By Drew Holt
Special to the Leader
By the turn of the century, baseball had become America’s new favorite pastime, and as such, it became very popular in Oxford. By 1906 baseball fever had hit most local communities and teams sprang up all over. But these were no little league squads. These teams were stocked with local businessmen, and the competition was fierce.
In July of 1906, the Detroit Tigers’ very own Tyrus Raymond Cobb was spotted walking around downtown Oxford. He was recognized by Gent Kessell, avid baseball promoter and owner of the Oxford Opera House. Apparently, the young Ty Cobb had faked an illness in order to avoid a long trip out east with the Tigers. He loved to fish and had somehow became acquainted with Oxford’s fish-filled Stony Lake.
On August 17th of that year, Kessell talked the Tigers outfielder into playing 3rd base for the Oxford team against Bay City. They lost the game and Cobb didn’t have a standout performance, however he would go on to play several more games, leading Oxford to victory.
The Oxford Leader reported, “Playing in an Oxford uniform against Imlay City, Cobb drilled a late inning double to bring in the winning runs, 4-3. Cobb played again with Oxford when the local team beat Cadillac, 10-9. He beat out a bunt and scored on a hit.”
Ty Cobb would return to Oxford again in 1907, luring other professional baseball players under the guise of great fishing in the area. The Leader wrote on July 26, 1907, “We are getting to be some pumpkins when it comes to entertaining the professional sports. Saturday, Connie Mack sent a delegation here to head off the far-famed ‘Rube’ Waddell, who had come out, inspired by Ty Cobb’s fish stories, to angle for some of those whoppers in nearby lakes.” Mack succeeded in getting the “Rube” back to Detroit to pitch the Philadelphia-Detroit game.
Cobb went on to play 22 seasons for the Detroit Tigers, showcasing an impressive .366 batting average. He served as the team’s player-manager for his last six years.
(Drew Holt is an Oxford resident and member of the Northeast Oakland Historical Society.)