Will the Real Ty Cobb Please Stand Up?

Many baseball fans don’t know who the real Ty Cobb was. They’re familiar with the stats he posted season after season and how they reflected the intensity with which he played. 4,189 hits, 897 stolen bases, and a lifetime batting average of .366 are only a few of the numbers Cobb posted during his career. Unfortunately, Cobb’s reputation has suffered from outright lies. Al Stump, who ghostwrote an autobiography with Cobb, later wrote a deeply flawed biography about The Georgia Peach. Initially a New York Times Notable book, Stump’s biography fabricated much of the book’s stories to increase sales. Many of those stories, regrettably, remain true in the mind of many baseball fans.

Fortunately for Cobb’s memory, Charles Leerhsen’s 2015 biography Ty Cobb: A Terriblereal ty cobb Beauty discredits most of the false stories about Cobb while stressing other facts about the Hall of Famer that include his endorsement of integration, the $15.8 million in college scholarships to Georgians that came from his estate after his death, and his deep and sincere appreciation for his fans. Leerhsen’s book debunks most of the slanderous stories about Cobb with amazing detail. But despite Leerhsen’s fresh take on Cobb, many still have their doubts about who the real Ty Cobb was.

Last year I wrote an article arguing that Ken Burns Owes Ty Cobb’s Family a Redo. Leerhsen’s biography, which won the 2016 Casey Award, persuaded me to challenge the purported stories about Cobb in Burns’ documentary. Despite his best intentions, I argued that Ken Burns should revise his take on Cobb. There were, however, a few issues with my article. I made the assumption that Burns and his research staff relied heavily on Stump’s biography of Cobb. That was inaccurate. I also assumed that most of the inaccuracies in Burns’ documentary were primarily in the Third Inning episode. The Sixth Inning episode also made questionable claims about Cobb. Many of the stories baseball fans have heard about Ty Cobb are not true, including the story that Cobb once assaulted a black man who tried to shake his hand.

The Real Ty Cobb Could Be Brutal, But He Wasn’t Alone

Although Cobb wasn’t the man Stump’s portrayed, he was violent at times. During a game against the New York Highlanders in 1912, Cobb assaulted a fan named Claude Lucker, a disabled man who had lost all but two fingers in a printing press accident. Lucker allegedly called Cobb a “half-nigger” and insulted his mother. In his rookie year, Cobb’s mother accidentally shot and killed his father after she mistook him for a prowler. The shock of his father’s death stayed with Cobb for the rest of his life. After enough heckling, Cobb charged into the stands where he violently assaulted Lucker. It’s easy to criticize anyone who beats up a man with no hands. It’s also easy to understand why Cobb assaulted Lucker for what he said. Many historians and critics alike, however, see this incident as the sum of Cobb’s character. Opposing viewpoints centered around this incident make it difficult to know who the real Ty Cobb was. Some see it as an attack by a lunatic on a defenseless man. Others see it as a man defending his honor.

In response to the beating, American League President Ban Johnson suspended Cobb. Cobb’s disregard for Lucker’s disability is the primary source many of his critics have wielded in their contempt for him. But Cobb’s defenders point out that Lucker was also a well-known heckler among Highlander fans who targeted Cobb. Did Lucker assume Cobb wouldn’t retaliate because of his disability? While nothing can excuse hitting a man who has physical disabilities, the words with which he accosted Cobb would likely have made anyone retaliate violently. Additionally, many of Cobb’s critics omit the fact that other Hall of Fame players, including Babe Ruth and Cy Young, also assaulted fans at one time or another.

Many Still Find The Real Ty Cobb Objectionable

“I’m convinced that an attempt to whitewash Cobb’s playing years by ascribing charitable works to him in his retirement years doesn’t quite do it,” John Thorn, Major League Baseball’s official historian told me in a January 2018 phone interview. “Ballplayers who were on his team with him, his opponents, they said he didn’t have a friend in baseball.” Thorn, who said he hasn’t read Leerhsen’s biography, made it clear “not to presume that I have a horse in this race.” Thorn’s opinions on Cobb are based on the primary sources, specifically the baseball classic The Glory Of Their Times by Lawrence Ritter. Ritter’s book is a collection of vignettes told by veteran players like Harry Hooper and Sam Crawford and is regarded as one of the finest books ever written about the game.

