Lake Oscawana left a lasting impression on Ty Cobb. Although the exact circumstances of his allure for the vacation destination have been lost to time, the day was special enough to be commemorated with a very personal gift.
That gift has been in the consignor’s family for 85 years, rarely handled, and never offered for public sale- until now.
Box scores reveal that during the dates of August 6th – August 8th, 1925, the Detroit American League baseball club was in New York City playing a 4 game series versus Babe Ruth and the Yankees. Detroit played excellent ball beating the Yankees 3 of the 4 games. The final day featured a double header, August 8th. The Tigers were victorious in both games, with the latter being led by Ty Cobb’s bat. The first game Cobb went 1 for 5, the second game, 3 for 4 with a stolen base, his sixth of the season. After finishing the game, the Tigers and Cobb jumped a train and headed northeast to Boston for three game series with the Red Sox beginning on August 10th. Boston was only a few hours from New York by train.
In both June and September of 1925, the Tigers would travel between New York and Boston for play, with games held the next day. In this August eastward swing, an extra travel day was allotted for some reason unknown at this time. This is important to note since the travel time between Boston and New York was but a few hours and the need for a lay over not neccessary.
Train travel was provided by The New York and Putman Railroad Company, which connected New York City and Boston. While on route to Boston, the team stopped at the train station in the small town Oscawana Corners. Best described as a hamlet just a few minutes south of Lake Oscawana, this is where the team unloaded and made the short trip to the Lake.
It is unknown the exact details of what transpired on that August 9th day. A simple picnic, an impromptu game of baseball, or a day of recreational boating and fishing may have been on the agenda.
What is certain is that the hospitality provided by Mr. Al Johnson, the grandfather of our consignor, caught the attention of Ty Cobb. Upon a review of the life of Al Johnson, both he and Ty Cobb had quite a few things in common; baseball, banking, and military service during WW1.
A promising baseball career was forsaken when the First World War broke out. Mr. Johnson enlisted in the army and served overseas.
With his professional baseball dream behind, Mr. Al Johnson entered the banking field. As a banker, Mr. Johnson may have shared financial and stock tips with the enterprising Ty Cobb.
Maybe Al Johnson introduced Ty Cobb to the lake’s biggest celebrity, the town’s pet bear.
Al Johnson found and raised a baby black bear. The lake served as the home for the orphaned animal. The story of the pet bear traveled and many families visited Lake Oscawana to see the local celebrity. Maybe this was something that Ty Cobb had to see for himself!
Regardless of the exact reason, Cobb insisted that Mr. Johnson’s hospitality be rewarded; and one of his favored bats would be the bounty.
Ty Cobb would not be the only inaugural member of the Baseball Hall of Fame that Al Johnson would encounter. Several years later, the great Babe Ruth also stopped at Lake Oscawana. Babe Ruth was invited to join the regulars, and gladly accepted the invitation. This auction also contains a single signed Babe Ruth baseball gifted to our consignor. Included are copies of the photos of Johnson with Ruth, and even one of him signing the very ball! Information from the Putnam Valley Historical Society notes that Ruth rented a summer home on Oscanawa Lake from 1920-1933. As such, we consider the provenance offered with this bat and the Ruth ball to be both reasonable and verifiable.
Either way, the day at the lake left a big enough impression on Ty Cobb that he not only gifted one of his game used bats, but he autographed the bat and included a very special inscription, an inscription commemorating a very special place with an exact moment in time.
The hobby has seen other signed Ty Cobb items. As typical with most player signatures, they are found with a personalization or salutation. “To Bill” or “Best Wishes” are the most common format. For the first time in hobby history, a Ty Cobb game used signature model bat has surfaced, bearing an authentic autograph. Deliberate, controlled, and with thought, “Ty Cobb, Lake Oscawana, August 9th, 1925”, has been penned in period fountain ink on the upper area of the barrel directly at 10:00 in period black fountain ink. It was Ty Cobb’s desire for this exact moment and place to be sanctified, and his game used bat served as the monument to his wishes.
Jimmy Spence and his team evaluated the autograph and issued a full Letter of Authenticity, submission number U6796. With the aid of their advanced visual equipment, they were able to decipher the date as “August 9, 1925”. The team at JSA also concluded that the steel tip fountain pen signature was indeed authentic. With regards to the inscription, Jimmy Spence also noted, “The inscription was penned in the hand of Ty Cobb.” Additionally, JSA remarks, “The signature was consistent considering a wide range of specific qualities including slant, flow, pen pressure, letter size and formation, and other characteristics typical of our extensive database of known exemplars.” Although unable to confirm this was the only autographed game used Ty Cobb authenticated by JSA, Jimmy Spence did comment that a Cobb signature on a bat was quite rare.
