Born in Narrows, Georgia, Cobb had a strong well-respected father as a role model, but his mother shot his father dead one night as his father was entering the house by a window. Some thought the killing an accident, with Mr. Cobb mistaken for a deadly intruder. Others whispered that Mrs. Cobb had taken a lover, and killed her husband to avoid being caught with him. Either way, the killing was traumatic for young Ty Cobb (18 years old at the time). Some of the fanatical intensity he brought to baseball may have been linked to that killing. Cobb later made his home in Augusta, Georgia and his first venture in to baseball was with the Augusta Tourists.
Cobb was disliked widely by the press and opponents, and today is remembered for his violent behavior off the field and for his racist attitudes. Even those who disliked him personally acknowledged his skill as a player, however.
Cobb won 13 American League batting titles, a record that has not been closely approached. His batting average topped the .400 mark three times. In 1911, Cobb had one of the most productive seasons for a batter, when he hit for a .420 average and led the league in numerous categories.
In 1910, Cobb and Napoleon Lajoie were neck-and-neck for the American League batting title, with Cobb pulling ahead by a slight margin going into the last day of the season. The prize was a Chalmers Automobile. Cobb sat out the Detroit game to preserve his average. Lajoie, whose Cleveland team was playing the St. Louis Browns, notched seven hits in a doubleheader to pass Cobb. Six of those hits were bunt singles which fell in front of the third baseman. It turned out that the Browns' manager had ordered the third baseman to play back, so as to allow Lajoie to win the batting title instead of Cobb. American League president Ban Johnson declared Cobb the official batting average winner after some wrangling. The Chalmers people, however, decided to award an automobile to both Cobb and Lajoie. The next year, the Chalmers Award was given to the player "most valuable" to his team, and the modern Most Valuable Player Award was born, with Cobb winning the American League version unanimously.
In May, 1912, Cobb assaulted a heckler in the stands in New York. The league suspended Cobb for the assault, and his Detroit teammates, though not fond of Cobb, went on strike to protest the suspension prior to the May 18th game in Philadelphia. For that one game, Detroit fielded a replacement team made up of college and sandlot ballplayers, plus two Detroit coaches, and lost, 24-2. The strike ended when Cobb urged his teammates to return to the field.
In 1960 sportswriter Al Stump spent an extended period with the aging Cobb, in an effort to produce a authorised biography. Despite Cobb's unpleasantness to Stump the book (ISBN: 1565121449) painted Ty in a sympathetic light. Thirty years later, however, Stump extensively revised the book, including his own experience with Cobb and capturing the man who was so disliked by so many of his contemparies.