In 1921, it wasn't all that uncommon for players to double as managers, something that hasn't happened in modern baseball since Don Kessinger skippered the Chicago White Sox in the late-1970s.
But when that player is arguably the best player in the game, it was even a head turner in 1921.
Tigers owner Frank Navin sacked Hughie Jennings after the 1920 season, as had been suspected. What wasn't so expected was Navin's choice to replace Jennings: the mythical player Ty Cobb.
Cobb as a player expected the utmost of himself and he was relentless in his preparation, his approach to the game, and in his competitiveness. Trouble was, Cobb expected the same from his players, and when he didn't see that, he was quite unpleasant, not that his players really noticed, as many of them didn't like Cobb to begin with.
Even Cobb's fire wasn't enough to catapult the Tigers back into contenders in 1921.
They were better than in 1920, but still not nearly good enough---unable to mount much of a threat, though Cobb had his team above .500 one-third of the way through the season. But the Tigers faded, slipping well below .500 and finishing 71-82, thanks to a season-ending seven-game losing skid.
One bright spot was at first base, where rookie Lu Blue shifted Heilmann back to the outfield. Blue batted .308, scored 103 runs and smacked 11 triples. And the Tigers outfield was splendid, with Cobb, Heilmann and Bobby Veach (.338) all driving in more than 100 runs.
Scoring runs wasn't the Tigers' problem---it was figuring out how to keep the other guys from scoring even more. The Tigers team ERA was 4.40, as big league offenses terrorized pitching in every city.
One thing was certain: multi-tasking as player and manager didn't affect Cobb one bit when it came to his performance as a player. Cobb rebounded from his poor (by his standards) 1920 season by hitting .389, losing the batting title by a nose to teammate Harry Heilmann, who batted .394.
Cobb's first year as player-manager was in the books, but it would prove to be no easy, smooth task for the game's greatest player to win as a manager. Nor would Cobb find that, as a manager, a relationship with owner Navin was any picnic.
HR: Heilmann (19)
RBI: Heilmann (139)
BA: Heilmann (.394)
Wins: Howard Ehmke (13)
K: Dutch Leonard (120)
ERA: Leonard (3.75)
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