Episode 6 — Chapter 5

| Jun 7, 2020 | Baseball Immortal | 0 comments

Episode 6 — Chapter 5

by Roland Colton | Baseball Immortal

Chapter   5

In the early afternoon of September 10th, players from both the Naps and Tigers streamed onto the field to engage in pre-game workouts. There was friendly banter from players on both sides as some planned on meeting up at the season’s end. After warm-up tosses with teammate Jack Graney, Joe Jackson came over to the Tiger’s side, looking for Cobb. None of the Tiger players knew why Cobb hadn’t yet exited the Tiger’s clubhouse in center field.

Jackson returned to Cleveland’s side of the field, keeping an eye on the clubhouse and waiting for Cobb to emerge. As game time approached, Jackson became increasingly concerned, wondering if some misfortune had befallen his friend. When the Tigers took their positions in the field to start the game, centerfield remained vacant. All of a sudden, Cobb exited the clubhouse, glove in hand, just as the Tigers’ starting pitcher began his warm-up tosses on the mound; Cobb jogged to his customary spot in centerfield; Jackson was relieved to see that all was well with his friend.

Hank Butcher, the first Nap batter, beat out a grounder to deep short and was sacrificed to second base by Ivy Olson. Joe Jackson came to the plate and was walked on four wide pitches. Clean-up hitter Napoleon Lajoie then hit a grounder to George Moriarty at third, who stepped on the bag and threw to first for a double play to retire the side. Meantime, Jackson had run to second base and waited to finally greet Cobb as the Tiger star jogged in from centerfield.

“You okay, Ty?” Jackson spoke with a boyish grin as Cobb approached. “Didn’t see ya before the game.”

Cobb glared at Jackson in a voice filled with venom. “Get the hell out of my way, boy!”

Jackson reacted just as Cobb had expected.  “What’s the matter, Ty?  What’s eaten’ ya?  I ain’t done nothin’ to ya.”

“Outa my way. Beat it, Hayseed!”  Ty snarled in a loud voice, running past Jackson toward the Tiger’s dugout.

Jackson was stunned. Never before had Cobb behaved rudely toward him.

In the bottom half of the first, Cobb reached on a fielder’s choice, then stole second. Standing on second base, Cobb made eye contact with Jackson, who played a shallow centerfield; Cobb shook his head at him with a look of intense anger. Jackson raised up his palms, hoping for some explanation for Cobb ‘s surly demeanor. Cobb turned away in disgust, and moments later he swiped third base.

When Jackson came to bat in the fourth inning, he remained distracted and confused by his encounter with Cobb. From the plate, he looked out apologetically toward Cobb in centerfield. Cobb glared back with a grimace and brandished his right fist at him, causing Jackson to recoil and step out of the batter’s box. Jackson knew that Cobb was a fighter if a person crossed him, and now he was worried that Cobb had it in for him.

Jackson did his best to focus on the succeeding pitches, but took two strikes before striking out, and missing badly, on the next offering. In centerfield, Cobb maintained a stoic expression, but inwardly he was in stitches at Jackson’s futile effort.

The game remained scoreless until the seventh inning, when the Naps scored a run. In the bottom of the eighth inning, Cobb hit a ground ball to Ivy Olson in deep short. Olson made a desperate heave to first base trying to catch Cobb, who had beaten the throw. Olson’s hasty throw went past Lajoie all the way to the grandstand and Cobb advanced to second.

Detroit’s beat reporter described the scene:

Cobb led far off second as Larry held the ball. Larry threw to second. Away to third sped Cobb. Ball’s throw to Turner hit Ty on the arm. Then ensued the scramble for home. Blanding backed up third, grabbed the ball and hurried it to Easterly.

There was a moment of expectancy. The noise ceased. A pin falling would have made a racket. Everyone expected the verdict ‘you’re out.’ Umpire Egan yelled ‘safe.’ With nerves atingle from the unceasing recurrence of exciting situations, the Cleveland players started an angry charge upon Egan. It was over in a minute, Egan’s decision counted.

The game remained tied after nine innings and both teams failed to score in the tenth, eleventh and twelfth innings. Jackson managed to scratch out one infield hit in four at bats, while Cobb had two hits entering the bottom half of the thirteenth inning:

With darkness rapidly slipping its gloomy veil over Bennett Park and the minds and bodies of 13,000 virtually raving maniacs fairly torn asunder by the maddening scenes which had been enacted before them, the Tigers drove across the winning run of a great struggle in the thirteenth inning today, defeating George Stovall’s athletes 2 to 1.

Cobb’s single in the thirteenth had moved Donovan to third base. Crawford was then walked to fill the bases with one out. Delahanty hit a grounder to Olson at short. In his haste to throw home, Olson fumbled the ball and Donovan scored the winning tally.

