Ty Cobb - Rivalry With Sam Crawford

Rivalry With Sam Crawford

Sam Crawford and Ty Cobb were teammates for parts of thirteen seasons. They played beside each other in right and center field, and Crawford followed Cobb in the batting order year after year. Despite the physical closeness, the two had a complicated relationship.

Initially, they had a student-teacher relationship. Crawford was an established star when Cobb arrived, and Cobb eagerly sought his advice. In interviews with Al Stump, Cobb told of studying Crawford's base stealing technique and of how Crawford would teach him about pursuing fly balls and throwing out base runners. Cobb told Stump he would always remember Crawford's kindness.

The student-teacher relationship gradually changed to one of jealous rivals. Cobb was not popular with his teammates, and as Cobb became the biggest star in baseball, Crawford was unhappy with the preferential treatment given to Cobb. Cobb was allowed to show up late for spring training and was given private quarters on the road – perks not offered to Crawford. The competition between the two was intense. Crawford recalled that, if he went three for four on a day when Cobb went hitless, Cobb would turn red and sometimes walk out of the park with the game still on. When it was initially (and erroneously) reported that Nap Lajoie had won the batting title, Crawford was alleged to have been one of several Tigers who sent a telegram to Lajoie congratulating him on beating Cobb.

In retirement, Cobb wrote a letter to a writer for The Sporting News accusing Crawford of not helping in the outfield and of intentionally fouling off balls when Cobb was stealing a base. Crawford learned about the letter in 1946 and accused Cobb of being a "cheapskate" who never helped his teammates. He said that Cobb had not been a very good fielder, "so he blamed me." Crawford denied intentionally trying to deprive Cobb of stolen bases, insisting that Cobb had "dreamed that up."

When asked about the feud, Cobb attributed it to jealousy. He felt that Crawford was "a hell of a good player," but he was "second best" on the Tigers and "hated to be an also ran." Cobb biographer Richard Bak noted that the two "only barely tolerated each other" and agreed with Cobb that Crawford’s attitude was driven by Cobb’s having stolen Crawford's thunder.

Although they may not have spoken to each other, Cobb and Crawford developed an uncanny ability to communicate non-verbally with looks and nods on the base paths. They became one of the most successful double steal pairings in baseball history.

After Cobb died, a reporter found hundreds of letters in Cobb's home that Cobb had written to influential people lobbying for Crawford's induction into the Hall of Fame. Crawford was reportedly unaware of Cobb's efforts until after Cobb had died. Crawford was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1957, four years before Cobb's death.

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