On a Baseball Hero

It’s World Series time in the United States. Yes, there are several people in America who get the irony of a world championship being proclaimed from a league that represents only two countries in that world. That’s a story for another time, perhaps.

This story is about Ty Cobb. For those of you who don’t know, Cobb was arguably the best player ever to play the sport. Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, maybe some of the modern players have a case here, but the fact that Cobb was the first player elected to the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame makes a strong statement. Cobb was a native Georgian who played most of his over two decades in baseball in Detroit as the Tigers’ centerfielder. In a sport where a player getting a hit 25% of the time is considered to be a good statistic, Cobb averaged .366 for his entire career. He retired as the stolen base leader and was also known for his fearlessness in the field and on the basepaths. He had few friends in the game because of how aggressively he approached playing, but people in and out of the game respected his skills.

After shifting to manager of the Tigers and finishing his career in Philadelphia, Cobb lived a luxurious life off the proceeds from shrewd investments he’d made with his salary over the years. For example, Cobb was a major shareholder in the Coca-Cola corporation. He used his wealth to travel, fish, golf, and enjoy life. He granted interviews to almost all who came to him. Now, if you are a baseball fan, you might realize that Ty Cobb, for all his amazing accomplishments in baseball, never won a World Series.

Years after his career was over, he and a famous sportswriter named Grantland Rice were returning from the Masters Golf Tournament in Augusta, Georgia by car. He and Rice stopped in Greenville, South Carolina at a liquor store. The pair entered, and Cobb stopped soon after his eyes adjusted to the dimness of the room. The fat man behind the counter looked familiar to him. “I know you,” Cobb said, walking up to the counter. “Remember me?”

The heavy fellow narrowed his eyes to look closely at Cobb, and he took the stub of a well-chewed cigar from his mouth. “Yeah, I know you, but I wasn’t sure you wanted to remember me. Most people don’t,” the man said. The last time they met, Cobb reminded him, was on the baseball field over 30 years before. “You were a great player,” Cobb said, and the portly man dropped his chin on his chest in humility. “Can I get your autograph?” Cobb asked the man. “I always wanted it.”

The man apologized. “Ain’t got one here. Come back tomorrow.” Cobb smiled, according to Rice, and said, “Sorry. We are just passing through. Maybe some other time.” Cobb paid the man for their liquor, and he and the sportwriter continued their journey

“Shoeless” Joe Jackson came out on the porch and watched the pair drive away.

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