It’s those cherished memories which enrich our lives—unforgettable experiences which are recalled with passion, feeling and thanksgiving. You take pleasure in reliving them through reminiscing and sharing your story.
You can only imagine the unadulterated joy that came with a drive up to Cornelia in the spring of 1960 to spend most of an afternoon talking baseball with Ty Cobb. He wasn’t an old man at 75, certainly by today’s standards, but he had only a little more than a year to live.
This was in the days of Western Union. I had asked Delmus, the local operator at WU office on College Ave., if he could message his counterpart in Cornelia to see if she knew where Cobb was living.
The reply: “Ty Cobb staying at Propes Apt.”
I still have that telegram along with the Associated Press print-out from the wire machine in the old offices of the Athens Banner Herald, then on East Hancock Street, of my story about interviewing Cobb which made the AP sports wire.
My enterprise was duly noted and underscored, but I still had to pay for the call, something like 60 cents, to ring up the baseball immortal, who had a listed number.
Cobb met me and photographer, Dan Keever, in a polka dotted house coat. He had on a checked flannel shirt and a tie. He was polite and engaging, and made me feel relaxed and comfortable, never showing impatience with my long list of questions, none of which was original.
A couple of times he retreated to the kitchen to take some “cough medicine,” which I now suspect was a shot of Kentucky’s most popular drink. He said during the conversation that authors he never met, wrote books about him. He said that he had to endure “mostly untruths” from the press. It was incongruous to him that there were people who would “write lies.” No man has ever been a greater victim of “yellow” journalism than Ty Cobb.
For years, I have read all the negative stuff about Cobb. He was a complex man who made the big leagues as a raw teenager and who lived with the debilitating scandal that surrounded the shooting death of his school teacher father by Cobb’s mother who was acquitted of murder. Someone other than Cobb’s mother was in the upstairs room when his father was coming through a window from the roof.
Cobb was demeaned by countless writers over the years. Being from Georgia, obviously he had to be a racist. As Casey Stengel was wont to say, “You can look it up.” If you do, you will find mostly negative dissertation about the man who gave stock that funded a foundation, which has educated thousands of boys and girls in the state and also funded the Royston hospital system that has provided heaLth care for countless Georgians.
With the passing of time, there would be the discovery Ty Cobb was a dogged victim of sensationalism. The man whose research has refuted much of the slander about Cobb spoke at the University of Georgia Research Library this past week.
Charles Leerhsen, whose credits include Sports Illustrated Esquire, Rolling Stone, and the New York Times, wrote “A Terrible Beauty.” The book confirms that while Cobb had a flaming temper he was not a mean spirited person. Leerhsen does not think that Cobb was a racist. In fact, he discovered that Cobb’s grandfather was an abolitionist.
In a conversation with this author in New York, last December, there was the question, how did such accomplished researchers and historians as Ken Burns, for example, fail to meet up with the truth about Cobb. “They simply did not do their homework,” Leerhsen says.
Cobb was often the victim of a frame-up. Like the time he was driving through Central Park when a bystander hails him down, provoking a fistfight. A photographer just happened to be hiding out in the bushes when all this took place.
The most interesting thing is that Cobb’s father didn’t have a high regard for the rogue characters who dominated the game of baseball of that era. He wanted his son to become formally educated. In the end, Cobb’s funding of the “Ty Cobb Foundation,” meant that he did more for education than he likely would have if he had become a PhD.
Charles Leerhsen has presented the “other” side of Cobb, a side that many mean spirited authors failed to honor. As a native Georgia, I have a warm spot for Charles Leerhsen, whose detailed research has revealed the unaccepted truth about a man, whom many, say was baseball’s greatest player.