Cobb: A Biography, by Al Stump

I recently finished making my way through Al Stump’s biography on Ty Cobb, simply titled Cobb: A Biography. I am aware of the criticism this book has received — Stump, it seems, went out of his way to cast Cobb in a less-than-flattering light, even embellishing or making up stories as he did so. Nevertheless, I found this biography intriguing.

Cobb book cover

Al Stump had actually ghostwritten Ty Cobb’s autobiography, My Life in Baseball: The True Record. According to Stump, Cobb was far from being an easy individual to get along with, and there seems to be a consensus that Cobb’s autobiography had been sanitized considerably in order to paint Cobb in a better light. Stump claimed that his motivation for writing this biography after Cobb’s death was to share his own perception of the Georgia Peach. That being said, while it is widely-accepted that Cobb had many faults, this book reads like a revenge. In fact, the original title of this book, when it was first published in 1994, was Cobb: The Life and Times of the Meanest Man in Baseball. The current title actually belongs to a reworked and expanded edition of the book, published in 1996 after Stump’s death.

As a man, Stump paints Cobb as extremely combative, impossible to please, and unreasonably demanding. Clearly, Cobb’s life was a tortured one, what with the strange circumstances surrounding his father’s death when Cobb was still a young man, and his displeasure with the hand dealt him came out in his racism and in how he treated his own wife and children. On the other hand, Cobb the baseball player had an unmatched work ethic, demanding the best of himself as well as of those who played around him. Stump put a lot of focus also on the rivalry between Cobb and Babe Ruth, but in spite of the animosity between the two men, I also sensed a grudging respect between the two. In addition, Stump spent a lot of time exploring Cobb’s business ventures, investments, and his talent for making money.

As a reader, I confess to enjoying the journey through this book. The character of Cobb, as depicted in these pages, is a fascinating one. And while many of the stories in said pages have been discredited, no doubt their presence in the book is part of what makes it so fascinating. I have yet to read Cobb’s original autobiography, and while I’m at it, Charles Leerhsen’s 2016 biography, Ty Cobb: A Terrible Beauty, is also on the to-read list. It seems to me that one simply cannot read one without also delving into the other two — at least, not if one wants a truly well-rounded picture of the great Ty Cobb.


“Ty Cobb,” by Soundgarden

The members of Soundgarden readily admit that this song isn’t really about Ty Cobb at all, but rather, the song was written with myriad difficult individuals in mind. The lyrics still fit what we know about Cobb’s delightful personality, however, especially the repetition of the line, “Hard headed f— you all,” throughout the song. I don’t imagine Cobb would have cared for this genre of music, though I can easily imagine him jumping into the stands to go after a fan with this tune playing in the background.


Quote of the day

The greatness of Ty Cobb was something that had to be seen, and to see him was to remember him forever.

~George Sisler

George Sisler, Babe Ruth, and Ty Cobb (Wikimedia Commons)


RIP Lou Brock

Lou Brock spent the majority of his nineteen-year Major League career as a left fielder for the St. Louis Cardinals. Brock was best known for breaking Ty Cobb’s all-time stolen base record in 1977. He was a six-time All-Star, and he led the National League in stolen bases for eight seasons. Brock led the NL in doubles and triples in 1968, and in singles in 1972. He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1985.

Lou Brock passed away yesterday, September 6, 2020 at the age of 81.

RIP.

lou_brock_2005

Lou Brock as a coach in 2005 (wikipedia)


This day in baseball: Ty Cobb re-signs with the Tigers

On March 21, 1908, 21-year-old Ty Cobb re-signed with the Tigers for $4000, with an $800 bonus if he hit over .300 for the year.  Cobb finished the season with a league-leading .324 batting average with the Tigers.

ty cobb


Quote of the day

I had to fight all my life to survive. They were all against me… but I beat the bastards and left them in the ditch.

~Ty Cobb

Cobb

Baseball-fever.com


This day in baseball: Speaker resigns as manager

Tris Speaker resigned as Indians manager on November 29, 1926, after a scandal broke in which pitcher Dutch Leonard claimed that Speaker and Ty Cobb fixed at least one game between Cleveland and the Detroit Tigers.  Umpire Billy Evans called these accusations “purely a matter of personal revenge” for Leonard, who is reported to have been upset with Cobb and Speaker after a trade ended with Leonard in the minor leagues.  Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis cleared both Speaker and Cobb of any wrongdoing when Leonard did not show up at a hearing to discuss his accusations.

