“Ty Cobb, the greatest of ballplayers and an absolute shit,” is the way Hemingway once put it. Correct on both points, Papa swore off his onetime friend after he witnessed the Georgia Peachpit decking a hunting guide for taking them down the wrong trail.
Cobb’s legacy as a bully near matches his extraordinary statistical accomplishments. Highlights include battering a roommate over bathtub use, scores of serious punch-outs with teammates, a savage beating of an umpire (“I fight to kill,” Cobb said at the time), an attack in the stands on a handicapped heckler, and the legendary sharpening of his spikes— the better to slash opposing infielders while sliding. Bucky Harris recalled Cobb’s warning after a hard tag: “Do that again, and I’ll cut you up for stitches.”
However typical of its day, Cobb’s record as a racist is particularly nasty. Selected lowlights:
In 1926, Cobb was implicated (with Tris Speaker) in a game-fixing scheme from seven years earlier. Threatening to reveal further “crookedness,” Cobb was ultimately let off by Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis. In his autobio, Cobb bragged that Landis’s verdict was “dictated to him by attorneys representing Speaker and myself.”
Cobb, all-around bad guy and alleged game-fixer, was the first player ever inducted into baseball’s Hall of Fame. Pete Rose, gambler and breaker of Cobb’s most exalted record, total hits, can’t make it in. Go figure.