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Heart of a Tiger: Growing up with My Grandfather, Ty Cobbby Herschel Cobb
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Ty Cobb is a baseball immortal, considered by many the greatest player who ever lived. In an age when the game was young and tough, he cultivated a reputation as the fiercest competitor of them all. Yet after he retired, he realized that the very qualities that helped him reach the pinnacle of his profession also undermined his relationship with his own children. He was deeply depressed when two of his sons died at a very young age. Cobb never had the chance to bridge the emotional distance between them.
Herschel Cobb grew up in a chaotic, destructive household. His father was cruel and abusive, and his mother was an adulterous alcoholic. After his father died, when Herschel was eight, he began to spend a portion of each summer with his grandfather. Along with his sister and brother, Herschel visited Ty Cobb at his home in Atherton, California, or at his cabin at Lake Tahoe. These days were filled with adventures, memorable incidents, and discoveries as “Granddaddy” warmed to having his “three redheads” with him. Heart of a Tiger is Herschel Cobb’s moving account of how a retired sports star seized a second chance at having a close family, with his grandchildren the lucky recipients of his change of heart. He provided wisdom, laughter, and a consistent affection that left an indelible mark. He proved the enormous power of a grandparent to provide stability, love, and guidance. As he developed this new, wholly different legacy, in turn he would finally come to peace with himself.
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"For those who've read Charles C. Alexander's meticulously researched 'Ty Cobb' (2006) and Cobb's autobiography, written with Al Stump in the early sixties, this memoir provides one more view of a fascinating, severely flawed sports icon." BooklistOnline.com
"Elegantly written and genuinely moving, this heartwarming account is sure to resonate with readers." Publishers Weekly
"Not your grandfather’s Ty Cobb? Perhaps not. But Ty Cobb was Herschel Cobb’s grandfather. And the story Herschel Cobb tells reveals a far gentler side to his grandfather, one buried deep beneath the persona Ty Cobb created during his playing days. Heart of a Tiger: Growing up with My Grandfather, Ty Cob is a warm, sentimental memoir. Herschel Cobb is not trying to write a revisionist history of his grandfather; he is merely retelling the memories he had of 'Granddaddy,' never realizing until he was a teenager that Ty Cobb was a famous and sometimes polarizing baseball player." Bob D'Angelo, Tampa Tribune
"I could rave about this book for hours and I feel I would still never do it justice. It's a book that hooks the reader from the very beginning and in spite of the sometimes difficult content, keeps you hanging on until the very end." Charlene Martel, The Literary Word
“A personal memoir can enrich the statistical account, as does this one about the great Ty Cobb. Readers should find justice has been done to the Georgia Peach.” Ron Kirbyson, the Winnipeg Free Press
"Actions sometimes speak louder than words. But Herschel Cobb’s words speak volumes on why The Georgia Peach just might have always been a peach of a man that no one could find out, unless you were kinfolk and not a prying member of the media like Al Stump trying to fulfill an assignment." Tom Hoffarth, Farther Off the Wall
VERDICT Although fans of baseball’s golden age will be curious, this will be more to the taste of readers of survivors’ memoirs. —MH
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Heart of a Tiger
Growing Up with My Grandfather, TY Cobb
By HERSCHEL COBB
ECW PRESSCopyright © 2013 Herschel Cobb
All rights reserved.
The Snake River, Idaho, 1949
I sat between my father and my grandfather in the front seat of my father's Packard, being bounced around as we inched down a rutted dirt road. High above in the darkness loomed the rim of the Snake River Canyon. We were headed to my father's small boathouse, set on the river's edge. The headlights jumped up and down, left and right as we lurched from pothole to pothole. My father also shined a spotlight along our path with his outstretched left hand as he steered the car with his right, wanting to avoid a fallen branch or startled deer. From our house to the dirt road had taken only twenty minutes, but we would need another twenty-five minutes to wind down the face of the canyon. My dad told me we'd sleep at the boathouse, then get up before dawn to go duck hunting. I was dreading the opportunity. I was frightened whenever Dad had a gun in his hands, and this afternoon he had said it was time I grew up and learned how to shoot.