Tris_Speaker

Wikimedia Commons


“Finding Casey’s Card,” by Robert L. Harrison

I had never considered the possibility that the mighty, fabled Casey would have a baseball card, but Robert Harrison has managed to spin an entire tale about it.  Seen as even more valuable than a card for either Mantle or Cobb, the Casey baseball card causes quite an uproar in this piece.

*

The outlook wasn’t great for
finding Casey’s card.
The dealers denied they had him
as I fought against the mob.
And then as Cooney was seen in mint
and Barrows appeared the same,
a sense of elation came to me in this baseball hobby game.

A cardshark got fed up and passed me in despair.
The rest clung to their hobby hopes
and prayed the Casey card was near;
They thought, by the Topps high numbers,
if we could only find his card,
we’ll pay any price even if it’s marred.

Then Flynn (Casey’s mate) was found in very good-
a crease along his neckline stretched into his wood.
So they all bid to possess that crazy players card
until all turned to silence when Mr. Mint
got the final nod.

After Flynn, they found Jimmy Blake,
a tobacco card mistake;
For Blake was frayed and ugly and had
scratches on him from head to toe,
and the collectors were not interested
for the price he fetched was very low.

Then from fifty baseball card collectors
there rose a mighty roar.
It echoed from every table, it bounced off the floor,
it was carried by the newsmen
and was heard outside the door,
for the Casey card, the rarest card
now everyone saw.

There was a full gloss in Casey’s picture
as he posed beside the plate
there were full white borders and a hawkish
look upon his face.
And from an old shoebox he was raised above the crowd.
This symbol of the hobby now had everyone aroused.

Ten thousand dollars was offered;
the smell of gum hung in the air.
Five thousand more, said another,
as he took up on this dare,
Then while the price was raising
beyond the hopes of hobby folk,
a disbelief filled the children’s minds;
for they thought this all was a joke.

For this gem-mint card was dropped
and fluttered everywhere;
the rarest of cards went flipping
and gave them all a scare.
And as the people scattered,
poor Casey turned up tales
and silence filled this card show
and ended all the sales.

From the dealers came a mumble
that roused up to a roar.
Then the auctioneer came over
and looked down on what they saw.
“Raise him! Raise him!” shouted
the newsmen from the back.
But no one would pick up Casey
as he lay by some wax packs.

Like some curse from the devil,
Casey’s origin was on display
and the owner’s face turned to horror
for there would be soon hell to pay;
so he signaled to a friend to sell
a Mantle rookie card,
but the words on Casey’s back would forever
leave him scarred.

“Reprint!” shouted everyone at once,
and the echo answered “Reprint!”
to all this now lonely bunch;
But baseball card collectors are not a discouraged race,
for now the plastic pages were turning
at a faster pace.
They passed up a Wagner and ignored
a perfect Cobb, just to find
again the mighty Casey card

The smiles soon vanished from the children’s lips
as they too joined in this game;
and I who viewed these mental flips
thought everyone there insane.
And now someone gave a TV pitch
in search of this cardboard gold,
asking everyone to even check their attics
as this story is being told.

Oh, somewhere Casey’s card is out there,
or so these dreamers think,
for they will stir up this hobby nation
until they find this missing link;
and somewhere I am laughing,
for I made up that baseball card,
and the refinding of poor Casey
will indeed be very hard.


This day in baseball: Twenty-one hits

On July 30, 1917, the Tigers collected twenty-one hits en route to a 16-4 rout of Washington.  Ty Cobb, Bobby Veach, and Ossie Vitt, who were batting second, third, and fourth in the order, respectively, each came up with a 5-for-5 day at the plate.

Bobby_Veach_1925

Bobby Veach (Wikipedia)


Christy Mathewson

christy mathewsonConsidered the first great pitcher of the modern era, Christopher “Christy” Mathewson was born in Factoryville, Pennsylvania on August 12, 1880, the oldest of six children of Minerva (née Capwell) and Gilbert Mathewson.  He attended high school at Keystone Academy, and then college at Bucknell University. At Bucknell, Mathewson served as class president, played on the school’s football and baseball teams, and he was also a member of the fraternity of Phi Gamma Delta.