Former public editor of the New York Times and baseball writer Daniel Okrent is one whose views of Cobb have changed after reading Leerhsen’s book. “Leerhsen…rattled the support for the arguments that Cobb was the truly horrible person that many people, including me, have assumed for many, many years,” Okrent told me in a January 2018 phone interview. “His research was phenomenal, and his revelation of Al Stump’s unreliability was wonderful. Particularly, the number of stories about Cobb’s behavior … A lot of people believe what they believe about Cobb because Stump’s portrayal makes it seem so possible. Leerhsen really demolishes Stump, in that book.”

Cobb Remains Complex

“I think there’s a difference between the version of Cobb that we have created, over the years, and the version that should exist,” Okrent added. This dichotomy makes it difficult to know who the real Ty Cobb was. Cobb’s behavior during his playing days will always be a source of debate. But baseball fans and scholars alike should examine multiple sources on Cobb, especially Leerhsen’s book, if they want a strong idea of his overall character.

Other scholars like Thorn remain unmoved.

“My position on Cobb is largely unchanged. I do not think that Ken Burns or anyone else who’s ever written about Cobb…has anything to retrench.”

People who share Thorn’s views will likely continue to see Cobb as an unstable individual. For others, while Cobb’s endorsement of integration signals the idea that he did not share the same views on race as many of his contemporaries did, they might argue that “a zebra doesn’t change its stripes,” and still may have harbored prejudiced views regardless of his comments. But that’s only true if Cobb was as bigoted as Stump claimed.

While I’d like to see Burns revise his episodes about Cobb based on Leerhsen’s scholarship, it’ll likely never happen. Burns’ Baseball is still an amazing series that I could never grow tired of watching. In fact, it’s the primary reason why I became a baseball fan. But Burns’ documentary isn’t a reliable source about Cobb. Baseball fans have the right to hold any opinion they want about any particular player. But if they balance Burns’ documentary with Leerhsen’s sound scholarship, as well as other biographies written by scholars like Charles Alexander, they’ll be in a better position to construct a solid and composed opinion of Cobb.

Cobb Will Remain A Highly Debatable Subject

In my opinion it’s wrong to assume Cobb wasn’t a good person. In a time when many were denouncing integration, Cobb was praising black ballplayers like Hank Aaron and Willie Mays. He left millions of dollars to charity in his will. He answered all his fan mail. Do these good deeds vanquish any of Cobb’s wrongdoings? Of course not. No one is perfect. But if we can’t recognize the good in people, especially when much of what’s been written about them is later discredited, we’re sending a message to the youth of America that we should only judge people by their transgressions and disregard the good they contributed to society.

Okrent is right in saying there’s a difference between the Cobb we have created and the version that should exist. But Thorn’s opinions carry just as much weight. Recognizing the good deeds that anyone performs later in life does not excuse any questionable acts they committed.

The Real Ty Cobb Was A Good Man

The real Ty Cobb wasn’t a saint, but he wasn’t a monster either. Thanks to Leerhsen’s biography, baseball fans can now see Cobb in a more honest light. Cobb was a legendary baseball player who played with ferocity. With that fierceness, however, also lay a genuine effort to be a good man.

Keep Yawkey Way So We Don’t Forget His Mistakes

Calls to tear down Confederate monuments are making headlines throughout the United States. Violence in Charlottesville has brought attention to our nation’s history that leave many divided. Personally, I think most of them should come down and be placed in museums. Racists erected them to intimidate African Americans, and they represent nothing but treason and oppression. Calls to rename other parks and streets that bare the names of ambiguous persons of history echo those same demands. One of those demands includes renaming Yawkey Way. While I think Confederate monuments should come down, I think they should keep Yawkey Way the way it is.