Granddaddy had arrived earlier that evening to visit us in Twin Falls, partly to hunt ducks with my dad, but really to see how my father was spending the huge sum of money he had given him a few years before. My father's latest purchase was a new Chris-Craft speedboat, which was moored at the boathouse. My father was grim-faced as he drove. Both he and my mother despised being held accountable, resented any intrusion on how they spent the money that was given to them.
Granddaddy had visited us last year, and I had a vivid recollection of him. The hair on his head was thin, and he was roly-poly in the middle. Yet his voice was warm and direct, and when he picked me up, his grip was strong yet gentle. He took in everything around him, seemingly looking right into me and at the same time noticing every look and motion I made, and when he smiled, his eyes twinkled. When he greeted my sister, Susan, and me, I felt like he had come all the way to Idaho just to see us. He adored Susan, two years older than me, with her light red hair that hung in large curls and her lovely smile. She paid special attention to him, prompting him to laugh and tell her stories. He loved to sit her on his knee to talk about almost anything.
By the time of his visit this year, the leaves on the trees had already turned golden, then rust, and drifted listlessly to the ground. I liked autumn because snow would soon fall and I would have my seventh birthday at the end of the year, in December. So, I was excited my grandfather was coming — until Dad told me I was coming along with them to learn how to shoot a shotgun.
Granddaddy had come for dinner before the three of us were to leave for the river. Dad wanted to fix a fancy meal, but my mother objected. During the afternoon they started drinking whisky, arguing and yelling at each other. I watched from behind a doorway. My mother felt a special tension on these occasions. She knew how much Granddaddy disliked her. He regarded her as a grasping freeloader. He had heard an earful of her complaints that she expected to live the life of a socialite in L.A. and "your son isn't moving fast enough." He never forgot her selfish whining or forgave her liquor-fueled gripes. In revenge, she relentlessly belittled and henpecked my father.
When Granddaddy came to visit, she chafed at his disgust, but she didn't dare say anything. She yelled at Dad instead, saying it was her house and she didn't like his father telling her anything.
Dad became more agitated as the afternoon passed. He knew he would have to account for his new speedboat. As his anger built, I crept upstairs to hide. I knew his temper would rise like the pressure inside a geyser. Anything around him was in danger of being hit, smashed, and destroyed, and if he saw me, he would surely grab me and give me a beating. Susan was already hiding in her room, and when I appeared at her door, she told me, "I knew this would happen."
Granddaddy arrived wearing hunting clothes, and he put his guns and gear straightaway in Dad's car. His boots were laced up just below his knees, his pants were thick and stiff, and he wore three shirts bunched up by suspenders clasped onto his belt. He carried his tin cloth — hunting jacket on one arm. I knew he hunted every year with his friends in the mountains of Wyoming, and I wondered if he wore the same clothes there.
When we heard the doorbell, Susan and I rushed downstairs. Mother quickly emptied her glass of whisky into the sink. When she opened the door, Granddaddy brushed right past her and picked up Susan, hugging her and then me. He sat down in a big easy chair, put Susan on his knee, and began talking and laughing with her. I rested my chin on the armrest, hoping to be noticed. His big right hand came over and squeezed my nose, as if to tell me I was next. My brother, Kit, who was just two years old, sat nearby playing with his toys.
Yet beneath the surface, trouble was brewing. We knew the danger signals in our house. Mother was already mad. Dad appeared, ready to yell at her, saw his father, and abruptly left the room. When he returned, he suggested we have dinner right away because we had to get to the Snake.
Susan and I were used to eating dinners on tenterhooks, awaiting an explosion of anger, but we were spared that night. Granddaddy's presence kept my parents at bay. They didn't have their usual glasses of whisky at the table, and the meal passed without any of the yelling I had feared.
