The race for the 1911 American League batting title is the stuff of legends. Too
bad the generally accepted version is a lie that was concocted by
Ty Cobb himself, and subsequently repeated by the media to this day.
What is amazing is that a quick look at the statistics for 1911
show that it couldn't have happened the way Ty Cobb's silly story
claims, yet very few writers have bothered to verify his
The basic story (which has appeared in print many times with minor
changes in the details) is that Joe Jackson was leading in the batting title
race by anywhere from 9 to 35 percentage points going into a six-game
series between Cleveland and Detroit to close the season.
Ty Cobb decided before the series that he could shake Joe's confidence
by giving him the cold shoulder. As the story goes, Joe's batting completely fell apart,
and Cobb was able to catch him during the six-game series and win
the batting title.
Here is Ty Cobb's own version of the story from his book, My
Life in Baseball -- The True Record which was published in
1961. The story appears in the chapter titled The Ultimate Secret:
Make Them Beat Themselves, or Waging War on the Basepaths:
In the battle of wits I was lucky enough to join in, you sat
up nights plotting ways to win. . .and it was on such a night that I
won a league batting championship that it seemed I was about to lose.
Ty Cobb then goes on to relate how Joe's confusion over this unexplained
rejection led to a total collapse at the plate allowing Cobb to overtake
Jackson and win the title.
Jackson was a Southerner, like myself, a friendly, simple, and gullible
sort of fellow. On the field, he never failed to greet me with a
"Hiyuh, Brother Ty." . . . So now we were in Cleveland for a season-closing
six-game series, and before the first game I waited in the clubhouse until
Jackson had taken his batting practice. I had one of the clubhouse boys
tip me off when he was finished, so I couldn't miss him.
Ambling over, Joe gave me a grin and said, "How's it going, Brother Ty?
How you been?"
I stared coldly at a point six inches over his head. Joe waited for an
answer. The grin slowly faded from his face to be replace by puzzlement.
"Gosh, Ty, What's the matter with you?"
I turned and walked away. Jackson followed, still trying to learn why I'd
"Get away from me!", I snarled.
Every inning afterward I arranged to pass close by him, each time giving
him the deep freeze. For a while, Joe kept asking, "What's wrong, Ty?"
I never answered him. Finally, he quit speaking and just looked at me
with hurt in his eyes.
There's only one thing wrong with this story. It never happened.
Ty Cobb did win the 1911 American League batting title.
Cobb batted .420 that year, while Jackson only batted .408.
That's about where fact stops and fiction begins:
There was no six-game season-ending series between Detroit and
Cleveland! -- Detroit travelled to Cleveland for a three game
series that started on October 2. Detroit then travelled to St. Louis for
a three-game series with the Browns that ended their season.
The six-game series that Cobb describes never happened.
So, the next time you read or hear of Ty Cobb's magnificent come from behind
victory in the 1911 race for the Americal League batting title, you just
tell them the key truths:
Ty Cobb didn't even play the last three games of the season! --
When Detroit travelled to St. Louis, Ty Cobb didn't go with the team. His
lead over Jackson was thirteen or fourteen points at the time, and as had
become his custom, the gutless Cobb chose to sit out the last three games
of the season rather than take a chance of lowering his average. (You may
recall that a year earlier in 1910, he sat out the final few games of the
season so as not to risk his batting average. He was in a contest with
Larry Lajoie for the highest batting average sponsored by the Chalmers
Automobile Company, the winner to receive a new automobile.) Obviously,
with Cobb sitting out the three games of the season, there was no dramatic
come from behind race.
Joe Jackson didn't play the last game of the season! --
While Detroit was playing St. Louis, Cleveland headed to Chicago for
a two-game series that ended their season. Cleveland was battling
Chicago for third place and when Cleveland beat the White Sox in the
first of the two games, they clinched third place. The last game of
the season now relatively meaningless, Jackson chose to sit out the game
due to the various injuries he had sustained during the season. There
was no battle for the batting title since neither player even played in
the final game of the season.
At no time during the 1911 season did Joe Jackson ever lead Cobb in
batting average! -- There was no day during the 1911 season that Cobb was
below .400. After 80 games, Cobb was batting an incredible .450, Joe .380.
After 100 games, Cobb was batting .417 and Jackson .398. After 130
games, Cobb was at .416 and Jackson was still batting .398. There was no
day during the 1911 season that Jackson lead Cobb, so Ty Cobb could not have
made the come from behind finish that he claims.
- There wasn't a single day in the 1911 season that Jackson led Cobb.
- Neither player played the last game of the season.
- The six-game series never took place.
And finally, here is what Joe Jackson himself had to say about this story:
A story you now hear from time to time that Ty bulldozed me by getting
my goat in a conceived plan to ignore me in Cleveland in that important
final series is just a lot of hooey. Ty was able to beat me out because
he got more hits than I did."