If you ever want to see what a huge missed opportunity Ron Shelton’s movie Cobb was, you should read (or see a production of if you are lucky enough to find one) Lee Blessing’s similarly named play on the baseball legend.
Blessing’s Cobb features three versions of Ty Cobb at various ages in his life. In one brilliant section of the play all three point at each other menacingly and armed to the hilt. Yes, they pull guns on each other.
Here is the humorous, and probably not inaccurate, way the play’s script describes the three Cobb’s.
The Peach – intense, athletic, quick to anger – about 20
Ty – self important, quick to anger – about 40
Mr. Cobb – bitter, quick to anger – over 70
There is also a fourth Cobb in the play, Oscar Charleston, perhaps the greatest baseball player of all time, a player who was often called the Black Cobb. He is around to remind the other three Cobb’s about his various acts of violent mayhem, racist or otherwise. The Peach is proud of these actions. Ty is willing to explain them. Mr. Cobb wants to believe that if they were forgotten then it would mean that they never happened.
The Legend goes (and Blessing’s play is all about legend, true or otherwise) that Ty Cobb’s father was a strict demanding man, who never approved of his son. His father supposedly sent Cobb off to his first baseball camp with the gentle words, “Don’t come home a failure.) While the young Cobb was off playing baseball, by his own account being hazed mercilessly because he was out to take someone’s job, Cobb’s father started to wonder about his wife’s virtue. He told her he was leaving town, left, secretly returned and then was shot dead by her (and a lover?) while peeking in her upstairs window on a ladder. That’s enough to make any man a bit of a mess, and Cobb played and lived like one, ruled by a temper with a hair breadth trigger.
The elder Mr. Cobb is outraged by what’s happened to his place in baseball and how the spotlight was stolen and transformed by Babe Ruth. Baseball was essentially two different games before and after the live ball era, which was a byproduct of the fans’ fascination with Ruth’s home runs. Cobb ruled the earlier game, whereas Ruth held the future.
To Cobb, the game of his era was superior because it required intelligence and guts. He played the game as if it were a literal war (indeed Ruthlessly), one that he was fighting with the world and with himself. To him, Ruth was nothing but a clown, but one that almost completely stole his legacy and his relevance to the modern world. He outpolled Ruth in the first Hall of Fame ballot and was essentially the first player ever inducted, but time was much better to the Babe than the Georgia Peach.
Here are some great quotes from the play.
Mr. Cobb: The son of homicide. See, that’s what I mean about a myth. It’s got to have the right kind of start. Look at Babe Ruth. He had a beautiful myth: in a home for wayward boys from the age of seven. His folks couldn’t handle him. A priest became his second father. Boy hero rises from nothing. Horatio Alger couldn’t have written it any better. What did I have? A goddamn Greek tragedy. Where the hell was my second father?
Mr. Cobb: We had five children. I was a family man – good one too.
Ty: We didn’t get divorced ‘til every one of those kids were grown.
Mr. Cobb: But when you analyze it – when you really analyze it – what exactly did he offer? I mean, look at a typical trip to the plate for Babe Ruth. What happens? He takes a cut, hits a home run, trots his way around the basepath like a big cow without a thought in his head. That’s no trip around the bases.
Peach: I’ll show you a trip around the bases. Cobb-style. It starts with a few carefully chosen words to the opposin’ pitcher. Things like, “Hey Rag-arm!” If you make him feel bad enough about one of his pitches, you can bet that’s what he’ll throw you next time.
Ty: Then you decide which way you’re going to hit it. If there’s a man on, you want to pull, hit behind him – so you bring that left hand down and swing away.
Peach: If he’s fast – and this guy’s not, or you wouldn’t goad him into giving you a fastball in the first place – you’d bring your right hand up and punch it the other way.
Mr. Cobb: Either way you hit a liner – not some soft lazy high fly that flops into the stands someplace. No. You hit a bullet. You sizzle it past the pitcher’s ear – terrify the man. Make him forget all about winning. Make him glad just to be alive.
