Centennial anniversary: Ty Cobb beats up a crippleby Chris Jaffe
May 15, 2012
Exactly 100 years ago today, on May 15, 1912, baseball witnessed one of its most infamous fights. It pitted one of the game’s greatest stars, Ty Cobb, against a man missing all of one hand and much of the other. Yeah, that fight was a bit one-sided.
Cobb and his Tiger teammates were playing in New York City against the Yankees (or Highlanders, as they were then known), and one fan in the stands heckled Cobb every chance he could. That heckler, a man named Claude Lueker, exchanged barbs with Cobb for several innings.
Things took a turn for the worse in the sixth inning. Lueker went beyond attacking Cobb to bring up Cobb’s mother. What’s more, he brought race into it. Without wanting to get into too much background—and certainly not wanting to justify the attitudes of the time—America’s attitudes on race were very different 100 years ago. Many people wouldn’t be at all insulted to be called a racist.
And the Georgia-born Cobb certainly wasn’t ahead of his time. Just three weeks earlier in Jackson, Georgia, a place not far from where Cobb was born, a black man had been lynched for “race prejudice” (which was typically code for being upset at the way whites treated blacks at the time). That’s the heritage Cobb came from.
At any rate, in the sixth inning, Lueker reportedly bellowed out that Cobb was a “half-nigger” and that his mother had willingly slept with a black man. That was as loaded an insult as you could say in 1912 America. Where Cobb came from, blacks were getting lynched for that in 1912. Hell, on May 3 a mob lynched a black man in Louisiana for insulting a white woman.
Cobb wasn’t going to stand for that one. In fact, teammates—including Hall of Famer Sam Crawford—asked Cobb if he was going to take that sort of talk. Hell, no.
Cobb sprang into the stands and went after him. It turned out that Lueker recently lost a hand and several fingers on his other hand in an industrial accident. That was fine by Cobb – it just made the beat down that much easier. Fans screamed to Cobb how could he hit a man without hands. Cobb retorted he didn’t care if the man had no feet – he was going to pay.
Cobb won the fight, but the AL was not happy. They suspended Cobb for it. His teammates tried to stick up for him and threatened to strike, but when the AL refused to back down, Cobb told them to end their strike on his behalf.
Can you imagine something like that now? A player going into the stands to assault a fan and then his teammates sticking up for him like that? The closest modern example would be basketball’s Ron Artest getting in a fight in the stands in Detroit. But he had more provocation (something was thrown at him, not just insults), and while some teammates joined the fracas, they didn’t threaten to strike on his behalf. And no one involved was seriously handicapped.
But it did happen, exactly 100 years ago today.
Aside from that, many other items today celebrate either their anniversary or “day-versary” (which is something that occurred X-thousand days ago) today. Here they are, with the better ones in bold if you’d prefer to just skim it.
1,000 days since the Cardinals sign free agent pitcher John Smoltz.
4,000 days since a rarity happens: a starting pitcher gets the win despite throwing only four innings. CC Sabathia does it, as the game is called after five-and-a-half innings due to rain.
5,000 days since John Smoltz pitches maybe the best game of his career, a three-hit, complete-game shutout with no walks and a dozen strikeouts. His Game Score is 93, his all-time best.
5,000 days since infielder Carlos Guillen makes his big league debut.
5,000 days since hard-throwing starting pitcher Matt Clement makes his major league debut.
6,000 days since Rick Aguilera signs with the Twins. It’s a return to Minnesota for him.
6,000 days since Harold Baines returns to the South Side as the White Sox sign him as a free agent.
8,000 days since Ken Griffey Jr. hits the second of his three career inside-the-park home runs. His second insider is just his 27th home run overall.
9,000 days since Gary Carter has his worst game ever, according to WPA. Carter is 0-for-5 with a K for a WPA of -0.417.
15,000 days since Willie Stargell belts three home run in a game for the fourth time. It’s just 11 days since the third time, too.
1856 Fred Goldsmith, one of the better baseball pitchers for the first half of the 1880s, is born.
1862 Union Grounds, the first enclosed baseball park, opens in Brooklyn. By enclosed, that means there’s a gate you had to pass through to watch the action, not just some sandlot field anyone could walk up to at their leisure.
1888 Harry Stovey, one of the best hitters of the era, hits for the cycle.
1890 Pittsburgh releases Fred Dunlap, one of the greatest second basemen of the 1880s.
1893 Reds pitcher Farmer Vaughn tags out St. Louis baserunner Steve Brodie at the plate and then throws a bat at Brodie. Vaughan is ejected and receives a $25 fine.
1894 Boston fans, upset that their team is losing to Baltimore, set fire to the right field bleachers. The fire ends up destroying or damaging 170 buildings over 12 acres. Somehow, no one dies.
