Ty Cobb: A Terrible Beauty

S. & S. May 2015. 352p. notes. index. ISBN 9781451645767. $27.50; ebk. ISBN 9781451645804. SPORTS
Tyrus "Ty" Cobb (1886–1961), who spent most of his career with the Detroit Tigers, has long been a divisive character in baseball history, at once known as the greatest hitter who ever put on a pair of spikes and played with ceaseless grit—and also a cantankerous, racist. Leerhsen's (Crazy Good) magisterial reexamination presents a detailed view of Cobb culled from actual research rather than hearsay. While the player was certainly no saint, his often-quarrelsome nature was directed toward all, and the author maintains that Cobb's rural Georgia roots do not presume racist beliefs, as has been said. Thanks to exhaustive research, we now have a more realistic and sympathetic view of Cobb. Leerhsen uses press clippings and first-hand accounts from teammates to reveal that there is little evidence Cobb was a bigot, and his progressive family encouraged education and gentility. As a southerner, Cobb suffered from preconceptions as most players during the 1920s were from the Northeast. Leerhsen places his subject in context, describing the violence and drunkenness exhibited by players, management, and fans of the era.
VERDICT This is an important work for baseball and American historians as Cobb was one of the country's first true superstars. How he dealt with fame, a new byproduct of the modern age, serves as a useful social history.
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