Augusta Fairgrounds Was Ty Cobb's Field of Dreams

              Photo by Don Rhodes

It will be fall again in a few weeks and thousands of area citizens again will head for the Exchange Club of Augusta’s fairgrounds as they have been doing for decades. 

Most, however, do not know that this hallowed ground more than 100 years ago was Ty Cobb’s Field of Dreams. It was where the Georgia teen-ager played his last game as a member of the Augusta Tourists minor league team on Aug. 25, 1905, and five days later played his first professional game for the Detroit Tigers. 

The fairgrounds then was known as Warren Park and named after former Confederate captain William Henry Warren. 

He was a leader in promoting athletics in Augusta, an elder in Augusta's First Presbyterian Church and president of the Y.M.C.A.  He also was a leader in agricultural experimentation and one of his best friends was Prosper J. Berckmans, whose nursery (Fruitland) would become the grounds for the Augusta National Golf Club. 

Mr. Warren’s grave is a ball’s throw away over the brick wall of Magnolia Cemetery just across Third Street. 

If you’re facing the Hale Street gate as shown in the photo on this blog posting, Warren Park basically was from the “FAIR” gate heading left or east to Third Street. 

The main grandstand was located about right in front of where the “FAIR” sign now exists, and the Augusta Tourists’ locker room basically was on the corner of Hale and Third Streets where concrete block restrooms now exists. Side bleachers and the covered grandstand provided about 2,500 seats. 

Base Ball, as known then, had been played in Augusta since the late 1800s.  It wasn’t Abner Doubleday who came up with the game as we know it today but rather a New York bank teller named Alexander Cartwright. 

In 1904, the South Atlantic League (Sally League) was formed with teams from Augusta, Savannah, Macon, Charleston, Columbia and Jacksonville. 

It just so happened that a teen-ager in Royston, Ga., named Tyrus Raymond Cobb learned about the formation of the Sally League as he was graduating from high school.  He most likely read about it in his father’s newspaper The Royston Record. 

According to legend and Mr. Cobb’s first highly-erroneous biography published after his death, Mr. Cobb wrote all six Sally League teams seeking a try-out. 

Supposedly only Con Strouthers, manager and owner of the Augusta Tourists, gave him that chance but told him that he would have to pay his own way to Augusta. Mr. Cobb wasn’t even in The Chronicle’s printed line-up for the first day of Sally League play on Memorial Day of 1905. 

Catcher Andy Roth was going through some contract problems, and Mr. Cobb was substituted as the next day’s published account testifies. He only got to play two games for the Tourists, however, before Mr. Strouthers released him on call-back status to a small team in Anniston, Ala., apparently over a manager-player difference. 

Mr. Strouthers lasted only a few months with the Tourists and eventually was succeeded by an owner named Harlan W. (Harry) Wingard who immediately ordered Mr. Cobb to report back to August at once. 

Most baseball fans have never heard of Mr. Wingard, and yet he was the one who set Mr. Cobb back on the right track to baseball immortality. 

The Augusta Tourists and their Sally League opponents were not the only teams to play at the Warren Park baseball grounds. So did the Philadelphia Athletics under legendary manager Connie Mack, the Detroit Tigers under Bill Armour who hired Mr. Cobb, the University of Georgia’s baseball team, the Brooklyn Superbas (later Dodgers) with player Casey Stengel and also minor league teams from Toronto, Canada, and Rochester, N.Y. 

Although Cobb’s last game as a member of the Tourists was Aug. 25, 1905, he often returned to join them for spring training including when as player-manager he brought the Detroit Tigers back to Warren Park to play exhibition games against the Augusta Tourists. 

Mr. Cobb, of course, would marry a prominent Augusta woman, own a tire store at Broad and Seventh streets, own a lot of property in the area, play golf at the Augusta Country Club, father five kids (four of which would be born in Augusta) and be a respectable Augusta resident for 25 years. 

