Cobb, Kaline and Caesar – Cooked!

 By Don Mankowski

An Excerpt From a Book in Progress

A few years ago, almost by accident, I debunked the solution to a near-sacred piece of baseball trivia.  Or rather, to use chess terminology, I found that the problem was "cooked," that is, it had an alternative solution.  Here's a section from a book of odd baseball facts upon which I'm working.

Al Kaline became the youngest batting champion when he took the American League title in 1955, or so they say.  Here are the facts.

 Back about 1582, Pope Gregory XIII faced a problem.  Astronomers had advised him that the Julian Year of 365 and one quarter days, was eleven minutes and fourteen seconds too long, compared to the time that it took the earth to complete an orbit in its own sweet time.

No big deal, you say?  Well, it does take something like 128 years for that difference to amount to a whole day, but then the Julian Calendar had been in use since 46 B.C.  Actually, the discrepancy had been identified back in A.D. 730, but only now did they get to doing something about it.  Maybe they were trying to elect a commissioner.

Gregory was concerned because certain important church events, like the date of Easter, were pegged to astronomical events—equinoxes, full moons and that sort of thing—whereas others, like Christmas, were instead tied firmly to the secular calendar.  Unless something were done about it, December might slide into the summer in about twelve thousand years, causing Christmas to crash into Easter, or something equally profane to occur.  And of course there’d be, well, Hell to pay for Gregory’s successor whenever that happened.

So, the determination of leap years was changed, in order to lose a few.  A very few.  Also, ten days were dropped out of that year’s October to remove the accumulated error.  Hence the Gregorian Calendar.*

What has all this to do with Al Kaline?

Both Ty Cobb and Kaline won batting titles before they turned 21, in 1907 and 1955 respectively—48 years apart.

Kaline was born December 19, 1934, and Cobb on December 18, 1886.  That makes Kaline 48 years and one day younger.  So, it would seem that on any given calendar day in 1955, Kaline would be a day younger than was Cobb in 1907.

Since this whole argument presupposes that one (1) day makes a difference, then you must indulge me the following argument.

We all age 365 days every year.  Except in leap years, when we age (ouch!) to the tune of 366 days.  Of course, Cobb and Kaline are “immortals,” but I’ll subject them to the same rules.

Both men were born one full year and a fraction prior to the next leap year.  Both won their batting titles in a year prior to the next leap year.  This seems to preserve Kaline’s one-day-younger status throughout.


However, due to the Gregorian refinement to the calendar, most “century” years are excepted from the every-four-years cycle.  A “century” year (such as 1800, 1900, 2000 or 2100) is not a leap year unless its number is exactly divisible by 400 (as is 2000, but not the others just listed).  Tossing out three of the extra days every four centuries moves the average year closer to the astronomical ideal.  It’s still not perfect, but now the difference won’t amount to a whole day for, oh, about 3,400 years.**

Thus, the young Al Kaline aged an extra day in the years 1936, 1940, 1944, 1948 and 1952, leading up to his rendezvous with destiny in 1955.  That’s five extra days.

The young Ty Cobb aged an extra day in the years 1888, 1892, 1896 and 1904 leading up to 1907, but not in 1900.  Only four extra days.
All this means that Ty Cobb was the same silly number of days old on any given date in 1907 that Al Kaline was to be on the same date in 1955.

Of course, the proper way to demonstrate the difference between two dates is to convert each to a “Julian Day.”

The Julian Day is a concept developed by astronomers, who need to know exactly how many hundreds of thousands of days until a particular relationship between stars, planets, comets and whatnot occurs or recurs.  Julian Days (JD) are simply the total number of days since January 1, 4713 B.C., a date picked for convenience.  For example, the 1999 season began April 4, 1999, which corresponds to Julian Day 2,451,288.

Passing December 18, 1886 (Cobb’s natal day) through a program which does the computations and takes everything into consideration, we find that it was JD 2,410,259, and also that it was a Saturday (you can divide the JD by seven and check the remainder, it’s that easy).  December 19, 1934 (Kaline’s birth day) was JD 2,427,791, a Wednesday.

Pick an arbitrary date in 1907, and the corresponding one in 1955.  Let’s use March 15, just prior to the start of the season, although any date will do for our purposes.

