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According to Cobb, Jackson's perplexity and loss of concentration led to his complete collapse at the plate. And when Jackson stopped hitting, Cobb rallied in those last six games of the season, passed him and won the batting title. Cobb ended his account with some words of advice: "It helps if you help them beat themselves."
In the story of Cobb's life, the episode is taken as further proof of his desire and shrewdness. Because batting championships were becoming commonplace to Cobb—the 1911 title was his fifth in a row—the point of the story rests on his come-from-behind victory and his cunning tactics.
In the light of the stereotype of Jackson's life—especially in regard to his role as one of the Chicago Black Sox who were banished from baseball for throwing the 1919 World Series to the Cincinnati Reds, Jackson for allegedly having knowledge of the fix, although he claimed he didn't take part in it—the episode has a different meaning, one that was explored by Joe Williams, a sports columnist for the New York World-Telegram. Williams wrote several columns about Jackson, his boyhood idol. In one of these, headlined " Shoeless Joe Was Weak As Cobb Proved," Williams began by repeating the standard fiction that Jackson was playing baseball barefoot when he was discovered. Williams then offered the accepted, or Cobb, version of the 1911 batting race and an interpretation of its meaning. Joe Jackson, he wrote, "revealed a significant weakness of character, for when Ty Cobb began to crowd him and then openly taunt him, Shoeless Joe faded.... Here was proof, stunning proof, that he wasn't a competitor, was incapable of meeting a crisis head-on."
Among the baseball writers of his era, Williams was ordinarily one of Jackson's staunchest admirers, but the "stunning proof he offered to demonstrate the defective character of his boyhood idol was, in fact, false. The episode, so carefully detailed and elaborated on by Cobb and numerous writers since, never happened.
Cobb did win the 1911 batting title by hitting .420, and Jackson did finish second with .408. Cobb probably did try to upset and confuse Jackson, and he may have used the silent treatment he describes. But there was no showdown in the last six games of the season, and there was no come-from-behind victory by Cobb. Nor was there a failure of Jackson's nerve. The facts are less dramatic. Jackson, playing his first full season, simply had the bad luck to run into Cobb at his peak. The 1911 season was Cobb's finest; he hit .400 in May and never fell below that mark all year long, and he reached his career highs in average, hits, doubles, triples, runs scored, runs batted in and slugging average. He got off to such an incredible start—after 84 games he had 146 hits and was batting .438—that he announced his goal for the season was 300 hits (he finished with 248).
After 84 games Jackson was 48 points behind, at .390. After 100 games Cobb had dropped to .417 and Jackson had climbed to .398. The gap between them fluctuated from day to day, and at times it narrowed. Yet after 130 games, Cobb was at .416 and Jackson was still at .398. There was no day in the 1911 season when Jackson led Cobb in batting.
Further, the final six-game series, during which the showdown supposedly occurred, is also imaginary. The Tigers came into Cleveland for a three-game series that began on the Monday of the last week of the season. The Tuesday game was rained out, so they played a doubleheader on Wednesday. Before the series began, Cobb held a lead over Jackson of 15 points. In the three games, Cobb went 3 for 10, Jackson 3 for 9.
After the series in Cleveland, the Tigers went to St. Louis for their last three games of the year. Cobb and eight other key players were not with them. Just as he had done the year before when he was defending a lead in the batting race against Larry Lajoie, Cobb withdrew from his team's final games. When pressed to explain his behavior, Cobb said that the Browns had such a poor pitching staff that he would have been certain to have fattened his average at their expense.
Cleveland went to Chicago for the last three games of its season. The White Sox, needing victories in all three games to beat out Cleveland for third place, opened with their money pitcher, Big Ed Walsh, who was going after his 27th win of the season. That year Walsh led the American League in strikeouts, games pitched, innings pitched and games saved. He was a hard, determined man who threw a spitball. Jackson got three hits off him, including a clutch single in the eighth inning that ignited what was to be a game-winning rally. The final score was 4-3 Cleveland and enabled the Indians to clinch third place. Jackson, still 14 points behind Cobb, sat out the meaningless last two games.
In all likelihood, Cobb himself created the story of his dramatic come-from-behind victory over Jackson. This kind of self-promotion was not new to him. When he was an 18-year-old minor-leaguer he had bombarded a young sportswriter named Grantland Rice with anonymous telegrams and letters: "Tyrus Raymond Cobb, the dashing young star from Royston...is a terrific hitter and faster than a deer. At the age of 18 he is undoubtedly a phenom." Rice followed up the lead and discovered Cobb, who 40 years later confessed his trick to Rice.