Featuring Georgia Native, Ty Cobb's Batboy, Jimmy F. Lanier
"You Teach a Boy to Throw a Baseball and he won't throw a rock"
Aug. 9, 2008 - Atlanta, Georgia
In 1914, after reaping stardom way up north in Detroit, Ty bought a large home at 2425 William St. near Augusta Medical School. It happened to be the same year that Jimmy Lanier was born in that same neighborhood.
“I grew up with one of Mr. Cobb’s boys. Herschel R. Cobb was my contemporary, and if the Lanier children were not in the Cobb home, the Cobb children were in the Lanier home. We grew up together. The Cobb children were as near being siblings to me as possible, without being blood relatives,” he continues.
“I don’t have the verbal fluency to describe my association with Mr. Cobb. As I grew up, I began to realize when I was about six or seven years old, what a famous man he was. But I always knew him as Herschel’s dad. He was just my buddy’s father."
Lanier explains the first big impression that Ty had made on him as a boy. "Mr. Cobb told me one day he said, 'You teach a boy to throw a baseball and he won't throw a rock' and that made a deep impression on me."
“When we grew older, Mrs. Cobb would drive Herschel and myself out to Warren Park to watch the Detroit Tigers train during the spring. Mr. Cobb would always let the little boys sit in the bleachers and watch if they behaved themselves.”
“Mr. Cobb had a heart for the smaller boys. If he was signing autographs in a crowd of young boys and the smaller boy could not get close, then Mr. Cobb would call him to the front. He would show him how to hold his bat or he would sign his ball," explains the former batboy. "But he made sure that the little boys got a chance too.”
“Mr. Cobb made stars out of mediocre ballplayers,” says Jimmy speaking of Ty managerial performance. Ty managed the Tigers from 1921-1926 and compiled a record of 479 wins and 444 losses, equaling a .519 winning percentage.
Fred Haney was the smallest man on the team at five feet six and weighed only 145 lbs. He was well liked by Mr. Cobb for the way he “kept trying.”
One day early in spring training 1922, Ty invited Fred to dinner at the Cobb home. Mr. Cobb was a hospitable and gracious southern host. After dinner Mr. Cobb began talking business and Fred thought that Ty wanted to send him back to the minors for more seasoning.
“I hope you don’t worry about your size,” Ty told Fred. “Other players even smaller have made the grade in the big leagues.”
“He planned to give me every chance, and he was sure I would succeed,” explained Fred. “I went back to my hotel room floating on a cloud and determined never to Ty Cobb down.”
Lanier recalls that Fred batted .352 in his rookie year.
“He developed stars like Harry Heilman, Heinie Manush, Bob Fothergil, Red Wingo, and Fred Haney,” says Lanier.
One case in point is Red Wingo who came to Detroit in 1924 and batted .287. The following year he saw his average increase to .370 under Cobb’s tenure and he went on to become a .308 lifetime hitter.
Ty always referred to Lanier as "Jimmy-my-boy."
One evening while Lanier had finished having dinner at the Cobb home, Ty asked him, "Jimmy-my-boy, how would you like to be my bat boy this year?"
Lanier was so overwhelm that he could only mumble his thanks. "Why, I don't know what to say! Would it be alright if I ask my parents first?" exclaimed the youngster.
"Why sure!" said Cobb.
Jimmy and Herschel left for Detroit after Richmond County schools closed for summer vacation and both spent the whole three months chasing the Tigers around the clubhouse.
Herschel's job was to put out soap in the bathroom and place the towels out for the players. Jimmy's job was to always place Ty's bats back in their bag and clean his shoes off so they will be ready for the next game.
Lanier is always enthusiasticly ready to answer the inquiry about Cobb sharpening his spikes. "I cleaned his shoes everyday and I never, never saw any evidence that Mr. Cobb sharpened the spikes on his shoes. That, to me, is an absolute falsehood!"
Jimmy also took care of Cobb's glove and rubbed Ty's bats with a bone to hone them for hours. "About once a week, Mr. Cobb liked for me to rub his glove with saddle soap."
Lanier is full of stories about players in the locker room who was proud that Ty Cobb helped them and how much he had increase their batting or fielding averages.
"The funniest thing I ever heard," says Lanier, remembering meeting Ruth for the first time in Detroit. "I watched Babe Ruth hit a home run and as he was rounding third base he called out to Mr. Cobb, he said, 'Cobb, now do you want to tell me how to hit?' and Mr. Cobb said, 'No Ruth, but I'll show you!' and Mr. Cobb got three hits that day."
Cobb and Ruth became great friends after their careers had ended, but to a boy in his youth, Lanier was enthralled by the bantering between these two great athletes.