Ty Cobb was baseball’s first superstar and its first inductee into the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame. Yet when most people think of him, they think of a racist jerk. Was he? Charles Leerhsen unpacks Ty Cobb’s life in an outstanding biography entitled Ty Cobb: A Terrible Beauty.
Leerhsen himself initially believed all the negative reports about Cobb. He wrote:
“When I started researching this book I believed, like a lot of people, that Ty Cobb was a maniac, meaning a racist and a mean, spikes-sharpening son of a bitch. This was not a professional opinion based on knowledge; it was an assumption based on stories I’d been hearing all my life. People said it in bars; Ken Burns said it in his baseball documentary, so it must be true—that sort of thing. That I’d come to this conclusion without investigating the matter myself made the myth more, not less, powerful for me. … The experience [of researching and writing this book] taught me a lesson about how assumptions can shape our thinking, and hence our lives. Just because you’ve heard something a thousand times doesn’t mean it’s true.”
As Leerhsen began meticulously going through the real-time daily accounts of Cobb’s life, when he began reviewing original source material, all his preconceived ideas about Ty Cobb began to melt away. Leerhsen discovered that an opportunistic journalist named Al Stump almost wholly made up the derogatory claims about Cobb from unnamed sources. And as the cliche goes, the bad stuff is easier to believe than the good stuff, so the lies about Cobb stuck.
Ty Cobb was a phenomenal baseball star. He set 90 Major League records in his career, and he still holds the records for:
- Combined runs scored and runs batted in (4065)
- Highest career batting average (.366)
- Most batting titles (11)
- Most steals of home (54)
- Stealing second, third, and home in succession (5) … once he did that on consecutive pitches!
- The youngest player to compile 4000 hits and score 2000 runs
Not only does Leerhsen rebut all of the lies about Cobb, but he uncovers the life of a man who almost singlehandedly made Major League Baseball the national pastime that it became.
There’s also a great lesson to be learned here—never judge someone by what “they” say, but get the facts for yourself!
All baseball fans—and especially Detroit Tigers fans like me—will thoroughly enjoy this book.