Ninety years ago this week, League Park was invaded by the over-the-hill gang.
The Athletics came to town, and their roster included talent on the rise like Al Simmons, Jimmie Foxx and Lefty Grove – three key cogs in the teams that would win three straight pennants from 1929-31 (including World Series in the first two of those years) – but it was also home to some players who were great names but had their best days behind them.
Eddie Collins, at 41, was in the second year of his return engagement with the Athletics. He’d played the first nine years of his career in Philadelphia as part of Connie Mack’s celebrated $100,000 infield before being sold to the White Sox after the 1914 season. He wasn’t playing, but could be found in the third-base coaching box at League Park.
Also finding a home in Philadelphia – and a spot coaching first base against the Indians – was former Tribe player-manager Tris Speaker, who’d left Cleveland ignominiously following the 1926 season. After a year in Washington, he was picked up by the Athletics as well.
And patrolling right field for the Athletics against the Indians on June 15, 1928, was Ty Cobb. Cobb left Detroit under the same cloud that chased Speaker from Cleveland after the 1926 season – namely allegations of the fix of a regular-season game that clinched a World Series share for both teams and allowed bets to be placed to further the profits. But those allegations weren’t proven, and Cobb, like Speaker, was content to play baseball again, and seemingly overjoyed to do so for Connie Mack in Philadelphia. (Already a millionaire in addition to being on the other side of 40, Cobb could have seemingly retired whenever he wanted.)
“I like this team fine,” Cobb said in the June 16, 1928, Plain Dealer. “I wish I’d been with the Athletics long before I was.”
Father Time had seemingly caught up with Cobb. After legging out a single in his first at-bat, a writer in the press box was heard to say, “Maybe it’s the uniform that makes him look so slow.” That single ended up staking Lefty Grove to a four-run lead after the first inning.
After giving what appeared to be a lackluster effort in the field, another writer said, “That is what old age has done for the world’s greatest ball player.”
In the eighth inning, Cobb hit a bloop double and advanced to third on a single by Simmons. Then, with reliever George Grant winding up, Cobb broke for home and slid in safely, the final steal of home in his illustrious career. The run was the 12th of the game, and more than enough in the Athletics’ 12-5 win.
Cobb would retire at the end of the season with an innumerable amount of records. His record of 4,191 career hits lasted for nearly 60 years until it was broken by Pete Rose. His record of 892 career stolen bases lasted nearly 50 years until it was broken by Lou Brock. Ninety years later, Cobb’s mark of 54 steals of home remains a record.
Photo: 1928 news service photograph of Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Ty Cobb, and Tris Speaker [public domain]