With the verification of the autograph’s authenticity, the bat was then submitted to MEARS for evaluation. The findings were:
Title: 1925 Ty Cobb H&B Louisville Slugger Game Used Bat – with autograph and inscription (Only Known Example, 1:1)
MEARS Certification Number: 311436
For the purpose of this examination, the above referenced bat was examined using a magnified light source, black light, and compared to known records for bats ordered and used by Ty Cobb. MEARS evaluated the bat for originality, addition of foreign substances and/or alterations. (coloring, filler, sanding, etc.)The technical manufacturing characteristics and game use traits are as follows:
Dating 1925: Based on examples found in the MEARS database, the center brand and stampings on the bat there are consistent with what we would expect to see in a professional model bat turned for Ty Cobb in the early to mid-1920s. Thus, the autographed inscribed date of 1925 is consistent with the label period and would be considered a match. Actual examples examined by the staff of MEARS used for comparison to establish a consistency of centerbrands and dating include:
MEARS #310249 1923-25 Cobb H&B
MEARS #309434 1922-25 Cobb H&B
Therefore, the dating of the bat to 1925 is consistent with:
-General labeling period of the centerbrand and model and dimensions of known Cobb bats from the period.
-Established historical record of play and travel by the Detroit Tigers in 1925.
-Manner and route of transportation between New York and Boston.
-The date recorded as part of the authenticated Ty Cobb autograph.
-Provenance offered by the consigner.
Length 34.5″: According to a review of Ty Cobb’s H&B personal bat records, during the labeling period of 1923-25, Ty Cobb ordered 34.5″ bats during 1923 (weighing 36-42 ounces), and on 4 occasions during 1925 (weighing 35-41 ounces). Therefore, this bat would be consistent with the H&B factory records for bats being manufactured and shipped to Ty Cobb during 1923-25.
Actual examples examined by the staff of MEARS used for comparison to establish bats in the market measuring 34.5″ include:
MEARS #251452, 34 ½”
MEARS #306136, 34 ½”
Further confirmation of the fact Ty Cobb personally requested that orders of his bat be manufactured at the 34 ½” length is referenced in the pages of the book, “Ty Cobb, His Tumultuous Life and Times” by Richard Bak, 1994. In the book, Bak reports, “Ty used the same model bat (C28) from 1911 to 1924. It featured a medium-sized barrel that gradually tapered to a medium handle and knob. The length was 34 ½ “. Therefore both reported and examined data supports the fact Ty Cobb used 34 ½” bats.
Weight 37.6 ounces: According to a review of Ty Cobb’s H&B personal bat records, during the labeling period of 1923-25, Ty Cobb ordered 34.5″ bats weighing 35 to 42 ounces. This bat falls within the documented weight range for bats manufactured and shipped to Ty Cobb during the 1923-25 era.
Model C28: Examination reveals this bat is consistent with respect to manufacturing characteristics to the C28 model, the preferred choice for Ty Cobb. The C28 model is described in Ty Cobb’s personal bat records as, “His Model a.k.a. His Original model – small barrel, large handle, half round end (Model C28).
Tobacco Juice: Examination of this bat reveals the surface residue of what appears to be tobacco juice, neat’s foot oil, or a combination of both. It is my opinion the substance is more consistent with tobacco juice. I base my opinion on the color and the fact it appears to sit more on the surface and lacks the oily appearance of a product like neat’s foot oil. Tobacco juice was a very personal trait associated with a practice applied by Ty Cobb. According to Richard Bak’s book, “To set the seams, he would soak them in neat’s foot oil or chewing tobacco, then clamp them in a vise and rub them with a large hollowed out steer bone. My own favorite prescription was a chewing tobacco called Navy Nerve cut. The juiciest kind I ever discovered. Using the steer bone, I rubbed in Navy by the hour.” Examination reveals the appearance of apparent tobacco staining throughout the surface of the bats barrel and accounts for the darker than normal appearance. When shown the bat, PSA/DNA expert John Taube concurred the substance was consistent with tobacco juice.
Game Use: The game used exhibited over the length of the bat would be described as heavy or optimal. Examination reveals even game use starting at the area of the knob. The grain near the area of the knob is compressed and evenly worn. Moving upwards, in an area approximately 12″ in length, the heavily gripped handle again has compressed grain, and an equal area of “scoring”. Scoring is the process where the players deliberately compressed small grooves or notch like markings into the area of the handle. This was done to improve grip. Much care was taken to painstakingly create the scored handle pattern.
As I handle the bat, I cannot help but immediately notice how the grooves create a different surface feel, unlike the normal grip of a bat’s handle. The bat’s scored handle resists movement, even with gentle handling. I cannot help but image Ty Cobb’s own hands reacting the same way. He may even have leveraged the scoring during the second game of the double header versus the Yankees the previous day as he went 3-4.
A handle crack was originally present, but was professionally restored in an attempt to stop further separation of this historic bat. This slight crack may have been why this particular bat was seen by Cobb as a candidate for gifting.
