Ty and the Babe: The Incredible Saga of Baseball's Fiercest Rivals: A Surprising Friendship and the 1941 Has-Beens Golf Championship

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Early in the twentieth century, fate thrust a young Babe Ruth into the gleaming orbit of Ty Cobb. The resulting collision produced a dazzling explosion and a struggle of mythic magnitude. At stake was not just baseball dominance, but eternal glory and the very soul of a sport. For much of fourteen seasons, the Cobb-Ruth rivalry occupied both men and enthralled a generation of fans. Even their retirement from the ball diamond didn’t extinguish it.

On the cusp of America’s entry ...

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Ty and The Babe: Baseball's Fiercest Rivals: A Surprising Friendship And The 1941 Has-Beens Golf Championship

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Overview

Early in the twentieth century, fate thrust a young Babe Ruth into the gleaming orbit of Ty Cobb. The resulting collision produced a dazzling explosion and a struggle of mythic magnitude. At stake was not just baseball dominance, but eternal glory and the very soul of a sport. For much of fourteen seasons, the Cobb-Ruth rivalry occupied both men and enthralled a generation of fans. Even their retirement from the ball diamond didn’t extinguish it.

On the cusp of America’s entry into World War II, a quarter century after they first met at Navin Field, Cobb and Ruth rekindled their long-simmering feud—this time on the golf course. Ty and Babe battled on the fairways of Long Island, New York; Newton, Massachusetts; and Grosse Ile, Michigan; in a series of charity matches that spawned national headlines and catapulted them once more into the spotlight.

Ty and The Babe is the story of their remarkable relationship. It is a tale of grand gestures and petty jealousies, superstition and egotism, spectacular feats and dirty tricks, mind games and athleticism, confrontations, conflagrations, good humor, growth, redemption, and, ultimately, friendship. Spanning several decades, Ty and The Babe conjures the rollicking cities of New York, Boston, and Detroit and the raucous world of baseball from 1915 to 1928, as it moved from the Deadball days of Cobb to the Lively Ball era of Ruth. It also visits the spring and summer of 1941, starting with the Masters Tournament at Augusta National, where Cobb formally challenged Ruth, and continuing with the golf showdown that saw both men employ secret weapons.

On these pages, author Tom Stanton challenges the stereotypes that have cast Cobb forever as a Satan and Ruth as a Santa Claus. Along the way, he brings to life a parade of memorable characters: Bobby Jones, Walter Hagen, Grantland Rice, Tris Speaker, Lou Gehrig, Will Rogers, Joe DiMaggio, a trick shot–shooting former fugitive, and a fifteen-year-old caddy with an impeccable golf lineage.

No other ball players dominated their time as formidably as Ty Cobb and Babe Ruth. Even today, many decades since either man walked this earth, they tower over the sport. Who was better? Who was the greatest? Those questions followed them throughout their baseball careers, into retirement, and onto the putting greens. That they linger yet is a testament to their talents and personalities.
 

Praise for the Writing of Tom Stanton:
 
"Ruth and Cobb come together as never before in this charming story of rivalry and friendship. Stanton, a keen storyteller, has written a book that surprises and delights."
-Jonathan Eig, author of Luckiest Man: The Life and Death of Lou Gehrig
 
"The wardrobe mistress of baseball history seems to have assigned the white hat to Babe Ruth and the black hat to Ty Cobb for all time. The Babe, the legendary Sultan of Swat, has become the patron saint of the sport, flamboyant and loud, larger than life, hail fellow well met, a character who hit mammoth home runs and wiped the runny noses of neighborhood urchins. Cobb has become the villain, foul mouthed and cantankerous, unliked and unloved by even his teammates. . . . Now Tom Stanton comes along to rearrange the roles in his terrific new book, Ty and The Babe, which chronicles the relationship between the two baseball icons. He takes off the hats and tells us about the real people. And it all is great fun."
-Leigh Montville, author of The Big Bam
 
"Wonderful! Ty and The Babe is rich, elegant, and powerful. Tom Stanton vividly brings back to life two rival sports icons in a rollicking tale filled with tension, humor, and warmth. It's fantastic."
-Ernie Harwell, Hall of Fame broadcaster
 
