Don Rhodes, professional photo

Ramblin’s Roads: From the vault: Augusta’s ties to baseball hall of famer

Editor’s note: Don Rhodes passed away on June 9, 2023. His sister, Linda Humphreys, found this piece he’d written in his archives and submitted it to Augusta Good News.

Each fall thousands of area citizens in and around Augusta, Georgia, head for the Exchange Club of Augusta fairgrounds as they have been doing for decades. 

Most, however, do not know that this hallowed ground more than one hundred years ago was Ty Cobb’s Field of Dreams. It was where the Georgia teenager played his last game as a member of the Augusta Tourists minor league team on Aug. 25, 1905, and five days later played his first professional game for the Detroit Tigers.

The fairgrounds then was known as Warren Park. William Henry Warren was a leader in promoting athletics in Augusta and a leader in agricultural experimentation. One of his best friends was Prosper J. Berckmans, whose nursery (Fruitland) would become the grounds for the Augusta National Golf Club. 

Base Ball, as known then, had been played in Augusta since the late 1800s.  It wasn’t Abner Doubleday who came up with the game as we know it today but rather a New York bank teller named Alexander Cartwright. 

In 1904, the South Atlantic League (Sally League) was formed with teams from Augusta, Savannah, Macon, Charleston, Columbia and Jacksonville.

It just so happened that a teenager in Royston, Ga., named Tyrus Raymond Cobb learned about the formation of the Sally League as he was graduating from high school. 

Ty Cobb, courtesy Library of Congress.

Supposedly only Con Strouthers, manager and owner of the Augusta Tourists, gave Ty a chance but told him that he would have to pay his own way to Augusta.  Cobb wasn’t even in The Augusta Chronicle’s printed line-up for the first day of Sally League play on Memorial Day of 1905. 

 Cobb was substituted for Catcher Andy Roth as the next day’s published account testifies. He only got to play two games for the Tourists, however, before Strouthers released him on call-back status to a small team in Anniston, Alabama. Strouthers lasted only a few months with the Tourists and eventually was succeeded by an owner named Harlan W. (Harry) Wingard, who immediately ordered Cobb to report back to Augusta at once. It was Wingard who set Cobb back on the right track to baseball immortality. 

In addition, Cobb often returned to join the Augusta Tourists for spring training including when as player-manager he brought the Detroit Tigers back to Warren Park to play exhibition games against the home team.

Cobb, of course, would marry a prominent Augusta woman, own a tire store at Broad and Seventh streets, own a lot of property in the area, play golf at the Augusta Country Club father five kids (four of which would be born in Augusta) and be a respectable Augusta resident for 25 years.

 A historical marker is located at his former home on William Street in the Summerville area.

His closest friends included the cream of Augusta leaders as well as Coca-Cola industrialist Robert Woodruff and golfer Bobby Jones.  

The town of Royston for decades has had a welcoming billboard proclaiming itself as the “home of Ty Cobb,” and yet the truth is Cobb lived in Augusta twice as long as he lived in Royston. And did I mention that he was the first player inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame?

Don Rhodes became a by-line journalist in 1963 writing for his Chamblee, Ga., High School newspaper and two weeklies in Decatur.  He worked for Morris Communications Co. joining the Savannah Evening Press in March of 1967 and continued with the company until his death on June 9, 2023. He authored four national books, four regional books, national magazine articles and album notes for several music artists.  One of the books he wrote was called “Ty Cobb: Safe at Home.

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