Why Ty Cobb Was Relieved to Leave Baseball Behind
The Hall-of-Fame outfielder enjoyed his MLB career but found he truly valued being able to step off the diamond
There has very likely never been a baseball player as passionate and competitive as Hall-of-Fame outfielder Ty Cobb. His break-neck style was widely known, appreciated and feared. One might expect someone who put so much into the game would want to remain involved as long as possible, but as it turned out, the Georgia Peach was relieved to leave baseball behind once his playing career was over.
In a 24-year major league career with the Detroit Tigers and Philadelphia Athletics, the left-handed hitting Cobb batted an all-time record .366 with 4,189 base hits, 117 home runs, 1,944 RBIs, 2,245 runs scored and 897 stolen bases. His intensity was so well known that over time, with the help of those seeking to make a buck (authors who invented wholesale stories and lies about his life and career and sold them as fact), his reputation was remolded into someone who was a sadistic monster instead of a hard-nosed and determined ball player. It’s true he ran hard, slid hard and sometimes got into fights. However, it wasn’t anything untypical for players of his time. He just did it with a greater ferocity and determination to win at all costs than others.
Following his retirement from the game, Cobb found similarly great success in the business world. A savvy businessman, who was an early investor in Coca Cola, among other successful ventures, he became a multi-millionaire and philanthropist. He still could be found on the fringes of the game, corresponding with players, attending occasional games and offering advice. However, he found the rapid change in his life’s focus to be a breath of fresh air, as he discussed in a August 13, 1934 article that appeared in the Detroit Free Press.
With his ample bank account, Cobb could have remained in baseball in a number of capacities, including buying a team. He decided he didn’t want to return to the grind, explaining:
“I could have bought a big-league club only a few months ago but I turned the offer down. I don’t care any more of that fighting and worrying that a person in baseball must expect.”
It was difficult for him to decipher how his feelings had changed, but he tried:
“I would like to make people understand how I feel about baseball. You see, when I broke into the game, I was just a mere boy. I was 17. For 26 years I gave everything I had to baseball. I fought and I did things that I didn’t like to do. A fellow has to do such things if he wants to make good in baseball.
“During those 26 years there were times when I wanted to go away, be with my family, be a father — the right kind of father — to my children. But very often I couldn’t get away from my baseball duties. My life plan was dictated by the baseball schedule.”
So connected to baseball was Cobb that when he finally decided to retire following the 1928 season, he initially couldn’t trust himself that he would stay away and make a clean break:
“When the time came for me to leave baseball, I feared the habits of 26 years would prove too strong for me. I felt I couldn’t get away. Just to play it safe, I toured Europe so that I would not drift back to the game.
“But I found upon my return to the United States that I had no desire to return to baseball. I love the game and follow the doings of the big-league clubs through the newspapers, but I have no desire to go back.”
A slower pace can be addictive for some, especially after having had to run as fast as they could for decades. Cobb expressed a satisfaction with such a simple existence:
“I want to live a life of peace, to be with my family. I have a home at Atherton, California, which is five miles north of Palo Alto. I spend most of my time there playing golf and riding horses. Once in a while a fishing or hunting trip takes me away. But I never drift very far. I am contented.”
Cobb’s life post-baseball certainly wasn’t perfect. His idyllic vision of his retirement had a shelf life, much like his playing career. He ended up going through two divorces and his relationship with his five children weren’t always ideal. However, he also did a lot of traveling and donated portions of his fortune to a variety of charities — always staying on the fringes of the game where he had accomplished so much and ultimately felt so much relief and freedom leaving behind.