As we pass the centerbrand and move to the area of the hitting surface on the barrel, in the area reverse to the facsimile signature (back of barrel) there is a distinct 12″ – 13″ area referred to as “deadwood”. Although having a negative sounding name, deadwood is quite a desirable game use characteristic when making comparisons to high end game used bats, and often found on the finest examples. This is consistent with extended periods of use, and heavy use is desired by collectors. Deadwood is created from the process of repeated contact of bat to ball. Much like waves working away the rocks of a shoreline, contact with a baseball gradually breaks down natures bonding of the wood graining. The repeated contact loosens the grain of the wood, and separation occurs. When examining this bat, you will note that the abundance of use is in this concentrated 12″ area on the reverse of the barrel. Closer examination, in a very small area near the middle of the bat, has an approximate 4″ deeply concentrated area of game use. The area is much like a bull’s-eye for the ball, or in Cobb’s case, the sight on a rifle used to target an oncoming fastball. It appears to have taken great precision to compact the wood in such a concentrated area.
Richard Bak notes about Ty Cobb’s personal bat traits, “Years after Ty retired, an old Hillerich lathe hand named Henry Morrow produced a bat that showed Ty’s sweet spot, the place where batters try to consistently hit the ball. There was this place on the bat that was a well-worn hollow that showed how Cobb had met the ball squarely over and over.” This bat exhibits the exact same well-worn hollow on the area of deadwood on the reverse of the bat, a rarely documentable Ty Cobb game use trait, but clearly present on this example.
Based on the heavy game use and the concentrated area of deadwood, the most outer layer of wood separated from the back of the barrel (deadwood effect). Cobb would have noticed the rising grain and the continuation would have rendered the bat unserviceable. In an attempt to prolong the bat’s life, Ty Cobb oversaw the placement of two small nails in the deadwood area.
This was intended to hold the rising grain in place, and to extend the life of the bat. Based on the overall game use, it appears the applications of the nails were successful and the raised grain, although hollowed from ball contact, remained secure enough to extend the bat’s lifespan.
Handle Tape: This characteristic is not anecdotal in nature as it relates to Cobb since it is confirmed by both photographic evidence contemporary and written accounts.
According to the book, “Ty Cobb, His Tumultuous Life and Times”, page 98 recalls, “In those days no one wore batting gloves. Since Cobb disdained the sticky feel of resin on his hands, throughout his career all of his bats had several twists of tape wrapped about eight to ten inches up the handle to improve his grip.”
This examined bat, MEARS #311436, reveals a consistent tape pattern to that referenced in Richard Bak’s book. Although the original tape is not presently visible, its ghost pattern, caused from the acidic reaction of the tape adhesive to the wood’s grain, forms the “several twists of tape” criss cross pattern. This pattern is consistent with actual examples which have entered the hobby and available photographic references.
Photographic Evidence Examples of Cobb with twisted tape pattern
1. MEARS 301123 1914 era Ty Cobb bat with twisted tape pattern (copy enclosed)
2. MEARS Data Base Image Ty Cobb examining tape handle on bat
3. MEARS Data Base Image Ty Cobb leaning on bat with tape (copy enclosed)
Therefore, through actual examined bats, written accounts, and photographic documentation, it is confirmed that Ty Cobb used H&B bats with a similarly applied tape application.
In conclusion to the evaluation of game use, it is in my researched opinion that the examined Ty Cobb Louisville Slugger 125 model bat would have been used by Ty Cobb over the course of several weeks, months, or possibly years. The presence of deadwood, patina, and overall characteristics are consistent with an extended period of game use. I base my observations and supporting opinion off of years of experience and the comparative analysis and evaluation of thousands of bats.
Grading: A base grade of 5 points was established as the bat was consistent with H&B records with respects to model (C28), Length (34.5″), and current weight (37.6 ounces). The maximum allowance of 3 points was assigned for optimal game use. 2 final points were awarded for reasonable and verifiable provenance and player traits, i.e. tobacco, remnants of twisted handle tape, concentrated area of contact. 1 point was subtracted for the absence of the original handle tape.
Final Grade: MEARS A9/Troy R. Kinunen
Conclusion: For our December 21st – 30th, 2010 MEARS Winter Elite Auction, we are very proud to offer what we consider to be the finest Ty Cobb game used (and signed) bat ever offered. Throughout the history of MEARS, we have been contracted to evaluate a select grouping of high grade Cobb game used bats. Based on their own merit, each high grade bat can be considered a trophy to their owner. Those examples include vault marked examples, side written specimens, and examples with iron clad provenance. If asked, I would be proud to own any one of those previous examined bats, and the current owners can remain proud to have them in their collections. But, if asked, could I have my choice of any, the Lake Oscawana Ty Cobb bat would be my first choice.
Graded a MEARS A9, the overall personality of this bat sets it apart from all peers. With iron clad provenance, factory documented length (34.5”), weight (37.6 ounces), model (C28), desirable personal player traits (taped handle pattern, tobacco juice, and Ty Cobb’s dipped sweet spot) and the unique and personal autograph with dated inscription, the combination of these factors make this bat the finest example extant.
The winning bidder will receive documentation in the form of JSA Autograph Full Letter of Authenticity, Letter of Opinion MEARS A9 by Troy R. Kinunen, Letter of Authenticity from PSA/DNA John Taube GU9, and letter of provenance from the grandson of Al Johnson, our consignor.