At the end of the 1926 season the baseball world was shocked by the sudden resignations of two almost legendary player-managers—Ty Cobb of the Detroit Tigers and Tris Speaker of the Cleveland Indians.
Speaker was considered the best outfielder in history. His lifetime batting average was .344, and at the age of 38 he was still going strong. Ty Cobb was considered to be the best baseball player who ever lived. For 23 years he was a terror to the game. He stole 892 bases. His lifetime batting average was .367. Cobb, too, was still going strong, so why the resignations?
Well, it all resulted from a charge made by a former pitcher, Hubert (Dutch) Leonard that in 1919, the year of the Black Sox scandal, Leonard, Speaker, Cobb and Smokey Joe Wood ( Cleveland pitcher) had conspired to rig a game.
The four happened to meet, said Leonard, under the stands after the first game of a series in Detroit on Sept. 24, 1919. Cleveland had already clinched second place. Detroit was in a dogfight for third. There was a fair piece of change involved. One thing led to another and, Leonard said, it was agreed that the Cleveland team, since it had nothing to lose, would let the Tigers win the next game. Then it suddenly dawned on them that if they knew who was going to win they might just as well make some money out of it.
" Cobb said he would send a guy named West [who knew how to get a bet down] over to us," Leonard said. "I was to put up $1,500 and, as I remember it, Cobb $2,000, Wood and Speaker $1,000 each. I had pitched that day and was through for the season, so I gave my check for $1,500 to Wood at the ball park and left that night for Independence, Mo."
Things seemed to go off without a hitch. Detroit jumped to a 4-0 lead in two innings and won easily 9-5. But Leonard didn't make much on the deal. His $1,500 grew to only $1,630 because, he was told, it was impossible to get a big bet down on the game.
This was the story that Leonard told Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis—a story that no one in the world would have believed. Except for one thing. Leonard had thoughtfully saved two letters, one written to him by Wood, the other by the great Cobb himself. Wood's letter read:
Dear Friend Dutch:
The only bet West could get up was $600 against $420 (10 to 7). Cobb did not get up a cent. He told us that and I believe him. Could have put some at 5 to 2 on Detroit, but did not, as that would make us put up $1,000 to win $400.
We won the $420. I gave West $30, leaving $390, or $130 for each" of us. Would not have cashed your check at all, but West thought he could get 10 to 7, and I was going to put it all up at those odds. We would have won $1,750 for the $2,500 if we could have placed it....
Let me hear from you, Dutch....