In 1895, when Mathewson was fourteen years old, the manager of the Factoryville ball club asked him to pitch in a game against a rival team in Mill City, Pennsylvania. Mathewson helped the Factoryville team to a 19-17 victory. He continued to play with semipro teams until he left for Bucknell.

At Bucknell, though Mathewson pitched for the baseball team, he was better known for his accomplishments as a football player, where he spent three years as the varsity team’s first-string fullback, punter, and drop kicker. It was also at Bucknell that Mathewson met his future wife, Jane Stoughton. After playing ball throughout his time at Bucknell, Mathewson signed his first professional baseball contract in 1899 with Taunton of the New England League. In 1900, he went on to play with Norfolk of the Virginia-North Carolina League, finishing the season with a 20-2 record.

In July of 1900, the New York Giants purchased Mathewson’s contract from Norfolk for $1,500. He appeared in six games for the Giants, compiling an 0-3 record before the Giants sent him back to Norfolk, demanding their money back in frustration.  In September of that year, the Cincinnati Reds obtained Mathewson off the Norfolk roster, then traded him back to the Giants that December.

Christy Mathewson won 20 games in his first full major league season in 1901. He then posted at least 30 wins a season from 1903-05 and led the National League in strikeouts five times between 1903 and 1908. In 1908, he set a modern era record for single-season wins by an NL pitcher with 37. From 1903 to 1914, Mathewson won at least 22 games each season and led the NL in ERA five times.

Christy Mathewson

Wikipedia

In postseason play, during the 1905 World Series, Mathewson pitched three complete-game shutouts in three starts against the Athletics, giving up only 14 hits total in those three games. In 1911, the Giants won their first pennant since 1905, however they ultimately lost the 1911 World Series to the Philadelphia Athletics. Mathewson and Rube Marquard allowed two game-winning home runs to Hall of Famer Frank Baker en route to the Series loss.

The Giants captured the pennant again in 1912, facing the Boston Red Sox in the World Series. Though Mathewson threw three complete games in the Series and maintained an ERA below 1.00, the Giants as a team committed a number of errors, including the infamous lazy popup dropped by Fred Snodgrass in game 7, costing them the championship. Though the Giants would win 101 games in 1913, they lost the World Series that year four games to one, again to the Athletics.

Mathewson played with the Giants for seventeen years. After the 1913 season, however, both Mathewson and the Giants as a team began to decline. In 1916, Mathewson was traded back to the Reds and was named player-manager. He appeared in only one game as a pitcher for the Reds, on September 4, 1916 against the Cubs. Mathewson and the Reds won that contest, 10-8.

In his career, Mathewson posted a 373-188 record (.665 winning percentage). His career ERA was 2.13 (8th all time) and he posted 79 shutouts (3rd all time) over the course of said career. Mathewson also recorded 2,507 career strikeouts against only 848 walks.

Nicknamed the “Christian Gentleman,” Mathewson was held in high regard in his time. Mathewson was handsome, college-educated, and temperate, making him an anomaly in the rowdy world of baseball during this time period. It made him, easily, one of the most popular ballplayers of the age. “He gripped the imagination of a country that held a hundred million people and held this grip with a firmer hold than any man of his day or time,” wrote sportswriter Grantland Rice.

christy_mathewson

baseballinwartime.com

Late in the 1918 season, Mathewson enlisted in the United States Army for World War I. He served as a captain in the newly formed Chemical Service along with Ty Cobb. While he was in France, he was accidentally exposed to mustard gas during a chemical training exercise and subsequently developed tuberculosis. Mathewson served with the American Expeditionary Force until February 1919 and was discharged later that month. He returned to serve as an assistant coach for the Giants until 1921, but continued to battle tuberculosis the entire time.

After some time away, Mathewson attempted to return to professional baseball in 1923 when he and Giants attorney Emil Fuchs put together a syndicate that bought the Boston Braves.  Initially, Mathewson was to be principal owner and team president, but his health had deteriorated so much that he turned over the presidency to Fuchs after the season. Christy Mathewson died in Saranac Lake, New York of tuberculosis on October 7, 1925. He is buried at Lewisburg Cemetery in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, near Bucknell University.

In 1936, Mathewson became one of the first five players elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame.