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Ty Cobb [From Bill Burgess' Ty Cobb Memorial Collection]
How Racist Was Ty?

Was Cobb the greatest all-around baseball player who ever lived?  PART I - PART III


By Bill Burgess III

Essential reading is the following article from July 5, 1931, published by the Philadelphia Public Ledger newspaper. It concerns the
all-important subject of who is the Greatest Ballplayer by 12 impartial, knowledgeable "jurists". It has depth, context and was
conducted at the very moment when Babe Ruth's fame hovered at its pinnacle of glory.  I consider this article, along with the
Sporting News' April 2, 1942 survey, as the "smoking gun" of the debate.  It's decisive and unalterable. By contrast, the 1950 sports
writers poll, was conducted largely by men who had never seen Cobb play.  Or Ruth for that matter. Have fun my brothers. Bill Burgess
(P.S. This article was excerpted in Literary Digest, August 1, 1931, under Personal Glimpses, Picking an All-Time Emperor of the Diamond, and it was also referred to in The Life That Ruth Built by Marshall Smelser,1975, pp. 433)
Who is Baseball's Greatest Player? by C. William Duncan (The Philadelphia Public Ledger, July 5, 1931, Magazine section, pp. 7)
A majority of a jury of twelve good men and true, chosen for their experience and standing in the Nation's great game, hereby pronounces Tyrus Raymond Cobb as Baseball's Greatest Player."  Seven out of the twelve give first place to the "Georgia Peach," 
whose line drives, streaks of speed and fall-away slides thrilled the Nation's fans for nearly a quarter of a century.  "There never will be another Ty," they sigh in unison.  Three of the twelve designate Hans Wagner, "Flying Dutchman" of the old
Pittsburgh Pirates, as the greatest, and four name him runner-up to Cobb, bringing Hans in a good second in total points.  Babe Ruth, famous home-run pounder of the present day, runs third by virtue of two first choices and being placed in the "Big Five"
 by several other jurors.  Nap Lajoie and Eddie Collins finish close behind Ruth, with Willie Keeler, Al Simmons and Tris Speaker following in the order named.  The jury is composed of John McGraw, Wilbert Robinson, Walter Johnson, Connie Mack,
Kid Gleason, Bill McKechnie, Joe McCarthy, Jim Burke, Gabby Street, Dan Howley, Bucky Harris and Burt Shotton, all well known to followers of baseball.  I asked each man the question,  "Whom do you consider the greatest baseball player of all time?"
waiting for his opinion without telling him the views of any other juryman.  Five points were given for first place, four for second, three for third, two for fourth and one for fifth.  John McGraw, manager of the Giants, the first man approached for his
          John McGraw, manager of the Giants, the first man approached for his views, named Hans Wagner as the greatest.  "Wagner could do everything required of a ball player." said McGraw as he sat in the Giants' dugout in the Polo Grounds.  "He had
tremendous hands, and in addition to his great playing ability, had a wonderful disposition and was easy to handle.  I'll place Cobb second and Keeler third.  Al Simmons is my next pick, as I consider him the greatest ball player of the present day.  Like
Wagner he is a right-handed hitter of power and can field his position splendidly and throw fast and accurately.  Simmons is no dumb ball player, either.  My own first baseman, Bill Terry, is included in my selection. He is really a great ball player and
the best first baseman I have ever seen."
          Bill McKechnie, manager of the Braves, strung along with McGraw on Wagner as the greatest of them all.  McKechnie, one-time Pirate infielder, piloted Pittsburgh to a pennant in 1925 and won another gonfalon for the St. Louis Cardinals in
1922. Oddly enough, neither club retained him for long after his success. Tired of being shunted by the Cardinals to Rochester and then recalled, McKechnie signed a four-year contract with Boston and is developing a team there. "I don't see how a National
Leaguer could pick any one but old Honus Wagner as the best that ever lived," said McKechnie as we sat in his hotel room in Philadelphia.  "I played in the infield with him for six or seven years and will pay him the splendid tribute of saying I never
saw him make a mental error.  He made "boots," of course.  Every ball player makes fielding errors.  But Honus always threw to the right base;  he always did the correct thing at the proper moments. As to physical ability, he was a marvelous fielder, the
hardest-hitting shortstop in history and a splendid baserunner.  Wagner was in his prime from about 1904 to 1912.  "Cobb gets second place.  Really, I think those two stand by themselves for this century, at least.  Speaker didn't have the natural speed
of Cobb, so I must place him third.  I give Lajoie fourth.  He, like Speaker, wasn't as fast as Cobb.  Of the present-day ball players I consider Hornsby and Ruth the best I've seen.  Hornsby has many great qualities, but he is surprisingly weak on
fly balls that are too close to the infield for outfielders to get.  I have been astonished at Hornsby's inability to overcome this weakness during his many years in the majors.  It is hard to choose between Hornsby and Ruth, but I'll give it to Hornsby."