Yawkey Way was named after Tom Yawkey, the owner of the Boston Red Sox from 1933keep yawkey way to 1976. Many remember Yawkey as a racist. During his reign, the Boston Red Sox were the last team to integrate when Pumpsie Green took the field in 1959. Before then, the Red Sox had chances to sign players like Jackie Robinson, Willie Mays, and Sam Jethroe, all Rookies of the Year. Additionally, he employed Mike “Pinky” Higgins, a manager who made no effort to keep his distain for African Americans a secret. Higgins is the primary reason why the Red Sox didn’t integrate for years. Yawkey not only kept Higgins around, but he even promoted him through the years. Unlike owners like Branch Rickey and Bill Veeck, Yawkey chose to play along with the rest of the owners in baseball and drag their feet before integrating their teams. That will always be a part of his reputation and deservedly so.

Keep Yawkey Way So We Don’t Forget, and Repeat, The Past

Going back to my introduction, Confederate monuments need to come down because they represent a time in our nation’s history when traitors tried to tear this country apart. For many years after the war ended, its sympathizers tried to retain the honor of the south by erecting monuments, partly so they could continue terrorizing and intimidating African Americans who they’d oppressed for years. Many of these Confederate monuments were built specifically and deliberately to push back against integration and Civil Rights. That’s why they now need to come down. In fact, Robert E. Lee, commander of the Confederate forces, discouraged monuments. He thought they “keep open the sores of war” (Boy was he right).

Was Yawkey Way given its name for the same reasons? Of course not. Yawkey Way was named to honor Tom Yawkey, not to intimidate African Americans from coming to Fenway Park.

Keep Yawkey Way To Hold Yawkey’s Legacy Responsible

Yawkey Way bares the name of an owner responsible for modernizing Fenway Park. He played an important role in the history of the Red Sox and in baseball. Many ballplayers, black and white, remember him as being a very generous and approachable man. Deep down, he probably didn’t harbor racist sentiments as intense as Higgins’. However, he’s still responsible for that racist legacy. He could have done what Rickey and Veeck did and integrate the Red Sox before any other team. But he didn’t.

So instead of letting Yawkey and the Red Sox off the hook, the team needs to keep Yawkey Way. Of course, the current ownership doesn’t hold the same views Yawkey did, but they chose to buy the team and its dark legacy comes with that. They don’t get to “erase” that. It would also enable people to forget about the terrible mistakes Tom Yawkey made. Instead of erasing that history, the Red Sox should use this opportunity not only to remember a dark past, but take efforts to ensure they don’t go down similar paths.

Keep Yawkey Way To Ensure We Don’t Forget

There is no easy solution here. People will remain angry no matter what’s done. But let’s keep things in perspective here. This publication, which also bears the Yawkey name, looks to a future that includes equality and opportunity for everyone. To rename the street would jeopardize those efforts to craft a better future. Personally, I write for Yawkey Way Report because I want to help create a future with more equal opportunities so that everyone, regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, etc. have a chance to thrive, whether it’s in baseball or in other aspects of life. Renaming Yawkey Way would indirectly disrupt those efforts because those involved would have to start from scratch to associate itself with a new title. That takes time, and frankly, I don’t see how that’s a better approach. That’s like tearing down an entire house just because the kitchen is unstable.

So instead of looking at Yawkey Way as a symbol of racism, look to it as a symbol of change. Tom Yawkey, while he could have done much more, tried to change his views for the better. Does that excuse his behavior? No. But renaming a street isn’t a zero sum solution and it never will be. We need to take the good with the bad. We can remember Tom Yawkey as an innovative owner while also holding his legacy responsible for its reprehensible actions. To change the name of Yawkey Way would be to erase and rewrite a history that, despite its darkness, is important to remember so we do not repeat it.

War Hero Ted Williams Fought For Our Freedoms

Most people are outraged that neo-nazis and white supremacists are trying to make a comeback. My great-uncle fought nazis. He didn’t risk his life just to see these weak-minded a$$hats walk the streets thinking they’re superior to everyone else. In fact, it does a grave dishonor to those baseball players who volunteered to fight in World War II. War Hero Ted Williams, along with Johnny Pesky, Bobby Doerr, and many others exchanged a bat for a gun to defend America. These whites supremacists dishonor every American who fought the Axis powers in World War II.

