A Texas-Sized Tilt
Four thousand fans in Dallas, Texas paid to watch a spring training baseball game between the New York Giants and Detroit Tigers on March 31st, 1917. Instead, what they witnessed were fisticuffs on the diamond that would end up carrying over off the field.
The situation started early in the contest, in the second inning with the Tigers batting. Detroit had two outs in the inning and star outfielder Ty Cobb was standing on first base. With Bobby Veach at the plate, Cobb attempted a steal of second base. Giants catcher Lew McCarty made a perfect throw to second baseman Buck Herzog and the ball arrived before Cobb even had a chance to slide. However, instead of conceding the out, Cobb slid into second base with his spikes up high and caught Herzog in the knee, cutting him.
As Herzog fell to the ground in pain, he grabbed hold of Cobb and both men tumbled to the ground. As they landed, Cobb reared back with his right hand to throw a punch at Herzog but shortstop Art Fletcher, who had rushed over to his teammates aid, restrained Cobb from landing a punch. By this time, the benches had cleared and the police had entered the field in order to try and restore order. After ten minutes, the scrum had been cleared out, but not before many words were exchanged between several members of both sides.
At the top of the third inning, Cobb trotted out to his position in rightfield but Giants manager John McGraw argued that Cobb should be banished from the game for starting the trouble. Umpire Bill Brennan agreed and threw the Georgia Peach out of the ballgame without objection. When Herzog stepped to the plate in the same inning, though, Tigers manager Hughie Jennings appealed to Brennan that Herzog should be expelled from the ballgame too. When Brennan refused to throw the Giant out of the game, more words were exchanged between the two sides but the game resumed with Herzog resuming his at-bat.
The Giants would win the ballgame 5-3, thanks in part to a three-run sixth inning. Although no more physical confrontations would take place on the field, the game featured lots of chippiness and more chirping between the two teams. Fletcher and Heinie Zimmerman frequently engaged in bitter discussion with Tigers’ pitcher Howard Ehmke and shortstop Donie Bush throughout the remainder of the game. Even McGraw and Jennings, friends off-the-field, engaged in banter; although it was reported that all was well between the two later that night at a banquet in Dallas where they were the guests of honor.
Before McGraw departed his hotel to attend the banquet, though, he ran into Cobb in the corridor at the Oriental Hotel, where both clubs were staying. The pair exchanged some unpleasantries before they went their separate ways; McGraw to the banquet and Cobb to the dining area, where both the Giants and Tigers were eating. A short while after Cobb sat down at his table, Herzog came over and told Cobb he would call him after dinner and the two would settle their differences. Both parties finished their dinners before returning to their rooms.
Cobb went into his room with Tigers Trainer Harry Tuthill and awaited Herzog. A few minutes later, Herzog showed up with his friend, Giants third baseman Heinie Zimmerman. Cobb and Herzog shouted a few words at each other, took off their coats, then decided to duke it out. After the two had wrestled for a considerable amount of time, Tuthill and Zimmerman decided to break up the scuffle. The two players shook hands and walked away after declaring a truce. Herzog, who was outweighed by 50 pounds against Cobb, took the worst of the brawl. He sustained a cut on his face and lost a pair of teeth. Cobb received a bruise on the side of his face.
The next day, both managers called their teams in for separate meetings and requested that all tensions between the teams be put to rest for the remainder of the series. Neither Cobb nor Herzog appeared in the afternoon ballgame, the second game of a series between the two teams. Ten thousand fans, a then-record for the state of Texas, watched a see-saw battle with the Giants prevailing 8-6. After the game, both teams took a train from Dallas to Wichita Falls, where the series would continue the next afternoon.
Not playing in the game in Wichita Falls, however, was Cobb. He said he had heard too much heckling from the Giants during the final game in Dallas and he stated he didn’t feel safe. Cobb told Manager Jennings that he was going to go train with the Cincinnati Reds for a week, at which point he would rejoin the Tigers. A group of supporters that had traveled to the Falls to watch the game tried to convince Cobb to stay and play but the star politely declined. The Tigers would end up winning the game 8-6 and, after the game, many Giants called Cobb “a quitter.”
The two teams continued their spring training tour through Oklahoma City and Tulsa before leaving to start their respective regular season schedules. No more incidents occurred between the two teams, although it was said that several Giants sent a postcard to Cobb after the series stating: â€œIt’s safe to rejoin your team; we’ve left.â€