Led by Cobb, Tigers outfield of 1915 was greatest ever

Bobby Veach, Ty Cobb, and Sam Crawford pose (somewhat reluctantly) for a photo in 1915. The three, especially Cobb and Crawford, were not particularly friendly with each other.

In 1915 the game of baseball was quite different than today.

Back then, games were played in under two hours, often just an hour-and-a-half. Every game was played during the day, and teams traveled by train to go from city to city. Baseball players wore heavy flannel uniforms and they played with tiny gloves that would be almost unrecognizable today. The strategy on the field was strikingly different, too. Back then, teams scratched and clawed for every run, it was the Deadball Era, when runs were scarce. The entire league in 1915 batted .248 and the average team hit 20 homers. The Tigers hit 23 homers for the entire season. Ballparks were cavernous (some still didn’t have outfield walls) and the field was uneven, marked with large rocks, holes, gravel, and sloping outfield expanses. Pitchers threw the ball at the batter’s head and the batters ran over fielders on the basepaths. Every season there were several incidents where fans tossed bottles or garbage at players and the team members climbed into the stands to bash fans to smithereens. It was the wild west of professional sports.

At that time, almost 100 years ago, the Detroit Tigers had the best player in baseball. They had the most feared offensive lineup in the game, scoring 778 runs, a figure only one other team came within 100 runs of. The Tigers excelled at laying down bunt hits, driving the ball into the gaps, running the bases, and winning games. They were fueled by their legendary outfield trio – and that season they were the greatest outfield ever.

The Detroit outfield consisted of Ty Cobb, Sam Crawford, and Bobby Veach. Baseball historian Bill James, now a top adviser in the Boston Red Sox front office, has called the trio the greatest outfield in baseball history, and it’s easy to see why when we look at the ’15 season.

That year, Cobb, Crawford, and Veach ranked #1, #2, and #3 in total bases and runs batted in for the American League. No other outfield has ever done that. Cobb won the batting title with a .369 mark, while Veach ranked sixth and Crawford was eighth in that category. The Georgia Peach hit .369 with 99 RBIs and 144 runs scored, Veach hit .313 and drove in 112 runs, and Crawford hit .299 with 112 RBIs.

Cobb set a major league record with 96 stolen bases, an incredible amount that stood as the record for nearly five decades.

Ty scored 144 runs to lead the league, while he also paced the circuit in hits and was second in walks with 118. It seemed like he was on base all the time. Which was fine, because Crawford hit behind him and Veach followed. Wahoo Sam led the league in triples with 19, while Veach paced the loop with 40 doubles (Cobb and Crawford tied for second with 31). The Tiger outfielders were great hitters and sluggers.

In the field, Veach was in left, Cobb in center, and Crawford in right field. Cobb was never considered a great defender, but he used his speed to get to many balls deep. His arm was average, while Crawford had a great arm and was considered one of the best with the glove at his position in his era. Veach, the least known of the trio, was an excellent left fielder, with a fine arm and great instincts. He was the shortest of the three, but he covered a lot of ground to the right of Cobb.

The efforts of the superstar outfield helped the Tigers to 100 victories – a franchise record at that time – but unfortunately the club fell shy of catching the Boston Red Sox, who won 101. It was one of the greatest offensive seasons by any Tiger team, and still stands as a remarkable season for the franchise. But without a flag to show for it, much of what the amazing outfield did that season has been forgotten. But it shouldn’t be, because fir at least one season Cobb, Crawford, and Veach were the greatest outfield there ever was.

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About Dan Holmes

The editor of Detroit Athletic Co. blog, is the author of Ty Cobb: A Biography. He previously worked for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, NY, and worked for Major League Baseball as a web producer. He contributed to Sock it to 'Em Tigers: The Incredible Story of the 1968 Detroit Tigers, and Deadball Stars of the American League. Follow him on Twitter at @thedanholmes or visit his personal blog at danholmes.com.