"Too many fights," Jennings replied.
The one and only way I could see to settle the clique's hash was to outhustle and, if possible, outplay all members of it. Starting in 1907, a period of emergence began for me. By July the Chicago White Sox had won 53 and lost 33 and led the American League over Detroit, with 49-33. In Boston we knocked off the Red Sox in a nip and tuck game, aided by my 11th-inning double off Charley Pruitt. Moving to New York, I was in right field when Frank LaPorte of the Highlanders sliced a drive that looked good for three bases. With two out, a pair of New Yorkers were on base, and they went dashing for home. Tearing after the ball, I ran out of my shoes but saw I wasn't going to make it, so I took off in a headlong dive and stabbed out barehandedly. The ball smacked my palm and stuck there long enough for me to clench it. I plowed up grass for half a dozen feet, somersaulted twice and held up the ball for the umpire. A vast whoosh of disappointment came from the crowd. It sounded like a gasbag had exploded. Two New York runs had scored, but the catch ended the inning and the runs did not count.
I gashed my thumb, and whenever I hit the dirt in a slide the wound broke open and bled freely. Charley Schmidt said in an interview: "Cobb loses a pint of blood every time he slides!" It was more like a thimbleful. But it helped break the ice with my teammates, and Schmidt began to act like my press agent.
As 1907 rolled along, my bat average rose above .330. And I made a wonderful discovery. I learned the value of playing on an opponent's nerves and forcing miscues. I did desperate things that got me a reputation as a fool base runner who'd take wild chances. Against Cleveland on June 27, 1907 I scored four runs for the first time in one game. On July 18, against Washington, I stole three bases for the first time. On October 2, playing the Nats again, I got away with four steals for the first time in my life.
The 1907 fight for the World Series money was one of the wildest I ever saw. We went into New York needing 14 of the remaining 16 games to grab the pennant. In a tense, 10-inning pitching duel between Slow Joe Doyle of the Highlanders and Twilight Ed Killian for our side I was the runner on first and got the hit and run sign. Claude Rossman, our lanky first baseman, was at bat. With his long arms that could reach anything around the plate, Rossman was one of the most dependable hit-run men I ever knew. But this time he missed the ball, and the Highlander catcher fired to second to catch me on the slide. The ball was a bit wide and bounced off Danny Hoffman's glove into shallow right field. I tore for third. It looked like sure-enough suicide. Hoffman's throw had me beat. But I watched Third Baseman LaPorte's eyes as he reached for the ball and swerved my body into the way. It bounced off my hip, and I was safe.
There were two out, and Germany Schaefer, at bat, was in a slump. When Pitcher Doyle wound up I dashed in almost halfway to the plate and then hastily retreated. Each dash down the baseline was an experiment to see if I could go all the way. Doyle wound again, and this time I kept going. Germany Schaefer was so startled to see me coming that he half swung, and topped the ball toward third, enabling me to cross the plate without bothering to slide. But Germany still had to beat the throw to first to make my run count. My unorthodox tactics had Doyle so unstrung he momentarily fumbled Germany's topper, and the game was over, by a score of 1-0.
It filled me with delight to find that you could arrange for the other gents to beat themselves by applying pressure at the psychological moment—even great players. In that same New York series I walked, and Rossman sacrificed. The bunt was handled slick as a whistle and fired to Hal Chase, the "Prince" of first basemen. The play was routine enough, and Chase, assuming I'd stop at second, gloved the ball and then dropped his meat hand. I was already bearing down on third base. Both mortified and momentarily paralyzed, Chase fired hastily. The throw pulled the third baseman toward left field for a reaching stop. Being safe at third, by all odds, I should have stopped there. But to throw home the third baseman had to recover from his awkward position. That was all the edge I needed, and I slid under his throw to the plate and scored.
We finally took the championship from the A's by a final hairbreadth margin of .613 to .607. Detroit didn't go to bed for two nights running. The rewards of being a winner began to pour in on me, leaving me fairly dizzy. With a .350 batting mark, I took my first American League title, and tied Honus Wagner, also with .350 in the National League, for the over-all championship.
I have been roughed up in print possibly more than any man who ever played at sport. It was Bugs Baer (among many writers) who convinced the country that I sat on a Detroit bench, whetting my spikes razor-sharp with a file, and then putting them to bloody use on the base paths. In legend I am a sadistic, slashing, swashbuckling despot who waged war in the guise of sport. The truth is that I believe, and always have believed, that no man, in any walk of life, can attain success who holds in his heart malice, spite or bitterness toward his opponent.
But I did retaliate. If any player took unfair advantage of me, my one thought was to strike back as quickly and effectively as I could. One of the scurvier stories marketed about me concerns Frank Baker. He was a clever third baseman and lifetime .307 hitter but better known as one of the original popularizers of the home run. On August 24, 25 and 26 of 1909, the Tigers met the Athletics at Bennett Park, Detroit, in a critical three-game series, the A's having a two-game lead in the flag race. In the opening match of the series, while sprinting for third, I found Baker planted in a direct line between third base and second as he fielded the throw. He was in a strictly offensive attitude. The base path was mine by all the rules. Baker's two arms were extended to tag me. A photograph exists clearly showing that the bag is on his right side, that he is on the attack and that I am pulling away from him in order to hook that bag. But the fable makers will have you believe that I knocked Baker's arm clear behind his back. They paint Baker as sprawled flat in the dirt and blood-smeared. He was not injured enough to lose an inning of play, then, or for the remainder of the season.