The victory of Detroit's Ty Cobb over Cleveland's Shoeless Joe Jackson in the 1911 American League batting race is part of baseball lore. It is often cited as the perfect example of Cobb's cunning, the clearest demonstration of how he put his keen intelligence to work in the service of his career. The story has frequently appeared in print.
In Cobb's autobiography, My Life in Baseball-The True Record, there is a foreward by General Douglas MacArthur that describes Cobb as "baseball's greatest competitor.... This great athlete seems to have understood early in his professional career that in the competition of baseball, just as in war, defensive strategy never has produced ultimate victory and, as a consequence, he maintained an offensive posture to the end of his baseball days.... His aggressive exploits...vitalized the competitive spirit among the youth of the land."
MacArthur's remarks were in line with Cobb's perceptions. A central chapter of his autobiography, called "The Ultimate Secret: Make Them Beat Themselves...," is devoted to Cobb's playing philosophy ("The Great American Game should be an unrelenting war of nerves") and ends with Cobb's version of his 1911 showdown with Jackson: "You sat up nights plotting ways to win...and it was on such a night that I won a league batting championship that it seemed I was about to lose." With more modesty than his biographers, some of whom set Jackson's lead at 35 points at the time, Cobb put it at only nine points.
" Jackson was a Southerner, like myself, a friendly, simple and gullible sort of fellow," he wrote. "On the field, he never failed to greet me with a 'Hiyuh, brother Ty!' So now we were in Cleveland for a season-closing six-game series, and before the first game I waited in the clubhouse until Jackson had taken his batting practice. I had one of the clubhouse boys tip me off when he was finished, so I couldn't miss him.
"Ambling over, Joe gave me a grin and said, 'How's it going, brother Ty? How you been?'
"I stared coldly at a point six inches over his head. Joe waited for an answer. The grin slowly faded from his face to be replaced by puzzlement.
" 'Gosh, Ty, what's the matter with you?'
"I turned and walked away. Jackson followed, still trying to learn why I'd ignored him.
" 'Get away from me!' I snarled.
"Every inning afterward, I arranged to pass close by him, each time giving him the deep freeze. For a while, Joe kept asking, 'What's wrong, Ty?' I never answered him. Finally, he quit speaking and just looked at me with hurt in his eyes."