The game of baseball itself has survived multiple wars and conflicts. President Franklin D.war hero ted williams Roosevelt urged Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis to continue to the game despite the war. “I honestly feel that it would be best for the country to keep baseball going,” Roosevelt wrote to Landis. “There will be fewer people unemployed and everybody will work longer hours and harder than ever before. And that means that they ought to have a chance for recreation and for taking their minds off their work even more than before.”

Roosevelt was right. More than ever American civilians had to make sacrifices in ways they’d never imagined. Commodities became scarce. Blackouts threw cities into darkness in the event that nazi or Japanese bombers made it to the continental United States. Most importantly, 400,000 Americans gave their lives to defeat Hitler and the Axis powers. All American stepped up to defeat defeating Hitler.

War Hero Ted Williams, And Many Others, Sacrificed Their Best Years

Players like the Tigers’ Hank Greenberg, the Braves’ Warren Spahn, and the Indians’ Bob Feller signed up for service. Spahn saw combat at the Battle of the Bulge. Feller fought on battleships in the Pacific. Williams didn’t see combat, but he gave up three of his best career years to serve his country. In fact, according to bleacherreport.com, Williams would have hit .342 with 3,452 hits, 663 home runs and 2,380 RBI if he hadn’t missed five years (two more in Korea) to wartime service. He not only gave up those career years, he did so willingly to defend our nation.

Service To Country Was More Important

According to the same source, Feller would have retired with a 362-210 record, a 3.11 ERA and 3,565 strikeouts. Spahn would have had over 400 career wins. But it wasn’t about projected numbers and sacrificing career years. It was about serving their country and doing what’s right. When the war broke out, Feller volunteered for service, “I didn’t have to [fight],” Fellar said in a 2006 interview. “I was 23 and strong-bodied…but with my father terminally ill back in Van Meter, Iowa, I was exempt from military service…It didn’t matter to me. I wanted to join the fight against Hitler and the Japanese.”

White Supremacy Dishonors War Hero Ted Williams And All Those Who Sacrificed

To watch what happened in Charlottesville last weekend could make one wonder what year it is. 1941 or 2017? Those white supremacists, who likely had relatives that fought in World War II, carried the flag that represented the very evil their relatives gave their lives for. Baseball players like Williams risked their lives because Hitler went to war in an effort to force the world to subscribe to his belief system. He lost, but there are those who want to continue the fight.

Unfortunately, these same scumbag white supremacists want to hold a rally in Boston this weekend. I gave serious thought to going to the counter-protest as a way of showing them I don’t want them here. Then I thought about it a little more. As much as I hate nazis, white supremacists, or anyone else who thinks they’re better than others because of the color of one’s skin, I’m not going to give them the pleasure. It’s exactly what these vermin want. So instead of attending a counter protest, I’m going to do the very things that war hero Ted Williams and many others risk their lives in order for me to do. It’s because of servicepeople like Williams, Feller, and Spahn that I can choose to attend a rally or not. So instead of giving attention to nazis, I’m going to do something else. Watch baseball.

Baseball Is Freedom

I’m going to watch the Red Sox destroy the Yankees at Fenway Park. I’ll watch Andrew Benintendi hit more home runs. I’ll watch Chris Sale strike out fourteen Yankees. I’m going to hang out with my friend Anthony, and we’re going to drink a lot of beer. And we’re going to do it under the retired number 9, war hero Ted Williams’ number, the man who served his country so that people like me could have the freedom so many take for granted.

Watching baseball is freedom. We proudly sing the National Anthem before each ballgame. We root for who we want. While it may not look like it, watching baseball instead of engaging white supremacists at a rally is a form of pushing them back. Baseball is freedom. When people think of freedom many think of baseball. While I’d love nothing more than to punch every nazi in the face 247,000 times each, I’m going to live by President Roosevelt’s words, “[Americans] ought to have a chance for recreation and for taking their minds off their work.” In my case, I’m taking my mind off of white supremacy; I’m taking my attention away from them.

