Shortly before his death last month Ty Cobb—the greatest and most criticized of baseball players—wrote prophetically, "My time is running short.... My critics have had their innings. I will have mine now." In the following passages excerpted from 'My Life in Baseball—The True Record' (written with Sportswriter Al Stump; to be published by Double-day in September) Cobb gives for the first time—and in sensational detail—his own account of his tumultuous and unhappy first years in the game. A major contribution to the literature of sport as well as to the history of baseball, Cobb's story sheds light on the psychological factors that made him not only an aggressive, imaginative, daring performer, but a contradictory, controversial and often unpleasant human being. Both his feats and his character will be discussed as long as baseball is played.
My father, a lifelong scholar, was determined to drum into me while I was still a shirttail kid a precept of Lord Byron's—"Proud with the proud, yet courteously proud." "Hell is paved with big pretensions, Ty," he'd lecture me. He spotted the false pride that was growing in me early. Our community in Banks County, Ga., where I was born December 18, 1886, was a struggling place. Corn and cotton were subsistence crops for most, and the damage of the Civil War was far from repaired. My own family's lot was happier. We had status and somehow the idea of staring at the rump of a balky mule while I steered a plow didn't strike me as fitting work.
However, my father, Professor William Herschel Cobb, had become a landowner, with upwards of 100 acres of tillable bottom soil. He also had a son who he saw needed some comeuppance. "Ten acres," he said, pointing to a stretch of land that seemed to me to reach to Tennessee. "Eight of cotton, two of corn. Tyrus, I want you to get that ground ready for crop-planting."
A certain young lady had attracted my attention, and whenever I saw her coming I picked the lowest spot on the field I could find. I was ashamed to have her see me in overalls doing manual labor. And there was always a ball game going on near by, and I could hear the yells, but I wasn't in it.
I had a stern and strong father. He was mayor of Royston and county school commissioner, in addition to being a mathematics professor. He was born in rural North Carolina and was in his early 20s when he met my mother, Amanda, the daughter of Captain Caleb Chitwood, a well-to-do plantation owner. I was their first child. John Paul came two years later. Then Florence Leslie, about five years later.
There was another powerful male influence in my early life; my grandfather, John Cobb, the squire of a section of the Blue Ridge Mountains near Murphy, N.C. Summertime I was allowed to visit Grandpa and Grandma Cobb. Grandpa was a legend in his time—an antislavery Republican, although he'd fought for the Confederacy, a farmer by vocation, a wise and eloquent soul. Short and lean, about 5 feet 6, he had a bad back which stamped an expression of pain permanently on his face. Yet he was always ready to jump into an adventure with me. Possum and squirrel were plentiful around Murphy, and I owned a little old bench-legged hunting hound named Old Bob. Nights I'd huddle snugly under Grandma's homemade comforters, and I'd hear Old Bob bellering in the woods. I knew what it meant, but I coveted my warm bed. At 2 or 3 a.m. here would come the candle, with Grandpa's nightcap and beard behind it. "Tyrus," he'd say, shaking me as I feigned sleep. "He's calling you. Old Bob's out there just begging for your help. Up you get, son."
So I'd have to drag myself out there, chop down the tree that contained the possum Old Bob had cornered and polish him off for the family pot.
My grandparents had nothing against my playing ball in Murphy. At home, Father wasn't so agreeable. He could see nothing useful in whacking a string ball around a cow pasture and then chasing around the bases while an opponent tried to retrieve said pill and sock you with it. That was one of the rules of town ball. If the fielder could hit the base runner with the ball, the latter was out. Also, a home run entitled the hitter to another turn at bat. If you kept on homering, you could swing all day.
It wasn't that I gave baseball a second thought as a career. My overwhelming need was to prove myself a real man. Playing ball there was a chance to become more than another schoolboy and the son of Professor Cobb. I sent away for books on How to Sprint advertised in the Police Gazette and spent hours practicing fast starts and pumping my knees high. When I could escape school, plowing chores and Baptist Sunday school, I tried out for the Royston Reds. I wasn't yet 15, and I looked like a horsefly in comparison with the husky 18-to-25-year-olds who played for Royston. But they couldn't shoo me away.
When Royston's Reds played in such adjacent towns as Elberton and Commerce, I stayed at home, inhaling dust behind the family mule. It was the catcher for the Reds—Bob McCreary, who worked in the town bank and also managed the team—who finally cracked the ice a bit with Father. On the promise that McCreary, a brother Mason of my father's, would keep a sharp eye on me I was allowed to make a road trip to Elberton, Ga., 30 miles away.