Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Take Me Out Of The Ballgame

100 years ago today, Ty Cobb of the Detroit Tigers went into the stands at Hilltop Park during a game against the New York Yankees. 

In the New York Times the headline read "Cobb Whips Hilltop Fan For Insults":

"Everything was very pleasant at the Detroit-Yankee game on the Hilltop yesterday until Ty Cobb johnnykilbaned a spectator right on the place where he talks, started the claret, and stopped the flow of profane and vulgar words. Cobb led with a left jab and countered with a right kick to Mr. Spectator's left Welsbach, which made his peeper look as if some one had drawn a curtain over it."
Read on to see who Ty "johnnykilbaned"* and for some surprising information about the asterisk:

The Times went on to say that for the prior three days Cobb had been subjected to taunts from a group of fans using language that "has no place in a family newspaper or even one that circulates in barber shops only".

Cobb attacked Claude Lueker who had lost one hand and three fingers of the other hand working as a pressman.  According to a follow up article in the Times on May 19 Times, Lueker denied being part of the group taunting Cobb.  The article went on to report claims from fans that after Cobb knocked Lueker down and was kicking him, another fan shouted "Don't kick him, he has no hands" and Cobb replied "I don't care if he has no feet".

Cobb was suspended by the American League for ten days beginning on May 18.  Cobb was a brilliant batsman, still holding the record for highest career batting average, along with being a brutal competitor and generally unpleasant and violent guy.  Did I mention he was also a virulent racist (even for a period when racism was not uncommon)?  Despite the fact that his teammates also loathed him they objected to the suspension leading to baseball's first player strike when they refused to take the field that day for a game against the Philadelphia Athletics.  The Tigers manager recruited eight fans to play and the "ersatz Tigers" lost the game 24-2. By the way, the Tigers starting pitcher went the full nine innings!

Following the game a furious Ban Johnson, the American League President, met with the Tiger players and told them they would be banned for life if they continued to strike.  Cobb urged his teammates to return and the strike ended.

Unlike Babe Ruth, for whom virtually every player (except Cobb) had affection, Ty remained widely disliked to the end of his career in 1928.

Johnny Kilbane was the World Featherweight Boxing Champ. Kilbane won the title in February 1912 and held it until 1923, the longest uninterrupted weight class reign of any boxer in the 20th century.  The reigning champ that Kilbane dethroned in 1912 was Abe Atell.  Atell is better known today as an "associate" of the noted gambler Arnold Rothstein and as one of the fixers at the heart of the Chicago "Black Sox" scandal in which White Sox players were bribed to throw games in the 1919 World Series.

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