Connie Mack’s Athletics were battling the Yankees for the 1928 pennant when Philadelphia came into Washington for a double-header on September 3, 1928. Down 6-0 with two outs left in the first game, Mack sent up 41-year-old Ty Cobb as a pinch-hitter against Bump Hadley of the Senators.
Cobb, in his second year playing for Mack, had been the regular right fielder for the A’s until the end of July, when Mack decided to go with younger players. The A’s owner/manager had talked Cobb out of retiring by offering the long-time Tiger a lucrative contract after the 1926 season.
Coming off a 1927 season in which he hit .357 in 133 games for the A’s, Cobb wasn’t having a great year by his standards. Yet his average was still .323 with a .389 on-base percentage when he came up with one out in the ninth at Griffith Stadium.
Cobb doubled to left, sending Bing Miller to third. None of the game accounts in the next day’s newspapers describes Cobb’s hit in any detail, nor is it known what the count was.
What is known is that this was the last hit of Cobb’s unparalleled career: number 4,189, according to the most accurate SABR research, or number 4,191, according to official MLB historical statistics. (The MLB number was the recognized one that Pete Rose passed to become the all-time leader.)
With two outs, an error on a grounder brought home Miller, thanks in part to Cobb’s smart base running, blocking the shortstop’s view of the ball. But the game ended with Cobb stranded at third.
Sent up as a pinch-hitter again in the second game, Cobb struck out for the last out in a 5-4 Senators’ victory. The losses in the double-header left the A’s two-and-half games behind the Yankees, which is where Mack’s team remained when the season ended.
On September 11 in New York, Cobb made one more pinch-hitting appearance. He popped out. The next day, he announced his retirement. Cobb ended the season hitting .323 – and with the highest career batting average of all-time: .366 (again, based on detailed research by Retrosheet and others).
Ty Cobb played his first game in Washington on September 21, 1905, at American League Park, the old wooden stadium that burned down in 1911 and was quickly replaced by what became known as Griffith Stadium.
Although this ballpark, near Howard University, was by far the league’s most difficult place to hit one out of the park, Cobb loved it. Spraying the ball all over the spacious outfield, Cobb hit .405 at Griffith Stadium, his highest lifetime mark in any ballpark.
The Georgia Peach was already an established star when Walter Johnson debuted in Washington in 1907. Cobb ended up playing a season longer than Johnson. His average against the Big Train, coincidentally, matched Cobb’s .366 career average against all pitchers.
Cobb and Johnson, adversaries for two decades, were among the first five inductees into the Hall of Fame.
A version of this appeared in the Sept. 10, 2022, Here’s the Pitch, the online newsletter of the Internet Baseball Writers Association.