Ty: Even though you’ve got a base hit, you run to first like you’re legging out a triple.
Peach: Just the sight of speed can demoralize the other team. If you’re fast with your body, it stands to reason you’re fast with yout mind – or you’d slow down, and not get hurt.
Ty: Once you’re on first, you start to systematically destroy the pitchers’ mind. It’s not hard. If he had much of a mind, he wouldn’t be a pitcher. Hell, Babe himself was a pitcher to begin with, and I hit .326 off him.
Mr. Cobb: You take a lead off first.
Peach: A big lead. So he’ll throw over.
Ty: And he does! And you dive back, and you just make it.
Mr. Cobb: All the rubes in the stands think he got the best of that one, but he didn’t.
Peach: You saw his best move.
Mr. Cobb: You measured him. You can predict him now.
Peach: And when he does that little thing – whatever it is – makes that tiny, unconscious gesture that means he’s going home and not to first …
Mr. Cobb: You take off!
Ty: You use the best speed in the league tearing for second base!
Peach: And that catcher sees you go, and his heart turns to a cinder, ‘cause he knows you already got the base stole on the pitcher’s move.
Ty: But he knows he’s got to throw it anyway, so’s not to look like a coward.
Mr. Cobb: No mercy for cowards!
Peach: So he throws to second. And that ball is screamin’ in from home, and I’m screamin’ in from first – and sometimes I really am screamin’—and that second baseman knows everything there is to know about my spikes.
Ty: I sharpen my spikes on the dugout steps for all to see.
Mr. Cobb: That’s the legend.
Ty: And I like it!
Peach: He’s gotta get that throw. But he’s gotta watch my spikes!
Mr.Cobb: I’ll cut him to pieces.
Ty: I’ve done it before.
Peach: The throw’s low! He jumps away too soon!
Ty: The ball goes into center field!
Mr. Cobb: And I head for third!
Peach: But the center-fielder knows who I am! He’s playin’ shallow. He’s got a play on me at third. All he needs to do is throw it on the money and I’ll be out. I will be, too! He’s got a good arm!
Ty: So I look at the third baseman. I look at his eyes! He’s getting’ ready. He sees me comin’, he sees the ball, he watches the ball and I watch his eyes!
Mr.Cobb: And I line my body up with his eyes – so when that ball comes, it’ll never get to him. It’ll hit me in the back, instead. It’ll hit me! And I’ll get my base!
Peach: The basepaths belong to me.
Ty: They belong to me.
Mr. Cobb: They’re mine.
Peach: Safe at third. On a single. But not home yet.
Ty: I look at the pitcher. His face is like the bottom of a metal bucket. He’s not thinking anymore. He’s not feeling, either. I’m just doing things to him.
Mr. Cobb: On the very next pitch, I take a long, walking lead off third. When the pitcher goes home, so do I.
Peach: There’s no pleasure on earth like stealin’ home. My wedding night was nothing compared to stealing home.
Ty: It’s just you, the ball and the catcher.
Peach: You can’t beat the ball to home. If it’s a decent pitch at all, you can’t beat it to the plate. You got to force your way in.
Mr. Cobb: It’s the catcher or you, that’s what it is. It’s a fight.
Ty: If he drops the ball you’re safe. If he doesn’t –
Peach: You got to force your way in. You got to need to win.
Ty: You got to do anything. You got to hit him, you got to bruise him, you got to break his arm, his leg, his ribs – you got to cut him, spike him, you got to smell his blood, you got to put your spikes in his chest! You got to score!
Mr. Cobb: Stealing home. The most audacious movie in baseball.
Ty: The complete destruction of the opposing team’s ability to protect itself. And nobody did it better than me.
Peach: Now that is a trip around the bases. You can bet Babe Ruth never took that trip. Or ever could. I could hit home runs. I hit five in two games once. But he could never move around the bases like me.