Joe Jackson, Ty Cobb And The
1911 American League Batting Title

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 outlandish tale.

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.

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 ignored him.

"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.

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.

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.

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.

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:
  1. There wasn't a single day in the 1911 season that Jackson led Cobb.
  2. Neither player played the last game of the season.
  3. 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."

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