"Frankly, Ty and The Babe had me hooked from the opening page, a thoroughly absorbing tale that has all the charm and elements of an unforgettable film-the two greatest players from baseball's Golden Era, blood feuds, dueling rivals, brawling fans, mythologizing sportswriters and the consequences of a rapidly changing game . . . all capped off by a poignant golf match between a pair of fading titans. Tom Stanton has beautifully re-created the most romantic period of American sports, provided new and powerful insights into a pair of greatly misunderstood figures in Cobb and Ruth, and given baseball and golf fans everywhere something to cheer lustily about."
-James Dodson, author of Final Rounds and Ben Hogan: An American Life

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Stanton's story of the rivalry-turned-friendship of Ty Cobb (with the Detroit Tigers) and Babe Ruth (with the Red Sox and Yankees) is as splendid as a sunny spring day at the ballpark. Cobb held eight consecutive batting titles the first time he stepped up to hit against Ruth, whom Stanton (The Final Season) describes as "a platter-faced, gray flannelled 20-year-old" rookie pitcher in 1915. The two men were opposite in many ways—a Southern Baptist slap hitter versus the Northeastern Catholic home run king—and they would go on to become enemies who competed fiercely for 14 seasons, frequently taunting one another and almost coming to blows. Ruth usurped Cobb's title as the greatest player in baseball and eventually turned Cobb's distaste for him into respect. After retiring, they were among the first class inducted into the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown in 1939. Two years later, they met in a golf match that stoked their competitive fires one last time and cemented their friendship. Sportswriters regularly characterize baseball players as one-dimensional, either deities or demons, and no two players suffered this fate more than this pair. Cobb is often recalled as a short-tempered racist and dirty player, and Ruth cast as a beer-drinking, hot dog–eating simpleton, but Stanton portrays them sympathetically as exceptionally talented men with complex flaws. Stanton's writing is seamless, exploring the lives of both men but never lapsing into tedious detail. (May)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780312361594
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • Publication date: 5/15/2007
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Pages: 304
  • Product dimensions: 5.59 (w) x 8.74 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Tom Stanton is the author of four books, including the memoir The Final Season, winner of the Casey Award. A former Knight-Wallace Fellow, he published weekly newspapers and taught journalism at the University of Detroit Mercy before becoming an author. His stories have appeared in numerous publications, including The New York Times. He and his wife live in New Baltimore, Michigan, and have three sons.

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Cobb's Send-off

On an overcast Sunday in June 1939, a train carrying Ty Cobb arrived at Detroit's bustling depot. Cobb and his youngest children, seventeen-year-old Jimmy and nineteen-year-old Beverly, had come to spend the day in the Motor City. It was a precoronation of sorts, a brief stopover en route to Cooperstown, where Cobb would be inducted--first of his class--into the newly unveiled National Baseball Hall of Fame. Their cross-country trip had begun in California, where the Cobbs now lived, and it would eventually take them to New York City, Washington, Cleveland, and Chicago.

In his ball-playing prime, Cobb would have been spotted instantly among the rush of passengers at Michigan Central. He was then one of the two most recognizable figures in the burgeoning city, Henry Ford being the other. People had always noticed Cobb. At six-foot-one, he stood a few inches taller than the average man. His portrait, appearing frequently in publications across the country, had made his face familiar. His guarded grin--tight-lipped as if embarrassed by his teeth--often gave him away. If not, his eyes usually did. Everyone noticed Cobb's blue eyes: intense, piercing, pulsing, steely as a battleship, some said; the color of robin eggs or Courier and Ives china, according to others. They radiated from beneath narrowed lids. Energy surged from them.

More than a decade had passed since Cobb had played the game, and it had been several years since his last visit to Detroit, when he threw out a ceremonial first pitch before a Detroit Stars Negro league game. Cobb was fifty-two now, and he blended easily in a crowd. If you weren't expecting him, if you weren't casting about for famous folks or giving more than a passing glance, you would have thought him just another middle-aged businessman in an overcoat. You wouldn't have noticed him--not there, anyway.

