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MY TRAVELS WITH TY COBB
By Norm Coleman
CHAPTER ONE Cobb’s early life, growing up in Georgia.
“Challenges are what make life interesting and overcoming them is what makes life meaningful.”
A philosopher, James Allen wrote in one of his books an entire chapter to beginnings. He writes, "Most beginnings are small, and appear trivial and insignificant, but in reality they are the most important things in life." Without a beginning you could have the greatest idea and the greatest plan in the world and you would still fail.
Whereas a modest idea and an incomplete plan often produces success when accompanied by even an "insignificant" beginning. "Beginning" is just another way to describe the most powerful six-letter word in the vocabulary of achievers: A-C-T-I-O-N. But, you say, "I already knew that. I already knew I had to take action to be successful.”
Thus was the beginning of what came to be the one-man show I called, “Ty Cobb-The Greatest Player That Ever Played The Game.” This is the event that changed my life as I turned seventy. This was the challenge I set out for myself, the Sisyphus task I created for myself convinced I could reach the mountaintop successfully.
Let me state at the outset that in reality, I never met Tyrus Raymond (The Georgia Peach) Cobb, considered by many baseball experts to be one of the greatest players that ever played baseball and the greatest hitter of all-time due to his lifetime batting average of 367. This is still the best in Major League history along with the over 90 records he established prior to his retirement.
He died in Atlanta, Georgia on July 17th, 1961 at the age of 75.
Ty Cobb’s Family –early life growing up in Royston
Ty Cobb’s father, William Herschel Cobb was born on February 23,1863. His mother, Amanda Chitwood was born on February 15, 1871.
Mr. Cobb, a rural school teacher married Amanda on February 11, 1886. He was twenty-three, she was fifteen.
Tyrus Raymond Cobb was born on December 18, 1886.
Ty had one brother, John Paul, born on February 23, 1889. Cobb’s sister, Florence Leslie was born October 29, 1892.
Born in the Narrows, Georgia, Ty was raised in Royston, Georgia.
He became fascinated with baseball at the age of six and was often seen playing a game called Cat. A player would throw a ball in the air, the batter would swing and run to first. The fielder would then throw the ball as hard as he could at the runner. This resulted in many bruises Ty would occur, but he learned to handle pain, without crying.
As Tom Hanks said, in the film, A League of their Own; (1) “There’s no crying in baseball.”
A neighborly carpenter created the black ash bats Ty took to Augusta and then to Detroit made his first bats for him.
His first glove, like his first uniform was made by his mother. Ty, with friends were often seen searching for scrap metal that he sold to buy his first mitt.
Amanda noticed many times Ty throwing rocks in the air and hitting them with a branch. He would throw a ball against a wall and practiced fielding for hours.
He joined a local team called the Royston Rompers that consisted of boys aged from fifteen to twenty. Ty was twelve. At fourteen, he became the star of that team.
My connection with Cobb
I always did something I was a little not ready to do. I think that’s how you grow. There’s that moment of “Wow” I’m not really sure I can do this, but you push threw those moments, that’s when you have a breakthrough.
That’s what happened to me the day Ty Cobb came into my life. What I learned from him, and how he changed my life. I will reveal this as you read further.
I had a long successful career as an award winning professional photographer, but never acted a day in my life. I recreated my life at seventy and took to the stage becoming an actor, playwright and inspirational speaker. I have portrayed Cobb in venues around the country and Canada over the past nine years.
Cobb and I are at opposite poles of the universe in life and experience. He was born in Georgia twenty-three years after The War Between The States. He fell in love with baseball at the age of six and started playing serious baseball at age 14.
I grew up in mid-depression America, fell in love with baseball at ten and played stickball on the streets of Brooklyn, NY. I became an excellent handball player. That was a sport I excelled at. I wanted to be a sports writer and did so for my High School, Boys High in Brooklyn. Fifty years went by before I became a sports writer once again.
Why I related to Ty (The Georgia Peach) Cobb
You may have known some people who have had success, joy, and triumph, than a tumble into depression, despair or hopelessness. It was this experience that Cobb and I shared.
It was this interconnection that drew me to Ty as I had a similar painful experience detailed in the introduction to this book.
It was mid August 1905. Cobb was enjoying a successful season with the Augusta Tourists, a minor league team in Georgia when his contract was sold to the Detroit Tigers for $750.00 He was told to report to Detroit in a few days.
He was never so happy in his life as all he worked for and dreamed about was about to come to fruition. He invited his brother Paul, some of his friends to watch him play his last game in Georgia before joining the Tigers in Detroit.
He wanted nothing more than to share this momentous occasion with his daddy whom he worshipped and adored. His daddy was God as far as Ty was concerned.
“I worshipped the ground he walked on,” he would say. As fate would have it, this was not meant to be. He went from the height of happiness, to the depth of depression.
