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[From Bill Burgess' Ty Cobb Memorial Collection]


By Bill Burgess III

     Ty Cobb's WS performance is often held up as a "proof" that he choked under pressure.  Such a contention is as
ignorant as it is unexamined and often prejudiced.  I will attempt to show the mitigating factors that usually get lost in a
brusque glossing over of relevant details. 
     The first factor that one sees when perusing even the most cursory assessment of Ty's WS performances is
the time period, 1907-09.  The worst possible time for hitters in baseball's long history.  Pitchers were kings and trick
pitches and spitballs were legal.  Never before or since was the ball "deader".  The Offensive/Defensive balance was
never so weighted in favor of pitching and defense.  From 1901-1918, and 1963-69 pitching/defense held the advantage.
     The second factor is that Ty was just a kid.  Twenty years old in 1907.  Ty was always convinced that if he had had a
shot at a WS later in his career, he could have given a better accounting of himself.  Almost all the elite players that Ty
is compared to, were matured, seasoned players and in mid-career. 
     The 3rd factor is volume or work.  Ty only had 3 chances at the WS, while many others had repeated chances. 
Yogi Berra had 14 chances, Mantle 12, Ruth & DiMaggio 10 each.  Practice makes perfect.  The more opportunities one
receives to practice, rehearse and get it right, the better one gets.  Opportunity confers advantage.
     A 4th factor to understand is the level of the competition.  Ty faced a legendary pitching staff in the Chicago Cubs
of 1907-08.  Mordecai Brown, Ed Reulbach, Orval Overall, Carl Lundgren, Jack Pfiester.  Let's examine that Cubs staff.
1907 Mordecai Brown Orval Overall Carl Lundgren Jack Pfiester Ed Reulbach
W-L 20-6 (.769) 23-7 (.767) 18-7 (.720) 14-9 (.609) 17-4 (.810)
ERA(AdjERA) 1.39 (179) 1.68 (149) 1.17 (.212) 1.15 (216) 1.69 (148)
RAT (Total Baseball) 8.7 9.4 9.7 9 10.3
     In 1907, Cubs pitchers finished 2nd in wins, 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 5th in winning %, 1st & 3rd in shutouts, 2nd & 3rd in
saves, 1st, 2nd, 3rd, & 5th in fewest hits/game, 4th in fewest BB/game, 4th in strikeouts, 4th & 5th in strikeouts/game,
2nd, 3rd & 4th in Ratio, 1st, 2nd, 3rd, & 5th in ERA, the same for Adjusted ERA, 1st, 2nd, & 3rd for opponents BA, 2nd,
3rd, & 4th in opponents on-base average, 1st, 2nd,3rd and 5th for starters wins, 2nd through 5th for adjusted starters wins.
1st thru 4th for pitchers index and 4th & 5th for Total Baseball Rating.
     That's the fabled staff that Ty had to cope with at the tender age of 20, while the ball was its deadest. And while that's a
lot to ask, Ty had only 20 AB's to figure them out. Collectively, the Cubs staff had held NL batters to .216 BA (.243, NL ave.)
.281 on-base ave. (.318, NL ave.).  Ty went 4 for 20, .200 against this staff.  So Ty actually hit .92 of the NL ave. against this staff.
1908 Mordecai Brown Orval Overall Carl Lundgren Jack Pfiester Ed Reulbach
W-L 29-9 (.763) 15-11 (.577) 6-9 (.400) 12-10 (.545) 24-7 (.774)
ERA(AdjERA 1.47 (160) 1.92 (123) 4.22 (56) 2.00 (118) 2.03 (116)
RAT 7.7 9.8 13.3 10.2 10.4
The 1908 Cubs pitching staff were just as formidable as they were in 1907.  They held NL batters to a
.221  BA (.239, NL ave.) and .287 on-base ave. (.299, NL ave.).  Against this staff, Ty went 7 for 19, .368. So Ty actually
hit 1.66% of their NL ave.  Considering this performance, it seems to gives credence to the oft-told story, that Ty improved
against a pitcher, the more he faced him.  This performance also shows that Ty only "failed" or hit poorly in 2 out of 3 of his
WS opportunities, something that is almost always "overlooked" when assessing his WS outings. 
1920 -My friendship for him dates back to the Detroit-Cub World's Series and right there I want to spike an
old and musty rumor.  Lots of people claim Cobb didn't play much of a game against us in those world's series.
I will go on record as saying that he played a whale of a game, but he had mighty stiff opposition. 
We were all laying for him, and when a team like the Cubs lays for a certain player that player has his work cut out for him.
In the wrestling match between the whole Cub team and Cobb the odds were a little too long on the team and
against the individual.  But Cobb surprised us all by his gameness and nerve, and he was a good loser.
I expected to find him a little swell-headed - I would have forgiven him for being so, for he had a right to be
if any player ever had - but he wasn't anything of the sort.  He proved himself to be not only a wonderful player
but a good loser, and that's something more." (Baseball Magazine, February, 1920, pp. 526, column 3,
On the Outside, Looking In, from interview with John Evers, pp. 525-526).
April, 1930, Baseball Magazine, Evers switched to Wagner as #1.
      In 1909, Ty went 6 for 26 (.231)against the Pittsburgh Pirates pitching staff.  The 1909 Pirates had held NL batters to a .232 BA,
(.244, NL ave.) and .284 on-base ave. (.310, NL ave.).  So Ty had actually hit .99 of their NL ave. for 1909.  While not an
impressive hitting performance, especially for a league batting champion,  .99 of the Pirates pitching staff's NL ave. for the yr.
