Bill Kirby blogs Augusta history

Standing up for Ty

Cobb got into trouble when he went into the stands after a heckler in May 1912.  Chronicle file
Chronicle file
Cobb got into trouble when he went into the stands after a heckler in May 1912.

Many say Augustan Ty Cobb might have been the best, most complete baseball player ever.

Many will also tell you he was mean, selfish, hot-tempered and shunned by most that knew and played with him.

Many popular movies in recent years have depicted Cobb as a friendless loner, ostracized by those with whom he played.

Well, I have two words: Claude Luecker.

I also have this story.

It was this time in May 1912 and Claude Luecker, a New York baseball fan known to many as "a lout," was in fine form. He loved going to baseball games and calling the other team's players names.

Luecker did not like Cobb, the Georgia-born star of the Tigers, and with Detroit in town he began yelling from a seat  not far from Cobb's bench.

What he said was bad.

It not only involved some things about Cobb, but several sexual references involving Cobb's sister and his dead mother.

For three innings, Cobb seethed.

He searched in vain for a stadium official to make Luecker shut up. By the fourth inning, Cobb could take no more.

He left his bench, vaulted the fence and began to pound Luecker. According to accounts of the time, Cobb kicked his butt.

He then threw the unlucky Luecker to the ground and kicked him with his spikes, cutting Luecker's head.

Police (finally) arrived and led a bleeding Luecker away.

The umpire threw Cobb out of the game because that's what the rules said you had to do.

And pretty much every sportswriter, rival player and fan who saw what happened thought Cobb was completely justified in giving a loudmouth what he deserved.

But not everyone.

Ban Johnson, an overweight former sports editor who was then president of the American League, had dropped by to see the game and didn't like what he saw.

He suspended Cobb on the spot.

No hearing. No meeting. No arguing.

Cobb's teammates reacted quickly.

Yes, we hear stories a century later about how much they hated their brilliant, but moody star.

We hear about how they privately avoided his company and tried to keep him from joining their fun.

Maybe they did sometimes.

But in May 1912, Ty Cobb's teammates did something I don't think anyone had ever done before, and hasn't done since.

They all quit.

They informed the Tigers management that if Cobb wasn't allowed to play, they wouldn't play, either.

Now this was 1912, not today.

Today ballplayers have enormous salaries, lawyer-agents and are pretty much set for life.

In 1912  the team that had your contract could decide to cut you loose for any reason and send you back home to the farm or the coal mine, and no one else would sign you as a free agent.

Yet Cobb's teammates stood by their Ty.

This presented an immediate problem for the Tigers, which were to play their next game in Philadelphia.

If  the team failed to put a team on the field against the A's , it forfeited $5,000.

Management fanned out across the city of Brotherly Love looking for replacement players.

They found some.

To pitch, they signed Aloysius Travers, a 20-year-old theology student who later became a priest.

He gave up 26 hits and lost 24-2 , but did pitch a complete game.

Cobb's own replacement in center field was Bill Leinhauser, 18 , who not only went hitless but was struck on the head by a fly ball.

"Kid," his manager told the dazed substitute, "just field them off the walls."

When league President Ban Johnson -- who would later distinguish himself by bungling the Chicago Black Sox scandal -- heard of the "replacements,' he took the first train to Philadelphia and threatened Ty's teammates with $100 fines if they didn't show for the next day's game.

"You made your point, boys," Cobb told his Tigers. "I'll be all right."

And he was.

Cobb sat out a 10-day suspension, paid a $50 fine and eventually finished what was one of his best seasons.

Claude Luecker wasn't heard from again and neither were rowdy fans like him.

The incident so upset the league, that a new policy was decreed that ushers would be required to escort unruly or profane fans from the ballpark.

It is a rule still enforced today, in part because somebody once said something about Ty Cobb's mother.

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NoCatchyName 05/08/10 - 09:35 am
Heck of a man, old Ty. Very

Heck of a man, old Ty. Very few like him today.

csrareader 05/08/10 - 10:23 am
Good man... wish we had some

Good man... wish we had some like him today. However, if he did that today, it would be replayed 24-hours a day on ESPN and the 24-hour news networks and would start a national debate on violence in sports. The dude who was punched out would sue Ty, the team, and MLB and probably win a big settlement from a clueless jury. Some lame parent would sue Cobb because he took his darling to see a ballgame and had to witness someone getting a whooping (that was justified by the way). The genius we have in the White House would make a statement and call Ty and the local cops "stupid," especially if the brainless fan happened to be a minority. As I said, Ty was a good man.

freeradical 05/08/10 - 11:10 am
On the other hand, it would

On the other hand, it would be hard to imagine an act cowardly, vile,

or profane enough to yell at today's punk equvilent for athletes that

was not already reported in print as fact.

And that is just the ones who are still in college.

Scott Michaux
Scott Michaux 05/08/10 - 02:45 pm
Interesting story, but please

Interesting story, but please let's not say that Cobb's behavior was justified, no matter what the idiot said to him. Nobody called Ron Artest a "good man" when he crashed the bleachers to shut up a heckler (and Bush was in the White House then so please make sure we bring that up into an irrelevant conversation). Cobb was just as much of a "lout" and hopefully there will be no more like him.

Austin Rhodes
Austin Rhodes 05/08/10 - 04:42 pm
Here we go judging a 19th

Here we go judging a 19th century man by 21st century standards...again.

