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  • Ty Cobb discussion

    I am creating this thread as a companion to my new Ty Cobb thread. All comments can be delivered here. Thanks, guys.

    Last edited by Bill Burgess; 05-16-2008, 09:05 PM.

  • #2
    Originally posted by [email protected]
    I am creating this thread as a companion to my new Ty Cobb thread. All comments can be delivered here. Thanks, guys.


    I've read a lot of your posts. You make a pretty good case for Cobb being the greatest player ever. It is well research and soundly argued. I have some questions for you. I have two "issues" that lead me to believe that Cobb is NOT the greatest player ever. I wanted to get your perspective on these issues.

    1) Cobb decline in the 1920s
    2) Cobb's "power" stats in his prime

    1) Cobb's Decline

    Looking at Cobb's record I am startled to uncover how poorly Cobb aged with respect to other great players. His level of play in his 30s for an all-time great is unusually poor. Just looking at his play from 1920-1928 (age 33-41) it's quite obvious to me that he was not a dominant player. I ran a check on Cobb and several other players to see how what their Black Ink Score was from age 33 forward:

    Wagner 53 (109)
    Ruth 45 (161)
    Bonds 34 (65)
    Rose 30 (64)
    Mays 16 (57)
    Musial 14 (116)
    Aaron 13 (76)
    Cobb 0 (150)

    The number in parenthesis is the player's career Black Ink Score. Wager, Bonds, and Rose age especially well. They all gained about half of their Black Ink Score after age 33, Ruth almost 30% .

    Cobb's Black Ink score of 150 is the second highest total in baseball history and he reached this total by age 32. But from age 33 on Cobb didn't lead the AL in any major offensive category (though he did lead in OPS and OPS+ in 1925.). Cobb was fortunate that just as he was entering his decline phase the live ball was introduced. This allowed him to keep his career BA extremely high. If the live ball had ben introduce a few seasons later, Cobb's decline would have been much more obvious. Cobb still hit for a BA in the 1920s but Cobb's relationship to the rest of AL shrank significantly. Take his 1922 season in which Cobb hit .401/.462/.565. His OPS+ was 170 which is a great season for most players. For Cobb it was his 11th best season in terms of OPS+. It barely beats his 1908 season (169 OPS+) in which he hit .324/.367/.475. That gives an inkling on how much baseball had changed from 1908 to 1922. Cobb needed to hit .401 to match his 1908 season.

    2) Cobb's "power" numbers

    This applies to all the great Dead Ball era players. Are Cobb's "power" numbers a function of his "power" hitting in the modern sense of what we mean "power" hitting or is Cobb's "power" more a function of his great speed? Given the ballparks of Cobb's time, the defensive skills of outfielders in Cobb's time, and baseball gloves of Cobb's time, Cobb was able to use his great speed to hit lots of doubles and triples. This obviously boosted his slugging percentage. Today, a player's slugging average is largely a function of HRs hit and the number of walks drawn. Walks lower a player's AB total, hence increasing his slugging percentage. I haven't studied this issue at length so I haven't been able to drawn any hard conclusions.

    There are a handful of players in baseball history that can be considered the greatest ever. I believe for a player to be in the discussion for greatest ever they MUST age well. They must show themselves to be a dominant player to at least their late 30s. Cobb didn't dominate in his mid to late 30s.

    Bill, I look forward to your response...
    Last edited by Honus Wagner Rules; 05-07-2005, 02:14 PM.
    Strikeouts are boring! Besides that, they're fascist. Throw some ground balls - it's more democratic.-Crash Davis


    • #3
      Ooooh...great point Honus Wagner Rules...although your name suggests you do have an agenda.

      Cobb's decline phase was in fact somewhat more sharp than most great players...and that ties into my growing theory that players who rely exclusively on one skill (hitting for contact...or hitting for just power...) don't last as long as players who have many tools (drawing walks AND hitting for contact or drawing walks AND hitting for power or all three...etc)

      I believe Cobb had difficulty adjusting to the changes in the game as he aged...and that is a significant negative comment.


      • #4
        Me? agenda? Doesn't everyone here on Baseball Fever have an "agenda"?

        It's my understanding that Cobb refused to change. I think Bill once mentioned that Cobb as the Tiger's manager went so far as to fine his players who uppercutted the ball. I don't know if Cobb had the ability to adjust. Given Cobb's abilities I think he could have adjusted. If Cy Williams cound hit 41 HRs as a 35 year old in 1923, I don't see why Cobb couldn't adjust also.
        Last edited by Bill Burgess; 10-08-2005, 03:42 PM.
        Strikeouts are boring! Besides that, they're fascist. Throw some ground balls - it's more democratic.-Crash Davis


        • #5
          The thing with that is, if TC had simply announced his retirement during his 33d birthday party he still would have been one of the First Five HOFers, and he still would have been in the running as "Greatest Baseball Player Ever".