          While McGraw and McKechnie have been spending their lives in the National League, Connie Mack has been devoting his time to the American.  "I haven't had the chance to see many of the great stars of the other league," the Philadelphia
Athletics leader said.  "But picking the greatest player that ever lived is easy, I think.  I pick Ty Cobb.  I guess every one will do the same.  Cobb was a good fielder, the greatest baserunner in the game's history, the fastest thinker and the most
consistent hitter.  How can you name any one else?  Eddie Collins, the keystone of my great infield of the old Athletics, is my second choice.  Eddie was a marvelous ball player.  I can't say too much for him.  I'll name Lajoie third.  Of the present-day
players I pick Al Simmons first, and he is my fourth man of all time.  I hate to leave off Mickey Cochrane, but I must name Babe Ruth, so he goes fifth.  If there was a sixth place in your selections, Cochrane would get it.  When I picked my all-time team
last year, I named Buck Ewing as the best catcher I ever saw. I put Buck ahead of Mickey because of the latter's comparatively brief service in the majors. But you can say for me, and this is the first time I've said it for publication, that I now
consider Cochrane the greatest catcher that ever lived. You can't take it away from him."
          Kid Gleason, former manager of the White Sox and now coach of the Athletics, who has spent a lifetime in baseball, was very brief. Evidently his mind rushed back over the past and he feared to slight some of the great ones              
with whom he played years ago.  At least that's what I thought, and so didn't press him for an entire selection when he said: "Ty Cobb is the greatest ball player I ever saw.  Hans Wagner is next.  That's all I want to pick.  Go see Connie Mack and find
out what he says."
          Joe McCarthy, former manager of Louisville and the Chicago Cubs and now pilot of the New York Yanks, selects his own star, Babe Ruth as the best of all time.  "Ruth is more than a home-run hitter," says McCarthy.  "He can play the
well, is a deadly thrower and can cover first base and pitch.  He is a far better all-round ball player than he is generally credited with being.  I'll place Cobb second, then Wagner, Collins and Lajoie in the order named.  After you get past Wagner it is
very difficult to make selections, as there have been so many great ball players.  You may also say for me that I consider Mickey Cochrane and Gabby Hartnett as the leading catchers of the day."
          Cobb received another first-place vote from Walter Johnson, former great right-handed pitcher and now manager of the Washington Senators.  Johnson was lavish in his praise of the "Georgia Peach."  He gave Wagner second place and
then named Jackson, Ruth and Collins.  He had a hard time deciding between Collins and Speaker, with Eddie winning by a shade.
          Uncle Wilbert Robinson, manager of the Brooklyn Robbins, voiced his opinions under protest.  "But, Mr. Robinson," I said, "no one cares whom I'd name as the greatest.  The fans want to read your opinions.  You've been in this game
for years and your views mean something.  Mine don't."  "All right then.  If that's the way you feel about it, go ahead and name Ty Cobb as the best of them all," replied Uncle Robbie.  "I didn't see him play much because he was in the other league, but
from what I did see and from what I've heard from others who do know ball players when they see them, Cobb deserves first place. Put Willie Keeler in there next to Ty.  Willie was a great all-round ball player and the best place hitter the game ever knew.
And you can't leave out this big fellow, Babe Ruth, when speaking of all-time wonders. He can pitch, play first base, play the outfield and hit home runs.  He's a wonder.  It's hard on the others to name just a few, because the world has seen many greats.
Hans Wagner was one.  Back in the old, old days the Phillies had a man who could pitch like a streak and play the infield, too.  His name was Charley Ferguson.  You can't leave him off.  There's Hughey Jennings, too.  He was an unbeatable shortstop.  As I
said before, it's unfair to name just a few.  Think of the many good ones I've never seen!  But if I have to name the best five you can put down Cobb, Keeler, Ruth, Wagner and Ferguson for me."
