The Ty Cobb letters, for instance. I was deep into 1908. "Here's a great Cobb story," I said.
" Cobb, you know, was the Joe Namath of the American League," said Mac Farlane. "There was no denying it was a major league, with Cobb in it."
"I never thought of that," I said. I read aloud from the Cobb story, which appeared on Jan. 16, 1908.
WILL WATCH COBB. OFTEN SNEAKED IN EXTRA BASE LAST SEASON.
Tricks Can Not Be Turned if Members of Fielding Side Are Always on the Alert.
A safe bet is that when the several American League teams get down to training, each manager will take his first baseman aside and tell him in no uncertain tones that he must watch Ty Cobb more closely this year. The champion batsman of the league had a habit last season, when on first base, of going from that sack way around to third on a bunt or slow infield grounder.... Let an infielder or a pitcher fumble a bunt ever so little, and Ty was sure to attempt to take two bases. Let the first baseman be pulled off the bag a trifle in making the catch, and Ty was certain to go the limit. This year, however, all the first basemen will be watching out for just this play and Cobb will be lucky if he pulls it off as regularly as he did in 1907.
"Did I show you these?" Mac Farlane asked. He handed me a thick handful of handwritten letters. They were written to the late J.G. Taylor Spink, from 1914 to 1962 the publisher of
The Sporting News
. They were written by Cobb.
"Wow," I said. "Have Cobb's biographers read these?"
"Nah," said Mac Farlane.
I started reading them: "Anything I write you can be assured no one will know where it comes from...I will throw up a phoney story to hide real source."
This was dated 1955. Cobb was filling Spink in on Wahoo Sam Crawford, who had not yet been enshrined in the Hall of Fame. I knew Crawford hated Cobb during the years they played together. But I had never realized their non-speaking terms went as far as this. Crawford, Cobb wrote to Spink, "never helped in the outfield by calling, plenty of room, you take it, Etc." Not only that, but when Cobb tried to steal second to get into scoring position with Crawford at bat, Crawford would foul the ball off so Cobb would have to go back and the first baseman would have to hold him on, giving Crawford a bigger hole to hit through. According to Cobb, "I ran hundreds of miles in all and had to return to first."