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Thursday, July 2, 2015

Ty Cobb hit five home runs in two consecutive games. Does that prove he could have hit like Babe Ruth?

I've heard that Wade Boggs and Ichiro Suzuki had been observed in batting practice hitting fair balls into the stands.  The implication was that they could hit home runs in games if they wanted to.  Somewhat implied was that they chose to restrict their swings for more control, less power but for higher batting averages (BA).

This week on the MLB Network I heard the end of an interview with Danny Knobler, author of this 2015 book:

Numbers Don't Lie: Tigers
The Biggest Numbers in Tigers History

Knobler was stating that Ty Cobb had accomplished a home run (HR) feat that Babe Ruth had not: hit five home runs in two consecutive games.  The young interviewer was impressed and the two sounded as if that proved that Cobb could have hit like Babe Ruth, i.e., hit for both high BA and also many HR.
The 2015 book on Cobb by Charles Leerhsen mentions Cobb hitting five home runs in two consecutive games on pages 326-7 but it is written in a convoluted manner and the reference lacks credibility as it is a recollection by a former sports writer in 1961 who did not write about it when it happened in 1925.  Leerhsen does write that for the 1910 American League (AL) season the core of the ball was changed to make the ball more lively, which resulted in BA: Cobb .420, Shoeless Joe Jackson .408.  Supposedly Cobb did not like the more lively ball because it made it more difficult for Cobb to bunt.

SABR bio of Cobb by Daniel Ginsburg:

a scientific hitter who liked to beat out bunts and infield grounders for base hits. After 1920, Cobb became a passionate defender of the Deadball Era-style of play, derisively mocking the "swing crazy" batters of the modern game who had neglected the inside strategies mastered by the Georgia Peach.

Through 1920 here are the career HR leaders:

1Roger Connor1381880189722-391998884777971620246744123313231002455399244.316.397.486.883*35/4879TRO-NYG-NYI-PHI-STL
2Sam Thompson1261885190625-461410652559981261198834316113054512346313232.331.384.505.890*9/783DTN-PHI-DET
3Harry Stovey1221880189323-361486683261381492177134717490866345031509.289.361.461.8223798/1WOR-PHA-BOS-BSN-BLN-BRO
4Gavvy Cravath1191908192027-39122146423951575113423283719561578281058920.287.380.478.858*97/H83BOS-WSH-CHW-PHI
5Jimmy Ryan1181885190322-402014912481721643251345115710938044918365419.308.375.444.820897/6145CHC-CHI-WSH
6Hugh Duffy1061888190621-3917377841704415542293325119130266426829104574.326.386.451.837879/64532CHC-CHI-BOS-BSN-MLA-PHI
7Dan Brouthers1061879190421-4616737676671115232296460205129684023810520256.342.423.519.942*3/7195TRO-BUF-DTN-BSN-BOS-BRO-BLN-LOU-PHI-NYG
8Mike Tiernan1061887189920-32147867325915131618382571628537483764128428.311.392.463.855*978/1NYG
9Babe Ruth1031914192019-25534194815683605141183935934026411242714.328.451.6501.10171/9H83BOS-NYY
10Honus Wagner1011897191723-432795117481043917393420643252173296373512522172326.328.391.467.858*6935/847H1LOU-PIT
11Ed Delahanty1011888190320-351837840075111600259752218614667414399454455.346.411.505.916*7384/695PHI-CLE-WSH
12Sam Crawford971899191719-3725171059395701391296145830915257605802324136743.309.362.452.814*9837/HCIN-DET
13Cap Anson971871189719-45252411331102811999343558214220759843303234627716.334.394.447.841*352/794681ROK-ATH-CHC
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 7/1/2015.
Cobb was number 34 with 69 in 7,729 AB, about the same as Roger Connor, the record holder with 138.   In his first season with the Yankees Ruth had become the first batter to reach 30 HR in a season, the first to reach 40, the first to reach 50. Ruth roared past Cobb by hitting 54 HR. Through 1920 Ruth had 103 HR in 1,568 AB.  The next season Ruth would take over the career lead in HR, when he hit 59, and hold it until April 1974 when Hank Aaron past him. Ruth is currently number three behind Barry Bonds and Aaron.  Note Cobb's long time teammate Sam Crawford with 97.

Cobb hit 117 HR in 11,434 AB.  In 1920 and 1921 Ruth hit 113 HR (54+59).  In 1927 and 1928 Ruth hit 114 HR (60+54).  Of Cobb's 117: 46 were inside the park HR (IPHR) and 3 bounced over as was the old rule through 1930.  So only 68 went over the fence on the fly.
Cobb led the AL in HR only in his triple crown season: 9 in 1909, all IPHR:

1909 HRs#car#yr#gmDate@BatPitcherScoreInnOutRBIBOPPosWPANotes
1212111909-06-20 (1)DET@SLBRube Waddellt 5229IPHR
1313211909-07-15 (2)DETWSHCharlie Smithb 139IPHR
1414321909-07-15 (2)DETWSHCharlie Smithb 529IPHR
1515411909-07-19DETNYYPete Wilsonb 5249IPHR
1616511909-07-29DET@NYYSlow Joe Doylet 719IPHR
1717611909-08-06DET@PHAHarry Krauset 219IPHR
1818711909-08-27DETNYYJack Chesbrob 4339IPHR
1919811909-09-01DETBOSEddie Cicotteb 129IPHR
2020911909-09-13DETSLBChuck Roseb 839IPHR

Supposedly the ball was juiced again around 1920 and many other players in addition to Ruth suddenly started hitting a lot of HR.

