Who is better? Ruth, Williams … How about Ty Cobb?
I gave this post a provocative title to get your attention, but there was a time when most baseball historians considered Ty Cobb to be the greatest all-time player. On this 1961 Fleer Baseball Greats card, he is described as “generally recognized by baseball historians as the greatest player of all time.”
At the time that this card was issued, Cobb held the most all-time records in baseball, even more than Babe Ruth. I think that it’s safe to say that Cobb’s lifetime batting average of .367 will never been beaten. Of course, baseball was different then, and if there is interest I’ll relate some stories to you about how different it was.
This generation of baseball chroniclers had a different perception of the game. They were most impressed by the “inside game” where tight pitching, batting average, stolen bases, hit and runs and strategy mattered more than clubbing the ball into the stands or out of the park. They were like my late father who was a boxing fan. He admired the pugilists who could jab, slip punches and throw well-timed counter blows. He had little use for “club fighters” whose main strategy was to knock their opponent out. For the Ty Cobb enthusiasts, Babe Ruth was “a club fighter.”
Among the modern players of his day, Cobb most admired Ted Williams. Perhaps it had something to do with the fact that they both had volatile personalities, but the fact that both of them were great students of hitting also had something to do with it.
In 1936 Cobb received more votes to enter the Hall Fame. He was named on all but four ballots. The other players whom the baseball writers elected that year were Cobb, Babe Ruth, Honus Wagner, Christy Mathewson and Walter Johnson.
BTW I have complete set of these 1961 Fleer cards. They served as my introduction to baseball history when I was kid. I collected all of them “back in the day” except the Grover Cleveland Alexander card, which was #1. I never picked up the right package of gum, I guess. Years later I was at one of the few baseball card shows I have even attended, and a dealer had that card, which I was more than happy to buy to complete the set.