This week’s installment of our leadership and success series focuses on motivation as playing a vital role in becoming a leader as well as in the attainment of success. We turn to one of baseball’s greatest players – Ty Cobb, nicknamed “The Georgia Peach” for his small town beginnings in Royston, Georgia , to exemplify this rule.
Some pundits will argue that Ty Cobb was the greatest player of all time. Cobb had the stats to back it up and, considering his storied, combative nature, was apparently willing to do so. Not to turn this blog into a statistical haven but certain stats do deserve mention. Cobb won the American League batting crown 12 times, including 9 years running, from 1907 through 1915. He batted over.400 three times, including .420 in 1911. He hit, ran, and stormed his way to the highest lifetime batting average ever achieved of any major league player, .367, accumulated over his 24 years in the Major Leagues, a record that still endures following his retirement in 1928 and will likely continue to endure for many more years. The charter edition of baseball’s hall of fame in 1936 saw Cobb, one of the 5 players to be elected, receive the highest votes cast for induction, four short of unanimity, even outpolling Babe Ruth.
Cobb was extraordinarily talented, but the woods are full of talented derelicts. So, what made him achieve his greatness? Undoubtedly, it was his motivation. Earlier in Cobb’s life, his father, William Herschel Cobb, had been strongly skeptical of his son’s pursuit of baseball as a living, demeaning it as “the folly of baseball.” But he ultimately relented to his son’s entreaties accompanied by the stern admonition, “Don’t come home a failure.” This warning seems innocuous enough. But the development of extenuating circumstances which beset him later on the eve of his departure to the major leagues undoubtedly played a major part in his motivation to succeed.
Cobb had been an outstanding minor league player while playing for the Augusta, Georgia Tourists in the South Atlantic or ”Sally” League, among the lower echelons of the minor leagues. His play was duly noted, however, by scouts of major league teams that frequented his games. Ultimately, his contract was purchased by the American League’s Detroit Tigers for $700 and he was scheduled to report in late August, 1905.
But the pall of a horrific family tragedy engulfed him at home and shadowed him to Detroit. Cobb’s mother had shot his father to death only a short time earlier, on August 8, 1905. His mother, a pretty woman, had been suspected of taking a lover. His father, attempting to enter a bedroom window of their home, was shot gunned by his mother who apparently believed it was a burglar attempting to break in. A revolver was later found on the body. Cobb’s mother, later charged with voluntary manslaughter, was acquitted. On August 30, 1905, a mere three weeks after his father’s death, Cobb debuted in center field for the Detroit Tigers, rapping a double in four trips to the plate off the New York Highlanders’ (officially renamed The New York Yankees in 1913) ace spitballer, Jack Chesbro, who had won an amazing 41 games the year before. It was the first of 3,032 games for Cobb before his 1928 retirement.
Noted writer Charles C. Alexander wrote that after retirement Cobb claimed his father was the greatest man he ever knew. And Cobb’s biographer, Al Stump, wrote that at his request, after death, he was entombed in the family mausoleum in Royston, Georgia, where it all began, in a chamber directly across from his father’s.
Cobb’s relentless pursuit of success in baseball may well have grown out of the close relationship he had enjoyed with his father, but he was undoubtedly also driven by the haunting memories of his father’s tragic and untimely death, all of which provided a special motivation for him. Whatever the source, strong motivation clearly plays a key role for anyone aspiring to success as a leader.
Watch for my new book, “The Pearl Harbor Congressional Cover Up”, coming soon. It will feature leadership failures at the highest level of government.
Arnold G. Regardie