Unlike any other player in baseball history, the legendary Ty Cobb has been vilified for his behavior, sometimes unfairly singled out. There are cases where he fought with fans, teammates and displayed an unfortunate racist tone, but he was hardly the only one to do so. He was just the most famous.
He reportedly was disliked by most of his teammates, although they sure enjoyed him on the field where he was considered the game’s greatest player. That was the opinion of most experts and fans before the 1960s when the legendary Babe Ruth became even more celebrated.
Today’s fans may not be aware that Cobb’s teammates came to his defense with the first players strike in baseball history after Cobb was suspended for going into the stands and beating up a verbally abusive fan during a game in New York.
On May 15, 1912 the Tigers were playing the New York Highlanders (next named the Yankees) at Hilltop Park when throughout the game Cobb was trading insults with a fan named Claude Lueker who the year before, had lost one hand and all three fingers of the other hand in a printing press accident, presumably unbeknownst to Cobb.
Cobb had tried to get the police to remove the abusive spectator but to no avail. At the end of the third inning Cobb had made an insult about Lueker’s sister who then reportedly called the Georgia Peach “a half-nigger.”
Well you can imagine how those words had touched the troubled Southerner.
After teammate Sam Crawford asked Cobb if the was going to take that, Ty jumped over the railing and into the stands and absolutely pounded and kicked Lueker until he was restrained by the police. During the beating a fan screamed “he has no hands” and Cobb yelled back “I don’t care if he has no feet.”
Cobb was immediately suspended indefinitely by American League President Ban Johnson who happened to witness the affidavit. The Tiger players sent Johnson a telegram stating they would not play again until Cobb was reinstated.
Three days later Cobb, though suspended, took the field in Philadelphia planning to play but the umpires removed him from the field. His teammates then walked off the field with him refusing to play. Tiger owner Frank Navin had anticipated the protest and had a squad of replacement players take the diamond but they were hardly of major league caliber. The team was made up of semi-pro and college players from the Philadelphia area along with two Tiger scouts who recruited the team, 41-year-old Joe Sudgen who played first and 48 year old Jim McGuire who handled the catching duties.
In front of a crowd of 20,000 fans, many of whom had demanded their money back (to no avail) not surprisingly the “Tigers” were slaughtered by a score of 24-2.
After Johnson fined each striking player $100 and threatened to banish them from baseball if they continued to strike, Cobb convinced his teammates to return to action.
Cobb, who was forever grateful for his teammates’ support, completed a ten game suspension before wreaking havoc on the American League.
In that 1912 season, the Georgia Peach captured his seventh of nine consecutive batting titles before eventually winning twelve in total.
Cobb also no doubt captured the attention of hecklers who realized that if they went too far there could be hell to pay.