There is no statue of Ty Cobb in Augusta like of singer James Brown.  There is no street named after him or baseball field.  Augusta leaders have chosen to continue ignoring his world-famous accomplishments; contending he was a racist and a hated individual. 

They ignore the facts that he beat up as many white guys as he did black, that his closest friends included the cream of Augusta leaders as well as Coca-Cola industrialist Robert Woodruff and golfer Bobby Jones, and that most white people in the South were racist when Mr. Cobb was in his heyday. 

That’s O.K.  Let Augusta leaders continue to think small and ignore one of their most world-famous individuals. 

Other cities haven’t. 

The city of Anniston, Ala., recently erected a historic marker about Mr. Cobb playing briefly for the Anniston Steelers. It was placed near where the then-18-year-old player resided for a couple of months in a boarding house in 1904. 

It’s not the first time, of course, that Augusta has let other cities steal its glory. The town of Royston for decades has had a welcoming billboard proclaiming itself as the “home of Ty Cobb,” and yet the truth is Mr. Cobb lived in Augusta twice as long as he lived in Royston. 

Mr. Cobb was not a native of Royston as so many people think.  He was born on a farm outside Cornelia, 20 miles east of Royston.  His funeral, in fact, was held in Cornelia, not Royston. 

Maybe one day decades down the road, some smart Augusta leader with some clout might just think, “Hey, you know, we might could lure some big bucks tourism business here if we capitalized on our amazing connections to the first player inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.” 

But then again, they probably won’t.                                                     

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Unsweetened_Tea
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Unsweetened_Tea 09/09/09 - 11:44 am
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Amazing article!  Thank you

Amazing article!  Thank you for all the great historic info.  I have passed by the places you have listed above many times, but now I know what I am really looking at!

CHSDARKHORSE
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CHSDARKHORSE 09/10/09 - 07:42 am
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Thank you for the article.

Thank you for the article. I also enjoyed your book "Ty Cobb Safe At Home." Ty did have a way of treating people the way they treated him. I've never read where he started a fight but rarely did he walk away from one.

If you ever have a tour or a history lesson on Cobb's life I like to be invited. I'm sure others would love to know more of Cobb's life in Augusta.

Don Rhodes
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Don Rhodes 09/10/09 - 07:52 am
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Thank you, Unsweetened Tea

Thank you, Unsweetened Tea and CHSDARKHORSE, for your comments.  That's what I want to do with this blog as I have with so many past articles:  educate local people about their great history and make them prouder of living here.  I get so tired of hearing people raving about Charleston and Savannah's history when the Augusta area has just as much.

ljc
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ljc 09/10/09 - 08:23 am
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This is such a great

This is such a great addition to the AC!!  I enjoy interesting local history as much as interesting facts about music artists, so I will look forward to each Back Rhodes blog as much as I have your weekly Ramblin' Rhodes column since its beginning!  Keep plugging for more recognition of well known people who have ties to our area as a tourism draw!  At the very least a walk of fame on the river walk would be great and not that expensive I would think!  Keep up the good work and enthusiasm, Don!~LJCM

thoga
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thoga 09/10/09 - 08:30 am
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for whatever reason Augusta

for whatever reason Augusta just can not get its head out of the sand.  They talk about wanting to be like Savannah and other cities but they just don't have the leadership to get anything done.  Augusta does have some good points but take a look around--some areas are in just terrible condition.  Travel down Broad Street--not the Calhoun but old Broad Street and it is just awful.

Newsreader
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Newsreader 09/10/09 - 08:33 am
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Don the problem with Augusta

Don the problem with Augusta is... wait for it... We are the Rodney Dangerfield of Southern Cities. We get no respect, no respect I tell ya. We do not even respect ourselves. I hope your insights and reminisings put some of that respect back on Augusta. Maybe we should create a catchy slogan like, "Be Augustan and proud". Or maybe "Augusta, it is your grandfather's city!". Something to remind people we have a rich and proud heritage. We are the second oldest, and second largest, city in Georgia, but nobody cares. No respect, just no respect.

youshouldknowbetter
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youshouldknowbetter 09/10/09 - 09:38 am
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Wow what a great article. I

Wow what a great article. I knew that Ty had connections with Augusta, but not to the extent that you pointed out in this article.