1899 Wee Willie Keeler drives the ball past Philadelphia star outfielder Ed Delahanty for an inside-the-park grand slam home run. That proves to be the difference as Keeler’s Dodgers win, 8-5.
1901 Christy Mathewson tosses his third consecutive complete-game shutout.
1901 Pat Moran makes his big league debut. He’s a forgettable catcher but will become one of the best managers of his day. He would be in Cooperstown had he not drunk himself to death too soon.
1903 Red Sox outfielder Patsy Dougherty has a really bad day. He keeps misjudging flies, which results in five triples and two inside-the-park home runs hit to him.
1906 Giants pitcher Hooks Wiltse becomes the first pitcher of the 20th century to fan four batters in an inning, a feat he achieves in the fifth inning versus the Reds.
1911 Claude Hendrix, good pitcher who will later be banned for betting on baseball, makes his debut.
1911 Ty Cobb starts a 40-game hitting streak.
1915 Claude Hendrix throws a no-hitter in the Federal League, leading the Chicago Whales to a 10-0 win over Pittsburgh.
1918 Patsy Tebeau, roughneck 1890s manager for the Cleveland Spiders, commits suicide. A newspaper headline will read: “Patsy Tebeau Acts as His Own Umpire.”
1918 In an 18-inning marathon between Washington and Chicago, both starting pitchers go the distance, with Walter Johnson topping Lefty Williams for a 1-0 final score.
1919 The Reds beat the Dodgers 10-0 in 13 innings. Yes, they scored 10 runs in the 13th frame.
1920 Spitballer Jack Quinn becomes the only pitcher ever to hit the ball over the fence against Hall of Famer Stan Coveleski.
1922 Pie Traynor connects for the first of three career inside-the-park home runs. This is the only one of that trio to clear the fence.
1922 A Ty Cobb hit to short is called an error by the official scorer. Fred Lieb of the AP calls it a hit, and AL honcho Ban Johnson goes with Lieb’s call, even though it isn’t the official one. This will lead to a discrepancy in Cobb’s career hit total.
1923 The longest hitting streak in the career of Hall of Famer Harry Heilmann peaks at 32 games. He’s 62-for-121 with 14 doubles, four triples, and six homers in that span along with 13 walks. His AVG/OBP/SLG: .512/.563/.843. Not bad.
1923 Jim Bottomley belts three triples in one game.
1930 Hall of Fame starting pitcher Red Ruffing fans 12 batters, tying his all-time personal best. Actually, this is his best one-game performance as his other dozen-punchout games went into extra frames. This one is just a nine-inning, four-hit shutout.
1934 The Buffalo Bisons minor league club hits five homers in one inning against the Albany Senators. After the fifth homer, the Albany pitcher plunks a batter, which derails that prospect’s chances at the majors.
1934 The St. Louis Cardinals release Hall of Fame pitcher Burleigh Grimes.
1935 Hall of Fame shortstop Arky Vaughan has a personal-best six RBIs in one game, as his Pirates triumph over the Phillies, 20-5.
1935 Dazzy Vance has the longest relief outing of his career, nine innings. He comes into the game after starting pitcher Johnny Babich is yanked after failing to retire any of the three batters he faces in the first inning.
1936 Ill-deserving Hall of Fame third baseman Freddie Lindstrom plays in his last game.
1938 Brooklyn releases former Yankee wunderkind pitcher Waite Hoyt. It ends his major league career.
1941 Joe DiMaggio, who didn’t get a hit in his last game, gets a hit today to begin his famous 56-game streak.
1941 Washington trades catcher Rick Ferrell to the Browns for Vern Kennedy.
1943 Mel Ott hits a walk-off home run for the Giants in the bottom of the 11th inning.
1944 1,014 are on hand to see Reds pitcher Clyde Shoun no-hit the Braves for a 1-0 win. The day before, Cincinnati threw a one-hitter.
1948 For the first of 117 times in his career, Yogi Berra catches both ends of a doubleheader.
1949 Bob Feller loses his 100th game. His record is 178-100.
1951 Duke Snider launches the first of five career grand slams.
1951 The Red Sox have a special day to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the first AL game in Boston. They invite 29 survivors of that first season to see today’s game. Dignitaries include Connie Mack, Cy Young, Hugh Duffy, and Clark Griffith. They see something special as in that game Ted Williams becomes the 11th person to belt his 300th career home run.
1952 Virgil Trucks tosses a no-hitter, beating Washington 1-0. He’d thrown four no-hitters in the minors before. He’ll throw another major league one later this season.
