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Thread: Ty Cobb: A Terrible Beauty

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    Ecurb Ecurb's Avatar
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    Ty Cobb: A Terrible Beauty

    Whether Charles Leerhsen's 2015 biography of Ty Cobb is designed to rehabilitate the famous baseball star's reputation or to tarnish that of Al Stump is problematic. Stump ghost-wrote Cobb's autobiography, and then wrote a famous (notorious?) piece for "True" magazine entitled, "Ty Cobb's Wild 10-Month Fight to Live". The "True" essay has been anthologized many times, often in such anthologies as "Greatest Sports Stories of the 20th century". It depicted Cobb as a drunken maniac, a paranoid jerk, and a racist and sexist.

    Stump's "autobiography" of Cobb was published after Cobb died, in part because the dying baseball star tried to suppress it and claimed that Stump made most of it up. Leershen agrees, and claims Stump also invented most of the True piece. A 1990's movie about Cobb starring Tommy Lee Jones was based on Stump's book, and Stump served as a consultant to the film. Stump also profited from selling Cobb memorabilia, much of which he forged, and some of which he may have obtained illegally (acc. Leerhsen).

    Was Cobb a racist? The "Georgia Peach" probably was, by today's standards, but he came from a line of abolitionists; his great grandfather and grandfather opposed slavery, and his father (a State Senator) fought successfully against a popular proposed law demanding that only taxes collected from black Georgians could be used to fund the (segregated) black schools, which would have made those schools even worse than they already were. Cobb played exhibitions against Negro League teams and supported Jackie Robinson's integration of the Major Leagues.

    Did Cobb kill three people? There's no record of it, except from Stump.

    In addition, Stump clearly invented several of the scenes in "Fight to Live", including the moving scene where the dying Cobb sits by his future tomb in the snow and asks Stump to pray with him (it didn't snow that entire month in Georgia).

    Baseball fans probably know that Cobb's mother shot and killed his father, shortly before the 18-year-old Cobb was called up to the Majors. But the "facts" most people "know" surrounding the case are inexplicably incorrect. Stump claimed Amanda shot her husband with a shotgun as he was peering in her second-story window,having climbed a ladder. Supposedly, he had sneaked back home from a supposed business trip to try to catch his wife in adultery. However, a photo of the house (which no longer exists) reveals that it was a single story house, and Cobb's father was killed with a pistol, not a shotgun.

    Baseball fans who have read Lawrence Ritter's "The Glory of Their Times" (the great oral history of early baseball) know that Cobb was driven, unpopular with teammates and opponents, and intensely competitive -- but many of the calumnies that have been leveled at him appear to be false, and Stump appears to have been a money-grubbing hack (he made more from the "True" article than he did from the autobiography).

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    The Gnu Normal Pompey Bum's Avatar
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    Very interesting, ecurb. It makes you wonder how many of the stories you hear in passing are pure myth. One story I've heard about Cobb is that he once climbed the bleacher walls and beat the crap out of a rival fan who had been heckling him--something that got to be a scandal when it was revealed that the man had been paralyzed since childhood. I don't know if it's a true story, though. On an even more repulsive note, I recall hearing that a vial of Ty Cobb's, um, nasal fluid, extracted post mortem, had been sold to a wealthy sports memorabilia collector for an obscene amount of money. Maybe it's true and maybe it's snot. Sorry. I think it is true, though. I read it in Esquire Magazine's Dubious Achievement Awards about 20 years ago--and if you can't trust the Dubies, who can you trust?
    Last edited by Pompey Bum; 05-14-2018 at 09:19 PM.
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    Ecurb Ecurb's Avatar
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    I returned the book to the library, so I can no longer verify anything, but I seem to remember that the story about Ty Cobb beating the crippled man was debunked. I can't say that I read the entire book carefully -- I mainly read the debunking parts. By the way, anyone who hasn't read Al Stump's "Ty Cobb's Wild Fight to Live" should read it. It may be completely fabricated, but that's almost too bad, because it made Cobb seem like such a fascinating (if evil) character. Hyper competitiveness is a character flaw -- Michael Jordan's teammates disliked him, just as Cobb's did (although most were scared to admit it). I didn't see anything about the snot -- but Stump sold a lot of Cobb memorabilia, much of it fake, acc. to Leerhsen.

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    The Gnu Normal Pompey Bum's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ecurb View Post
    Hyper competitiveness is a character flaw -- Michael Jordan's teammates disliked him, just as Cobb's did (although most were scared to admit it).
    I remember as a kid the lore was that even though everyone said the greatest baseball player of all time was Ruth, it was really Cobb. But Cobb was mean (as we put it then) and Ruth was nice. We also believed that Cobb and Ruth had loathed one another, though whether that is true I don't know. We all knew a famous picture of the two of them shaking hands in a dugout with unimpressed faces and an unconvincing grasp, so maybe that fueled our speculation. In some ways, Cobb was the consummate athlete while Ruth was an overweight, hit-or-miss slugger, and more the consummate showman. But that view is a little naive since it ignores Ruth's early years as a rather brilliant pitcher for the Red Sox. Anyway, they don't seem like they would have hit it off to me. And by the way, I agree with you about hyper competitiveness being a character flaw.
    And this from a man in a bunny suit.

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    The Gnu Normal Pompey Bum's Avatar
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    Hey, Ecurb. I found this short presentation by Leerhsen the other day and thought of you.

    https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=XzbJn2UAoIs
    Last edited by Pompey Bum; 06-04-2018 at 10:37 AM.
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    Ecurb Ecurb's Avatar
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    Leerhsen criticizes Al Stump for adjusting the facts to suit his portrayal of Cobb (which was, perhaps, fictionalized to be more entertaining to readers). After watching the video I wonder about Leerhsen's agenda. He wouldn't have a book if he didn't contradict Stump's version of Cobb. For some reason, Leerhsen's motives seem more questionable (to me) in the video than when I read the book.

    p.s. I've been having problems getting on LitNet. Perhaps they are resolved now.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Ecurb View Post
    Leerhsen criticizes Al Stump for adjusting the facts to suit his portrayal of Cobb (which was, perhaps, fictionalized to be more entertaining to readers). After watching the video I wonder about Leerhsen's agenda. He wouldn't have a book if he didn't contradict Stump's version of Cobb. For some reason, Leerhsen's motives seem more questionable (to me) in the video than when I read the book.

    p.s. I've been having problems getting on LitNet. Perhaps they are resolved now.
    Well, Leerhsen's associating himself with a conservative cause in that video. I don't think he's being particularly political, but maybe you are revolting at the overall context (as is your good right). To look at his argument historiographically, having only Stump (more or less) as a source for the negative stories doesn't give them much credibility. Sometimes with ancient history you don't have much of a choice, but uncorroborated allegtions aren't worth much for 20th century history. So putting politics aside, he does have a point.

    And yes, LitNet has been going through a kind of bubonic plague lately. As of today (and only today) things seem to be on the mend for me. If Admin or someone was responsible, then thanks.
    Last edited by Pompey Bum; 06-06-2018 at 07:39 PM.
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