Ty Cobb’s Alabama stomping ground

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Baseball players stand on 14th Street in Anniston, with Anniston College (formerly the Anniston Inn) rising on the hill behind them. (Photo: Public Library of Anniston-Calhoun County)

One of the quasi-mysteries about Ty Cobb’s overhyped weeks spent in Anniston, Alabama, in the summer of 1904 is the park where his team played. Its location isn’t a secret. But there are no known photographs of Cobb in an Anniston uniform or on the Anniston field. You want a holy grail? Find me a picture of Cobb wearing an Anniston jersey.

That said, I recently happened across something that rekindled my curiosity about Cobb’s Anniston stomping ground — an early 1900s Sanborn map of the city block that showed the exact location of the park, its orientation and its features. The map is stored at the Public Library of Anniston-Calhoun County.

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The Sanborn map confirms several points.

— The park took up an entire city block, sitting between Moore and Gurnee avenues and 14th and 13th streets.

— The main grandstands were in the park’s northeast corner, which means batters were looking southwest when they dug in. The first-base line ran along 14th and the third-base line ran along Gurnee.

— At one point, there were grandstands behind home plate that extended toward first base and two sets of bleachers along the first-base line. I’d love to know if the separate bleachers were to segregate white fans from black fans. Probably so.

The map seems to illustrate what’s seen in the following photographs.

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(Photo: Public Library of Anniston-Calhoun County)

In this picture, the baseball field is clearly seen on the left. (The picture is looking to the east.) You can see the grandstands, the bleachers and the fence that followed the outline of the block.

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(Photo: Public Library of Anniston-Calhoun County)

This is the best photograph I’ve found that shows the inside of the park during the early part of the 1900s. (No, Cobb isn’t one of these Anniston players. Sorry.) The players are standing in right field and their backs are facing east, so you can make out the grandstands, the bleachers and the wooden fence.

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(Photo: Public Library of Anniston-Calhoun County)

The grandstands were covered and featured chicken-wire protection from foul balls. On the left you can see a portion of the third-base dugout. The grass looked taller than what they played on at Wrigley Field in Chicago back in the day.

The park’s location — now called Zinn Park — sits at the base of Marvin Hill just north of Anniston’s central business district. City founders built a grand hotel, the Anniston Inn, atop Marvin Hill in 1885. Economic struggles closed the hotel before the turn of the century, the Southern Female University in Birmingham moved in and it was renamed the Anniston College for Young Ladies. The first mentions in Anniston’s newspapers about a specific baseball park described it as “the park in front of Anniston College.” The park was used for all sorts of activities before it was fenced in and given grandstands and bleachers.

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In 1895, it was used for football.

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(Photo: Public Library of Anniston-Calhoun County)

The U.S. Army hastily built Camp Shipp in nearby Blue Mountain as a training and staging area during the Spanish-American War in 1898-99. The park in front of Anniston College was used as a parade ground for U.S. soldiers on more than one occasion.

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By 1899, it was the city’s main park for baseball.

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Best I can tell, the park never had an official name, just “the park in front of Anniston College” or “the city baseball park.” Though its origins go back to the mid-1880s after the company town opened to outside residents, the park didn’t become a modern baseball facility with fencing and grandstands until 1902 (see above). It burned at least once either in late 1904 or 1905, and it hosted every Anniston minor-league team through the 1917 season in the Tennessee-Alabama League, the Southeastern League and the Georgia-Alabama League. The park also hosted commencement exercises for Anniston College and a variety of baseball games for high schools, neighborhood teams and industrial squads.

Anniston didn’t field a minor-league team from 1918-1927, during which four things happened: the park was used by locals for baseball but fell into disrepair; the city built a new park on Noble Street between 4th and 5th streets; the city built Anniston High a new park called Johnston Field; and the Anniston Inn (yes, the college moved and the hotel became a hotel again) burned in 1923. Only its kitchen survived.

City leaders in the 1920s, led by William Zinn, championed the need for Anniston to have an official city park — not a baseball park but one for outdoor recreations, especially for children. They chose the site of the former baseball park. The City Park Commission began working on it in 1924 and dedicated it in 1929. In the decades that followed, the new Zinn Park featured tennis courts, a swimming pool and a host of festivals and events. Today, the park is home to the Martin Luther King Jr. pavilion and continues to be the site of myriad outdoor events.  Anniston’s new police station is across the street. The Anniston Inn kitchen still sits on Marvin Hill to the north.

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Nothing at Zinn Park commemorates Cobb’s significance to that city block or mentions the fact that Anniston’s first baseball park used to sit there. There are no signs, no markers.

But there is a Cobb marker five blocks south on the site of the former boarding house where Cobb slept for a few weeks in 1904, and that’s too bad. Zinn Park’s ties to Cobb carry much more historical significance.

Author: Phillip Tutor

Baseball fan. St. Louis Cardinals fan. Raised on baseball in Memphis. Faux expert on baseball in Alabama. Lifetime .200 hitter, good glove, below-average arm.

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