He received the sad news that his beloved father had been shot, murdered by his mother, driving him into a state of depression.
Ty reported to Detroit a few days later and got hits in his first two at bats, showing his powerful sense of concentration.
Seven months after this unfortunate tragedy, his mother, Amanda Chitwood Cobb went to trial for killing her husband. She was charged with 2nd degree manslaughter but was found innocent by a jury of her peers.
In addition to this experience, Ty experienced a year of hazing and bullying from his teammates. That was common in those early days of baseball. Ty fought back earning him an undeserved reputation that he always fought with his teammates. His failure to be accepted by his mates, and the death of his father caused him to fall into a deep state of melancholia.
It was during the following season, 1906 that Ty disappeared from Detroit in late July causing him to miss a shade over 50 games. It was thought at first he suffered from “stomach trouble”. Later, doctors reported it was not a hernia. The Tigers front office did not communicate to the press leaving the media to circulate rumors concerning Cobb’s health.
Charles C. Alexander (1) in his book claimed Cobb suffered from, “some sort of emotional and physical collapse” but provided no additional information. Ty was on the edge of a nervous breakdown considering the death of his father and the mental abuse he suffered from his mates. He was showing signs of instability; his nervous system was breaking down.
Given his apparent nervous breakdown, the Tiger media did not report to the public that Ty was sent to a sanitarium in rural upstate Michigan for a period of rest and relaxation (2) He was given medication and had long resting periods of sleep, relaxation, and plenty of time to rest his anxious mind and body. He swam, fished and took long hikes in the nearby forest.
He was not allowed to read newspapers and the press was forbidden. The sanitarium (3) was located in Pontiac, Michigan and was leveled in 1972. Reports circulated in the Detroit Free Press that Cobb was resting at a home in the Northern part of Michigan and doctors there said he would be released before the end of the season.
Ty returned to the team in early September, his personality back, his eyes and skin bright thanks to the salubrious air, sun and rest he had during his period away from the team.
He wound up the season with a 316 batting average. He never discussed his disappearance with teammates or the press or in any books he wrote or were written about him. (4) It was as though the shame of that experience was to difficult for him to ever discuss.
During the remaining twenty-three years of his career, he never batted less then 300 and hit over 400 three times. He was the first player elected into the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York in 1936.
In reading his story, about his rise, fall and comeback, I related to his experience. Clearly, my story is not the same, but runs a similar path that I will write about that in the next chapter.
About the show.
The play takes place in Cobb’s hotel suite in Atlanta, Georgia on the evening of his death, July 17, 1961. A young reporter from the Atlanta Constitution questions him and takes notes. The audience is told this fact, though he is never seen.
Cobb reminisces about his life. Growing up in Georgia, playing baseball as a child, his brief minor league career and his playing days with the Detroit Tigers (1905-1926) ending with the Philadelphia Athletics (1927-28). He talks about his post baseball life, managing the Tigers (1921-26) and his biggest disappointment, never winning a World Series.
He spins anecdotes about various players he knew: Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio, Ted Williams, Shoeless Joe Jackson and Lefty O’Doul. Also about his friendships with many presidents he knew, how he became a multi-millionaire, the Educational Foundation he established in Georgia for poor bright, needy Georgia students. Ty strongly believed young students should have a college education that he did not have.
(1) America's stock of athletic young men is depleted during World War II, and a professional all-female baseball league springs up in the Midwest. Sentimental and light, but still thoroughly charming, A League of Their Own
by solid performances from a wonderful cast: Tom Hanks, Geena Davis, Madonna and more.
(2) Ty Cobb by Charles Alexander 1984 - page 45
(3) Peach By Richard Bak - Ty Cobb – In His Time and Ours – page 41
(4) Sanitarium in those days was an establishment for the medical treatment of people who were convalescing from a chronic illness.
Some people today refer to it as a “nuthouse”.
(5) Charles Leerhesen – Ty Cobb – A terrible Beauty
Cobb quotes: "Baseball is a red-blooded sport for red-blooded men. It's no pink tea, and mollycoddles had better stay out. It's a struggle for supremacy, a survival of the fittest."
Quotes about Cobb: "(Ty) Cobb lived off the field as though he wished to live forever. He lived on the field as though it was his last day." - Branch Rickey, GM, Brooklyn Dodgers
Cobb batting tips: “Don’t grip your bat at the very end; leave say an inch or two. Also leave about an inch or more between your hands; that gives you balance and control of the bat and also keeps your hands from interfering with each other during your swing.”
Show Testimonials: “I am glad that I had the opportunity to assist you in some ways. You have done a great job with your play and you have always done it with a great deal of passion.” David Dombrowski, President Baseball Operations Boston Red Sox.
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