          Jim Burke, ruddy-faced coach of the Yanks, has been in baseball thirty years.  He played in the American and National Leagues and the American Association.  He managed the St. Louis Browns, 1917-1920, and has also been a double A
leader.  When Joe McCarthy went up to take charge of the Cubs, he took Burke along as coach, and the two have remained together since.  He should know his ball players. "I give Wagner first place," he says.  "He could do everything and is the greatest
I've ever see.  Cobb gets second place with me  Why name more?  They stand alone."  "But I want five selections, Mr. Burke," I said.  "Well, that's a tough assignment.  When you get through with Wagner and Cobb, you run into trouble.  Old Nap Lajoie was a
swell ball player. We can't leave him off the list.  Eddie Collins was another.  Put him down for fourth.  Now it's getting tougher and tougher.  We'll give fifth place to Hornsby, although you may as well name the fifth man yourself, there have been so
many good ones."
          Gabby Street, one-time battery mate of Walter Johnson at Washington and now manager of the St. Louis Cardinals, 1930 champions of the National League, was the fifth man to name Cobb for first honors.  "I spent seven years in the
American League and two in the National and Cobb is my pick, without question," he said.  "Cobb had a ninety-horsepower brain, which, in my opinion, was his greatest asset.  He always thought a fraction of a second faster than any one else and, therefore,
was always ahead of the game.  One day he was on third base when the batter hit a high fly back of shortstop.  George McBride, our shortstop at Washington in those days and a very good fielder, caught the ball.  As the ball struck his glove Cobb started
for home.  McBride raised his arm to throw.  Cobb stopped.  McBride, assured that Cobb had given up the idea of trying to score, let his arm drop to his side.  Quick as lightning, Cobb was off for home again, scoring the winning run despite McBride's
hurried throw.  His brain had worked once again and Detroit had won another ball game.  Another time we had a second baseman playing third base.  Cobb hit safely five times past third base.  After the game I asked him about it and he said: "That was easy,
your third baseman was out of position.  I know he's a second baseman.  Why should I try to hit to right field?'  That was Cobb in his prime.  Modern fans who saw him only in the closing days of his career can't appreciate him.  "I'll give old Honus
second place and Eddie Collins third.  They say Jimmy Collins was a great ball player, but I never saw him.  Freddy Parent, Boston Red Sox infielder, wasn't a spectacular player, but he's my fourth choice.  And I can't leave out Hal Chase.  He could do
everything," concluded Street.
          Dan Howley, manager of the Cincinnati Reds and former leader of the St. Louis Browns and 1926 pennant-winning Toronto Leafs in the International League is another Cobb admirer.  "Ty first without a doubt," he said.  "No one      
ever approached him.  I'll give Wagner second and that's all I'll name.  I think Al Simmons is the best ball player in the game right now.  I might name Al, but what about Mickey Cochrane, Frankie Frisch, Rogers Hornsby, Babe Ruth and Bill Terry among
the present-day players, and Eddie Collins, Nap Lajoie and Tris Speaker among the older fellows?  I can't include them all in your list, so I'll pick only Cobb and Wagner."
          Bucky Harris, who was called the "boy wonder" when he led Washington to two pennants and who now pilots Detroit, is the youngest man on the jury.  He gives first place to Babe Ruth, being the second man on the jury so to honor the
famous slugger, and places Cobb second, with Sisler third, Simmons fourth and Speaker fifth.  Harris wants it known that his opinions are based on players he has seen in action.
          Chuck Klein, one of the stars of the present day, breaks into the list of "greats," due to the selection of his manager, Burt Shotton, of the Phillies.  Shotton names Cobb first and Lajoie second, with Klein third, Wagner fourth and
Ruth fifth.
This symposium was an intensely interesting one for me to procure.  I wasn't surprised with Cobb winning first honors and Wagner second."  I wasn't surprised, either, with Ruth finishing as low as third in an all-star contest:
I was surprised, however, at the few votes cast for Speaker, Sisler and Jackson. (copyright by Public Ledger)
Summary of the above articles results
In July,1931, C. William Duncan conducted survey of Phil. Public Ledger
B.Shotten Mack K.Gleason Howley W.Robinson G.Street
Cobb Cobb Cobb Cobb Cobb Cobb
Lajoie Collins Wagner Wagner Keeler Wagner
C.Klein Lajoie Ruth Collins
Wagner Simmons Wagner F.Parent
Ruth Ruth Ferguson Chase
B.McKechnie J.Burke J.McCarthy B.Harris W.Johnson McGraw
Wagner Wagner Ruth Ruth Cobb Wagner
Cobb Cobb Cobb Cobb Wagner Cobb
Speaker Lajoie Wagner Sisler Jackson Keeler
Lajoie Collins Collins Simmons Ruth Simmons
Hornsby Hornsby Lajoie Speaker Collins Terry
Ruth Speaker

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