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.

Bullpen Woes Continue to Plague Red Sox

The Boston Red Sox are currently in Detroit for a four-game series. The Red Sox dropped the first two games before winning 7-5 on Sunday. Bullpen woes played a role in their first two losses, an issue the team has faced for a few seasons now. Between injuries and inconsistent playing time, their bullpen has failed to find their groove. Although Boston won the third game of the series with one more to go, they still have a lot to work on. If they don’t, the bullpen woes will cost the team a playoff birth.

The box scores indicate where the relief pitching often collapses. Their startersbullpen woes are decent, but not strong. Friday’s game saw starter Steve Wright give up four earned runs through six innings. The Red Sox scored five of their own but it wasn’t enough. Reliever Heath Hembree’s inability to stop the Tigers’ led to their victory as he gave up two runs for a 6-5 loss. They can’t afford to make these kinds of mistakes so early in the season. Yes, it is early, but its better to face these issues sooner than later. It will only get worse because opposing teams will continue to focus their offensive efforts on the relievers.

Late Inning Offensive Is Just as Bad As The Sox Bullpen Woes

It’s only fair to point out that the Red Sox bullpen would be stronger if they had the run support. The Red Sox don’t have much of a problem scoring runs early on. It’s the later innings when opposing pitchers, who by then have faced the same hitter a few times, know how to retire the side. I’ve been saying this for a while now. The Red Sox have an issue with overcoming deficits. Opposing pitchers know the lineup too well and it doesn’t seem like Farrell’s doing much to change his tactics (Admittedly, I wrote this line before today’s victory over Detroit).

Boosting their later inning offense could be the solution Farrell needs, as was evident in today’s victory over Detroit. We saw the Red Sox rally in the top of the 8th by scoring three runs, just enough for Craig Kimbrel to pick up the save. The Red Sox might see more victories like this if they continue to focus on offense. This could be the key. If the team can build the run support in later innings like they did today, the bullpen will have more breathing room and can focus on saving the game.

Today’s victory over Detroit is a model the Red Sox should follow the next time they fall behind. What you saw in the 8th inning today were simple hit-and-run tactics managers don’t focus on often enough anymore. Get on base, drive them home, rack up the runs.

Let’s hope the Red Sox use today’s victory as a model for future success.

Keeping Perspective On The 2016 Red Sox Season

The Red Sox swept the basement-dwelling Arizona Diamondbacks in a 3-game set over the weekend making it is easy to lose perspective on the 2016 Red Sox season as a whole. They outscored Arizona 31-9 over the span of the series and gave fans hope for October baseball.2016 Red Sox

Even with the series sweep, the Red Sox still have a tough road ahead. And by tough, I mean really tough. Over the next week and a half, the Red Sox will travel to four different cities with no off-days. Of those four teams, three of them are within a game and a half of a playoff spot. For all intents and purposes, they’re in the “playoff picture”.

The 2016 Red Sox Going Forward

The trip starts Monday with one game in Cleveland, a make-up from the opening series of the year. Drew Pomeranz starts against the Tribe, who is still winless in a Red Sox uniform. This road trip will also be without Steven Wright, who went on the 15-day DL Monday. Wright has gone 13-5 this year and is tied for the league lead in complete games with four. Not being able to roll out Wright for an assured eight innings may prove costly on such a long road trip.

After Cleveland, it will be two games in Baltimore then four in Detroit. Both of these teams are hot in the race and the Orioles are still ahead of the Red Sox in the AL East. This next week can certainly widen a Red Sox lead in the Wild Card and could even make a push for the division lead. The Orioles are an AL-best 39-17 in their confines of Camden Yards however, making the task that much more difficult.

The bullpen could still be an issue for this team, though. With the exception of the tremendous inning by Brad Ziegler Saturday night, the last week has been nightmarish for the pen. The Red Sox will need better work from Robbie Ross, Fernando Abad, and Junichi Tazawa to make a serious playoff push.

That being said, the sweep means the Red Sox are far from out of it. If they can come out on the plus side of this road trip, they will have a new lease on life. After the summer they have had, Red Sox fans should count their blessings. Basically, this road trip will show what the 2016 Red Sox are really made of.

It’s Time to Worry About David Price

David Price was supposed to be the savior. When the Red Sox gave him a seven-year, $217 million contract in the winter, a major void was filled at Fenway Park. The ghost of Jon Lester was exorcised, as Boston welcomed the most expensive pitcher ever to grace planet earth. Here was the leader of a new generation.

David Price

Fast forward seven months, and that situation is yet to materialize. Steven Wright has been the Red Sox’ ace this season, while David Price has struggled in a variety of ways. Fans waited through the early April struggles, when the new superstar was settling in. Then they waited a few more weeks, a couple extra months. David Price is still yet to deliver. And with August rounding into view, it’s time to debate exactly what’s happening. It might even be time to worry.

David Price Has a Great Track Record

Quite simply, David Price has never pitched this bad for this long. He came up with the Tampa Bay Rays in 2008, famously closing out their ALCS triumph over the Red Sox. He then developed a brilliant reputation, with a 3.18 ERA in 170 starts. Price won twenty games and the Cy Young Award in 2012, further enhancing his legacy. The Tigers traded for him in 2014, and he was even better in Detroit, pitching to a 2.90 ERA. Finally, he was dealt to the Blue Jays last season and became a key cog in a team that reached the postseason for the first time in twenty-two years.

Nobody doubts the resume. Throughout his career, David Price has been a dominant horse capable of anchoring any rotation. The Red Sox were in dire need of that, and they pursued him hard in free agency. Price was viewed as the next great Boston ace, in the mold of Roger Clemens and Pedro Martinez, Curt Schilling and Josh Beckett. He was the guy onto whom Red Sox Nation conveyed so much expectation. He was the cornerstone.

