Excerpt from 'Ty Cobb: A Terrible Beauty'
One of about three books I'm reading at the moment is Charles Leerhsen's “Ty Cobb: A Terrible Beauty,” about the man who, for most of his career, was considered the greatest baseball player of all time. Now? He's a bit down on the list: still first in batting average but twenty-fifth in OPS, behind, among others, Johnny Mize and Joey Votto. On the other hand, Cobb is fourth all-time in position-player WAR. Of course, for the man who once said that baseball was “something like a war,” he probably wouldn't take kindly to being behind Babe Ruth in this category, since, for Ruth, baseball was something like a helluva lotta fun, kid.
Anyway, Leerhsen is involved in what seems like a monumental task: rehabilitating Cobb's rep. Over the years, Tyrus Raymond went from “greatest player of all time” to “one of the best” to “kind of a racist bastard” to “the worst man ever to put on a baseball uniform,” and Leerhsen, and he's probably right, thinks Cobb doesn't deserve this last honorific. Leerhsen will in fact be arguing that Cobb, for his time, wasn't particularly racist. We'll see.
In the meantime, I loved this bit. And not just because it was against the Yankees:
The Yankees were in town on that unseasonably warm Friday. In the seventh inning, with his team down 5–3, Cobb came to bat with runners on first and second—and hit a line drive off “Slim” Caldwell that smacked against the wall of the left field bleachers for an opposite field double. (Cobb, though naturally right-handed, always batted left.) The man on second, Tex Covington, scored easily, but Donie Bush, the trailing runner, barely slid in safely under catcher Ed Sweeney's tag. Not surprisingly, given the closeness of the play, Sweeney turned to the umpire and, said the New York Times, “began a protest” while “all the members of the infield flocked to the plate to help.” In other words, in the heat of the moment the Yankees forgot that Cobb was standing on second. Under such circumstances it is the custom of the base runner to sit down on the sack and wait for something to turn up [the Times continued]. But Cobb, observing that third base was unguarded, trotted amiably up there. No one saw him. So he tiptoed gingerly along toward the group at the plate. He did not come under the observation of the public until he was about ten feet from the goal all base runners seek, where for a few seconds he stood practically still, peering into the cluster of disputants before him, looking for an opening to slide through. He found one and skated across the plate with the winning run under the noses of almost the entire New York team, Sweeney touching him with the ball when it was too late.
Opportunities everywhere, kids. For the taking.
Here's my take on the awful 1994 movie “Cobb,” of which I wrote “A hagiography would've felt less like a lie.”