Home Run hitting on steroids: 1920s? Tuesday, December 4, 2012

For purposes of this topic, I'll consider the modern HR record to have been set at 24 in 1915 by Gavvy Cravath who had led the National League (NL) the previous two seasons with 19...

While Ruth is playing like he's from another planet (You don't think ...?) he is not alone.  Including Ruth, the 1915 record of 24 HR was broken 43 times in the 1920s.


Cobb played for the Detroit Tigers from 1905-1926 (ages 18- 39),then two years for the Philadelphia Athletics.  Cobb was the Tigers Player/Manager for his final six seasons: 1921-1926 (.519).

Cobb reached double digits in HR twice, hitting 12 in both 1921 (507 AB) and 1925 (415 AB).  In 1921 four of Cobb's twelve were IPHR.  In 1925 all 12 went over the fence on a fly; none bounced over as was the old rule through 1930.

9595411924-08-31DET@SLBElam Vangildert 3138
1925 HRs#car#yr#gmDate@BatPitcherScoreInnOutRBIBOPPosWPANotes
9696111925-05-05DET@SLBBullet Joe Bushahead 1-0t 10238
9797221925-05-05DET@SLBElam Vangildertied 4-4t 22238
9898331925-05-05DET@SLBMilt Gastonahead 11-8t 80138
9999411925-05-06DET@SLBDave Danforthahead 2-1t 51238
100100521925-05-06DET@SLBChet Falkahead 8-4t 92338
101101611925-06-02DETCHWTed Blankenshiptied 15-15b 91148Walk-Off
102102711925-06-09DET@PHASlim Harrisst 8248
103103811925-06-10DET@WSHStan Coveleskit 6148
104104911925-06-17DET@NYYHank Johnsonahead 9-0t 60448
1051051011925-06-18DET@NYYUrban Shockertied 3-3t 80148
1061061111925-06-25DETSLBDave Danforthb 12248
1071071211925-10-04 (1)DET@SLBErnie Wingardt 8148
1926 HRs#car#yr#gmDate@BatPitcherScoreInnOutRBIBOPPosWPANotes

Cobb's last HR in 1924 was off one of the three pitchers off whom Cobb homered in one game. Note the dates: Aug. 31, 1924 and May 5, 1925.  That's a huge stretch without hitting any HR.  Cobb would then hit two HR the next day, May 6, 1925.  That's the five in two consecutive games.  Note also that Cobb hit six more HR in June 1925, then one final HR on OCTOBER 4, 1925.  Let's look at Cobb's game logs.

Cobb played 27 games in September, all in CF, and had at least 4 plate appearances (PA) in each game.  Cobb finished with 4 HR in 625 AB.

Cobb hit 11 HR from May 5 through June 25, 45 games.  Prior to Ma
y 5 Cobb had played in only 8 of the Tigers 19 games.  Cobb would play 121 games that season.  Cobb played in 69 games after June 25 but starting August 6 Cobb pinch hit (PH) a lot.  Cobb PH and had only one PA in 16 games.  In five games, only two PA.  In four games, three PA.  In 1925: 12 HR in 415 AB.

Let's take a look at the two consecutive big HR games.

Tuesday, May 5, 1925,, Sportsman's Park III
Attendance: 3,500, Time of Game: 2:44
Tigers 14, Browns 8

Ty Cobb CF: 6 for 6, 3 HR, 2B, CS
Heinie Manush LF: HR

Baby Doll Jacobson CF: HR

Bullet Joe Bush, L (2-3)1.25552118.071124
Elam Vangilder0.24441028.227
Joe Giard1.211110010.806
Ed Stauffer10001109.004
Milt Gaston36333016.8317
Brad Springer11102003.005
Team Totals9171413102413.005024

Wednesday, May 6, 1925,, Sportsman's Park III
Attendance: 3,000, Time of Game: 2:10
Tigers 11, Browns 4

Ty Cobb CF: 3 for 6, 2 HR
Harry Heilmann RF; 2 HR

Gene Robertson 3B: HR, 2B
Baby Doll Jacobson CF: HR

Dave Danforth, L (0-2)6.213662235.023424
Ed Stauffer0.10001107.712
Chet Falk255520116.2013
Team Totals918111153411.004924
In the first game Cobb hit three HR but two other players also homered.  In the next game Cobb hit two HR as did teammate Heilman, plus Jacobson homered again as he had in the previous and another Brown also homered.


In 1925 the Browns hitters tied the Yankees for the most HR with 110 while the Tigers were sixth with 50; AL average: 67.  Browns pitchers allowed the most HR: 99; Yanks second most: 78.  Tigers third most: 70.

Cobbs victims in those two games:
Dave Danforth: led AL with 19 HR (159 innings)
Joe Bush: second most: 18 HR (209 innings)
Elam Vangilder: 11th most: 11 HR (193 Innings)
Milt Gaston: tied 26th most: 8 HR (239 innings)
Chet Falk: 2 HR (25 innings)

So what happened?  Did Cobb intentionally swing for the fences in those two games to prove that anyone could hit homers?  Why would Cobb wait so long to make that point?  Was it just a coincidence that it was in the middle of a decade of unprecedented HR hitting?  Why would he go back to being scientific, especially since Cobb was already 38 years old in 1925?  How scientific was this:
1925 13 SB, 9 CS
1927 22 SB, 16 CS (led AL) while Ruth was hitting 60 HR?

Even at his peak (age 28):
1915 96 SB, 38 CS (led AL)

Cobb's SB record stood until Maury Wills broke it:
1962 104 SB, 13 CS  (led NL)

In his career Wills hit only 20 HR in 7,588 AB, no HR hitter he.

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