Hey y’all, this is Tyrus Raymond Cobb speaking at you from the grave. That’s right, Ty Cobb – the one and only. And if you’re doubting right now it’s really me? Well, all I’ve got to say is– go fuck yourself!
Heh heh – that oughta clear things up right quick.
It’s been damn near fifty years since the cancer took me, but don’t think I ain’t been watching. And for what it’s worth, y’all sure have made a mess of things on old planet earth since I’ve been gone.
Anyways, I figure it’s about time for me to set the record straight on a few things, namely that yours truly is not the incorrigible son of a bitch you all seem to take such pleasure in painting me as. Sure, I had my share of dust ups with teammates and a few fans. And umpires. And opposing players and coaches. Yeah, batboys and clubhouse attendants once or twice. And law enforcement, of course.
But let me tell you unequivocally — every last one of ‘em had it coming.
I know, you’ve probably read about that Yankees fan — the one with no hands — that I went into the stands after one afternoon in New York City. Well let me tell you, if you’d heard what that no good, leather lung said to me about my mama, you’d a been cheering me on when I shut his crippled ass up.
And while we’re on the subject of assholes who deserve a beatin’, would somebody please point out this Kevin Costner fella to me? That motion picture of his, Field of Dreams, did more to paint me the devil of Major League Baseball than anything I ever done on the basepaths or in the clubhouse. And of all the no count, brainless wonders our national pastime has seen take the field, how in the hell does he pick Shoeless Joe Jackson to make a hero out of?
But I digress. This is all about setting the record straight on the kind of man I was. You see, there’s just been way too much emphasis on the fighting, and the hatred toward colored folk, and the whole redneck side of things. And honestly, I’m damn tired of it. I mean, all men got their flaws, but if you ask me, I was ahead of my time in many ways, and now’s my turn to put it all out there.
See, I may not have been no college graduate like that pussy Christy Mathewson, but that was only cause I knew my future was playing ball, and you know what they say – Mama, she done drowned the dumb ones. Don’t tell me you wouldn’t have done the same damn thing as me if someone told you they was gonna pay you to play the game you loved. It wasn’t a hard decision at all, even though Pa whupped my ass good when I first broke the news to him and Ma.
My pa, he was a scholar and an educator. Yes sir, he was, and you don’t hear much said about that when the life of old Ty Cobb gets talked about. Not only that, Pa was a man who believed that skin color didn’t make a sumbitch no better or worse than anyone else. And he raised me to see the man, not the color of his skin, from as early as I can remember. And that’s why nothing raises my ire more than when I hear folk trying to paint me as some sort of racist bastard. Hell no, I hated everyone just the same, heh heh.
He was a hard man, my father, tough to please, and you bet he wasn’t afraid to use the belt when I got out of line. But a cause of him I grew up understanding knowledge was power. And even though I never had no sheepskin up on the wall, it don’t mean I didn’t learn that lesson through and through.
You don’t hit .400 against the likes of Cy Young and Walter Johnson without some brain power, believe me. Ain’t nobody studied pitchers harder than I did, and if some lucky rook got me out with a curveball the first time I came up to bat? Well, let’s just say he best not have showed me that pitch again, lest he wanted to be undressed with a line drive right back at his ugly melon next time I came to the plate.
And most folk don’t realize stealing bases has less to do with legs than it does brains. Shit, I done stole twenty-two bags playing for Connie Mack’s Athletics the year I turned forty-one. I couldn’t run a lick anymore, but I knew every pitcher and catcher in the American League better than they knew themselves, and nobody got a better jump off the bag than old Ty.
Damn right I came into second with my spikes up high, too! The game of baseball I grew up playing was a man’s game, played by men who had to fight for every inch of that diamond. And if some lunkhead was gonna plant his foot in front of the bag when I needed to get in there, well he was gonna be seeing the doc for a few stitches that day.
But my ballfield stories got me off track again. It’s the man I was after the last out had been made who I’m here to tell you about on this day.
As I was saying, Daddy was an educator, and growing up in little old Narrows, Georgia, I never lacked for quality schoolin’, between what they taught us in the classroom and what Pa talked about at the supper table. My father was the finest man I ever knew, and he was taken from this earth far too soon, the victim of his own greatest flaw — the green-eyed monster of jealousy.
