This week marks the 100th anniversary of the major-league debut of one of the finest, most ornery and thoroughly unlikable players in baseball history, Tyrus Raymond Cobb. How much has baseball changed in that century? Off Base went right to the source. Direct from the afterlife, the Georgia Peach speaks out on the state of the game.
OFF BASE: What do you think of today's players? Could they have played in your day?
COBB: Not a chance. Today's players are spoiled rotten. We were tougher and in better shape because we had to be. In my day, it was 200 feet between bases. Let me tell you, that really forced managers to play the infield in. One season, I had 22 doubles just on slow rollers to third.
OFF BASE: Two hundred feet between the bases? Are you sure?
COBB: You calling me a liar? Hell yes, it was 200 feet. Not only that, it was uphill to first base. And at Tiger Stadium, it was uphill all the way around the bases. That's why I had to keep my spikes sharpened. I didn't want to purposely injure opponents -- I just needed the traction.
OFF BASE: What about the money? Are you surprised by the salaries today's players make?
COBB: I'm not surprised, I'm offended. We didn't make anywhere near that kind of money in my day. Hell, we didn't make money at all -- we had to pay the owners to let us play for them. I had to hold out one spring just to get the Tigers to lower my fee to $10 a game. Let me tell you, Pete Rose never would have broken my hits record if I hadn't had to declare bankruptcy in 1926.
OFF BASE: What do you make of steroids?
COBB: It's appalling. We never did anything like that when I was playing. The only performance enhancer we had was Wheaties. And believe me, you knew whether a guy was overdoing it because he would get all gassy from the milk. And speaking of milk, we didn't have to pay a batboy to drink a gallon of milk in my day -- he drank it for free to keep from getting scurvy. It was goat's milk, too. And they had to milk the goat themselves.
OFF BASE: So you never had a teammate shoot a syringe into your butt?
COBB: I didn't say that.
OFF BASE: How about all the home runs being hit? What do you think of the power game?
COBB: Worst thing that ever happened to baseball. Hitting a home run is a coward's way of scoring. A real man earns a run by legging out a Baltimore chop, then sweating in the broiling sun on the base paths while his teammates perfectly execute a bunt and a hit-and-run, followed by a passed ball in a 2-1 barn burner. Now, that's exciting. But heck, today's lazy players can't even be bothered to play in the sun anymore. It's too hot for them. So instead, they play at night when they should be out chasing whores and drinking boilermakers. Pansies.
And what's all this body armor I see players wearing? Crap, batting helmets? We didn't even have protective cups until One Ball Heilmann started sticking a spittoon down his pants. That's why we wore such loose-fitting flannels. We needed the extra room. And we didn't need any pitch counts. In my day, we monitored a pitcher by measuring his arm with a yardstick between innings. If it was a couple inches longer than his other arm we might -- MIGHT -- get someone in the bullpen ready. But usually we just gave him a bullet to bite and sent him back to the mound.