When Ty Cobb arrived in Royston, Georgia, on August 10, 1905, his father was dead from a shotgun blast and his mother was facing arrest for manslaughter. The small rural community was abuzz over the shocking death of their most influential and prominent figure, while Ty was in a state of shock at the loss of his father.
It soon became apparent what had happened the evening of August 8 at the Cobb residence. Contrary to Cobb’s description of a “shooting accident” in his autobiography, there was more to the story. Suspicious that his young, attractive wife was having an affair, W. H. Cobb had set a trap. Telling his wife that he was going out to their farm for a few days, he hitched his horse to his buggy, left their home, and made a plan to catch his wife in the arms of her lover. That night, as he quietly made his way back to his home, W.H. Cobb was seen walking in Royston alone. Shortly after midnight, he climbed to the top of the roof above his porch and crept to their bedroom window, finding it locked. Amanda Cobb was awakened by the sound of footsteps on the roof and retrieved a shotgun which she kept within reach when she was left alone. According to the neighbors, two shots were fired, though not in quick succession. Amanda Cobb had shot her husband twice, once in the abdomen, and once in the head. Joe Cunningham, a neighbor and friend of Ty’s, heard the shots and made his way to the Cobb residence. When he arrived, he found Amanda Cobb kneeling over her husband, who was still holding on to life, despite massive bleeding from a large hole in his stomach and from the side of his head. Cunningham called it’s the worst thing he’d ever seen. A doctor was summoned, but W.H. Cobb was pronounced dead at 1:30 AM.
Despite her explanation that she had mistaken W.H. Cobb for an intruder, from the beginning Amanda Cobb was suspected of having murdered her husband. The authorities found a revolver in his pocket, and the testimony of eyewitnesses in Royston who had seen Mr. Cobb walking toward his home, led them to speculate that the cause of death was a domestic squabble. On August 9, Amanda Cobb testified to a coroner’s jury as to what had occurred. On August 11, with Ty and her other children at home, a funeral was held at the Cobb residence for William Herschel Cobb. The following day, the sheriff arrested Amanda Cobb and set her bail at $7,000, a portion of which she was able to post to receive her release.
Ty spent a week at home with his mother and two siblings before returning to Augusta to join the team. The fact that he wasted little time in returning to his playing career is an indication that Cobb desired to be away from the gossip of Royston and the overwhelming anguish of his father’s death. Though he rarely spoke of his father’s death the remainder of his life, Cobb was greatly affected in many ways. The suspicious circumstances of the death cast a dark cloud over his family’s otherwise respectable name. It soon became evident that many people in Royston had suspected that Amanda Cobb was having an affair, and it may have even been brought to W.H. Cobb’s attention by a friend. At 33 years of age, Amanda Cobb was nearly 20 years younger than her husband, and she was described as beautiful and radiant. 18-year old Ty, though he was not close to his mother, didn’t suspect her of wrongdoing, at least not outwardly. This isn’t the kind of people Cobbs are, he said at the time.
Back with the Tourists, Cobb returned to the lineup on August 16, collecting two hits in the first game of a doubleheader against Charleston. Three days later, Charles D. Carr, the president of the Augusta club, informed Cobb that he his contract had been purchased by the Tigers and that he would be expected to report to Detroit by the end of the month. The 18-year old Cobb was excited by the news but weakened by the thought that his father would never know of his accomplishment. Cobb played the next week for Augusta and appeared in his final game at home on August 25, in front of a large crowd. In the bottom of the first inning, as he made his way to the plate, Cobb was intercepted by several well-wishers, including the mayor of Augusta, who presented him with a watch and a a bouquet of flowers. Cobb collected two hits in the game, stole a base, and recorded an assist from left field in his farewell to the Augusta faithful. His final average of .326 would stand up as the best mark in the league, and his 40 stolen bases ranked third. Though he was the youngest player on the Augusta team, Cobb would be the first to make it to the big leagues. Pitcher Eddie Cicotte would follow him a few days later, while Clyde Engle, Nap Rucker, and Ducky Holmes would make it in subsequent years.
After a brief stop back in Royston, Cobb was on his way north to Detroit. He had never been above the Mason-Dixon Line, and now he was on his way to a city larger than any he had ever seen. After a few missed connections, Cobb arrived in Detroit by train on August 29, and checked in to a hotel within walking distance of Bennett Park. Detroit’s Bennett Park was located on the corner of Michigan and Trumbull in the heart of the city in a section called Corktown, because of the predominance of Irish immigrants living there. Cobb reported to the park on the August 30, just over three weeks after the death of his father. He was ready to start his big league career. The Detroit Free Press, writing of his arrival and his minor league batting success, speculated that the young Georgian wouldn’t pile up anything like that in this league.
Cobb saw action immediately with the Tigers, who were hosting the New York Highlanders in the second of a three-game series. Bennett Park was named for Charlie Bennett, a star for the National League’s Detroit Wolverines in the 1880s. A catcher, Bennett’s career was ended abruptly when he lost both of his legs in a terrible train accident in 1894. Bennett had been tremendously popular in Detroit, and in 1900, when the city earned a team in the Western League (later to become the American League), their ballpark was named in his honor.
The Highlanders, later to be known as the Yankees, started ace Happy Jack Chesbro, a master of the spitball. The previous season, Chesbro had won an amazing 41 games and pitched more than 400 innings for the New York club. The Tigers, managed by Bill Armour, countered with “Big George” Mullin, a fidgety right-hander from Wabash, Indiana. In front of an afternoon crowd of approximately 1,200 fans, Cobb hit fifth in the lineup, playing center field. Armour’s Tigers, due to injury, had a shortage in the outfield.
In the bottom of the first inning, the Tigers hit Chesbro hard, putting together a double, single, and a sacrifice bunt to plate one run and move another runner to third. With one out, the left-handed hitting Cobb strolled to the plate for his first major league at-bat. Using the hands-apart grip that he’d perfected as a boy in Georgia, 18-year old Ty Cobb peered out at Jack Chesbro and tried to overcome the nerves that were causing his stomach to twist and turn. The first pitch he saw was a high fastball that he swung through and missed. The next offering from Chesbro was a spitter that fooled Cobb for strike two. Chesbro then returned to his fastball, sending a pitch into the heart of the strike zone that Cobb met with a flick of his bat. The ball soared into the left-center field gap where it was retrieved by New York left fielder Noodles Hahn, whose throw to second base was a split second too late to catch the sliding Georgian. Pinky Lindsay, the Tigers runner on third, trotted home to make the score 2-0. Ty Cobb had his first hit, first run batted in, and first double in the big leagues, having victimized one of the best pitchers in the league.
Ty walked against Chesbro his next time up, and with Sam Crawford in front of him on second base, Cobb was out on the backend of a double steal attempt, but it did little to dampen the day for the Tigers, as they vanquished the Highlanders, 5-3. In center field, Cobb handled two putouts without incident and his first big league game was under his belt.
24 years later he would have more than 4,000 hits, 12 batting titles, and a slew of records to his credit.