Thursday, February 18, 2016

Ty Cobb: A Terrible Beauty by Charles Leerhsen

Posted by Rebecca Brendel

Reviewed by: Jim Patrick

What I ReadTy Cobb: A Terrible Beauty by Charles Leerhsen

Find It @YCLD: Here!

What It's About:  Ty Cobb, who played from 1905 to 1928, was inducted into the inaugural class of the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1936.  His contemporaries considered him the greatest player of his era due to his unrivaled hitting prowess and baserunning ability.  He won 12 batting championships and stole 892 bases in his career.  History has not been kind to Cobb, however.  His many detractors counter his accomplishments with his perceived character flaws.  He has been portrayed as being mean, physically violent, and racist—a nasty ballplayer and a wretched human being.  Several Cobb stories have been repeated ad nauseam in baseball books:  Cobb filing the spikes of his baseball shoes to create baserunning weapons of intimidation; Cobb running into the stands to attack a “crippled” heckler; and Cobb dying as a lonely and friendless recluse.  Leerhsen provides ample documentation for his rebuttals of these stories, and he also challenges numerous accusations and statements from previous biographies written by Charles Alexander and Al Stump.  Leerhsen’s Cobb is indeed highly competitive, overly sensitive, and capable of lashing out in anger and violence.  However, his Cobb is also a devoted family man, an intellectually curious man who loved to read, a financially savvy man who died a millionaire, and a generally well-liked man who dined (and golfed) with celebrities and politicians.  And, although a southerner, he was an early advocate of racial integration in baseball.  These unknown sides of Cobb have been rescued by Charles Leerhsen’s research.

What I Thought:  After getting over my initial shock at the author’s contemporary writing style and frequent pop culture references—Charlie Sheen and Donald Trump are both listed in the index—I found myself greatly enjoying this unique look at Ty Cobb’s life and career.  It is unique because Leerhsen presents Ty Cobb as a multi-dimensional human being, not the caricatured demon of previous Cobb biographies.  As someone who has read dozens of baseball biographies, I can attest that many are plagued by an overabundance of trite sports clichés or by a stuffy and overly reverential tone.  Fortunately, Ty Cobb: A Terrible Beauty, suffers from neither of these failings.  It is well-researched and smartly written, and for a 400+ page biography, it was a fast and entertaining read. 

Readalikes: Connie Mack and the Early Years of Baseball by Norman Macht
Baseball: An Illustrated History by Geoffrey C. Ward

Or look this book up on NoveList!