Bill Burgess / Research & Analysis / Players
[From Bill Burgess'
Ty Cobb Memorial
How Racist Was Ty?
Was Cobb the greatest all-around baseball player who ever lived? PART I
DID TY COBB ONCE KILL A MAN?
By Bill Burgess III
One of the more familiar questions one runs into now & again, is "Did Ty Cobb once kill a man?" But, not being one to shirk
a tough question or issue, I'd like to address it here.
Did Ty kill that mugger on the night of August 12, 1912? On the night of August 12, 1912, Ty & his wife left their
home at 103 Commonwealth & headed south on Trumbull, on their way to the train depot. Ty had a ballgame in Syracuse
the next day, and they were in their Chalmers auto. As they approached Temple (formerly Bagg) Street, they slowed
down at the intersection, when 3 men appeared from behind the building at the corner of Trumbull & Bagg. Cobb related
that they were partly under the influence of liquor & spoke a foreign language. They jumped onto the running boards of the
Chalmers vehicle, ordering Cobb to stop the car. They demanded money. Cobb stopped the car and got out & began to
argue with the men. They demanded money again & all lunged at Cobb. In the days that followed, Ty gave out slightly
different versions of events, but all have him getting the best of the 3 assailants.
In none of the versions found in the newspapers, do we read of Ty chasing anyone. We read only that they fled.
In contrast to the version that Ty gave Al Stump, the Chicago Daily Tribune's account, dated August 13, 1912, pp. 11, we
read this. "Robbers Recognize Victim" Cobb tonight ridiculed a report that the three men who assaulted him were
enemies who in a spirit of revenge attempted to main him. He declared the trio were in an ugly mood and apparently
stopped him with the idea of robbery. Two of the men recognized him shortly after the trouble began and upon learning the
identity of their victim attempted to stop the fight. Cobb said he knocked the third man down when the latter persisted in
the attack, and it was after this that the man he struck cut him. "All the men apologized to me and the one I whipped got
down on his knees trying to square things," said Cobb.
Ty's account of the incident was slightly different to the Syracuse newspaper, dated Aug. 12, and carried by the NY Times
on Aug.13, 1912, pp. 6. "for the knife cut my coat and made a slight wound in my shoulder. This frightened the men and
they ran off, and Mrs. Cobb & I continued to the station. I didn't mention it to Jennings and didn't think anything more
about it." Now this is quite a departure from the story he gave out the next day. His story went from the assailants
fleeing, to they all apologized, one on his knees. All that evolution in only 1 day! From panicked/ran to kisseyface.
But in no case did Ty mention any chases. Perhaps for good reason. Or perhaps, 47 yrs. later, his assumption of the
robes of an avenging righteous super-hero, felt more dramatically fitting to him. Mrs. Cobb's statements also lack any
Whatever the truth of the matter, his version in 1959 to Al Stump had evolved into quite a more dramatic finish. Here it is.
He beat them off, & they ran. He caught one and "left him in worse condition than he arrived in".
He caught the other and used the sight at the end of the barrel of the Belgian Luger as a blade and here's what Al Stump
wrote on pp. 136, of his first Cobb book, (Sept., 1961). 'Leaving him unconscious, I drove on to the depot'. Later, a news
story datelined Detroit told how the men had appeared at a doctor's office, for repairs." So that is what Cobb's autobiography
stated. That he hadn't murdered anyone in self-defense or otherwise.
By 1994, Albert Stump's version, in his own TC bio, pp. 212, had evolved to this. "like a blade and the butt end as well,
he slashed away until the man's face was faceless. Left him there, not breathing, in his own rotten blood." "Cobb believed
he killed this mugger. A few days later a press report told of an unidentified body found off Trumbull in an alley."
So, we are left with 2 conflicting stories.
In 1996, writing for the SABR publication, The National Pastime, on pp. 25-28, "Ty Cobb Did Not Commit Murder",
Doug Roberts tells of his own personal research into this issue. Doug was a lawyer, who specialized in forensics,
was into criminal law, and had started his career as a prosecutor. So to satisfy his own curiosity, he plunged into his research.
To make a long article shorter, Doug went to Detroit, to the Detroit Medical Examiner's office, and sat and reviewed
all the autopsy records on microfilm for August and September, 1912. They also visited the archives where the coroner's
files for that year were stored. The records included name, location, age, cause. They contained no victim even remotely
resembling a man dying of blunt trauma to the skull. The examination of the Medical Examiner's records occurred in Jan. 1994.
He also reviewed all the Detroit newspapers for the weeks following the mugging, specially looking for that press report.
After two days of painstaking microfilm viewing, he could find no mention in any of the Detroit papers of such a discovery.
So Doug Roberts concludes that in the absence of a body, no homicide can be just assumed, even if an incensed man
brags, in a state of intoxication, that he killed someone. Drunk men are known to blow steam & smoke.
So, the above is the material we have to work with. But I have more. My own inner logic. If Cobb had killed one of the
muggers, let's use our intelligence. After Cobb had departed, would not the muggers have sought each other out,
and re-grouped, and retired to a safe place to collectively lick their wounds? Yes? Is that not the logical behavior?
If not immediately, then a while later? And wouldn't they have discovered the dead corpse of their companion?
And reported it to the authorities as a homicide. Even if one is committing a crime, others are not entitled to kill, unless in
self-defense, which technically, was not in this case. Once they started running, his self-defense case ended.
So I think it unlikely that the man actually died. It's more likely, given the evidence we have, that Cobb might have
mistaken a man who was breathing very shallowly, to not be breathing. And it's possible, that if he thought he might
have killed someone, with his wife waiting back at the car, his fear may have caused him to not stick around too long
to make sure, and just get the hell out of there. And when he told Stump he killed him, Stump says that, "a drunken
Cobb claimed". So is it possible that he only believed he killed someone, and in a drunken state, made a drunken boast?
But to me, if someone had just tried to kill me & my wife, they were not the "good guys", and Cobb the "bad guy".
Being cut an inch deep and 6 inches long could put a person into an ugly state. Some people might be thrown into an
hysterical, crazed state. Others a vengeful, avenging state. Not all are the same under stress. Mitigating circumstances.
In his 1996 National Pastime article, Doug Roberts goes on to provide us with the following further information as to motive.
"Although Ty had told the Syracuse Journal reporter that the attack was anonymous and unexpected, it appears to have been
anything but." Evidence he uncovered in the Cooperstown's Ty Cobb file and from the Detroit newspaper accounts of the
incident strongly suggested that Ty was attacked for specific reason. Also that he knew why it happened, and that he
knew who had arranged it.
Several days before the stabbing incident, Ty had gotten into an argument with a newsboy named "Scabby" over a
craps game in the Detroit clubhouse. Ty gave the youth a beating, and his attack several days later was in retaliation
by Scabby's gang friends for the beating which he had administered on the youth. Apparently, after the mugging, Ty met
the newsboy alone again and gave him a beating.
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