So far, it just hasn’t worked out. David Price currently has a 9-7 record, a 4.51 ERA and a 1.275 WHIP. Only two pitchers in all of baseball have allowed more hits: Mike Pelfrey and Marcus Stroman. Perhaps these numbers would be acceptable early in the season, as a new player becomes accustomed to fresh surroundings. But it’s no longer April. It’s no longer May or June. We have just sixty-four games left in the regular season, and the highest-paid pitcher in baseball history has been barely league average for the Boston Red Sox.

The Future of David Price

David Price knows he hasn’t been good enough. In every press conference, he has owned it. Perhaps more than any athlete in Boston sports history, he’s looked at the camera and criticized himself at appropriate times. That’s good. We appreciate that. But it still doesn’t change the fact that the Red Sox have extracted very little value from the part of this deal one would expect to be the most productive. David Price is only going to age from here on out. Generally, his performance is only going to trend downwards, just like any pitcher over the age of thirty. And if he’s already struggling to perform in Year One, the landscape is pretty scary moving forward.

While Price has accepted responsibility for his productivity, the wider public has been very lenient, perhaps to a fault. We’ve heard plenty of excuses. It was too cold. It was too windy. There’s something wrong with his mechanics. Enough already. David Price could be the nicest guy in the world, but he’s still not getting the job done with enough regularity. Therefore, it’s quite strange to see how little criticism he’s received. That may be a good thing, and a step in the right direction, but I can’t remember such an under-performing Boston star receiving this much support from the fans.

Hopefully that faith is rewarded. Hopefully David Price will rediscover his old delivery, his old strategy, his old magic. Hopefully the ace begins to deliver when it matters most, should October baseball return to Yawkey Way.

David Ortiz’s Best Moments in a Sox Uniform

David Ortiz hit his 500th home run over the weekend in one of the few highlights of the Red Sox season to date. This gives new life to the “Should he be in the Hall?” debate, but that’s a separate article for another time. What isn’t up for debate is that David Ortiz had many great moments as a member of the Red Sox.

I’ll highlight what I thought were his absolute 5 best moments in a Red Sox uniform. This listDavid Ortiz is in no way perfect, and it was difficult to pick just 5 because there are so many, like I said. Also, this list is in no particular order, so keep that in mind as you read this.

5.) “This our bleeping city!” I think we all remember when David went on TV before the game against the Royals and said this, which summed up how Boston was feeling a few days after the tragic events of the Boston Marathon a few days before that.

4.) His on-field heroics during the 2013 World Series: That year, he reached base in 19 of 25 plate appearances and hit 11-16 (.688 average) and ran away with the World Series MVP on his way to carrying the Red Sox to their 3rd championship in 10 years. Pretty amazing.

3.) His grand slam in game 2 of the 2013 ALCS: Speaking of 2013 heroics, let’s talk about the grand slam against the Detroit Tigers in Game 2 of the ALCS. That tied the game up at 5 when he hit it, and helped the team avoid going 0-2 at home.

2.) His walk-off heroics against the Evil Empire: Back to 2004. David Ortiz helped spark a rally from down 3-0 by first hitting a walk off home run in Game 4, then following that up with a walk off single in Game 5. That gave the team a huge momentum boost that the carried through the remainder of that series and into the World Series that year.

1.) Hitting home run #500: This season hasn’t been memorable, but David Ortiz hitting #500 is a huge milestone, and one of the main reasons fans kept up with the team, even after the season was essentially over.

Again, it was really hard to narrow this down to just 5 with so many to choose from, but there you have it. David Ortiz’s best moments with the Red Sox. Feel free to disagree or suggest your own. There are plenty Papi moments to choose from.

Rick Porcello Gives Up 3 Runs in Rehab Start With PawSox

In what has been a wildly unsuccessful first season with the Red Sox, Rick Porcello completed what should be his final rehab outing with the Pawtucket Red Sox on Friday night before returning to the Red Sox rotation for the last five weeks of the season. Porcello will likely replace Matt Barnes in the rotation, unless the team finally decides that Joe Kelly should get an audition in the bullpen.

After a shaky first inning in which Porcello gave up two runs while hitting a batter and Rick Porcelloallowing three stolen bases, Porcello calmed down to allow just one run in the remaining 4.2 innings he went. Overall he went 5.2 while allowing 3 hits, 3 earned runs, striking out 6 including 4 of the last 5 batters he faced and walking none. Obviously the main focus for Porcello is keeping the ball down, especially his fastball which has been hammered this season when it has been left up in the strike zone. He is a sinker ball pitcher, but seems to rely on his fastball too much and looks like he over throws at times. It’s okay Rick if you can’t throw 99—the Red Sox already have Joe Kelly over throwing as it is.

The next month of the season for Porcello will be a big test as he looks to right the ship on what has been a rough start to his Red Sox career. After being acquired from the Tigers in a winter trade, Porcello signed a 4 year extension with the team paying him over $80 million before he even threw a pitch in a Red Sox uniform.

Obviously that contract is a lot to live up to, but Red Sox fans should remember that John Lackey’s first few years with the Red Sox weren’t great either and he went on to help them win a World Series in 2013. Time is on Porcello’s side to prove he is a better pitcher than he has looked this season. However, to expect him to live up to that contract may be farfetched.

Dave Dombrowski, recently named President of Baseball Operations for the Red Sox, is the man who drafted Porcello, but also the man who traded him, so we will soon find out how he really feels about Porcello. Obviously his results this season will not make it easy to move him, but maybe if he is counted on less, he will be a much better pitcher next season.