By Andrew C. Sharp
Washington’s Griffith Stadium, torn down in 1965, had more than its share of historic moments. Walter Johnson, with the help of a couple of bad hops, pitched the Senators to their only World Championship in a thrilling Game 7 on Oct. 10, 1924. Walt Dropo had the last seven of his record 12 consecutive hits there on July 15, 1952. Babe Ruth hit his last home run as a Yankee there on September 29, 1934.
Seven seasons earlier in 1928, Ty Cobb had the last hit of his amazing career there.
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 the 41-year-old 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 1927season in which he hit .357 in 133 games for the A’s, Cobb wasn’t having a great season by his standards. Yet his batting 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 research, or number 4,191, according to official MLB historic statistics.
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 pinch-hitter again in the second game, Cobb struck out for the last out of a 5-4 Senators’ victory. The double-header losses left the A’s two-and-half games behind the Yankees, which is where Mack’s team ended the season.
On September 11in 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 the highest career batting average of all-time: .366.
Ty Cobb played his first game in Washington on September 21, 1905, at American League Park, the old wooden stadium that was replaced after a fire in 1911 by what became known as Griffith Stadium on the same site.
Although this ballpark, near Howard University, was by far the league’s most difficult place to hit one over the fence, 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 played 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, along with Ruth, Christy Mathewson and Honus Wagner.
Andrew C. Sharp is a retired journalist and a SABR member who blogs about D.C. baseball at washingtonbaseballhistory.com.