The Detroit Free Press commented on the batting duel between the two Southerners:

In the duel between Cobb and Jackson, honors were all with the Detroiter, who made three hits in six times up, after going hitless for three appearances at the plate. The best that Joe could do was to get one in four. In every other department, Cobb excelled his rival. That dash around the bases in the eighth was one of the finest bits of daring and skill that Ty ever has exhibited—which is saying something.

That evening, Cobb congratulated himself on how well he had engineered the made-up feud. Jackson hadn’t been himself after their first encounter at the beginning of the game. Cobb figured he had gained two or three points in the batting race, but he needed more. He devised another wrinkle to his plan, but that would wait until the series ended.

 

***

 

The Tigers traveled to Cleveland the following day for the last two games of the three-game home-and-away series. The game started at the customary 3:30 p.m. After Cobb completed batting practice, Jackson followed him back to the Detroit dugout, still brooding and fretting about the lost friendship with his former friend and mentor. Cobb turned at once with an angry sneer.

“What the hell are you doing over here!” he yelled.

Jackson gave a sad look and stammered to say something. “Sorry…  Ty…”

“Get out’a my sight!”

Jackson turned around, his head bowed and walked meekly back to the Cleveland side.

The game was soon underway.  With Cleveland up 1-0, Cobb singled in the third inning. As Gene Krapp wound up, Cobb broke for second. Krapp completed his delivery but threw wide to the plate. Fisher threw to second, but Olson failed to cover in time and the ball bounded into centerfield, Cobb taking third. Cobb then scored on Crawford’s sacrifice fly.

With the game tied 3-3 in the seventh inning, Cobb came up with runners on first and second. He singled to right, knocking in Willett with the go-ahead run and moving Bush to third. On first base, Krapp remembered well Cobb’s hijinks in the third inning. He took care to keep an eye on Cobb. As he wound up, Cobb broke again for second base. Krapp hesitated in the middle of his wind-up and then threw the ball to second. The ball beat Cobb, but the umpire called a balk. Cobb was awarded second and Bush scored. Krapp was unnerved and hesitated as Cobb took an exaggerated lead at second. The second baseman and shortstop took turns charging toward the bag, but Krapp didn’t want to risk a throw that might advance Cobb to third. He finally delivered the pitch to home, and Cobb was off to the races. Cobb easily beat the throw to third from the catcher. Moments later, Cobb scored on a ground ball to short.

The Tigers entered the ninth inning with a three-run lead, but Cleveland tied it up in the bottom half. Once again, the game went into extra innings. Once again, the game ended in the thirteenth inning. Once again, it was Cobb who was the key contributor to the winning tally as he tripled to lead off the thirteenth inning and scored the winning run.

As before, Cobb had three hits to Jackson’s one, extending his lead in the batting race by three more points.

 

***

 

The final game of the series had none of the suspense of the first two. Cleveland ended up the victor, by a score of 5-1, and both Cobb and Jackson went one for four. After the game ended, Cobb strolled over to the Cleveland dugout. Comfortable with his lead in the batting race, Cobb wasn’t through yet. It was time for the new wrinkle. To insure that Jackson remain befuddled and pose no threat after the Tigers left town, Cobb called out Jackson’s name.

Jackson separated himself from his celebrating teammates, only too anxious to find out what was on Cobb’s mind. Cobb had a wide grin on his face as Jackson approached. Cobb shook his hand energetically and slapped him on the shoulder.

“Joe, ol’ boy. It’s sure been great seein’ ya during this series. How’s the family doin’? How’re things at home?”

Jackson was beside himself.  He stared at Cobb speechless, his mouth hanging open. 

“Can’t wait to see you next time we’re in town.” Cobb gave Jackson a big smile, turned and walked back to the Tigers’ dugout.

 

***

 

Jackson had two more idle days to mull over his experience with Cobb. It finally dawned on him that Cobb had duped him and he was angry with himself when the Naps resumed play in a double-header at Boston on Saturday, September 16th. Shut out by the Red Sox in both games, Jackson managed only one hit in the doubleheader. For the first time in weeks, Jackson’s average fell under .400.  Meantime, Cobb tallied three more safeties against the Yankees. As he looked at the box scores the following morning, Cobb smiled to himself. His ruse had worked to perfection. Jackson would never be able to recover.

Jackson ultimately righted himself, and with a strong finish lifted his average to .408. But, it was Cobb’s year. Cobb finished twelve points above Jackson, at .420. In a masterful display of superiority, Cobb also led the league in hits, runs scored, doubles, triples and stolen bases. A short time later, Cobb was presented with another automobile from the Chalmers Company for being “the most important and useful player to the club and to the league” according to a selected panel of sportswriters.

[Please check out Roland Colton’s blog (“In the News”) about the background behind the Cobb-Jackson encounter described above.]

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