Year Inducted: 1936 (BBWAA, ballot #1, 222/226)
In 1992, Tom Seaver broke a record that many thought would never be broken. Seaver had set the record for the largest voting percentage ever for Hall of Fame induction. It was a record that was set all the way back in 1936, with the first ever induction class. But, it wasn’t a record that was set by Babe Ruth or Honus Wagner. It was set by the only player that could have challenged Ruth in his own time for being the greatest ever. It was set by the one person that may possibly have more legends surrounding him that Ruth. It was set by Tyrus Raymond Cobb.
Cobb set many records in his career that were thought untouchable. In 24 seasons with the Tigers and A’s, Cobb set the modern records for highest batting average (.366), steals (897), hits (4189) and runs (2244). Overall, Cobb hit .366/.433/.512 with a wRC+ of 165. Cobb hit over .400 three times in his career and led the league in average 12 times. Among his then-record 4189 hits were 724 doubles, 295 triples and 117 homers. Despite being well known as a leadoff hitter, Cobb led the league in RBI four times in his career, drove in over 100 seven times and totaled an impressive 1933 in his career in addition to his career runs scored record (which was eventually broken by Rickey Henderson). Because of the era he played in, Cobb isn’t typically thought of as being a power hitter. However, he did manage to lead the league in doubles three times, triples four times and slugging percentage eight times. His home run totals are low, especially compared to the rest of the people above him on the list, but it was not a home run friendly time in baseball, so those that could hit lots of doubles and triples were where teams looked for power. Cobb was also an aggressive and effective baserunner, with 60.6 runs above average on the basepaths to go along with his then-record number of steals.
At the beginning of Cobb’s career, he had several difficulties that limited his achievements. In 1905, his mother shot and killed his father (who was a major influence on Cobb). In addition to that loss, his mother had to go on trial in 1906. Those events, along with the constant hazing and teasing of the teenage Cobb (who was in a whole new world since he had rarely left the South as a boy) led to him being a loner and reclusive to a lot of his teammates, which affected how well people remembered him.
And of course, Cobb had several incidents of assault on and off the field. Off the field he did get into a lot of incidents involving African Americans, always claiming to have been “insulted” first. However, despite his current reputation, Cobb wasn’t really a racist, as no racist would issue a statement saying that segregation in baseball was “stupid” or that it was a good thing for baseball to be integrated. Cobb was an aggressive person, and brought up in Georgia in the late-1800’s, so some racism is to be expected, but he certainly wasn’t racist above and/or beyond the norms of that time.
Cobb was, of course, a member of the initial class of the Hall of Fame. And, of course, he was not unanimous. There were four people who didn’t vote for Cobb, presumably due to the character clause relating to Cobb’s aggresive style of play. However, it is easy to be sympathetic to Cobb in regards to his style of play. He always tried to find or create a weakness in his opponents, and always felt like everyone was against him due to how his career began. Cobb’s aggressiveness is exactly why he did as well as he did, since no one ever played harder than Cobb.
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