them with startling base running plays, and he could always outhit any opponent, even if they were great players."

In 2002, the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR), initiated its Baseball Biography Project. In the first paragraph of Ty Cobb's biography, it states

"Ty Cobb was the dominant player in the American League during the Dead Ball Era, and arguably the greatest player in the history of the game."

Home Runs Dominate

Ty Cobb died the year that Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris both challenged Babe Ruth's single season home run record. The media couldn't get enough of the battle between the Yankees' teammates in their attempt to top the record of another Yankees' player.

As Ralph Kiner said, "Singles hitters drive Fords, home run hitters drive Cadillacs."

With the passage of time, Cobb, a great power hitter (double and triples), inaccurately became identified with the singles hitters to whom Kiner had referred.

Babe Ruth started gaining ground with younger fans, and despite the fact that the late 1960s was a pitcher-dominated era, the home run was becoming even more glamorous.

In 1969, the pitching mound was lowered from 15 inches to 10 inches. Reggie Jackson hit 47 home runs, and in 1973, the National League became the only major league to play real baseball when the American League instituted the designated hitter rule.

By the turn of the century, great batters who were not primarily home run hitters were greatly underrated.

Many fans think that Wade Boggs, Tony Gwynn, and Ichiro Suzuki were or are not as valuable as hitters such Jim Thome or Mark Reynolds.

Until he refused to cooperate with the government, Barry Bonds was considered greater than Willie.

Babe Ruth Becomes the Choice as the Greatest

One result has been that Babe Ruth is now considered the greatest player of all time.

Ruth was the greatest power hitter of all time, but starting in 1920, the year he hit 54 home runs, Ruth played in a lively ball era.

Cobb eschewed the home run in favor of "manufacturing" runs. He played in the deadest of the dead ball eras, and runs were, as Red Barber used to say, "scarcer than hen's teeth."


Defensively, Cobb played center field most of his career, but he was in right field from 1907-1909, leading the Detroit Tigers to three consecutive pennants and three World Series defeats.

He was a good, but not great, defensive player who played 706 games in right field, 2,194 in center field, and 35 games in left field.

Cobb had a .961 fielding average, which is horrible for an outfielder, until one realizes that the league had a .960 fielding average. Cobb's range factor was 2.30, compared to the league's 2.05.

Babe Ruth was an adequate outfielder the first few seasons he switched from pitching. His .968 fielding average was better than the league's .966, but Ruth's range factor was only 2.07, compared to the league's 2.22.

From the time he was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1936 until the late 1960s, Cobb was ranked ahead of Ruth.

Neither has played a game since 1935, but because values have changed, not necessarily more accurately, Ruth is considered the greatest player of all time.

Were the New York Times , George Weiss, Dizzy Dean, Casey Stengel, and the Society for American Baseball Research all wrong?


By The Associated Press.. (1936, February 3). Georgian Gets 222 Votes, 4 Short of Perfect Score and 7 More Than Ruth and Wagner -- Mathewson and Johnson Only Others With Enough Ballots to Be Named in Nation-Wide Poll. New York Times (1923-Current file),p. 23. Retrieved February 24, 2010, from ProQuest Historical Newspapers The New York Times (1851 - 2006). (Document ID: 88629798).

Cobb, Hailed as Greatest Player in History, Mourned by Baseball World :PASSING OF AN ERA IS NOTED BY FRICK Cobb Called Link Between Old and New -- Mantle, Stengel Pay Tribute. (1961, July 18). New York Times (1923-Current file),p. 21. Retrieved February 24, 2010, from ProQuest Historical Newspapers The New York Times (1851 - 2006). (Document ID: 101471048).

Ty Cobb Biography

Ralph Kiner quote

Ty Cobb at Baseball-Reference

Babe Ruth at Baseball-Reference


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