Ty Cobb: New York Yankees' Phil Rizzuto Second Greatest Shortstop of All Time?

Harold FriendChief Writer IMay 17, 2011

The Distinguished, Classy Yankees Shortstop
The Distinguished, Classy Yankees ShortstopVincent Laforet/Getty Images

Ty Cobb was a player-manager for the Detroit Tigers from 1921-1926. The most games the Tigers won in a season under Cobb was 86 in 1924, when teams played 154 games.

The highest Cobb's team finished was second in 1923, but the problem was they finished 16 games behind the New York Yankees.

Cobb is ranked among the greatest players of all time. He was among the first five players elected to the Hall of Fame, receiving more votes (222 out of 226) than Babe Ruth, Honus Wagner, Christy Mathewson and Walter Johnson,

But in a pair of articles that appeared in Life Magazine in 1952, titled "They Don't Play Baseball Anymore," Cobb expressed some controversial opinions that raised many eyebrows.

The Hall of Famer said that the only modern players that compared to the players of his era were Phil Rizzuto and Stan Musial.

In a statement that is laughable today, Cobb said Rizzuto was "...one of the few scientific hitters left in baseball today. Pound for pound, he is the best baseball player alive." Cobb continued being ridiculous.

"If it were not for Honus Wagner, who was a superman in every respect, I would make Rizzuto my all-time shortstop."

In 1951, Rizzuto, who was pivotal in helping the Yankees win their third consecutive World Championship, batted .274 with a .350 on base average and a .346 slugging average. Yes, Phil hit a lot of singles.

No one denies that Rizzuto was an integral part of the Yankees and a winning player. He was the MVP in 1950, but Cobb was completely off target in his ranking of Rizzuto.

Stan Musial is another story.

Musial was an outstanding all around player whose only weakness was that he lacked a strong throwing arm. Musial won seven batting titles. hit .331, had an amazing .417 on base average, and actually had a higher career slugging average (.559) than both Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays (.557 for both.)

Cobb went on to say that Ted Williams and Joe DiMaggio would not have been among the top players in his day because they failed to make the most of their potential.

Williams was said to stubborn and obstinate. He wouldn't adjust to the "Boudreau shift."

"It was a crime the way he let them neutralize his power. Worse than that, it was an insult to his ability and judgment. And it cut down his batting average by a dozen points a year."

Many others agreed with Cobb's assessment, but Williams was a proud man who refused to change or adapt.

Cobb saved the best for Joe DiMaggio.

"He hates physical exertion, and as far as I know, he never took a lick of exercise from October to March. Naturally, he went to spring training with his muscles weakened and soft; naturally, he got hurt a lot...."

Cobb then made an excellent observation. Remember, DiMaggio was finished at the age of 36.

"I think he could still be out there this summer, gobbling up those fly balls and hitting .350 had it not been for all those lost winters."

DiMaggio was not alone in "wasting" the winter. Few, if any players worked out in the winter. Most had to work during he off season because baseball player's salaries, with the exception of the stars, were about the same as most American workers.

Ty Cobb's style of play created controversy. He was not a great manager, although to be fair, Tigers' owner Frank Navin refused to spend the money to obtain a number of players Cobb wanted.

In his comments about Musial, Williams, and DiMaggio, Cobb was on target, but one must question what prompted him to rank Rizzuto as the second greatest shortstop in baseball history.

One guess is that Rizzuto played the game the way Cobb thought it was meant to be played.

Rizzuto was one of the great bunters of all time, could steal bases, was an excellent base runner, and ranked among the best fielding shortstops of his time.

Phil was not a great hitter. He had little power and hit singles, but Cobb despised the home run, so the fact that Rizzuto didn't hit home runs was not a negative. Rizzuto sprayed the ball around, but he hit at least .300 only twice.

Finally, it would be fascinating to hear what Cobb would say about Mark Reynolds, Adam Dunn, and Jack Cust.

Reynolds averages 217 strikeouts a season, Dunn averages 183 strikeouts a season, and Cust averages 197 strikeouts a season.

Cobb averaged about 27 strikeouts a season.


Baseball Reference

BIRTWELL, R. (1950, Feb 05). Cobb could cause more excitement with pass than ruth with homer. Daily Boston Globe (1928-1960), pp. C49. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/839913645?accountid=46260