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Friday, May 15, 2009

Ty Cobb- Hall of Famer

More than a few modern day writers believe that to call Ty Cobb a racist, law breaker, and a woman hater is an understatement of immense proportions. Arnie Palucci said "Compared to Cobb, Rose is a barely a Class AA sociopath who could go the opposite way." Despite great success on the field, Cobb was a ruthless competitor, far from the definition of a "good sport." And, Cobb was no stranger to controversy off of the diamond. In addition to violent behavior away from home, Cobb was said to be a poor husband and father too. Cobb's surly temperament and aggressive playing style was described by the Detroit Free Press as "daring to the point of dementia." He was disliked throughout baseball, including by his own teammates. He filed his spikes in the dugout; he cursed and shouted at his teammates; he fought with his teammates to the point where he slept with a loaded pistol under his pillow. Cobb hated northerners and had a lot of off field incidents. For example, once Ty Cobb went into the stands during a game at New York's Hilltop Park in 1912 and beat up a fan. The fan, it turned out, was a cripple. The handicapped Mr. Lueker, who due to an industrial accident had lost all of one hand and three fingers on this other, had been razzing Cobb. When onlookers shouted at Cobb to stop because the man had not hands, Cobb reportedly replied, "I don't care if he has no feet!" (ESPN.com's 10 infamous moments, http://espn.go.com/endofcentury/s/other/infamous.thml) This was only one in a string of vicious assaults which Cobb committed over his career. For the most part, he went unpunished and was actually the first player to be inducted into the "morally" prestigious Baseball Hall of Fame in 1936. Here are some other examples of Cobb's violent temper. At Spring Training in 1907, he fought a black groundskeeper over the condition of the Tigers' field in Augusta, Georgia. Ty also ended up choking the man's wife when she intervened. ( Schwartz, Larry. "He was a pain...but a great pain.ESPN Internet Ventures. http://espn.go.com/sportscentury/features/00014142html) Then there was the time Cobb once slapped a black elevator operator for being "uppity." When a black night watchman intervened, Cobb pulled out a knife and stabbed him. The matter was later settled out of court. He was arrested for assault, fined $75.00, which he happily paid, because in his words, "that's a small price to pay to get satisfaction. (Hill, John Paul (November 18, 2002. "Ty Cobb (1886-1961)" Another time, Cobb settled an argument with umpire Billy Evans conducted under the grandstand after the game. Members of both teams were spectators, and broke up the scuffle after Cobb had knocked Evans down, pinned him, and began choking him. Speaking of his combative nature on and off the field, Cobb blamed his environment for much of his negative behavior. "Sure, I fought," said an unrepentant Cobb in a revealing quote. "I had to fight all my life just to survive. They were all against me. Tried every dirty trick to cut me down, but I beat the bastards and left them in the ditch." This attitude was often felt by his own teammates. According to teammate and Hall of Famer Sam Crawford, Cobb was allowed to show up late for spring training and was given private quarters on the road – perks not offered to Crawford or others at the time. Although the two never spoke to each other after their playing days, to Cobb's credit, after he died, a reporter found hundreds of letters in Cobb’s home that Cobb had written to influential people lobbying for Crawford’s induction into the Hall of Fame. (Bak, Richard (2005). Peach: Ty Cobb In His Time And Ours. Sports Media Group.) Cobb became manager of the Detroit Tigers in 1921. It was a move that shocked the baseball world because, of course, Ty was generally disliked by players. He was not successful and some baseball scholars blame this on his insistence that his players play with the intensity he did. Ty Cobb finally called it quits from a 22-year career as a Tiger in November 1926. He announced his retirement and headed home to Augusta, Georgia. Shortly thereafter, Tris Speaker also retired as player-manager of the Cleveland team. The retirement of two great players at the same time sparked some interest. Investigations revealed that the two were coerced into retirement because of allegations of game-fixing brought about by Dutch Leonard, a former pitcher of Cobb's. Leonard accused former pitcher and outfielder Smoky Joe Wood and Cobb of betting on a Tiger-Cleveland game played in Detroit on September 25, 1919, in which they allegedly orchestrated a Detroit victory to win the bet. Leonard claimed proof existed in letters written to him by Cobb and Wood. Leonard subsequently refused to appear at the hearings. Cobb and Wood admitted to writing the letters, but they claimed it was a horse racing bet, and that Leonard's accusations were in retaliation for Cobb's having released Leonard from the Tigers to the minors. Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis held a secret hearing with Cobb, Speaker, and Wood. A second secret meeting amongst the AL directors led to Cobb and Speaker resigning with no publicity. Many believe it was a cover up because Cobb and Speaker were both "big box office." (Wolpin, Stewart. "The Ballplayers- Ty Cobb") There was absolutely no punishment for either from Landis. Cobb later claimed that the attorneys representing him and Speaker had brokered their reinstatement by threatening to expose further scandal in baseball if the two were not cleared. As irony to this episode of Cobb's life, the Hall-of-Fame plaque of Baseball’s first commissioner and ardent segregationist Kenesaw Mountain Landis contains no asterisk at all. Nor are there any formal plans to update the inscription which currently reads “His integrity and leadership established baseball in the respect, esteem, and affection of the American people." The irony, of course, is that it was only the death of Landis in 1944 that afforded Jackie Robinson the opportunity to integrate Major League Baseball in 1947. (Charles Modiano, "Hall of Fame Hypocrisy") Landis is remembered by many as iron jawed, close minded, and bigoted.

In family matters, Cobb had expected his boys to be exceptional athletes, especially baseball players. Cobb, Jr. flunked out of Princeton, where he had played on the varsity tennis team much to the dismay of Cobb, Sr. The elder Cobb subsequently traveled to the Princeton campus and beat his son with a whip to ensure against future academic failure. (Stump (1994). Cobb: A Biography.) Both his marriages ended in divorce, and even though he had five children by his first wife, his relations with all were not close.

In my opinion, Rule 5 of the policy of admittance into the Baseball Hall of Fame is wrong. It should only focus on the aspects of baseball. Playing ability, record, and work ethic are the only traits that need to be examined. If a man wanted to get into the "Most Honorable Person" Hall of Fame, then his character would need to be dissected and examined. And, maybe, such an exhibit should be established for those who have shown these exemplary qualities on and off the field. Pete Rose wants into the Baseball Hall of Fame, and he needs to be granted permission because of his baseball record and ability. Does his lifetime ban extend to his own lifetime or too the lifetime of the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame? Here is the actual wording. Does Rose's eventual death bring an end to his lifetime ban?

"The banishment for life of Pete Rose from baseball is the sad end of a sorry episode. One of the game's greatest players has engaged in a variety of acts which have stained the game, and he must now live with the consequences of those acts. By choosing not to come to a hearing before me, and by choosing not to proffer any testimony or evidence contrary to the evidence and information contained in the report of the Special Counsel to the Commissioner, Mr. Rose has accepted baseball's ultimate sanction, lifetime ineligibility."

Statement by then Commissioner of Baseball, A. Bartlett Giamatti, August 24, 1989

Babe Ruth broke federal laws by drinking during prohibition. Babe Ruth broke federal laws by drinking during prohibition.

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