March 15, 1907 was JD 2,417,650.  March 15, 1955 was JD

2,435,182.  Now, a simple subtraction will suffice to show the following.

Mar 15 1907 = JD 2,417,650       Mar 15 1955 = JD 2,435,182
Dec 18 1886 = JD 2,410,259       Dec 19 1934 = JD 2,427,791
                 ---------                        ---------
Difference in days   7,391       Difference in days   7,391

Ergo, as Romans and lawyers like to say, Al Kaline was exactly as many days old on March 15, 1955 as was Ty Cobb on March 15, 1907.  No more and no fewer.  And on every calendar date of those years, their ages corresponded to the day.

Want to carry it a step further?  Kaline is exactly 17,532 days younger than Cobb.  Someone 17,532 days younger than Kaline was born on Sunday, December 19, 1982—there are no missing leap years in this period, won’t be another one until 2100 for that matter.  This person is now (in early 2000) just a bit over eighteen, will turn twenty sometime after the 2002 season, and could be an early favorite for the batting title in 2003.  Let’s watch for him. (Update: Didn't happen.)

Trivia time.  For whom is the Julian Day named?  Julius Caesar?  Not.

The Julian Calendar is named for him.  But astronomer Joseph Scaliger, who set up the system in 1582, named the concept after his father, who bore the name Julius Caesar Scaliger.  So only indirectly does it honor the Older Roman.***

Back to Cobb and Kaline.

Not wanting to check the family Bibles or call in the astrologers to determine the exact hour of either contender’s birth, does that mean we should call it a draw?  Look at Cobb’s batting race:

1907 A.L. batting        AB     H     BA   HR   RBI     SA    OBP
Ty Cobb, Detroit        605   212   .350    5   119   .380   .468
Sam Crawford, Detroit   582   188   .323    4    81   .366   .460
George Stone, St. Louis 596   191   .320    4    59   .387   .399

 Kaline’s batting race:
1955 A.L. batting        AB     H     BA   HR   RBI     SA    OBP
Al Kaline, Detroit      588   200   .340   27   102   .425   .546
Vic Power, Kansas City  596   190   .319   19    76   .357   .505
George Kell, Chicago    429   134   .312    8    81   .393   .429
Nellie Fox, Chicago     636   198   .311    6    59   .366   .406
Harvey Kuenn, Detroit   620   190   .306    8    62   .349   .423

 I’m not trying to compare Cobb 1907 to Kaline 1955 here, although you do have the numbers.  The league batting average was .247 in 1907 and .258 in 1955, so Cobb was .103 better than average, Kaline .082.


Cobb had a 27-point margin over teammate Crawford.  He won it by something like sixteen extra hits.  Stone’s record is close enough to Crawford’s for us to consider them together.

Kaline had a 31-point margin over Power.  However, Power needed some 13 extra hits to overtake Kaline.  Kell, given fewer at bats (he barely qualifies by modern rules), needed about 12.  Fox and Kuenn were farther off.

All of this seems to indicate that Cobb probably locked up the batting race somewhat earlier than did Kaline.  It would be interesting to go back and determine when each title was a virtual certainty, but it would also involve a lot of work.  Somebody out there will do it, if it hasn’t already been done.

However, a batting title isn’t officially decided until all the data are in.  It’s mathematically possible for the runner-up to go 20-for-20 in a 45-inning game the final day, now isn’t it?

We find that the 1907 World Series (with Ty Cobb) opened October 8.  The 1955 Series began September 28 (Kaline was not involved).  This means that the 1907 season probably wrapped on Sunday, October 6, and the 1955 season on Sunday, September 25, with maybe in either case a straggling rainout made up on the Monday following.  This would make Kaline’s title official some 11 days prior to Cobb’s—relatively speaking.

*You can imagine how all of this papal stuff went over in the Protestant countries.  Many held out against it as long as possible.  The British, and their American colonies didn’t make the adjustment until 1752.  That’s why George Washington had to move his birthday himself, long before Congress decreed that it would always be on a Monday.
**And by then, it is to be hoped that Mr. Spock will have figured out a solution.
***Charles Comiskey was “The Old Roman.”