Wednesday, March 16, 2005

March 16th, 1907

Detroit Proposes Trade

The trade, as proposed to Cleveland manager Nap Lajoie by his Tiger counterpart Hughie Jennings, would have sent nineteen year-old Ty Cobb to the Indians in exchange for thirty one year-old Elmer Flick. Cobb was coming off a .316/.355/.394 season (good for a 131 OPS+) while Flick had hit .302/.386/.412 (153 OPS+) the year before. Jennings' motivations for trading the nineteen year old had less to do with Cobb's talent than with his temperament. Earlier during spring training, Cobb (who was, as is well known, fanatically racist) had assaulted a black groundskeeper. When the man's wife objected, Cobb grabbed her by the neck and choked her. Not content with merely fighting civilians, when Tigers' catcher 'Boss' Schmidt took offense at Cobb’s actions, Cobb fought him as well. Although history does not record the results, given that Schmidt was an accomplished enough fighter to stage an exhibition against Jack Johnson, it probably did not go in Cobb's favor.

Jennings decided therefore that his young outfielder was more trouble than he was worth. Lajoie, however, evidently decided the same thing and turned down the trade. It was an incredibly lucky break for the Tigers and Jennings. Ty Cobb became Ty Cobb in 1907 leading the league in OPS+ for the first time, a lead he would not relinquish until 1916 (when he finished second) and would not fall out of the top three until 1920, all while playing very nice defense. Flick for his part would play three more seasons and retire after the 1910 season.

Babe Ruth assessed Ty Cobb by declaring that "Cobb is a prick. But he sure can hit. God almighty, that man can hit," and he was right on both counts. Cobb would leave a trail of assaults on teammates, team employees and fans in his wake, but he was also among the greatest hitters to ever live and further proved that sometimes the best move is the move not made.

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