That’s what they want and they won’t get it from me.

Your Guide to Baseball Hall of Fame Weekend in Cooperstown

The Baseball Hall of Fame will induct five new members on Sunday, July 30th, 2017 in Cooperstown, New York. The festivities are set to begin on July 28th and run through the 31st. Like the All-Star game and the World Series, Hall of Fame Induction Weekend is something every baseball fan looks forward to each year. Here are a few things to keep in mind if you are planning on attending the festivities.

Finding Parking Is Tough

Parking is going to be tough. Cooperstown has a population of about 2,500 people. LastBaseball Hall year about 45-50,000 people came to see Mike Piazza and Ken Griffey Jr. get inducted. You do the math. So if you are planning on coming it’s best to get into town early enough to find a spot. By early I mean 6am if you want to get a good spot. The later you are the farther you’ll have to walk from where you parked. We’re talking miles.

Finding A Hotel Is Even Tougher

Hotel and accommodations. If you didn’t book a reservation the week after last year’s induction weekend ended then you’re not going to find anything close to town. I booked a room seven miles outside of town the week after last year. Two months later they cancelled on me. By that time I had to look elsewhere and the best I could find was something 45 minutes away. That was in August. That’s how fast it fills up.

But Baseball Hall of Fame Weekend Is Worth It!

If you venture to Cooperstown for the weekend you won’t regret it. Every year there’s about three dozen or so Hall of Famers who do autograph shows throughout town. Prices vary but they’re not too expensive, depending on who you want. Dennis Eckersley, Pete Rose, and Goose Gossage will run you about $40-60 for a signed ball. Others like Greg Maddux and Randy Johnson demand up to $300 for a single autograph. If you Google “autograph signings Cooperstown 2017” you’ll find a list of companies sponsoring these signings. They list their prices and sell tickets in advance. I’ve already purchased about eight so I won’t have to stand in line as long. I suggest you do the same.

Non-Baseball Hall of Famers Are The Highlight

Last year as I walked down Main Street I met former Negro Leaguers, old ladies who played in the All-American Girls Professional League in the 1940s, and former MLBers who didn’t quite have the numbers to get inducted. THESE people are the ones you want to stop and talk to. In addition to charging very little (if at all) for their autograph (maybe $10 at the most), they tell the best stories. The original Frank Thomas, who played for the Mets in their first year in 1962, loves chatting with fans. Pedro Sierra, who played in the Negro Leagues in the early 1950s, signed a ball for me in the most beautiful handwriting I’ve ever seen on a baseball. George Foster, the NL MVP in 1977, has a great sense of humor. These are the people you want to seek out and talk to. They’ll chat with you all day!

In addition to the Baseball Hall of Fame itself, check out the many stores open all weekend. You’ll see a lot of junk but you’ll also see a lot of neat things. Yastrzemski Sports in the center of town has a treasure trove of baseball cards old and new. Across the street is Mickey’s, another great spot if you need a good baseball cap. And don’t forget the great places to eat up and down Main Street.

See you there! (Don’t forget sunscreen!)

Pete Rose Denied Induction Into Hall of Fame For Final Time

Pete Rose, the all-time hits king at 4256, was denied eligibility for induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame for likely the final time. Many applauded the decision handed down by the Baseball Hall of Fame’s Board of Directors. In their mind, Rose accepted, and must abide by, a lifetime ban he received in 1989. Others say it’s too stringent. With Pete Rose denied induction into the Hall of Fame for likely the final time, baseball fans will surely become more divided over the issue.

Then-commissioner Bart Giamatti banned Rose in 1989 for placing betts on baseballPete Rose Denied Induction games. Rose denied any involvement in gambling for many years before finally admitting it in 2004. Despite his confession, which he thought would exonerate him, the path to Hall of Fame induction only narrowed. In fact, it’s Rule 3(E) that continues to block Rose’s path to Cooperstown. The Baseball Writers Association of America election rules state that anyone who is permanently ineligible by Major League Baseball may not be considered for election to the Baseball Hall of Fame. This is the rule the Board of Directors cited in their decision to shut the door forever on Rose’s induction.

