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On This Date in Sports May 18, 1912: Striking for Cobb

In collaboration with the Sportsecyclopedia.com

The Detroit Tigers are beaten by the Philadelphia Athletics 24-2 at Shibe Park while using replacement players. The players in the lineup for Detroit were local college and sandlot players, along with former players who were nearby and able to play. The Tigers staged a strike in support of Ty Cobb, who the American League suspended for assaulting a fan in New York three days earlier. The regulars returned before Detroit's next game, as AL President Ban Johnson threatened them with lifetime suspensions. Cobb would serve a ten-game suspension and pay a $50 fine. 

Tyrus Raymond Cobb was born in Narrows, Georgia, on December 18, 1886. Cobb became fascinated with baseball as a child, growing up in a family of means as his father was a member of the Georgia State Senate. After playing baseball in his hometown of Royston, against his father’s wishes, Ty Cobb signed his first professional contract with the August Tourists of the South Atlantic League. Before leaving, Cobb’s father demanded he not come home a failure.

In the minors, Cobb aggressively tried to catch the attention of major league scouts, sending postcards to teams and writer Grantland Rice. The attention worked, as Ty Cobb was sold to the Detroit Tigers for $750. However, just before he debuted with the Tigers, tragedy struck as his father was shot and killed by his mother. Mrs. Cobb thought her husband was a burglar and used the gun to shoot an intruder. In truth, William Herschel Cobb snuck home in an attempt to catch his wife in the act of adultery.

After batting .240 in 41 games in 1905, Cobb raised his average to .315 in 1906 before winning his first batting title with a .350 mark in 1907. He would lead the American League in hitting 12 times in 13 years. All this time, he was playing a ferocious style that was symbolic of the “Dead Ball Era,” as he would often take the extra base, sliding in feet first with sharpened spikes.

Early in the 1912 season, the Tigers were struggling under manager Hughie Jennings, holding a record of 14-14, while the reigning World Champion Philadelphia Athletics were also scuffling at 10-13 for Connie Mack. The Tigers were going through turmoil as Ty Cobb was suspended indefinitely by American League President Ban Johnson. On May 15th, Cobb attacked a fan at New York's Hilltop Park in an 8-4 win over the New York Highlanders. The fan named Claude Lucker was a member of Tammany Hall and often heckled visiting players. Hearing Lucker's taunts, Cobb climbed into the stands and began punching Lucker, who had no hands to defend himself.

Although most of his teammates hated him, Ty Cobb was supported by the Tigers, who had felt that the heckler had gone too far in his insults of the "Georgia Peach" by referring to him as a "half-n-word." The Tigers attempting to create a players' union, staged a strike for the Saturday game in Philadelphia against the Athletics. 

The Tigers would go to the field with coaches playing as the rest of the team consisted of local college and sandlot players, making their only appearance in the major leagues. This included Allan Travers, who pitched a complete game while allowing 24 runs on 26 hits. Ten runs were unearned, as the Tigers committed seven errors. The Tigers scored two runs in the fifth and had four hits, as the A's treated the game as a spring training game using three pitchers. 

After the fiasco, Ban Johnson treated the Tigers players with lifetime bans if they did not return to the team. Ty Cobb told the players to give up their fight as he accepted a ten-game suspension. The Tigers finished the season in sixth place with a record of 69-84.