30 baseball books in April ’13: Day 20 >>>>>> To Ty Cobb’s grandkid, history is all relative

The Ty Cobb statue outside Comerica Park in Detroit

The book: “Heart of a Tiger: Growing Up with my Grandfather, Ty Cobb”

The author:  Herschel Cobb

The vital stats: ECW Press, 279 pages, $24.95

Find it: At Barnes & Noble, Powells or the publisher’s website

The pitch: Ty Cobb made headlines in Southern California, as recently as 2011.

The great, great grandson of the Hall of Fame Detroit Tigers outfielder, also named Ty Cobb, enrolled at Occidental College to play, of all things,  Division III basketball.

The 6-foot-5 left-hander played first base at his high school in Atherton, and also grew in Menlo Park. According to his latest bio on the Oxy website, the econ major finished his junior year on the hardcourt. He at one point a couple of years ago said he might play baseball as well, but we don’t see him listed on the current roster for the Tigers (yes, that’s the school’s official mascot).

Ty Cobb says that for some real good stories about his namesake, ask his dad, Herschel, who spent summers with his grandfather until about the age of 19.

“My dad knew him really well,” Ty said. “My dad would tell fun stories about when he was young and interacting with Ty Cobb.

“When my dad was about 12, my great-grandfather was in his late 60s or 70s. One day he had a fresh linen suit on and they were talking baseball and he decided to teach my dad how to hook-slide. So they go out in the backyard on the grass and Ty Cobb is in his fancy suit and he’s got the cuffs of his pants rolled up and one of his helper ladies came out and said, ‘Mr. Cobb, you can’t be doing that!’ It kind of showed his competitiveness even into his twilight years.”

Now, it’s Herschel’s chance to tell more stories in his twilight years, and we give you this review as the Angels continue a three game series in Anahime against Cobb’s old team and defending AL champions.

Herschel Cobb calls “Granddaddy” his “bedrock” in a life he had with his own abusive father and alcoholic mother.

“I am very lucky to have had my grandfather,” Herschel writes in the introduction.

In other words, these aren’t the scenes from the movie “Cobb” with Tommy Lee Jones. Or chapters pulled from an Al Stump book.

Ty Cobb, left, isn’t trying to pick a fight with a young Stan Musial in Detroit in 1951. They’re comparing batting grips as Ford Frick, president of the National League, looks on. They were at a dinner celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Detroit Tigers. (AP Photo)

This first-person account of a baseball legend known for his cantankerous moments is a far more loving, moving tale of a family dynamic that proved to be powerful, even if it skipped a generation. In his grandson Herschel, who early on describes his grandfather as a “disheveled old elf,” Ty Cobb had a change of heart and created a whole new legacy.

Summer after summer spent at Ty Cobb’s Lake Tahoe cabin, Herschel learned more about humility, charity and responsibility, things his parents never were around to teach him.

A scene in particular will come across really nice when they make the movie of this: From page 234, during a heat wave in the Central Valley, Ty Cobb suddenly yells at Herschel and his sister, Susan, to grab all the sheets off the bed.
“I thought he’d gone crazy,” Herschel writes.
Ty Cobb started to fill the bathtub with water, then ordered Herschel to fetch the stepladder.
“I was almost certain he’d lost it,” Herschel continued.
Ty Cobb grabbed the soaking wet sheets, thumb tacked them to the open front and back door ways “like he was building a kid’s ghost house” and, because he had “noticed a tender breeze from the west,” he figured out a way to capture the breeze in the cabin.
” ‘How do you young’uns like Granddaddy’s air conditioning!’ He grinned, partly in relief from the heat, mostly from enjoying sharing his mountain knowledge with us. I laughed to myself, shaking my head at my qualms, wondering why I ever doubted him.”

Ty Cobb, center, poses with his five children: From left, Herschel, Jimmy, Shirley, Beverly and Ty, Jr., his oldest child who was a tennis standout at Princeton and Yale. Ty, Jr. became a doctor but died in 1952 from a tumor at age 42, passing nine years before his father.  Book author Herschel Cobb is the son of Herschel, who died of a heart attack at age 33. The son of Ty Jr., Ty III, was the same age as his cousin, Herschel. (photo from the Laurens County Sports History blogspot)

Herschel Cobb talks a bit about growing up for a time in Los Angeles, to be near his mother when she divorced his father and moved to Santa Monica.

“Summer in Los Angeles was hot,” Herschel writes on page 72, “and without any friends there wasn’t much to do except wait for school to start. In September, I started third grade at a huge school on Wilshire Boulevard, called Wilshire Crest School. During recess I met a bully named Marshall Cohn. The problem for him was, he was close to my own size and I could hit him back. Although he was in the fourth grade, he played tether ball with the third graders so he could win all recess long … ”

Except Marshall didn’t bother him once he took a tether ball in the nose from Herschel. Might have made his granddad proud, eh?

We’re not sure why we ever doubted the heart of Ty Cobb. Herschel says he always kept his freezer full of ice cream — and they knew peach was is favorite.

Actions sometimes speak louder than words. But Herschel Cobb’s words speak volumes on why The Georgia Peach just might have always been a peach of a man that no one could find out, unless you were kinfolk and not a prying member of the media like Al Stump trying to fulfill an assignment.

More to know:
== A review in the Tampa Tribune
== The official site of Ty Cobb (where sale of the book isn’t included).
== The Ty Cobb Museum (where sale of the book isn’t included).
== Listen to Ty Cobb interviewed by Bob Wolff in this New York Times link
== A Cobb biography by SABR
== A Cobb profile on Grantland.com: “Indeed. Let’s be clear — Ty Cobb was an asshole. He was a racist who didn’t believe he was racist. He once slapped a black elevator operator at Cleveland hotel for being “uppity,” and when a security guard intervened, Cobb cut the guard with a knife. (He paid $100 to settle the case.) He also beat up a disabled fan who heckled him from the stands in New York, and he challenged umpires to postgame bouts under the bleachers, some of which his young kids had to watch before walking him back home. Cobb had a reputation for sharpening his spikes (the better to draw blood when he slides into the bag), and while that is likely hype, Cobb was untroubled by the rumor (the better to psych out his opponents). …
“Ty Cobb can be a cruel man, and at the same time be a misunderstood hero. “

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