1953 Hall of Fame third baseman George Brett is born.
1954 Long-lasting manager Bucky Harris loses his 2,000th decision. He’s 1,939-2,000 so far.
1954 Ted Williams returns to action after breaking his collarbone. He has a pin in his shoulder.
1955 Giants batter Irv Noren legs out an inside-the-park grand slam.
1956 Brooklyn purchases former star pitcher Sal Maglie from the Indians.
1959 The White Sox release veteran contact hitter Don Mueller.
1960 Don Cardwell’s first game with the Cubs is a good one, as he no-hits the Cardinals, 4-0. He walks a batter in the first inning, and that’s it for baserunners.
1960 Young pitcher (and eventual 200-game winner) Jim Perry tries to steal a base for the only time in his career. Well, officially that’s what happened. It’s a blown hit-and-run that goes for a strike-'em-out/throw-'em-out double play against Early Wynn.
1962 Cub pitcher Barney Schultz ties a major league record by appearing in relief in nine consecutive games. Pirate relief ace Roy Face previously achieved this distinction.
1962 The Angels release longtime Cincinnati pitcher Joe Nuxhall.
1965 Cub pitcher Dick Ellswoth pitches a one-hitter, and he’d really like to have that pitch back. The hit is a pinch-hit three-run homer in the eighth for a 3-1 Dodger win over the Cubs.
1965 Washington release veteran slugger Roy Sievers.
1966 Longtime baseball brain Chuck Dressen manages his last game. His health is failing him badly. He’ll be dead in three months at age 72.
1967 Detroit releases former Red Sox ace pitcher Bill Monbouquette.
1967 John Smoltz, former Braves ace, is born.
1967 Roberto Clemente has maybe the greatest game of his career, going 4-for-5 with a double and three homers. He drives in a personal-best seven runs, but sadly it’s not quite enough as the Pirates lose, 8-7, to the Reds. Yup, he drove in all his team’s runs in the loss.
1968 It’s the first American League game in Milwaukee since 1901, as the White Sox lose 4-2 to the Angels. It’s officially a home game for Chicago. A total of 23,403 sees the game, which lasts only five innings before it’s cut short by rain.
1969 Flashy fielding shortstop Luis Aparicio gets his 2,000th career hit.
1969 Cesar Tovar will end his career with a record five games in which he got the only hit in a one-hitter, and today is the second of those five games. He gets a ninth-inning single with one out to ruin the hopes of Orioles starting pitcher Dave McNally. Baltimore wins, though, 5-0.
1969 Willie Horton leaves the bench in Detroit during the game and goes AWOL for four days.
1970 The Mets tie a big league record by throwing a one-hitter for the second straight day. Gary Gentry did it yesterday and Tom Seaver does it today. Phillies catcher Mike Compton gets the hit, which is rather unlikely given that he’ll end his career with 18 hits. The Mets franchise had not thrown a no-hitter as of 1970, and 42 years later they still haven’t.
1970 Rico Carty’s hitting streak peaks at 31 games today.
1971 Billy Williams hits his 300th career home run. He’s the 32nd member of the club. Norm Cash was No. 31 just a week earlier.
1971 The Braves release starting pitcher Luis Tiant. He spent just 29 days as a Brave, and at this point his career appears over. However, he’ll go on to have a very impressive second wind.
1973 Gene Mauch uses five infielders in the bottom of the 11th against Pittsburgh’s Dave Cash. However, Cash foils the plan by singling anyway for a 9-8 win over the Expos.
1973 Nolan Ryan gets the first no-hitter of his career, fanning 12 Royals in a 3-0 win. Shortstop Rudy Meoli makes a great catch in the eighth inning to preserve it. This is the third no-hitter caught by Angels backstop Jeff Torborg.
1976 Jim Rice crushes his only career pinch-hit home run, a three-run shot off Milwaukee’s veteran arm Ray Sadecki.
1976 Mark Fidrych gets his first big league start for the Tigers.
1977 Willie Horton becomes the first Ranger to hit three homers in one game. It’s the second time Horton has gone deep thrice in one contest.
1978 Minnesota signs veteran reliever Mike Marshall.
1980 Starting pitcher Josh Beckett is born.
1981 Justin Morneau, Twins slugger, is born.
1981 Len Barker tosses a perfect game for the Cleveland Indians.
1982 Pirates starting pitcher Rick Rhoden homers and doubles—in one inning. His teammate Johnny Ray drives home five runs in that same frame, as the Pirates win, 12-9, thanks to their nine-run third inning.
1984 Mike Schmidt hits his 400th home run. He’s the 20th man to do that.
1984 Joaquin Andujar hits a grand slam home run. Not bad for a pitcher.
1984 One of the greatest pitchers in baseball history makes his big league debut on this day. Roger Clemens lasts just 5.2 innings for Boston, surrendering 11 hits and three walks for five runs (four earned) while fanning four. The first batter he faces is Brett Butler, who grounds out. Mike Hargrove becomes his first strikeout victim.
