May 21, 2011

Game 30 - Tigers Pitchers "Not Classy Enough"

May 21, 1911
Philadelphia 6, Detroit 2

Behind a terrific start by Harry Krause (9 IP, 4 hits), the A’s make it out of Detroit with a series split against the Tigers. After hemorrhaging runs for the last two weeks, it must have been a relief to give up only two against the first-place team.

In fact, after their losing streak and generally sluggish start, it must have been gratifying for the Mackmen to have taken two of four from the best team in baseball, who had been winning at an .833 clip prior to this series. Francis Richter of Sporting Life wrote that the strong play of the A’s, especially in today’s game, “compelled the Detroit critics to admit that the Athletics were playing the best ball of any team that had visited Detroit this season, and that the issue lay wholly between the Mack and Jennings teams.”

Tomorrow they’ll head to Cleveland for the final leg of their month-long road trip. The Naps are just one game behind the A’s, so a series win would be a great way to take it back to Philly.

To add spice to what was shaping up as a nice pennant race between the Tigers and A’s, Sporting Life reported, “Ty Cobb is again under Athletic suspicion because during the series in Detroit he slightly spiked Baker. They say that the illustrious Georgian is still a trifle careless about the way in which he flings his steel-shod feet about.” There was certainly no love lost between these two, and it wasn’t the first time such an incident had been reported. From Baker’s SABR Bio Project entry:

[During a 1907 series] Detroit superstar Ty Cobb spiked him in the forearm as Baker was attempting to tag Cobb out at third base. Frank had the wound wrapped and was able to stay in the game, but the play infuriated Mack, who went so far as to call Cobb the dirtiest player in baseball history. But a few days later, a photograph of the play taken by William Kuenzel of the Detroit News showed Baker reaching across the bag to tag Cobb, who was sliding away from the third baseman. The photograph vindicated Cobb, and led the Detroit Free Press to declare that Baker was a "soft-fleshed darling" for complaining about the play.
Well, here's the photo, and while Baker is indeed reaching in for the tag, all I can say is I don’t slide in my softball league with my foot that high off the ground.

Either way, Cobb certainly had a reputation for spiking infielders (there were many more accusations and incidents than these), and Baker had developed a reputation for being soft that stuck with him from that incident. Even today, once gained, such a reputation is almost impossible to shake, no matter how much evidence there is to the contrary (just ask the meathead next to you at a bar in Philly about Cole Hamels).

I know I’m not the first to make this comparison, but I’d say it’s pretty fair to call Cobb the Barry Bonds of his era. First of all, they both loomed large over the game, and were easily the best players in baseball during their respective prime years; both Bonds and Cobb led all of baseball for many years in WAR and OPS+, among many other offensive categories. And both players could be moody, seemingly joyless, and unlovable. Most importantly, each had a single-minded focus not just on winning, but on being the best… and they were known to resort to certain, um…. unsavory means in order to achieve that.

Sporting Life had even more bulletin board material from the series: “The Athletic players do not regard the Detroit pitchers as classy enough to win a pennant with, and express the utmost confidence of beating out the Tigers.” I think this will be a fun race. And I’d love to see someone on the A’s today call out, say, the Rangers’ pitchers as not being “classy enough.” That would really show them.

[Today's sources: story -,

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