But is the Board of Directors being too stingy? Yup!

It’s Hypocritical To Deny Rose Induction

There’s no denying Rose gambled on baseball. It’s a crappy thing to do. Some say it’s no big deal but keep something in mind. You’re profiting off the hard work of your teammates. Then there’s the whole being illegal thing. But if the writers inducted Rose into the Hall of Fame then he would be in good company. Legendary New York Giants manager John McGraw allegedly threw games after the Giants were eliminated from the playoffs. Rumors about Ty Cobb and Tris Speaker’s connections to gamblers continue to this day.

Then there’s Hall of Famer John Clarkson. Clarkson won 50 games in 1885 (Yes, you read right) for the Chicago White Stockings. He’s in the Hall of Fame despite the fact that he murdered his wife with a razor. Let’s not forget Cap Anson and Kenesaw Mountain Landis, two more inductees who are directly responsible for introducing, and maintaining, respectively, segregation in baseball. So we can let other gamblers in, along with murderers and bigots, but not Pete Rose? That’s definitely a double standard.

Pete Rose Denied Induction For Final Time

Seeing Pete Rose denied induction is disappointing. It’s also somewhat hypocritical. Of course, Rose is no saint. But there are very few in the Hall of Fame whose character can’t questioned (Brooks Robinson comes to mind). This isn’t to dismiss what Rose did. But 25 years is enough.

Let Rose into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Hawking Autographs Hurts Baseball’s Integrity

I’m a member of a Facebook group called Autographs 101. Members give advice and judge the authenticity of signatures. One of the things I love about the group is that its members truly love the game of baseball. Seeing someone proudly display pictures of hawking autographstheir grandfather’s Ted Williams autograph is exciting. One of things that really bothers me though is when someone shows of an autograph they got for free at a game and wants to sell it. Someone gets a baseball signed by Kris Bryant or David Ortiz, then posts a picture of it asking for an obscene amount. Hawking autographs for personal profit not only hurts the game’s integrity, but it’s a selfish thing to do.

I’d go to ballgames as a kid hoping I’d get a few autographs. Other teens and I would stand behind each other patiently waiting for the signatures of Brett Butler, Moises Alou, Pat Hentgen, and Andy Petite, who all signed for me. Nowadays though I see full grown men shoving kids away to get an autograph. Some ballparks now have a Kids Only section where they can get autographs.

These hawkers get hundreds for Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, and David Ortiz. Knowing that fans are profiting off of them, some ballplayers now refuse to sign for adults. Others will sign a ball but won’t do it on the sweet spot because they know a fan won’t be able to get as much for it. Washington Nationals’ pitcher Max Scherzer is going an extra step to ensure fans aren’t hawking autographs. Scherzer set up a website where fans can buy his autograph with all the profits going directly to charity. This angers some fans who won’t be able to make a 100% anymore. They brought it on themselves though.

Hawking Autographs Ruins It For Other Fans

I attended the Hall of Fame Classic game last weekend in Cooperstown. Hundreds of fans stood behind a fence on the first base line waiting for Hall of Famers to come and sign. Most were little kids. But I saw many adults with 2×3 foot posters hoping that someone like Wade Boggs would sign it. How obnoxious do you have to be to not only take a kid’s place, but lug around something that large?

I attended the game with my buddy Angelo who told me a story about Alex Rodriguez. A few years ago, his brother stood outside the ballpark for A-Rod. Most of those who were waiting were little kids who A-Rod is apparently more than happy to sign for. But an overzealous fan almost ruined it for everyone when he handed a box of a dozen baseballs to A-Rod asking him to sign each one. “C’mon man, really?” A-Rod said to the guy. “I know what you’re going to do with those.” A-Rod ignored the guy and continued signing for the kids. The guy got nothing, and deservedly so.

I collect autographs myself. I mail baseball cards to former players, and pay a fee to meet them in Cooperstown. One thing I won’t do is push kids aside. If you think that’s okay then you need to get a life.