1985 Kirby Puckett gets two sacrifice hits in one game for the only time in his career. He’ll end his career with 23 sacrifice hits in 7,831 plate appearances.
1987 Don Sutton walks the first batter of the game, something he hasn’t done in nearly 150 starts.
1988 Mike Schmidt is in the worst slump of his life, as he suffers through his ninth straight game without a hit. He’s 0-for-29 in that span.
1989 Blue Jays skipper Cito Gaston manages his first game.
1989 Cub centerfielder Bob Dernier hits an inside-the-park walk-off home run off Craig Lefferts. It’s a three-run homer with two outs in the bottom of the 12th inning.
1991 Paul Molitor hits for the cycle.
1991 At an A’s-Orioles game in Baltimore, President Bush attends with a special visitor, Queen Elizabeth of England.
1992 Bret Saberhagen has to leave today’s game with tendonitis in his pitching hand. He’s new to the Mets but essentially done for the year.
1992 In the bottom of the 10th inning, Franklin Stubbs belts a walk-off grand slam off Kenny Rogers for a 7-3 Brewers win over the Rangers.
1994 Brett Butler gets career hit No. 2,000.
1994 Welcome to modern baseball: Six Marlins pitchers combine to throw a shutout over the Cubs.
1994 Jon Lieber makes his big league debut.
1995 Cincinnati trades workhorse starting pitcher Tim Belcher to the Mariners.
1996 The Big Hurt Frank Thomas gets a personal-best six RBIs in one game. He’ll later tie this effort.
1996 Eddie Murray, at age 40, hits his last career triple. It’s his first one in two years and one day.
1996 Ken Griffey Jr. has a vexing day. Three times he comes to the plate with the bases loaded, and he grounds out twice and flies out once.
1996 Scott Sanderson appears in his final career game.
1999 Twins skipper Tom Kelly loses his 1,000th game. His record: 936-1,000.
1999 D’oh! Starting pitcher Esteban Loaiza breaks his hand when a car door slams on it. He’s out indefinitely.
2001 Houston signs free agent Vinny Castilla.
2003 The Red Sox play for a sellout crowd in Fenway, beginning a streak of sellouts that goes into the next decade.
2004 Kevin Youkilis, the Greek God of Walks, makes his big league debut with Boston.
2004 The Yankees intentionally walk Edgar Martinez three times in one game. It’s too late to undo the 1995 ALDS, though.
2005 For the first time all season, the White Sox never have the lead all game long. They’d had the lead at some point in the first 37 games on the year, a first in big league history.
2005 Randy Johnson wins his 250th career game.
2005 Todd Helton gets his third career sacrifice hit. To date, he’s never gotten number four.
2005 Manny Ramirez hits his 400th home run.
2005 Morgan Ensberg slugs three home runs in one game.
2005 Tony LaRussa manages his 4,000th game. He’s 2,138-1,859 for his career.
2008 After 44.1 scoreless innings, the Indians club allows a run.
2009 Well, that could’ve gone better. John Lackey makes his season debut today, one delayed by a strained forearm. However, his belated beginning doesn’t last long, as he’s ejected after two pitches for throwing at the head of Texas’ Ian Kinsler.
2009 Tampa sets a record for biggest comeback in franchise history, turning a 7-0 deficit into an 8-7 win over Cleveland.
2010 Tampa Bay releases Pat "The Bat" Burrell.
2011 Jose Bautista slugs three homers in one game for Toronto versus Minnesota.
2011 It’s a wild top of the ninth in today’s Reds-Cardinals game. The inning begins with the Reds up 9-2, but St. Louis makes it interesting when they bat. The inning begins with back-to-back walks. Then a fly ball becomes the inning’s first out. Then it’s back to no control, as the Reds walk a pinch-hitter to load the bases and then walk another pinch-hitter to force in a run. It’s 9-3.
Well, with that it’s time for a new Cincinnati pitcher. The new guy immediately surrenders a two-run double. 9-5. Next, it’s a rare home/third double steal. Yes, really. 9-6.
Time for another new pitcher. The first batter singles in another run. It’s 9-7 with the tying run at the plate, and still only one out. Well, now the tying run is on base as the next batter is hit by a pitch.
Then things become normal as a fielder’s choice and strikeout end the inning and the game. But 10 batters come to the plate despite only two hits.
History instructor by day, statnerd by night, Chris Jaffe leads one of the most exciting double lives imaginable; with the exception of every other double life possible to imagine. Despite his lack of comic-book-hero-worthiness, Chris enjoys farting around with this stuff. His new book, Evaluating Baseball's Managers is available for order. Chris welcomes responses to his articles via e-mail. Oh, and now he's on twitter.