 isn't as dramatically  wretched as it sounds, especially for that particular time period. 
     Another popular lie that is common in baseball lore, concerns this 1909 WS.  Before the Series began, the press had   
ballyhooed the head-to-head confrontation of the batting champions, the old "greatest" of the NL, against the new "greatest"
of the AL.  In this contest, Honus did indeed outplay Ty.  He had a better series.  The series passed by, the Pirates won,
fair & square.  The Tigers vaunted offense stunk.  They hit .236 for the 7 game series.  Crawford went 7x28.  .250.   Only
2B Jim Delahanty, who went 9x26, for .346, hit above .261 for the Tigers.  The Tigers, with their left-handed hitters, just
couldn't figure out right-handed Pirate pitcher Babe Adams' puzzling delivery.  Interestingly, the Pirates offense also was
nothing to brag about.  The Buccaneers could hit only .224, even worse than the Tigers.  Wagner went 8x24, good for .333
and OF Tommy Leach went 9x25, .360.  No other Pirate went over .250.  So pitching did indeed dominate the Series. 
Ty & Hans got along great. Afterwards, Ty invited Hans to come down south and hunt with him, and Hans
accepted.  They hunted and became mutual admirers of each other.  Ty had revered Hans for a long time.  And due to this
WS, Hans had great things to say of Ty.   Following is some quotes by Honus concerning Ty's play.
1909 - "Cobb is the fastest man I have ever seen," he told The Sporting News.  "I never thought he could have that
much speed.  I heard a lot about Cobb, and how fast he was, but he surprised me by the speed he showed
on the bases in the World Series.
Cobb is what I call a perfect player.  He lacks nothing.  There is not a thing a ballplayer should have that
 Cobb hasn't got, and he's got a bunch of things that no other ballplayer has." (Carnegie Union, Oct.21,1909)
A month after the Series had ended, Wagner joined Cobb in the fields near Macon, Georgia.  The Sporting
News quoted Wagner as saying: "I could have had a crack at a ground squirrel or two and perhaps a barnyard
chicken, but as for hunting, Georgia won't do.  Mr. Cobb is one of the most genial gentlemen I have ever met,
but there are two things we will never agree on--game and baseball…
The South is all right, and Cobb's all right, too, but I wish he hadn't told me about the swell hunting in Georgia."
(The Sporting News, Dec.16,1909)
Undated  - "I always liked Ty.  He was a fighter and he knew it was a fellow's duty to protect himself out there. 
Lots of 'em had trouble with Ty, but I never did." (The History of Baseball, by Allison Danzig & Joe Reichler, 1959, pp. 170)
     Many years later, some hack sports writer, used this WS, as the setting of a stupid lie, which regrettably caught on, and
persists to this day.  To make a long story short,  Ty did not shout any kind of insults to Hans, and then have Hans slam the
ball into his face, to the point of dislodging some teeth.  Ty liked and admired this player over all others, and respected him
much too much to belittle him in any way.  Also Ty was never thrown out trying to steal in this series.  In the only instance
of Ty stealing second, he was safe. The ball bounced in front of second, Honus back-swiped his gloved hand, and AL
umpire Silk O'Loughlin called Ty safe.  The Pirates, and Honus, remonstrated vociferously, and play resumed without
further adieu.  All three biographies on Honus support this scenario, and conclude that this ignorant incident never happen-
ed, outside the skull of a latter-day sports writing hack.
    So where does that leave us in assessing Ty Cobb's 3 WS performances?  On the whole, I would rate it as average.  Not
good, but not as bad as commonly supposed.  Moreover, I have endeavored to show that WS very often brought out the
worst of famous hitters.  Many of the best hitters in baseball have inexplicably shown up poorly in WS.  Perhaps it can be
written off as "bad nerves".  But it has been a discernible pattern, which can be shown to be the case.  Ted Williams hit
.200 in his only WS. Hornsby .244 in 2 WS. Mays .228 in 3 WS. Musial .255 for 4 WS, Mantle .256 for 12 WS and DiMaggio
only .271 for 10 WS. 
      So one can conclude with good historical evidence, that WS seemed to buffalo lots of great hitters.  Now, I want to stick
up for Ty with these insights.  These other great hitters had the advantage over Ty of the lively ball, which beefs up one's
BA.  They also had their WS later in their careers, when they were much more matured hitters.  I will try to show good play-
ers who played in many WS.  The more WS one played in, the more one's nerves can settle down and learn the pitcher's
     An original feature that I've included is this.  In the examples, one will find after the BA in the WS, another number
in parenthesis.  That number is the % of their WS BA against the league's BA against the opposing pitching staff. While not
scientific, I thought it might be intriguing.  So, here are some of the WS performances of some of BB's better hitters, to gain
some context and perspective when compared to Ty Cobb's 3 WS.

Cobb's World Series Spreadsheet - Contains performance records and comparisons to other elite players

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