Why in the world wouldn't Augusta honor Ty with at least a statue? It could bring a lot of revenue into town if Augusta promoted itself as the home of Ty Cobb.

Thank you so much for the article. I loved it! 

Don Rhodes
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Don Rhodes 09/10/09 - 09:56 am
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 Thanks, all of you

 Thanks, all of you guys!

 Now you've convinced me that I did the right thing in agreeing to do this blog about the history of the Augusta area.

 My life is so complicated and so busy, I really wasn't sure I wanted to add one more thing to it.

 I never, ever in a million thousand years thought I would be writing my Ramblin' column every week for almost 39 years, but the responses of my readers have kept me going.

 Don't ever think for a second that any writer, TV reporter or radio personality doesn't appreciate for a second when you care enough to respond to something they do.  For most of us, it's really not the paycheck.  There's more money in other lines of work.

 Thank you, guys.

 Don

JAndy
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JAndy 09/10/09 - 10:24 am
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 Whats the difference

 Whats the difference between the racist and activist?     The color of the skin.

Don Rhodes
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Don Rhodes 09/10/09 - 11:29 am
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  Not sure about that, my

 

Not sure about that, my friend.

 I have black friends who are both racists and activists.

 I have white friends who are both racists and activists.

All of us, including me, have prejudices within us.  I take pride in that I was on a first name basis with both Georgia Governor Lester Maddox and Atlanta Constricution publisher Ralph McGill.  

When I grew up in the Methodist church we used to sing, "Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in his sight.  Jesus loves the little children of the world."

 What happened with that innocent approach to life? 

Thinks to the upbringing of my parents and peers, I have tried to see the goodness in all people and appreciate the artistic and professional accomplishments and contributions of all people.  I hope all of you good readers try to do likewise.  It's not only the Christian thing to do.  It's the moral and right thing to do.

 The world is far too small for small people.

 Don

 

 

Southern_Patriot
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Southern_Patriot 09/10/09 - 11:55 am
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Great article Don, I tried

Great article Don, I tried to get the RC Historical Society to put a marker at the Fair Grounds and at Jenning Stadium site but all they'er not interested. Like most of the other organizations in Augusta they're only interested in lining their pockets.

Southern_Patriot
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Southern_Patriot 09/10/09 - 12:03 pm
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There is very few cities

There is very few cities that has a minor league baseball history that Augusta has. Not just Ty Cobb all the former major pleague players that played in Augusta from 1904-1963 is awesome and not mention the players that played for Augusta since 1988 is around 100.

jrbfromga
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jrbfromga 09/12/09 - 12:01 pm
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Don, can you confirm that Ty
Unpublished

Don, can you confirm that Ty Cobb once resided at the home on the corner of Baker and Central Avenues?  Have been told this all of my life and would like to know.  Also, I agree with you and other posters that Augusta has neglected to feature its best history, including its great contributions to baseball and its celebrities.  It seems that Augusta is too caught up in racial strife for the last 40 years to move on.

Don Rhodes
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Don Rhodes 09/12/09 - 05:36 pm
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TO JRBFROMGA:  Ty Cobb

TO JRBFROMGA:

 Ty Cobb owned a lot of property in Richmond County including a lot off Bohler Avenue near Crawford Avenue.  I've never heard of him having a house on Baker and Central, although just recently I read that he rented some place on The Hill.

 Just before Word War I, he bought and moved his family into the second story house on Williams Street where he lived for many years into the early 1930s when his family moved to California.

 I'm not saying he didn't stay at a house on Baker and Central. I just have never seen that on any property records he had.

