Ty Cobb Unleashed: The Definitive Counter-Biography of the Chastened Racist

TY COBB UNLEASHED                               HOWARD W. ROSENBERG

Howard W. Rosenberg’s Ty Cobb Unleashed: The Definitive Counter-Biography of the Chastened Racist (Tile Books) seeks to be the go-to first source on Cobb’s persona, including racially. Transparency about “what’s new” is the organizing theme.

While the historiography of Babe Ruth, the player closest to Cobb in votes for the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1936, has engendered limited controversy since the work of three mid-1970s authors, the Cobb one is riddled with mines. Charles Leerhsen’s revisionist 2015 Ty Cobb: A Terrible Beauty (Simon & Schuster) both settled some controversies and started new ones. Perhaps the biggest new controversy it created is on whether Cobb has been fairly cast as having been a racist.

A trifecta of features may make Ty Cobb Unleashed one of the most significant baseball biographical books. Firstly, it performs a hard-to-find public service by comparing the technical quality of the Simon & Schuster book and a second cradle-to-grave 2015 one that was also touted as authoritative or definitive: Tim Hornbaker’s overlooked War on the Basepaths: The Definitive Biography of Ty Cobb (Sports Publishing). For decades, media watchdogs have been largely passive (and especially lately) in shedding light on the books of nonfiction publishers from a nuts-and-bolts perspective. Ty Cobb Unleashed does the legwork for them and recommends a practice that publishers should adhere to in revisionist history titles.

Secondly, biographically on Cobb, it resolves differences between the two books, especially on the tricky subject of racism. It also textually is the first Cobb one to stress his 32-year post-career, 1929 to 1961. That span includes 1960 and 1961, the featured years in the 1994 movie “Cobb” starring Tommy Lee Jones. The movie, a limited release in theaters, has gained a second wind as an online video rental. The first of three appendices points out aspects of the movie that the author found substantiation for (or lack thereof). Some of the results should be surprising. Ty Cobb Unleashed also presents a fresh take on the accuracy of Cobb's controversial 1961 co-author, Al Stump. While reinforcing or raising new criticisms about a subsequent Stump 1961 article and 1994 book, it shows where the primary record lends a helping hand to some of his colorful or biting prose.

Thirdly, it is the rare history book that allows the reader to immediately deduce what has not previously appeared in a modern-day book or article. Whether new-to-Cobb versus prior Cobb book readers will like the transparency is an open question. But media watchdogs could have a field day.

This year is the first in which Cobb and Ruth are each the announced focus of hardcovers in excess of 500 pages in the same calendar year. The later Ruth one, by Jane Leavy, is The Big Fella: Babe Ruth and The World He Created (HarperCollins). In their playing and post-careers, Cobb and Ruth drew subjective newspaper coverage to an extent apparently unmatched by other 20th-century whites in the sport. Ruth’s was positive and Cobb’s closer to neutral overall.

Rosenberg’s prior book expertise was almost entirely on the 19th century. His specialty was plowing through surviving contemporaneous coverage of the great baseball media stars of that era, Hall of Famers Cap Anson and Mike “King” Kelly. He is also the book-length expert on tricky and dirty play through 1900, which helps in evaluating how Cobb used his baseball shoes. Fittingly, it is on that newsy subject that Rosenberg most strongly counters both 2015 authors.


I was asked by the writer through Netgalley if I would like to read his book about Ty Cobb. This book though goes into really about dispelling the myth about him being racist through articles that were written about him at the time. These same articles were not always referred to with accuracy in the different books about Ty Cobb. One the author really talks about is a book published by Simon and Shuster. What I have found over the years in reading many different books about former players and the history of the game, is that many people just go on and print what has been printed over the years and act like that is fact. One story about Cobb fighting a man outside with a knife, I have read it many different ways and the author here shows you an article saying he stabbed the man with a pen knife. Remember back then newspapers were the main form of news so if you could make it larger than the other papers in town why not. Plus it has been proven over the years that the Hearst Papers were not on the up and up when Anne Oakley sued them for defamation and won 54 of the 55 cases against Hears and he paid 20,000 which would be $545,630 in today’s money. So most people did not like him and especially when he got older and would say things like the only way they could go after Ruth is make the Parks smaller, this is true the fences are much smaller when those men played. Another man reported he and Aaron never met, yet there is a photo with Cobb shaking Aaron’s hand when he played for the Milwaukee braves. He was also a supporter for women’s suffrage back when it was not popular. So you can see not everything that is written about someone is factual. This book goes into dispelling those myths and the author does a good job at it. I am just afraid not many people will read this book and that is a shame for he put a lot of time and effort into researching all of the material that went into this book. For the average fan they may not enjoy this book, but for me growing up around the game hearing stories about Ruth, Shoeless Joe Jackson, even Satchel Paige from my father I actually enjoyed this book. I received this book from Netgalley.com I gave it 4 stars. Follow us at www.1rad-readerreviews.com

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