Review: Ty Cobb Museum

20130420-090712.jpgIt is impossible in our modern world to talk about Ty Cobb without the specter of racism being present. It is similar to bringing up the topic of Berry Bonds without mentioning steroids. The difference is, nobody doubts Cobb’s authentic achievements on the diamond, but Bonds accomplishments leave more to the interpretation.

Cobb’s achievements are truly remarkable. At his retirement he owned 70 or so records and received the highest percentages of votes in the inaugural Hall of Fame class. He was recognized in his time as being the greatest living baseball player. The Ty Cobb Museum is located in Royston, Georgia, the closest town to the small farm area where Ty Cobb was born. At one time, I am sure this was really the middle of nowhere, Ga.  Now, it is a little less than an hour from the suburban sprawl that is Atlanta.  The museum tells the story of Cobb from the perspective of his family and neighbors and friends.

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The museum exists in a paradox of independent sports museums. You don’t make a museum for someone insignificant in the sports landscape, but if the person is too significant all his artifacts you want in the museum are owned by private collectors or the Baseball Hall of Fame. What is left, is a museum long on narrative and short on stuff. The museum is nicely presented and enjoyable to walk around; all can be seen and read in 30 minutes.

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It became very clear to me that Ty Cobb exists in the category of athletes who are well-respected, but underrated. Some of the stats and stories of Cobb need to be recounted. These are some from the official Ty Cobb website.

  • Has a career batting average of .367.
  • Won 12 batting titles, including 9 in a row from 1907 thru 1915.
  • Third all time in stolen bases with 892.
  • Second in runs scored with 2,245.
  • Second in career hits with 4,191.
  • Led the American League in slugging eight times.
  • Scored 100 runs 11 times in his career.
  • Drove in over 100 runs seven times in his career.
  • Led the American League in runs five times.
  • Led the American League in hits eight times.
  • Played for 24 years; 22 years with Detroit, two with Philadelphia.
  • Youngest AL player to reach 1,000 hit level (24-years old).
  • Batted under .320 only once in his career.
  • Batted over .400 three times.

He also stole home 54 times. He the most famous player  in the era immediately before Babe Ruth and his transformation he had on the power hitting and popularity of baseball.

Cobb’s story outside of the game is even more interesting than his accomplishments in the game. He was by far the wealthiest of all players, he had endorsement deals, contract holdouts and a successful and astute stock portfolio (Coca-Cola). Cobb even acted as an agent for Joe DiMaggio at one point. His fortune would have been close to 80 million dollars in today’s money.

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Ty Cobb, was born in the rural south about 20 years after the end of the Civil War. His world view was shaped by his circumstance. He routinely exhibited blatant racism.  He combined his world view with a truly nasty temper that at time was uncontrollable. He came out in support of integration of major league baseball late in his life and showed signs of growth in his perspective. He also established a scholarship fund to provide money for needy Georgia students regardless of race. His museum is in one of the offices of the Ty Cobb Healthcare system, which he established. All of this is not as an apology of his reputation, but part of a realization that he is not as simple a man as our culture has decided. It is interesting that after walking through the museum gift shop and learning more about him, I left without making a purchase. I didn’t want to encounter the confusion and assumptions many would make of me if I were to drink from a Ty Cobb coffee mug or displayed a Ty Cobb bobble head.

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