See, Mama was a looker and the talk of Narrows, be it when the family got all dressed up for church on Sundays, or if she just went into town to pick up the week’s groceries. And as I got older, it became known to me that some of the folk around town liked to talk about her in a less than gentlemanly way. Nothing could get my fists flying faster when I was a boy than if I heard tell of any of these stories. More than a couple times I put a beatin’ on men twice my age, if I caught ‘em smiling behind her back, or whispering and a pointin’.
But small towns are what they are, and my daddy being an educator and all, often found himself traveling for nights at a time. I was off playing ball the night my daddy decided he’d heard one too many of them rumors, and set out to see for himself what the truth truly was.
Back in that spring of 1905, the Tigers had me stationed at Augusta of the Sally League to get a little more seasoning. And let me tell you, I was tearing up every pitcher that dared set foot on a mound. I knew any day I’d be getting the telegram I dreamed about, saying I was going to the big leagues. In fact, I was batting leadoff in Augusta, Georgia, the night my daddy told Ma he had a business trip, and packed a suitcase and headed off like he’d done so many times before.
The next day I was relaxing at the hotel when I’ll be damned if a telegram didn’t come in with my name on it. But it sure wasn’t the telegram I’d been dreaming about since I was a boy. No sir, it was only two sentences, but them few words marked the end of the life of the most important man in the world to me. I didn’t know it was Mama who’d shot my daddy until I got back to Narrows the next day, and boy was all hell breaking loose in that little town, as word spread that Mrs. Cobb had shot Mr. Cobb’s lights clear out.
My father was not a popular man in Narrows. People said he was always putting on airs, but if you ask me that was just jealousy from those uneducated town-folk. We wasn’t rich, but we had enough, and a nice house, too. Plus, like I said before, Mama was a head-turner, and that got the men around town to hoping bad things would befall my pa.
And they sure got their wish on that count, didn’t they? Because on that fateful night, Daddy didn’t actually go out of town. Oh, he took off just like he always done, but once he got out of sight, he stopped and waited a spell and then circled back to the house. He was convinced he was gonna catch Mama red-handed with some other fella, so instead of coming in the front door, he climbed up on the trellis over the porch, and went to sneaking in through the bedroom window.
Mama kept a gun near the bed. Wasn’t nothing odd about that neither, what with Daddy on the road so much and us living out in the country. So, as she’s sitting there doing some sewing, she hears a racket outside the bedroom window. There was no time to call out and say “who’s there,” so she took hold of her pistol and started shooting.
I’ve always wondered if I’d been there could I have stopped things, but Ma and Pa’s troubles were the kind that have been ruining marriages since the beginning of time. Still, I’ll never forget the look of sadness in Mama’s beautiful, brown eyes when I got home and she told me what she’d done.
It was a tragedy plain and simple, but those nosey newspaper men just wouldn’t let it go, even when the police investigated and declared it all an accident. By then I’d been called up by the Tigers and was starting to make a name for myself. I didn’t hit so well the second half of 1905, not being able to get past the sadness of Daddy being gone, but when the new season began in the spring I knew my time had arrived.
I began the 1906 season like a house afire, hitting and stealing bases like nobody’s business. The Tigers were winning lots of games, and of course that made the whole shooting story even bigger headlines. Eventually those fool cops reopened their investigation and charged Mama for the cold-blooded murder of my pa.
You can’t imagine the hullabaloo as the trial approached. All anyone wanted to ask about was my mama. I finally knocked a couple teeth back into the head of some greenhorn rook from Cleveland, who was dumb enough to joke about it to my face, and the boys pretty much left me alone from there.
But those darn reporters wouldn’t give me a minute’s peace. On the road they’d wait in the hotel lobby and follow me around to the bars after the games. And when word got out I was going to testify at the trial? Well, let’s just say a feeding frenzy ensued.
However, it was true. Ma’s lawyer had contacted me, thinking she’d need some help, since a lot of the locals were painting her as plain evil. They felt a respected man like me would make a mighty fine character witness.
See here now?
