James Lanier: Ty Cobb’s Batboy

This article was written by Millard Fisher

This article was published in the Fall 2009 Baseball Research Journal


Growing up in Augusta, Georgia, James Lanier was Ty Cobb’s neighbor and a close friend and contemporary of Cobb’s son, Herschel. In the 1920s when Cobb was player-manager for the Detroit Tigers, Lanier served as the team’s batboy during its spring training in Augusta and for several summers in Detroit. Earning five dollars a week, Lanier spent many hours at the ballpark, where his duties included bone-rubbing Cobb’s bats, to keep them from breaking, and shining his cleats. Now in his nineties, Lanier often reminisces about baseball greats he has met, from Cobb to Babe Ruth, Tris Speaker, and Connie Mack. The two remained close, even after Lanier moved to Atlanta and raised a family. The following is based on conversations Lanier had with Millard Fisher, a close personal friend, in spring 2007.

 

Ty Cobb’s basestealing ability had a great influence on the game. The opposition knew that Mr. Cobb was a fast and daring runner and that he would not hesitate to steal any base, including home. It not only put a tremendous amount of pressure on the pitcher worrying about him as a base runner, but it also took the pitcher’s concentration off the batter (in his effort) to throw strikes.

*****

Ty Cobb was a threat to steal any base in any situation regardless of the score, pitch count, or batter. People talked about how he sharpened his spikes, but the story is a rumor. He didn’t sharpen his spikes. I cleaned his shoes. I dug dirt and clay out of his shoes and I didn’t see any sign of sharpening his spikes.

*****

Ty Cobb set an example for the other players on the team by leading an unbelievably rigorous daily training and practice routine. The other players could not keep up with him.

He would say constantly, “Practice, practice, practice!” Mr. Cobb would run the bases “for time” over and over and spend a couple of hours every day just bunting the ball.

I believe that Ty Cobb’s tireless efforts, rigorous training program, and striving to be the best reflects back to the rigidity of his father. Without question, Mr. Cobb was the best base-stealer that I ever saw.

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