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In honor of postseason baseball…

Ty_cobb_detroit_tigers
If [Ty] Cobb’s base-running was often, as one observer described it, “daring to the point of dementia,” it was also successful more times than not. He left everybody stunned at Hilltop Park in New York when he crossed up Highlander first-baseman Hal Chase, who, though only in his third big-league season, was already widely regarded as the most skilled man ever to play the position. After taking a throw at first with a runner advancing to third, Chase liked to snap the ball over to the third baseman and, if not catch the runner off, at least drive him back to the bag. On June 11, [1907], in the ninth inning with the Tigers way ahead, Cobb doubled and, instead of stopping at third on Claude Rossman’s bunt, roared around the base and came home as Chase, first intending to throw behind Cobb and then trying to stop his motion and peg home, sent the ball flying over third-baseman George Moriarty’s head. It was maybe the graceful Chase’s most embarrassing moment on the diamond in fifteen years in the majors. Later in the season Cobb similarly embarrassed [George] Moriarty, tearing home and scoring when Moriarty held the ball, unable to decide what to do with it.

Again and again Cobb acted on his theory that the advantage was his when he made fielders throw the ball, and on his passionate conviction that the base paths and bases belonged to him. As an example, in a lopsided victory over Cleveland at Bennett [Park in Detroit] late in June, he tripled to the scoreboard in left-center to drive in Crawford and kept going around third as third-baseman Bill Bradley relayed the throw home. Catcher Harry Bemis had the ball waiting, but Cobb, with a head-first lunge, got a shoulder into Bemis, knocked him over, and made him drop the ball. Enraged, Bemis grabbed the ball and pounded the prostrate Cobb on the head with it until pulled away by Jones and umpire Silk O’Loughlin. [Detroit manager Hughey] Jennings shoved Cobb toward the bench as O’Loughlin threw Bemis out of the game. Subsequently Cobb beat out a bunt, doubled in another run, and stole third.

One stratagem Cobb made almost uniquely his own. Over the winter the club had purchased first-baseman Claude Rossman from Cleveland for $2500. Slow-footed, cantankerous, and with a penchant for erratic throws that would ultimately send him back to the minors, the lanky Rossman was nonetheless a reliable hitter and an outstanding sacrifice bunter, better at that particular maneuver even than Cobb. Hitting in front of Rossman, Cobb early learned to take advantage of Rossman’s bunting skills. Confident that Rossman would be able to drop the ball where the third baseman had to come in for it, Cobb would flash the bunt sign, take off from first with the pitcher’s motion, and head for third as the third baseman fielded the ball, threw to first, and then scrambled back to cover his base. Most of the time he slid in safely. Cobb and Rossman repeatedly executed that play until Rossman left the Tigers in 1909. Cobb would continue to go from first to third on bunts (as well as other infield outs) for years after that, but the play was never so consistently effective as when he worked it with Rossman.

-From Ty Cobb by Charles C. Alexander

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  1. Seth Kolloen

    Incidentally, Hal Chase was widely reputed to be a prolific game fixer. One of his techiques was, on a critical throw to first from one of his infielders, to pantomime a dive at the ball as if it were uncatchable. His defensive reputation was such that the infielders always got the error.

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