A character witness. And last time I checked, they don’t ask no fightin’, cursin’, reckless, redneck to sit on no witness stand as a character witness!
Now the idea of me leaving the ballclub and risking my hot bat cooling off didn’t sit well with the top brass in Detroit, but there I was on a train bound for Georgia, because there ain’t never been nothing more important to a man than the love he has for his mama. Don’t get me wrong here, neither. I knew Mama wasn’t no saint. And it took me quite a long time to get over the idea that she’d blown my daddy’s head off with that pistol of hers, accident or no accident. But she was still my mama, and a son stands by his mama’s side.
When I got to town, I couldn’t hardly go anywhere without a mob following me around. I was as close to a celebrity as Narrows had in those days. And now Mama was a celebrity in her own right, just for all the wrong reasons. Between the headlines and me being a baseball hero, I couldn’t get a minute’s peace. But I went out anyway, head held high, and went to visit Mama over at the county jail.
Them bastards were holding her prisoner until the trial in a dirty old jail cell, saying on a count of me being a celebrity of some wealth, or some nonsense like that, she was at risk to flee the country. Now that was a bunch of bunk, since all we wanted was to clear Mama’s name and get her back home where she belonged. But you know what they say about those damned reporters. Ain’t one of them interested in letting the truth get in the way of a hot story.
And the story of William Cobb’s murder was about the juiciest story they’d seen in Narrows, Georgia in forever.
So over to the jailhouse I went, and I’ll tell you what, even in her gray, jailhouse prison uniform, Mama never looked prettier. We hugged and sat down on a bench, and I gave Mama a cigarette and we just sat a spell.
Now, before that day, never had I seen Amanda Chitwood Cobb shed a single tear. And lord as my witness, there were many nights when my pa was drunk and wild and taking his hand to her, when anyone, man or woman, would have been excused if they’d broke down crying like a little baby.
But that day, my mama put her cigarette out and turned to look at me, and there was a single tear running down that soft cheek of hers. Mama put her hand on mine as she turned toward me.
“Are you getting enough to eat, Tyrus?” she asked. “You look thin.”
I’ll never forget that in a million years. Facing the electric chair, with an angry mob muckraking her to kingdom come, all my mama wanted to know was if her boy was okay.
I told her I was plenty fit, and she need not worry about young Ty. And then I asked her what I’d been needing to ask since the day I got that god-forsaken telegram telling me Pa was dead.
“Ma,” I said to her, “I know Daddy wasn’t without his faults, but you know I loved that man.”
And let me tell you, I ain’t never been no crier. Not even when I was just a little codger and Pa would take the switch to me. But I could feel a lump in my throat the size of a piece of coal as I looked mama in the eye that day.
“I know you did Ty,” she said to me. “And your daddy loved you, too, more than anything in this whole world.”
“So, Mama, I gotta know,” I said, taking a deep breath so as not to lose my nerve. “What happened that night? The night Daddy died.”
“Tyrus,” she said, still holding my hand, “I loved your pa. Things weren’t always good between him and me, but he was a good man and he always made sure you and me were cared for.”
I noticed Ma had begun looking at the ground, and that troubled me. Daddy always told me that when you needed to know if a man was shooting you straight, the answer would be found in his eyes.
“Ma, my daddy’s gone,” I said to her. “And it’s a cause you shot him. I need to know what really happened.”
“Tyrus, things happened that night exactly as I’ve told you,” she said. “Ain’t nothing more to say. It’s just a terrible tragedy is all, and now these folk are trying to blame it on me like I’m some murderer, and it ain’t fair, I tell you.”
“Them two-faced, Narrows rats, they got it in for all us Cobbs, Mama,” I said to her.
And I wished like hell she’d a looked up at me then, but her eyes were still fixed on the floor.
“Still, something don’t sit right,” I continued. “Tomorrow they’re gonna put my hand on the holy bible, Mama. They’re gonna make me swear I know you are telling the truth. And Ma, one thing I know for sure is you don’t scare. And I also know that if someone was coming in that window, you weren’t shooting til you got a look at whoever it was. So please tell me, Mama, what happened?”