 Thanks for asking, though.  TRC continues to educate me and continues to be a fascinating character in my life.  The truly weird thing is that the summer of 1961, he was dying at Emory hospital in Atlanta when my family moved that same summer to Chamblee, just a few miles away in the same county.  It was almost pre-destined that I would be fascinated with his life.

 DON

spartan22
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spartan22 11/11/09 - 06:08 pm
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There is no statue of Ty

There is no statue of Ty Cobb in Augusta like of singer James Brown.  There is no street named after him or baseball field. This is so sad. Western cities of larger population like San Diego and Seattle named streets after legends in baseball and have less history than Augusta, but the towns of Eastern coast greater history forget to advertisement where the sport of baseball all began circ 1903. The first player in the Hall of Fame. hmmmm, Sure we dont have Yankee Stadium, but we oughta have a replica, (why you say?) a HUGE percentage of their players rolled through little ol' Augusta, --Fascinating. I would support anyone in govt willing to bring this back to forefront(maybe its too a field of only dreams. Some smaller towns than Augusta capitalize on less. Yes we overlook whats under our very noses. Can you imagine the number of Masters' fans seeing the memorial to what made baseball a budding sport back 100 years ago. It would be smart to spotloght it before another 100 years passes, while the tourists are STILL coming

spartan22
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spartan22 11/11/09 - 06:18 pm
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Great works Don, I

Great works Don, I too tried to get the RC Historical Society to put a marker at Jenning Stadium site but they dont care, if it doesnt have a golf club attached to it to show off on TV every Spring they dont give a rip. I gave up and moved to a part of the US that cares. Pity Augusta, they cannot STILL get it right. SHAME on the city fathers, they think coverage of the Masters is all peachy and all they will ever need. No so. But they have to wait and see how that chapter unfolds. Third rate city, with a second rate sport, in a firs rate location on 1-20. But has the attenton span of a 3 yr old. So I dont hold my breath--and I stay away and only glance sadly at the Masters TV event year, and wish they could do something for ALL of US to make US proud.

WesleyFricks
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WesleyFricks 04/04/10 - 07:48 pm
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We have to quit saying Ty

We have to quit saying Ty Cobb was a racist because he lived in the days of racists people if we are going to get anywhere with Ty Cobb in Augusta.

To a black person, a racist is a racist. In my experience with Ty Cobb, he was not as much of a racist as he was about people violating his personal honor.

Ty Cobb was responsible for Hank Aaron getting promoted to the Major Leagues. Not to start a riot here! Yes, Hank Aaron would have made it to the big leagues anyhow, but having Ty Cobb spend hours with the manager of the Braves on his behalf certainly did not hurt his advancement with the pros.

There is so much history with Augusta and baseball that I too wish they would line up with Cobb and give him the support Augusta had for him in the first quarter of the century.

I would be the first to contribute to the subscription!

Wesley Fricks
TY COBB Historian
(813) 957-1842

Tots
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Tots 04/05/10 - 01:58 pm
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Don thanks for a really good

Don thanks for a really good article.

Tots
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Tots 04/05/10 - 02:01 pm
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Don your post@12:29-was

Don your post@12:29-was really good also.But now that songs in my head.

mikemalinin
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mikemalinin 04/06/10 - 10:55 am
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Great article! I am only in

Great article! I am only in Augusta for the day, and I came across this article when I was attempting to find some sort of Ty Cobb memorial in town. Now I know there isn't one. It's a shame. I play drums for the Goo Goo Dolls, and we are performing tonight, and I would have enjoyed seeing a memorial in Augusta. So, let this serve as my formal complaint as a tourist. I guess I'll just have to content myself with the haunted pillar and the statue of Oglethorpe in the Commons. Next time I am in the area, I plan on renting a car and visiting the Ty Cobb museum in Royston. Shame on Augusta for ignoring the professional accomplishments of the greatest ball player of all time.

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