Down Michigan Avenue from the hulking, eighteen-story depot stood the ballpark where Cobb had once thrilled crowds, frustrated opponents, and clawed his way to unparalleled success. The park had changed considerably since his playing days, not only in ownership and name--from Navin Field to Briggs Stadium--but in size, with a new double-decked grandstand that swelled capacity to fifty-five thousand. Cobb had changed, too--physically, yes, with the addition of a few pounds and the subtraction of much hair, but also in demeanor. That afternoon, as the Tigers battled Washington, Cobb showed a side many had never seen.

Cobb looked dapper in the stands in a stylish straw hat and tailored gray-blue suit, and he still turned heads there. At the ballpark, they knew him. There, word spread quickly that the Georgia Peach was in town. There, fans, photographers, players, and friends clamored yet for his attention. Seated with Walter Briggs in the owner's box beside the Tigers' third-base dugout, Cobb felt the admiring gazes as he smoked a cigar. He signed autographs--for Edsel Ford's children, someone told him--tipped his cap at older women, and reminisced with outfielder-turned-pharmacist Davy Jones, who tried to ignore the pain in his ready-to-burst appendix. Cobb waved to old pals who called his name, joked with goofy Nick Altrock, the famous ball-juggling, googly-eyed clown of the visiting Senators, and basked in the moment. Occasionally, a player would steal a look at him.

It must have gratified Cobb that his youngest children were getting a sense of what it was once like for him. They were too young to appreciate his days in a uniform, and maybe seeing the respect and the adulation he received would provide a different view of their daddy. They knew dissension in their fragile household. Their mother had filed for divorce several times, and their oldest brother, Ty Junior, had a strained relationship with Cobb. Young Ty had rebelled strongly against his strict, demanding father. He disliked baseball, lived a fast life in college, dropped out of Princeton, and failed to graduate from Yale. Though he had since matured and begun work on a medical degree, Ty Junior still did not get along well with his famous father. Cobb had been a ballplayer throughout his namesake's childhood, gone for weeks and months on end, and that hadn't strengthened their bond.

Cobb had vowed it would be different with the two youngest of his five children. Jimmy was six when his dad retired from baseball. He had seen him golf frequently but didn't remember much of his baseball career. Born prematurely, he stood several inches smaller than his father, who sometimes affectionately called him Fido or Snake. Jimmy considered himself his dad's favorite, and decades later would fondly remember him as the loving man who would tuck him into bed and kiss him goodnight.

Cobb's pledge to be a better father figured into this trip. It was a graduation gift to his daughter. They would be visiting an East Coast finishing school that she might attend in autumn, and the three of them would be going to the futuristic World's Fair and to a couple of Broadway plays. Cobb wanted to see Raymond Massey in Abe Lincoln in Illinois and maybe Katharine Hepburn in The Philadelphia Story.

"I had twenty-five years of baseball, and I had all the baseball I wanted," he said. "I had to be away from my family six months a year. I hardly saw my children all summer and in the winter they were in school. . . . You're not living the life of a martyr when you play baseball but there's a lot of things you can't do."

During a rain delay, Cobb appeared in the Detroit locker room, a pack of reporters trailing him. The air crackled with electricity. He greeted the quiet veteran Charlie Gehringer, one of his batting protégés, a star second baseman, and the last remnant of Cobb's 1926 team. Flashbulbs popped and sizzled as Cobb gripped his hand and locked his eyes on him. Gehringer averted his stare. Gehringer sat on a stool, one shoe on, the other off. His right foot had been sliced on a slide by George Washington Case.

"You aren't going to quit, are you?" Cobb asked.

"No," said Gehringer, "I'm just going to get another pair of shoes."

As good as Gehringer was--and several writers ranked him among the best ever at his position--Cobb always felt Gehringer could have been better. With a bit more fire and exuberance, he might have been as fine as Eddie Collins, Cobb believed.

The team's freshest talent was Barney McCosky, and Jimmy Cobb didn't linger long before heading to the locker of the rookie center fielder, who had already been nicknamed Belting Barney by The Sporting News. "That kid of mine has made up his mind that McCosky is the greatest player in baseball," Cobb remarked. "He talks of him all the time."

The other Tigers--and not just the Southern boys, though there were plenty of them--gathered around Cobb. Tommy Jefferson Davis Bridges, a noted curveball pitcher from Tennessee, shook his hand. Fellow Georgian Rudy York, a hard drinker prone to charring mattresses with untended cigarettes, quizzed Cobb about his bird dogs. Bobo Newsom, the colorful ace of the staff, invited him to go hunting in South Carolina.

