May 31, 2015


How Ty Cobb was framed as a racist (Kyle Smith, May 31, 2015, NY Post)

Cobb, contrary to legend, was not a Southern redneck but an upper-middle-class boy, often derided for acting aristocratic in the locker room, where he would read literary novels and biographies of Thomas Jefferson and Napoleon. Both of his parents were genteel. His father, a state senator and "something of a public intellectual" in Leerhsen's words, once broke up a group of men plotting a lynching and was an outspoken advocate for the public education of black Americans.

When Cobb was 18, his mother shot and killed his father, mistaking him for an intruder after he returned unexpectedly from an out-of-town trip. At trial she was acquitted.

You might call Cobb the inventor of Moneyball -- roughly, the idea that baseball is about smarts.

"He didn't outhit the opposition and he didn't outrun them," said a teammate. "He out-thought them."

In a hilariously unprofessional era when ballplayers would chase umpires they didn't like off the field, Cobb took careful notes exploiting the weaknesses of other teams. Cobb noticed, for instance, that Walter Johnson was visibly upset whenever he hit a batter -- so he stuck his skull out over the plate. Johnson, afraid of beaning Cobb, would walk him instead.

Cobb once scored the winning run by stealing third and home when the Yankees were busy arguing with an umpire. Cobb, noted baseball legend Casey Stengel, was the only player who could steal home on an infield pop-up: He'd make his break when the guy who caught the ball was lobbing the ball back to the pitcher. He noticed a tell in Cy Young's pickoff move: the pitcher would hold his hands up close to his chin when he was going to throw to first. Cobb stole easily on him after that.

Cobb enthusiastically supported the integration of major league baseball when he was asked about Jackie Robinson in 1952. He told The Sporting News, "The negro has the right to compete in sports and who's to say they have not?"

He called Roy Campanella a "great" player, said Willie Mays was "the only player I'd pay money to see" and after Campanella's crippling car accident, praised Dodgers owner Walter O'Malley for holding a candlelit tribute "for this fine man."

Even back in the 1920s, Cobb would befriend Negro League ballplayers such as Detroit Stars infielder Bobby Robinson, who said "there wasn't a hint of prejudice in Cobb's attitude."

One of several blacks employed by Cobb, Alex Rivers, named his son after the ballplayer and said, "I love the man."

Posted by at May 31, 2015 6:24 PM

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