This day in baseball: Ty Cobb suspended for attacking a fan
On May 16, 1912, Detroit outfielder Ty Cobb was suspended due to his attack on Claude Lucker two days previous. Lucker was a one-handed, outspoken fan who possessed an extreme hatred for Cobb (not an uncommon feeling amongst fans at the time). The story goes that after a few innings of trying to ignore Lucker’s taunts, Cobb eventually lost his temper and charged the stands.
According to sportswriters, “Everything was very pleasant…until Ty Cobb johnnykilbaned a spectator right on the place where he talks, started the claret, and stopped the flow of profane and vulgar words. Cobb led with a left jab and countered with a right kick to Mr. Spectator’s left Weisbach, which made his peeper look as if someone had drawn a curtain over it…. Jabs bounded off the spectator’s face like a golf ball from a rock.”
Cobb was thrown from the game by Umpire Silk O’Loughlin. Then, without hearing Cobb’s side of the incident, American League President Ban Johnson suspended him indefinitely. In support of their teammate, the rest of the Tigers went on strike to protest the decision, sending a message to the League office claiming, “We, the undersigned, refuse to play in another game after today, until such action is adjusted to our satisfaction. [Cobb] was fully justified in his action, as no one could stand such personal abuse from anyone. We want him reinstated for tomorrow’s game, May 18, or there will be no game. If the players cannot have protection we must protect ourselves.”
The strike resulted in the formation of a hodgepodge sandlot team taking over for the Tigers one day, committing nine errors and losing spectacularly to the Athletics, 24-2. Concerned about the potential repercussions the strike would have on his teammates, Cobb convinced the real Tiger players to end their protest and return to the diamond. Ban Johnson would hit Cobb with a $50 fine and a ten-day suspension for his attack on Lucker.