Ty Cobb and Shoeless Joe: The Stories of the Two Greatest Hitters of All Time

Bleacher Report Senior Writer INovember 3, 2008

Joe Jackson. Ty Cobb. No matter what baseball fans say, Shoeless Joe Jackson and Ty Cobb are the greatest hitters to ever play. Ty Cobb hit .366 in his career, Joe Jackson hit .356, first and third on the all time ranks, respectively.

Ty Cobb is probably the most demanding and controversial personality in all of sports. You either love him or you hate him. But most hate him. Tyrus Raymond Cobb was born on Dec. 18, 1886 in Narrows, GA. His father, Will, was a teacher. His dad was successful in life and wanted the same for young Ty.

When Ty was 14, he played for the Royston, GA team. Cobb became a superstar and began to focus on baseball. His dad was very annoyed at this. His dad wanted him to suceed, but he realized baseball wasn't the easy route. He wanted him to be a lawyer or doctor.

In 1904, a teammate encouraged him to touch base with teams in the Southern Atlantic League. He decided to sign with Augusta. His dad said when he left, "Don't come home a failure."

Cobb followed by getting released after two games. However, he got an offer from a semi-pro team in Anniston, AL. That year, 1905, was a turning point for Cobb. Augusta decided to give him another chance. He played two exhibition games against the Tigers. The Tigers liked him for his aggression, passion, and love for the game of baseball.

Augusta got off to a poor start, but in July, Cobb was called up to the Tigers. As a rookie, he had one home run, 16 RBI, and a .240 average. In August, tragedy would strike the Cobb family.

His dad returned home late at night through the window of the home and Cobb's mother assumed he was a robber and shot him twice, killing him. After Ty mourned the loss, he returned for the 1906 season. He was getting rookie hazing, bad treatment considering where he was coming from. He had hats ruined and bats cut. Cobb said it was humiliating.

That arguably changed Cobb's life. For the worse. Even before, Cobb was competitive, but the veterans turned him into a monster. When Al Stump asked him about why he did such evil deeds as a player, he replied "I did it for my father. I knew he was watching me and I never let him down."

1907 was a very successful year. He had five home runs, 119 RBI, a .350 average, and 49 steals. More importantly, the Detroit Tigers won a pennant that year and again the following season. He had a great year in 1908, as well. He had 108 RBI and hit .324. They won the pennant again in 1908 and 1909 but lost in all three series. In the series, he hit .262 in 17 games.

During his glory days of the late 1900s, he always acted like everyone was ganging up on him and was always in the middle of controversy and violence. In 1909, he slid into Philadelphia Athletics third basemen Frank "Home Run" Baker. He cut his arm and blood was dripping.

For this, Cobb received death threats from A's fans. In a hotel, Cobb beat George Stanfield up because he was black. One time, a heckler called Cobb a "half-ni**er." Cobb took that as an insult and beat the guy up, who actually was disabled.

By 1910, Cobb was the best—what he set out to be. He was becoming the most feared hitter, baserunner, and fighter in all of baseball. He had seven 100-RBI seasons and hit .300 in every season from 1906 to 1928, hitting .300 every year except his rookie year.

He had 117 home runs and 1,937 RBI for his career. He was inducted into the baseball Hall of Fame in 1936, and died 25 years later in 1961 because of prostate cancer.

Shoeless Joe Jackson had a very sad end to a brilliant career. Joseph Jefferson Jackson was born on July 16, 1888 in Pickens County, SC. Jackson overcame a lot to become a baseball player.

He never attended a day of school and couldn't read nor could he write. Joe played for factory teams during his younger days and until he was 20. In 1908, he signed with the Greenville Spinners for $75. The 19 year old quickly became an offensive force, hitting .346 in his first season in pro ball.

In August, a manager who was two years older then him, Connie Mack, purchased his contract. In Joe's first at-bat, he singled to right field. Joe quickly got homesick and was sent home back to South Carolina. He returned to Mack in September but didn't like the overcrowded city of Philadelphia. In 1910, he was traded to the Cleveland Naps for Bris Lord.

Joe liked Cleveland. It was a smaller city, and he could make an immediate impact. In his first full year, he hit third, and he hit well. He batted .408, but he lost the batting crown to Cobb. Jackson's outfield skills earned him high praise around the league, as he had 32 outfield assists.

Joe's swing was quite odd, but it worked. He swung the bat harder than most. Back then, the common thing for batters to do was punch at the ball, but not Joe. He swung through it on a line. Babe Ruth even said "I copied my swing after Joe Jackson's."

The Naps slipped to sixth in 1912, but Jackson's performance was getting better. He hit .395 with 26 triples, 121 runs, 226 hits and 30 outfield assists. Cobb beat him again, hitting .409. Jackson hit .387, .408 and .395 and didn't win one batting title. Wow.

When most players were going to the newfound Federal League, Joe turned it down, intelligently. Many fellow teammates went to the Federal League, causing the Naps to struggle. Joe missed 35 games and his average slipped all the way down to .335. Gee, what a disappointment.

In 1915, team owner Charles Somers decided to get rid of both Nap Lajoie and Jackson. He did this because the team was dirt poor and couldn't afford the stars. He promptly traded Jackson to the Chicago White Sox and Lajoie to the Philadelphia Athletics. Luckily for Somers, only one of them had good years ahead of them: Jackson. Lajoie played two seasons with the A's, and then retired.

Jackson was traded to Chicago for $31,500, along with Ed Klepfer, Bobby Roth, and Larry Chappell. Jackson was now joining a great team with Hall of Famers already there (i.e. Ed Walsh, Ray Schalk, Red Faber, Eddie Collins). It was much different than his move to Cleveland, where he was on a cellar-bound team.

In 1915, he hit poorly, but ended the year with five home runs, 81 RBI, and a .308 batting clip. 1916 was a rebound year for Joe. He hit .341 with 78 RBI. The White Sox, led by manager Pants Rowland, won 89 and lost 65, but were second in the A.L. behind Boston.

1917 was a great year for the club, as they won 100 and lost 54. Joe hit .301 with five home runs, 75 RBI, and 57 walks, compared to just 25 strikeouts.

The White Sox got pounded by the military draft for World War I. They took many ballplayers, but not Joe. Joe was married and was granted a deferment by his hometown draft board in South Carolina. After 17 games, Jackson was drafted. However, he found work in Delaware at a shipyard and assisted building battleships, but he found time to practice baseball.

After the war, Jackson re-signed with the White Sox for $6,000. The next year, 1919, is a year that makes baseball fans cringe. It is, of course, the year that the White Sox threw the series. Joe Jackson and seven others were, perhaps unfairly so, thrown out of baseball for life. I,for one, think it's ridiculous that Joe and his seven mates got thrown out, and I also think it's ridiculous Joe doesn't get inducted into the Hall of Fame.

But, anyway. Joe played in 1920, probably his best year, with 12 home runs, 121 RBI, and a .382 batting mark. But in September, gambler Billy Maharg came forth about who was in on it. Joe's name was in there. Joe had very minor involvement in the scandal, but was nonetheless thrown out. Jackson had a lifetime .356 average along with 54 home runs and 785 runs driven in. He died in 1951 at the age of 63.

Cobb and Jackson are, in my mind, the greatest hitters in baseball history. Cobb was just insanely productive and Jackson was a baseball freak. He was a natural. Cobb is the best ever and Jackson is the second best. People might say Babe Ruth is the best ever. But, Jackson came before his time, and as I said, Ruth copied his batting stance and swing from Jackson, so Yankees fans should thank Joe.