For decades there have been two general impressions of Ty Cobb. The one held by baseball fans in general is that of a fierce competitor, a hitting and base stealing phenomenon and a legendary figure rightly among the earliest players inducted into the Baseball Hall Of Fame.
But among a large sector of Black baseball fans, those accolades weren’t what they remembered most. Instead they recalled hearing stories of his virulent racism, and his supposed public stances that demonstrated either in words or actions his intense hatred of Blacks. Though he competed against Black players in barnstorming competitions, stories abound he was quite free in his usage of racial slurs and taunts.
However a pair of definitive biographies now tell a more nuanced and complete story about Cobb. While there is still plenty of evidence to reaffirm his brilliance as a player and a competitive spirit that didn’t always exhibit itself in the most positive manner, the flip side is the portrait of Ty Cobb as a hardcore racist not far from being a Klan type is grossly inaccurate, fueled by distorted and fictional accounts of both real and fictional incidents. Both should be carefully read by anyone anxious to get the true story about Cobb on and off the field.
Charles Leerhsen’s “Ty Cobb – A Terrible Beauty” (Simon & Schuster) was initially issued in 2015. It is now available in paperback. It was a Casey Award winner for Best Baseball Book of the Year, and deservedly so. It documents Cobb’s amazing rise to stardom, doesn’t gloss over troubling moments during his playing and managing days, and demolishes a lot myths while taking apart the Al Stump biography at the root of many Cobb myths, as well as the 1994 Ron Shelton film “Cobb,” that also was severely flawed, and included along with allegations of racism claims of murder and attempted rape.
But most importantly, Leerhsen’s book documents Cobb taking public stances in support of Black players and integration, something seconded by a new Ty Cobb volume. If anyone still has doubts about the true feelings of Ty Cobb in regards to racial matters Howard W. Rosenberg’s “Ty Cobb Unleashed – The Definitive Counter-Biography of the Chastened Racist (Tile) should assuage them. Rosenberg goes even more in depth on Cobb and race, with such chapters in his book as “Argumentation on Race,” “Cobb & Negro Leagues,” “Racism or Not?” and analysis of Cobb’s views on Jackie Robinson and Henry Aaron.
Rosenberg, the author of another myth shattering work on someone whose views and actions in regards to baseball integration were far more negative (Adrian “Cap” Anson), offers equal amounts of athletic and sociological observation in profiling Cobb as a dynamic, incredibly gifted, but also hot tempered star.
He credits the work of Leerhsen and others in paving the trail for his volume, and it is just as valuables an addition to the chronicles that are finally setting the record straight about a baseball icon. No, Ty Cobb wasn’t an angel, but he wasn’t remotely the racist buffoon past stories and articles claimed.
There is no more fitting time than All-Star Week to set the record straight, and offer a far more complete and true portrait of Ty Cobb.