My fellow authors and I recently returned from a bucket-list trip to the Baseball Hall of Fame. It was great to see the memorabilia and history of the sport’s greatest players. The other visitors there with their children were truly enthralled with the experience and it was great to be there with other fans of the sport.
When I finally got to the exhibit on Ty Cobb I remembered the line in the movie “Field of Dreams” where Shoeless Joe Jackson tells Kevin Costner’s character, “Ty Cobb wanted to play, but none of us could stand the son of a bitch when we were alive, so we told him to stick it.” This is based on the legend that Ty Cobb was a bigot, bad teammate, and the dirtiest player in baseball. I actually believed this until I started reading the book, “Ty Cobb, A Terrible Beauty”, by Charles Leerhsen. In the book Leerhsen talks about how his research actually showed that Ty Cobb was actually a great teammate, played the game hard but was not considered dirty, and there is no evidence he ever said anything racist. The fact is that he is on record being an early advocate of integrating baseball.
According to Leerhsen, the rumors were started by Al Stump the collaborator of Ty Cobb’s autobiography. Most of the fiction about Cobb was added to the book after Cobb passed away before the books completion. Leershsen even criticizes the movie Cobb, which added fictitious scenes about Cobb to enhance the undeserved bad-boy reputation.
The point is – despite what Leerhsen discovered in his biography – the perceptions about Ty Cobb will probably persist. Too many people are convinced of a myth, and the misconception has been reinforced in media, for Ty Cobb’s reputation to ever be fully rehabilitated, and that’s sad. The perception have eclipsed the reality. So before you decide to believe a rumor about someone – take the time to try and get the facts. Last, whenever you hear that saying about anyone can get in the Hall of Fame because Ty Cobb made it – make sure you correct them. Let them know that Ty Cobb still holds the record for highest career batting average after a hundred years – even after the steroid scandals of the 90s – and that’s something.