SABR

Ty Cobb steals home

By Warren W. Mouch

This article was published in the 1972 Baseball Research Journal.

Tyrus R. Cobb, the Georgia Peach, who ravaged American League diamonds and pitchers for 24 years, is rated by many as the greatest all-around player, having more records in more phases of the game than any other performer.    In addition, Cobb possessed a competitive spirit and will and a keen brain unequalled by any other player.    Cobb was a human dynamo whose fiery spirit generated the currents of baseball with a higher voltage than any other player.   As a hitter and as a baserunner, the Georgia Tornado was tall enough to look over the top of the trees in the forest and, if his lifetime batting average was reduced from .367 to .267, he would still be outstanding because of his baserunning and competitive spirit.

As we ramble down the base lines to review Cobb's many records, we come across numerous, amazing feats that confounded his opponents.  Probably the most unusual feat of Cobb is his record of stealing home-base 32 times in regular season play (plus one time in a world series).  Only two others -- Johnny Evers and Frank Schulte – come anywhere near the fast-moving Tiger with 21 steals each.  Their records were made primarily in the days of Frank Chance's great Chicago Cub teams which were known for their aggressiveness on the basepaths.

In looking over the list of Cobb's steals of home, one of the first things to be noted is that they are well distributed over his career, with the high of six coming in 1915 when he set his American League record of 96 stolen bases.   On June 18 of that year, Cobb stole home twice in one game against the Nats, once in the first inning and again in the fifth.  The Detroit victory, by a 5-3 margin, indicated the importance of those two runs.   Washington had two catchers in this game because Dutch Henry left with a spike wound after Cobb slid home in the first inning.   Joe Boehling was on the hill during both steals and thus became one of only two hurlers to suffer through two thefts of home by Cobb.  The other was Ray Caldwell of the Yankees.  The second time it happened to Caldwell, on June 4, 1915, he was so angry at the call of safe by Umpire O'Loughlin that he threw his glove in the air..  He was quickly ejected from the game.  Cobb's favorite catthers were Agnew, Ainsmith, Carrigan, Crouse, Hartley, Lapp, Nunamaker, and Picinich, each of whom had double embarrassment at the hands (and feet) of the elusive base thief.

Cobb had three spectacular days where he stole second, third, and home, in the same inning.   The first time was July 22, 1909, against the Red Sox, the second was July 12, 1911 against the A's, and finally1 July 4, 1912 against the Browns.  In the 1911 game, he stole the three bases on consecutive pitches in a 9-0 Tiger romp.

Three times Cobb stole home as the lead man of a triple steal.  In 1915 he did it with Veach and Crawford; in 1919 with Heilmann and Shorten, and in 1927 with Simmons and Branom.  Cobb had four steals of home with the Athletics in 1927-28 when he was over 40.   Of these, his biggest day was April 26, 1927.   He collected three hits, including a double knocking in the winning run; he also walked and stole home in the seventh inning as the relief pitcher was about to deliver his first pitch.   This was considered quite a feat, considering that a left-hand batter, Jim Poole, was at the plate, giving the catcher full access to the 40-year old base runner.   In this same game, in the ninth inning, Cobb made a shoe-string catch in shallow right and trapped the runner off first in an unassisted double play that ended the game.   No wonder he was called the greatest all-around player!

Cobb mastered all of the tools of the trade to make him the greatest base runner in the game.   By his own statement, Cobb was not the fastest runner.   However, he was the smartest and most aggressive.   He studied pitcher's deliveries constantly and developed the fall-away slide and some six other sliding maneuvers to foil the basemen.   He also led the opposition into traps, and feigned injuries to mislead the defense.

All of this was buttressed by his ability to apply psychology to any given situation that gave him the edge on the opposition.   As an example of this, we cite his steal of home in the 1909 World Series against the Pirates.   Victor Willis, a veteran hurler of considerable stature, came in as a reliever in the October 9 game. Cobb, on third, noted that Willis was concentrating on the batter.  This created the lull that Cobb needed and he dashed for home before Willis could gather his senses and throw to catcher George Gibson.

Any one who took his mind off Cobb when he was on the bases was inviting trouble.   On June 23, 1915, in a game against the Browns, Cobb was at second with Crawford atbat.   Sam tapped to the pitcher, lanky Grover Lowdermilk, who took a somersault going for the ball.    Cobb went to third on the play, and seeing the befuddled Lowdermilk sitting on the ground with the ball in his hand, romped home for a clean steal.

Cobb stole home in each month from April to October.  He sneaked home at least once in each inning except the second.  In eight games the run he scored stealing home proved to be the margin of victory.  That was really the way he played -- to win-- and all it took was one run.  The full list of his thefts of home-base is carried below:

 

Date of game
   
Final score       Opposing Battery Inn.
July 22 1909 Bos. 0, Det. 6 Wolter & Donohue 7
Oct. 9 1909 Det. 7, Pit. 2 Willis & Gibson
3
Aug. 16 1910 Det. 8, Wash. 3 Groom & Ainsmith 4
May 12 1911 N.Y. 5, Det. 6 Caidwell & Sweeney 7
July 12 1911 Phil 0, Det. 9 Krause & Thomas 1
Aug. 18 1911 Det. 9, N.Y. 4 Killalay & Carrigan 1
Aug. 20 1912 Det. 6, Clev. 5 Gregg & Easterly 1
May 1 1912 Det. 2, Chi. 5 Benz & Block 1
June 21 1912 Det. 2, Clev. 6 Blanding & O'Neill 6
July 4 1912 (1) StL. 3, Det. 9 Baumgardner& Krichell 5
May 18 1913 Det. 1, Wash. 2 Johnson & Ainsmith 7
May 20 1913 Det. 8, Phil. 7 Houck & Lapp 3
Aug. 25 1913 Det. 6, Wash. 5 Bedient & Nunamaker 5
June 9 1914 Phil 7, Det. 1 Shawkey & Lapp 4
Apr. 28 1915 StL. 3, Det. 12 James & Agnew 3
June 4 1915 Det. 3, N.Y. 0 Caidwell & Nunamaker 9
June 9 1915 Det. 15 Bos. 0 Collins & Carrigan 3
June 18 1915 Det. 5, Wash. 3 Boehling & Henry 1
June 18 1915 Det. 5, Wash. 3 Boehling & Williams 5
June 23 1915 StL. 2, Det. 4 Lowderinilk & Agnew 8
Aug. 23 1916 Det. 10, Phil. 3 Sheehan & Picinich 8
July 9 1918 (2) Det. 5, Phil. 4 Perry & Perkins 5
Aug. 23 1919 Bos. 4, Det. 8 Hoyt & Walters 3
May 18 1920 Phil 2, Det. 8 Martin & Myatt 8
Sep. 19 1920 (1) Wash 7, Det. 9 Bono & Gharrity 4
Oct. 2 1923 Det. 7, Chi. 5 Castner & Crouse 7
Apr. 22 1924 Chi. 3, Det. 4 Bayne & Collins 3
Apr. 27 1924 Chi. 3, Det. 4 Lyons & Crouse 5
Aug. 10 1924 Det. 13, Bos. 7 Ross & Picinich 7
Apr. 19 1927 Phil 3, Wash. l Crowder & Ruel 6
Apr. 26 1927 Phil 9, Bos. 8 Welzer & Hartley 7
July 6 1927 Bos. 1 Phil. 5 Lundgren & Hartley 1
June 15 1928 Det. 12, Clev. 5 Grant & Sewell 8

 

Bold indicates World Series.

 

This article originally appeared in the 1972 "Baseball Research Journal."

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