Well, the time has come to continue my chronicle of the Baseball documentary by Ken Burns. I have enjoyed the time watching it...like I said, we're a little weird like that. I've learned a few things. I understand the statistics of baseball a lot more, I feel pretty well-versed on the ins and outs of the steroid years. I know who my hubby does and doesn't like in the game, and I've picked up some useful terms along the way.
Here is what I've learned about the legendary player, Ty Cobb. He was a phenomenal, old school player. Many people consider him one of the all-time best baseball players in general, and best batters in particular. He's in the Hall of Fame and played for Detroit. He set many records that modern players are trying to break even today. Now, for the interesting stuff...
He was probably one of the most prejudiced, surly people I've ever heard of. If there was a Hall of Fame for mean players, he'd definitely be in. In all fairness, he did have a pretty rough life as a child. He was from Georgia, and grew up trying to meet the expectations of a very stern father. His father's only words of wisdom for him were, "Don't come home a failure." Even his mother was pretty disinterested in him as a child, so he grew up as a bit of a loner. He discovered that through hard work and aggression, he could play baseball very well. Just as he was about to be hired into the minor leagues, a feat he was sure would at last impress his father, his father was killed...by his own mother! She shot him when he was climbing in the window, suspicious of her having an affair. Yikes! Definitely not the ideal bringing up.
From that time on, he really had a 'me against the world' mentality. He elevated himself to excellence through sheer will power. He is actually a great credit to what hard work can do for you. He did great and became a legend fairly early on in his career. Fans loved having his talent, but people didn't like him...especially the members of his own team. He was known for sliding into bases with his spiked cleats as high as possible so he could shred up the legs of the baseman. He was brutal, ferocious. If he could hurt another player while playing, he was glad to do it.
One of the stories I remember best was of him coming back to his hotel room after a game. He had to share with another player on the team, who had arrived before and gotten into the bath tub. Cobb ran in there, pulled the naked, startled player out of the tub, and screamed at him, "Don't you know that I HAVE to be first? I ALWAYS have to be first!" Okay...needless to say, he was unsuccessful at both of his marriages as well.
He was very prejudiced, and not just against blacks. He called the amazing shortstop Honus Wagner, "kraut-head" and told him he'd cut him to ribbons during their epic match-up. (I was personally thrilled that the kind and talented Wagner won out... it just seemed like justice!). Wagner out-classed and out-played him. By the way, he is also in the Hall of Fame and is another of the all-time greats.
One of the most infamous of his incidents which actually earned him a short suspension from playing was the brutal beating of a handicapped fan. Apparently the fan said something Cobb didn't like...fans did that even more back then, I think...he said something that was on the racist side. After the fan kept it up through six innings, Cobb climbed into the stands and began hitting and kicking him with his spikes. The man had lost both hands and part of an arm in an accident, so he couldn't defend himself and Cobb nearly killed him before security pulled him off.
Here's something I thought a little funny. Cobb was a strong advocate of denying yourself sweets and unhealthy food in favor of good nutrition, which would make you stronger for the game. When Babe Ruth came along with his beer drinking, hot dog downing successful home runs, Cobb despised him, preferring the harsh self-denial mode he'd grown up on ...think of that! A life without chocolate!
He continued to excel throughout his career, but the end of his long life was what he reaped for his dramatic unkindness to others. He died a rich, successful, acclaimed man...but his former wives hated him, and his children felt shunned by him because they weren't the successes he expected. In his final years, he traveled alone throughout the country until he was admitted to the hospital for the final time. One of his final quotes was, "I played hard and lived hard all my life, and have no friends to show for it." How sad!
I used to think that our society today overlooked the moral defects of superstar players too much. I guess I've learned that it's nothing new to appreciate a talent, and overlook the harshness in someone's character. Ty Cobb had a lonely, but successful life. He felt like the world was against him, and ended up regretting his headlong pursuit of personal excellence. He wasn't able to find and keep what REALLY mattered in life.
They say truth is stranger than fiction...
Next time, we'll focus on some of the notable gentlemen of baseball, because there are quite a few.