Mama began shaking her head back and forth as she looked down at her shoes. She was not a frail woman in the least, but at that moment in time she’d never looked smaller to me. She let go of my hand and covered up her face for a couple seconds before finally looking up at me.
“Tyrus, as God is my witness, you are right. I most certainly did have my gun out that night, but I wasn’t going to shoot nobody lest I saw who it was. Especially your daddy.”
I was real confused and started to ask a question, but she put a finger to my lips and told me to hush.
“Tyrus Raymond Cobb, I didn’t shoot your daddy. Lord have mercy, there was someone else in the room with me that night. And that was who pulled the trigger that ended your pa’s life.”
“But ma, wha—” there was so much goin’ on in my head, but Mama wasn’t finished.
“Tyrus, I never wanted nobody, but especially you, to know what really happened that night. The shame of it is more than I can bear, and I will take it with me to my grave. That’s why I’m sitting in this here jail cell, Ty, because even though I didn’t pull the trigger, it was me that done this. Plain and simple. I’m just so sorry, Tyrus.”
Mama was looking me dead in the eyes now, and another tear had got loose and was sliding down her cheek. I reached out and wiped it away with my thumb. There was a lot I wanted to say, but for once in my life I was struck dumb, lost somewhere between sad and mad.
“Tyrus,” she said, and Mama was once again the strong woman I’d loved my entire life, “tomorrow when that judge asks you, you’re gonna tell him you believe it was all a terrible accident. That your mama would never shoot your daddy on purpose.”
I looked at Mama, and those eyes of hers were trained dead on me. Wasn’t no love or light in ‘em, either. Never before, and not one single time since, have I seen a woman take that look with me. And I carried that look with me for the remainder of my days on God’s green earth.
“Tyrus,” she said, not taking her eyes from me even to blink, “you hearing me, boy?”
“Yes, Mama. I do.” I said back to her, holding her eyes with my own.
I thought about that visit with Mama every day for the rest of my life. About how I might could have played it different. But truth be told, I’d already lost a daddy, and despite all the temptation I felt to take hold of that woman and snap her neck like a chicken, I wasn’t prepared to be no orphan.
So I stood up without removing my eyes from her, and I leaned over and kissed my mama’s cheek. Then I walked out of that jailhouse without another word to nobody.
The very next morning, I got up and put on one of Daddy’s best suits and his finest necktie. And I went over to the courthouse and testified. And in case you ain’t read the story, well yes, I done said exactly what Mama told me to.
I put my hand on the holy bible, looked that old judge square in the eye, and told him wasn’t no way my mama would ever have shot my daddy on purpose. That it all was some terrible, tragic accident.
A couple days later I was back in uniform getting ready to lead the Detroit Tigers to the World Series. And Mama was free as a little bird, back in the family home my daddy built for us in Narrows, Georgia.
I dedicated that season to Daddy’s memory, and hit .350 to lead the entire American League. I even tied that dumbass kraut, Honus Wagner, for the best batting average in all of professional baseball. My career was on its way.
The fact is, I’d always knew I was a damn good ballplayer. Knew it from the first day I got called up to the big leagues. I had that strength that can be found inside every successful man. Had it in spades.
Here’s the thing, though, and no truer words I’ve ever spoke. It all changed for me that day, sitting with my mama in that jail cell, seeing the fire burning deep inside those beautiful eyes of hers. That moment showed me the power of will.
Those eyes of my mama’s drove me every single day. Brought out the rage and the desperation and the goddamndest ability to will any situation my way. And that’s why Tyrus Raymond Cobb’s plaque sits in Cooperstown, New York today. The top vote getter of the very first class of the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame. More votes than Babe Ruth, Cy Young, and every other last one of ‘em.
So the next time you hear some rube, who don’t know his ass from a hole in the ground, talking about how old Ty Cobb was just another racist redneck, brawling his way through life because he didn’t know no better? Well, you just remember that old Ty was a hell of a lot more than that.
He was a man who dealt with tragedy and didn’t knuckle under to the pain. Who turned heartache and loss into the fuel that made him the best darn baseball player that ever lived.
And more than anything else, Tyrus Raymond Cobb was a man who listened to his mama.