I will say this, if I had my way, once a man has given an endowment that pays for the education of more people than any other individual ever connected to the Medical College of Georgia, he gets to smack the hell out of any heckler he wants. Many say Ty Cobb gave more money to charity than any other athlete in history. Some lout.

csrareader 05/08/10 - 05:08 pm
Michaux, I say that Cobb was

Michaux, I say that Cobb was obviously a better man than you. If you wouldn't go after some goofball who shouted sexual references about your sister and your mother, then you need to grow a pair. Before you defend Ron Artest, I suggest you review his rap sheet. I would think that would be part of your job homework as a sports writer, but maybe I'm mistaken. In case you missed the story, Artest went after someone in the stands for throwing a beer at him -- and as it turns out, he went after the wrong man who had absolutely nothing to do with the incident. My reference to the genius in the White House was about his tendency to make dumb remarks when he has the guts to go off the teleprompter, as he did when he called the Cambridge police stupid for arresting Henry Gates (that's another story you may want to read in your free time since you are in the journalism business). Yes, I stand by my original comment. Ty Cobb was a good man.

csrareader 05/08/10 - 05:09 pm
Good point Austin.

Good point Austin.

thatsjustpeachy 05/09/10 - 12:35 am
My family's cemetery plot is

My family's cemetery plot is right next to his mausoleum in Royston. He was and always will be one of my favorite players. I will always think of him and the scene from Ken Burns' documentary when it discusses Cobb's death. In the scene there is a photo of an old man, who looks genuinely sad about some of the decisions he had made (I desperately tried to find the photo online but no luck, try the 7th or 8th Inning of Burns' film). He had tremendously awful things happen to him in his personal life with the death of his parents and two of his children, not that these sad events excuse some of his later behaviour. I will always try to remember him for how great his skills as a baseball player were and how much he contributed to the needs of the Northeast Georgia community.

Bill Kirby
Bill Kirby 05/11/10 - 08:35 am
Ty Cobb author Don Rhodes

Ty Cobb author Don Rhodes shared this account from Lueker (I originally mispelled) in The Augusta Chronicle on May 19, 1912:

"I was sitting with some friends just

back of third base", Lueker said. "When

the Detroit team came on the field

there was a great deal of kidding and

booing of Cobb. I did not hear any

one make a remark that was out of

the way. It all seemed good natured.

I had on- an alpaca coat and Cobb

seemed to single me out for he yelled

back: "Oh. go back to your waiter's


"The yelling at Cobb kept up. We

could -see that he was getting excited.

Somebody shouted an unpleasant characterization

at him. Then he came

straight for me followed by half a

dozen players with bats in their hands.

He hit me in the face with his fist,

knocked me over, jumped on me.

kicked me, spiked me and booted me

behind the ear."

Pastor Dan White
Pastor Dan White 05/11/10 - 10:31 am
Another excellent piece,

Another excellent piece, Bill. Love your articles on Augusta's history and characters. Cobb is one of my favorites, warts and all. He was certainly loved in Augusta and in Detroit. I urge everyone interested in the true picture of Cobb to purchase and read Don Rhodes superb and fair book on Cobb, Ty Cobb, Safe at Home. Al Stump's book on Cobb is biased and Stump had an ax to grind with Cobb as did the movie on Cobb. Both are a disgrace to the man and unfairly portray him because they omit the good things about him. The funeral scene in Stump's book is really off beat. Rhodes' account of the funeral in Royston is historical correct.

deadballfan 05/11/10 - 01:27 pm
If the desire is to be

If the desire is to be historically accurate, shouldn't it be noted that Mr. Lueker, a former pressman, was missing a hand and three of the fingers on his other hand? When Ty was informed of the fact that the man he was beating had no hands, he was quoted as saying "I don't care if he has no feet".

It might also be noted that the "overweight former sports editor", Ban Johnson, had built the American League by constantly working to rid baseball of the fighting and rowdyism that had prevailed previously.

Pastor Dan White
Pastor Dan White 05/11/10 - 02:12 pm
Yes, deadballfan - Lueker's

Yes, deadballfan - Lueker's condition certainly should be included in the story.

augos 05/11/10 - 05:44 pm
If a person is physically

If a person is physically handicapped, it does not give him the right to spew verbal abuse at another individual. I am really disappointed by the comments made by Scott Micheaux, a sports reporter for the Augusta Chronicle. His comment of "hopefully there will be no more like him" is absurd. The highest batting average of all time and he does not want to see anyone like him again? No more Babe Ruth, Cy Young, Walter Johnson, Bob Gibson, Jackie Robinson, et al? Do some more research and discover that most men during that time were racists. Augusta can name a street and civic center for James Brown but Augusta cannot name a ballpark for Ty Cobb. That makes sense.

Pastor Dan White
Pastor Dan White 05/11/10 - 09:27 pm
Maybe one day, people can

Maybe one day, people can forgive Ty Cobb for his racism even as baseball has forgiven Mark McGwire for using steroids.

WesleyFricks 10/26/11 - 09:42 pm
Ty Cobb was not a racist nor

Ty Cobb was not a racist nor was he unjust in going after Leuker. No person should have to encounter such verbal abuse. Ball players back then had little to no protection and had to defend themselves.

Also, every fan around Leuker sent affidavits to Ban Johnson explaining the bad language that Leuker used on Cobb.

Most of the details surrounding Cobb are not factual and they continue to get repeated and repeated again.

All I ask you all to do is research the facts and stay away from the books written about him after his death - that's fair right!?!?

Wesley Fricks
TY COBB Historian

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