"There is some remuneration," says James Cobb, 73, son of Ty, "but that's not the idea with me. The important thing is that people go according to the law: no using the Ty Cobb name for advertising or" selling something without permission."
Cobb says he was thankful to Curtis for enabling him to inspect a small statue of his father before it was reproduced for sale. He thought the ears were sticking out too much—a problem that Curtis had fixed. "But I still don't know if they sold any or not," Cobb says. "I think they were charging too much."
On its client list Curtis tactfully distinguishes the living from the dead with an asterisk meaning "available for personal appearance bookings." Jim Taylor, for example, gets an asterisk. Bronko Nagurski does not.
But wait. Ruth has no asterisk, yet we are told he is available for appearances. In fact, he has already been out on the road. Posing for pictures. Signing autographs. Is it possible?
No, of course not. Even slick marketing could not deliver the real Ruth for an encore performance. But Ruth lookalike Willis (Buster) Gardner, a.k.a. Buster the Babe, is fully licensed and ready to go. The 57-year-old mechanic and tow-truck operator from Oberlin, Ohio, proves that almost anyone can get in on the act.
Buster the Babe, who charges $500 a day plus expenses, is hoping his sideline work will eventually provide him with a comfortable retirement. If nothing else, the 100th-anniversary year should give him plenty of practice.
And he ought to keep an eye on the calendar. The real Ruth died in 1948, which means that 1998 will mark the 50th anniversary of his death. Yet another grand opportunity for the creative team that is transforming the Sultan of Swat into the Legend of Licensing.
Jeffrey Marx, who lives in Washington, D.C., has written several stories for Sports Illustrated.