"I might do that, Buck," Cobb replied, his words as smooth and stretched as taffy.

Everyone wanted to see the Peach.

Slicker Coffman, a relief pitcher, presented himself.

"Sounds like an Alabama drawl," Cobb guessed.

"Sure is," he replied. "I'm from Veto, Alabama."

Cobb talked with Bing Miller about their days with Connie Mack's Philadelphia Athletics, and he gave a verbal boost to Red Kress, a struggling utility man who had begun his career as Cobb was ending his. "If you can hit like you did when you first got in this league, you're okay," said Cobb.

After the game, Cobb's homecoming continued at his suite in the Hotel Statler, looking out over busy Grand Circus Park. Cobb shared memories with seventy-year-old Bobby Lincoln Lowe, who had been a fifteen-year veteran when Cobb debuted in 1905. And then Cobb rang up a dozen friends, including an auto executive hospitalized in Ann Arbor.

"They've got three balls and two strikes on me," Don O'Keefe told him.

"Then you'll hit a home run," Cobb said.

Cobb seemed possessed of one mission: to reconnect with as many friends as time would allow. Perhaps it was just the distance. Or his long absence. He had been living near San Francisco since 1932 and hadn't been back to Detroit much since retiring in 1928. Or maybe a grander epiphany had struck him. Maybe he was coming to realize that the fierce competitiveness that had served him so well on the ball field had deprived him of an abundance of close friendships. Maybe that helped explain his demeanor. Mild, mellow, relaxed--in his playing days people rarely described him with such words. One pal even said he was now as "sedate as a schoolmarm."

Of all the acquaintances Cobb renewed during his twelve-hour stop in Detroit, it was the one with Alex Rivers that touched him most. Cobb had sent a friend to search for Rivers, whom he had known for thirty-three years, since 1908, when Rivers was toiling as a clubhouse man in New Orleans. Cobb took a liking to him immediately and invited him to Detroit.

"I would be happy if I could see him," Cobb said.

Moments before departing for his train, Cobb got his wish. Alex Rivers, a black man, appeared in his suite. The sight affected Cobb, and he grew emotional, patting Rivers warmly on the back.

"Mister Ty, you are still my man," said Rivers, who had worked as Cobb's personal locker-room assistant, chauffeur, and handyman and who had honored him by naming his firstborn Ty Cobb Rivers. They reminisced about days gone by, and caught up on family matters. After Cobb left baseball, Rivers had parlayed his baseball celebrity into a job as messenger for Detroit mayor Frank Murphy.

"Keep in touch with me, Alex," Cobb said. "You're still my man, too."

Emotions came easily to Cobb, and this journey promised to be nostalgic and sentimental. Cobb must have been flush with tender feelings when he left by train that evening. He had been celebrated in Detroit, and now he was heading toward Cooperstown to help dedicate the National Baseball Hall of Fame and to be officially enshrined as the first member of the game's most elite class. Life was grand.

Copyright © 2007 by Tom Stanton. All rights reserved.

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Table of Contents


A Note     ix
Cooperstown 1939
Cobb's Send-off     3
Aboard the Centennial Special     9
The Challenge     15
The Baseball Years
1915: The Greatest Ever     25
In Pursuit of Immortality     33
A Green Pea     40
How Much Longer?     45
The Rise of Ruth     51
A Baseball Revolution     64
Coup in Detroit     71
The New Commander     77
War of 1921     83
The Other Babe     91
Riot at Navin Field     98
The Making of a Delicate Peace     109
Reversal of Fortunes     118
Scandal     127
The Kindly Years     133
The Golf Match
With Bobby in Augusta     141
The Babe Accepts     153
A Peach in New York     162
Notes, Goats, and Gamesmanship     170
Tee Time in Newton     177
A Babe Among Friends     183
Play-off at Fresh Meadow     192
Pulling for Joltin' Joe     203
Ty, Tris, and Babe in Cleveland     209
Cobb's Secret Weapon     221
For Eternal Bragging Rights     228
Epilogue: The Later Years     234
Acknowledgments     239
Appendix     241
Bibliography     275
Index     281
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