          Whatever he did after compiling those 150 points is ... icing, or gravy, take your pick - that is, peripheral, not to say irrelevant.

          FULL DISCLOSURE: I think peak value is much more important than "career value."
          Last edited by Bill Burgess; 10-08-2005, 03:43 PM.


          • #6
            In terms of "The Greatest Player Ever" peak value AND career value are equally important. There are too many players that had had high peak AND career values. How can a player be considered the greatest if other players had higher "career value"? I believe that Cobb's poor performace after age 32 disqualifies him as being considered "The Greatest Player Ever".
            Last edited by Bill Burgess; 10-08-2005, 03:43 PM.
            Strikeouts are boring! Besides that, they're fascist. Throw some ground balls - it's more democratic.-Crash Davis


            • #7
              I believe that Cobb's poor performace after age 32 disqualifies him as being considered "The Greatest Player Ever".

              From age 33-41, Ty hit .357 (1476-4133) with a .431 OBP and he slugged .498. He hit 50 HR, drove in 726 runs, had a 512/145 (3.53) BB/K ratio. His OPS+ was 142.

              Age 18-32: 11.5
              Age 33-41: 8.3

              A pretty nice dropoff, but 8.3 is still very, very good.


              • #8
                His performance after age 33 is poor compared to other all-time greats. Given the offensive environment of the 1920s his stats are not impressive. Basically Cobb went from being Babe Ruth in terms of domination (in the teens) to being Luis Gonzales of the 1920s. He was still a very good player in the 1920s but other all time great players were still dominating in their mid to late 30s.
                Last edited by Bill Burgess; 10-08-2005, 03:44 PM.
                Strikeouts are boring! Besides that, they're fascist. Throw some ground balls - it's more democratic.-Crash Davis


                • #9
                  --HWR, I've always thought he simply was too proud and stubborn to change with the times. Interesting question as to whether that is true or he couldn't adapt to the new style and masked that by expressing contempt for the new power game.
                  --In projecting Cobb forward I've always assumed he could and would have been a power hitter (power/average that is) if he came along later in history. However, if his slugging was actually done more with his legs then that wouldn't apply and he would not have been as great a player in the live ball era. I'm not ready to accept that as accurate just now, but it is an interesting line of thought you bring up.


                  • #10
                    Cobb by PCA...ages 18-32 he scored 161.04 Offensive and 25.32 defensive wins for a total of 186.36 Wins in 4844 Batting Outs (a rate of 18.7 Wins per 486 outs (3*162)).

                    ages 33-41, he scored 69.58 Offensive and 10.67 defensive wins for a total of 80.25 Wins in 2874 batting outs (a rate of 13.6 Wins per 486 outs).

                    So bad...his decline is about what you'd expect for someone his age.


                    • #11

                      I'm sure Bill can enlighten us on Cobb's views of the power hitting of the 1920s. Didn't Cobb hit five HRs in a doubleheader once? I don't have any real sense on how physically strong Cobb was. I know he was about 6'1"- 6'2" and weighed about 175-180 lbs in his prime. Cy Williams is listed at 6'2" 180 lbs on, essentially the same size as Cobb. Williams started his career in the dead ball era and had a career high of 9 HR through age 31. He hit 41 HRs in 1923 at age 35. Obviously, Cobb was a far better hitter than Williams...
                      Last edited by Bill Burgess; 10-08-2005, 03:44 PM.
                      Strikeouts are boring! Besides that, they're fascist. Throw some ground balls - it's more democratic.-Crash Davis


                      • #12
                        --Cobb was a big strong man for the time. Which is why I've always assumed he could have adapted to the power game. And that may be true, but your suggestion that maybe he couldn't could seriously effect how I rate him if I bought into it.


                        • #13
                          At this point I'm not sure. I was just pointing out that using the argument that since Cobb was a great "power" hitter in the teens then he would have been a great "power" hitter in the 20s may not be a good argument given that Cobb's "power" in the teens may have been a result of speed not strength.
                          Last edited by Bill Burgess; 10-08-2005, 03:45 PM.
                          Strikeouts are boring! Besides that, they're fascist. Throw some ground balls - it's more democratic.-Crash Davis


                          • #14

                            You asked about the nature of power. In pre-1919 baseball, it was not only a matter of speed, although that was a component of it. It was the ability to combine power with your speed.

