The former executive editor of Sports Illustrated explores the idea that Tyrus Raymond Cobb (1886-1961), perhaps the greatest player in baseball history, was also a violent, racist, roundly hated person.
Leerhsen (Blood and Smoke: A True Tale of Mystery, Mayhem and the Birth of the Indy 500, 2011, etc.) began his journey through the life of Cobb accepting the conventional wisdom. The intentional spiking of opponents, the ugly accounts of racism, the overall dirty play—these and other conceptions have, as Leerhsen shows, infected much of the writing about the Hall of Fame player known as the Georgia Peach. But throughout his text, the author reveals that he found a very different Cobb, and he does not hesitate to slam those writers (principally biographer Al Stump, whom he brands a liar) who have created and passed along those odious tales. Leerhsen charts Cobb’s rise from his Georgia boyhood to the summit of professional baseball to his becoming a millionaire, through endorsements and investments. He praises his work ethic, study of the game, and inventiveness. And, yes, he finds plenty of evidence about fistfights and a fiery temper. However, Leerhsen does not accept either the intentional spiking stories or the racism, pointing out several times that Cobb was an outspoken advocate for integrating professional baseball. Although informed and often eloquent about Cobb’s hitting and spectacular base running, he seems less interested in Cobb’s defensive prowess, and he does seem to prefer the pro-Cobb interpretation in controversial incidents, like a late-career gambling charge. But why not? Others have assumed the worst; now Cobb has an advocate, one who’s actually read all the old newspaper clippings (some of which flatly contradict common “knowledge”), visited the terrain, and interviewed as many relevant people as he could find.
Cobb was indeed a bruised peach but, as the author shows convincingly, not a thoroughly rotten one.