Ty Cobb beat up a heckler 100 years ago today

Kevin Kaduk
Big League Stew

After celebrating the 100th anniversary of his incredible 1911 campaign last season, we've now moved on to the centennial of another notable event from Ty Cobb's career.

Seriously, where does the time go? It was 100 years ago Tuesday that the Detroit Tigers legend rushed the stands at New York's Hilltop Park to confront and then beat a man named Claude Lucker who had been throwing "nasty and crude" insults his way during a game against the New York Highlanders. Adding to the bizarre nature of the situation was the fact that Lucker only had two fingers, having lost the other eight in a printing press accident.

Jim Reisler wrote about the incident for the New York Times a few weeks ago:

The Tigers' Sam Crawford asked Cobb what he intended to do. And with that, Cobb suddenly vaulted into the stands toward Lucker, seated about 12 rows up in the grandstand. Knocking Lucker down, Cobb began kicking and stamping him.

"Cobb," someone cried, "that man has no hands!"

"I don't care if he has no feet!" he yelled, continuing the attack with his cleats. Some fans tried to intervene, but several teammates who had followed Cobb into the grandstand held them off with bats. An umpire and a police officer finally pulled Cobb away.

Ron Artest was still 67 years away from being born, but the reaction to Cobb's confrontation received just as much media attention as Artest's charge into the Detroit stands 92 years later.

The fallout from the incident was even more strange. Cobb was suspended indefinitely by American League president Ban Johnson, which led to a strike by Tigers players — the first in baseball history. Contending that players were not being protected enough from unruly fans, the Detroit regulars refused to take the field for a May 18 game against the Philadelphia A's.

But faced with the threat of a $5,000 fine if the team forfeited the game, Detroit owner Frank Navin instructed manager Hughie Jennings to find anyone he could to fill the spots on the field. What resulted was perhaps the motliest crew ever assembled; the team would lose to the Athletics by a score of 24-2.

Writes Reisler:

Allan Travers, a 20-year old seminarian and assistant manager of the St. Joseph's College baseball team, recruited most of the eight position players from his neighborhood for $25 apiece. Travers found a boxer, Billy Maharg, who later played one game for the 1916 Phillies and was implicated as a bag man in the 1919 Black Sox scandal. He found Ed Irvin, who had toiled in the low minors, and the sandlotter Bill Leinhauser. Travers was set to play right field, but when told that the pitcher would be paid $50, he decided to pitch.

A desperate Jennings pressed two of his coaches into service. Deacon McGuire, who had spent 25 years in the major leagues, played catcher at 48. Joe Sugden, a former major leaguer for a dozen years, played first base at 41. Jennings, 43, pinch-hit.

Reisler has many more great details about the incident and the fallout, so go check them out.

As for Cobb, he would urge his teammates to return to the field and he ended up serving a 10-game suspension before returning on May 26 to continue a season that would see him win another batting title with a .409 average. Cobb would win 11 batting titles over the span of 13 years, but it only took a few enraged seconds at Hilltop Park to make sure that at least one incident would always be attached to those ridiculous numbers he put up.

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