                            Like Wagner, Lajoie, Crawford, Jackson and Speaker, Cobb used his resources to maximum effect. The idea was to center the ball on the sweet spot, drive it as forcefully as you could between the OFers, and run like hell.

                            So your speed is a vital component, but so is the ability to hit the ball. So is the ability to get yourself around the bend. Any deficiency will screw the procedure. So it took 3 skills to be an effective "power hitter" before Ruth.
                            Hitting, driving, running.
                            Last edited by Bill Burgess; 10-21-2013, 04:49 PM.


                            • #15
                              Just in case some members might not have gotten the message on the versatility of Mr. Cobb's game, below are a couple of nuggets from Ty's admirers, concerning "his power".

                              Stan Baumgartner,
                              AL P (1924-1926),
                              NL P (1914-16, 21-22
                              Philadelphia sportswriter, (1927-1955)

                              1948 - "This is a story of Ty Cobb, the greatest ball player of all time--and Cy Perkins, one of the finest receivers of his day, who now coaches the Phillies. Cobb and Perkins became fast friends in later years. Ty took a fancy to the young, slim, quiet catcher--made him a companion. They dined together, chinned together around the batting cage.

                              One day, Lefty Grove was throwing in batting practice for the Athletics. "You think Ruth is a great home run hitter, don't you?" asked Cobb, then nearing the end of his career. Perkins nodded. "The greatest I ever saw," he replied. Cobb picked out a bat. "Watch me," he said as he stepped to the plate. He hit Grove's first pitch over the right field wall, his second into Twentieth st., his third onto the rooftops, and his fourth bouncing into the streets beyond the roofs. Ty turned around grinning, then shook his head. "But that's not for Cobb. This is Cobb," he said, and shortened his grip on the bat. He hit four in succession on a line over third base. (Sporting News, May 5, 1948, pp. 12, column 3)

                              Next quote by Branch Rickey.

                              Branch Rickey
                              ML catcher, OF, 1905-07, 1914
                              Browns manager, 1913-1915
                              Cardinals manager, 1919-1925
                              Cardinals VP & Buss. manager, 1925-1942
                              Dodgers Pres. & GM, 1942-50
                              Pirates VP & GM, 1951-59
                              Cardinals adviser, 1963-65

                              1965 - "The great unrealized and almost never-mentioned contribution of Cobb to the winning of games was his constant wrecking of pitcher concentration on the pitch. With Cobb on first, or any base for that matter, many pitchers over a period of, say, twenty years became simply "throwers." He caused catchers to call for more pitch-outs by far than any player in the history of the game, thereby setting up constantly the three-and-one and two-and-nothing situations for the next batsman and giving repeated opportunity for the batsman to hit the "cripple.". . . I never knew of any player other than Cobb practicing sliding with the intent of using the loose foot to kick the ball out of the baseman's hand. He actually practiced that movement. And Cobb could and did concentrate on it with great effect. It led to the general charge throughout the American League that, on occasion, he intentionally spiked the tagged. I don't think he ever spiked anyone intentionally. . . But he was not a cruel player - not in my book. One more word on Cobb on the subject of his hitting. I may have left the impression that Cobb was not a power hitter. On several occasions he would engage in a pre-game exhibition contest of power hitting. It is said that he never lost a single contest. He could drive a ball for tremendous distance when that was his only purpose. I don't believe that Cobb, when batting, ever had a home run in his mind. . . . Cobb is to be understood rather than maligned unjustly. . .

                              The truth is that Cobb is the greatest one-game player in all baseball history. He was the most positive character in the game. He was baseball's most earnest and assiduous learner. He was the greatest perfectionist, both on offense and defense.

                              No player could come close to Cobb's record. Probably no one will ever equal it. Who's the greatest player that ever performed in the major leagues? The vote would surely be Cobb or Wagner. Take your pick. Cobb had a psychological effect on opponents which Wagner did not have. Wagner had a morale value among his teammates which Cobb did not have. If I had first chance in making up an all-time All-American team for a season's play of 154 games, I would be compelled to choose Wagner. But for the game today: Ty Cobb. (American Diamond, A Documentary of the Game, Branch Rickey, 1965)

                              So I hope these quotes shed some light on the prevelant attitudes towards hitting in the '20's.

                              PS. Any further questions, Adam? I'd be delighted to continue clarifying fine points. Mark? You always enjoy chiseling away at Mr. Cobb's monument. Had enough yet?
                              Last edited by Bill Burgess; 10-21-2013, 04:52 PM.


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