Mother even tried to be interested in Granddaddy's chatter about duck hunting. Yet when she dared make a remark, he glared at her and bluntly asked, "Say, what happened to that fellow whose house your husband filled up with water?"
Mother started to fire right back, but stopped with her mouth open, unable to yell at my grandfather the way she would with my father. Instead, she sprang to her feet and retreated into the kitchen. Susan and I exchanged glances, hiding secret smiles. We knew what had happened.
The previous summer, we had returned from a June vacation to discover that the entire outside of our house had been painted bright pink. The scale of destructive pranks Dad and Mom played on their circle of friends had escalated over the past few years. Even though they paid for repairs, their antics had passed the point of being funny or clever, becoming more ruinous and grotesque. Dad was furious and stormed around the neighborhood, knocking on doors trying to find out who had painted his house. Eventually, Dad found out the culprit.
In August, the man and his family left town on their own summer vacation. The next afternoon, Dad called, "Hersch, come with me. We're going to have some fun."
I followed him to the man's house. He found a window he could open, ran a garden hose inside, turned the faucet on full blast, made sure the room was filling with water, and left. Two weeks later, the family returned home to find the whole first floor and everything in it floating in three feet of water — all of their things had been ruined. The man stormed to our house, waving a shotgun, looking for my dad. My mom called the police, and they forced the man to give up his shotgun and took him away.
Dad complained that he was "just getting even." Although he paid for all the damage, he never apologized, and the episode became a story he bragged about to everyone. It was easy for him to lash out, destroy things, because he never had to suffer the consequences. He did have to suffer, however, the humiliation of his own father calling him out on his vicious prank. That was another reason I was dreading going to the Snake River to hunt. The pressure inside my father was building, and just about anything now was liable to make him blow up.
We slowly wound down the narrow dirt road toward the Snake River, bounced around by ruts and hairpin turns. Babe, our small chocolate Labrador retriever, rode in the back seat. Each time I bumped into Dad, he gave me a shove with his elbow and told me to watch out. After an extra hard shove, Granddaddy cradled his arm around me and pulled me over toward him, and we bounced together.
"How far to your place?" Granddaddy asked.
My father glanced over at us. "Not that far, but with these switchbacks, twenty minutes or so, maybe a little longer."
Granddaddy responded, "Well, then, take it easy. It's bumpy as hell. Oh, sorry, Hersch." He looked down at me, apologizing for the swear word he'd used. He had to be aware that I heard far worse in my household. He lifted his left arm off my shoulder and unzipped the gun cover he was holding next to his legs. Twin barrels of a shotgun appeared, and Granddaddy flicked on the dash light and the overhead. The barrels were nearly black, with a dull sheen finish. He pulled the gun cover down the barrels, revealing the steel near the trigger guards and part of the stock.
"You sure that's empty?" Dad asked.
"Sure. I'll show you." Granddaddy broke open the barrels and stuck his fingers up inside. "Safe as can be."
My father had plenty of guns, but he had never shown me how they worked and I was not allowed anywhere near them. I was fascinated to be sitting so close to a real shotgun.
Granddaddy nudged the gun cover toward the floor and the rest of the shotgun emerged. It was still broken open where the ends of the barrels met the stock. He smiled at me and said proudly, "There you go, Hersch. Twelve-gauge, side-by-side, double triggers, forward and back. Beautiful."
I didn't know what he was talking about, but I did notice that the whole steel plate above the trigger guard and half of the barrel was carved with a hunting scene of a small lake, reeds, a hunter holding a gun, birds flying overhead, and engraved words.
In the dim light of the dash, I could read, "Presented to Ty Cobb" and "City of Detroit." There was more writing and a date. I knew the words "Ty Cobb" — that was my granddaddy. But I'd never heard of "City of Detroit" and didn't know what that meant. That didn't bother me, though, because I was awed that someone was able to carve into steel so beautifully. I touched the barrel and the side plate, tracing "Ty Cobb" and the hunting scene with my fingertips.
Granddaddy put his left arm back around my shoulder and held his shotgun in his right hand, braced against his leg. "I haven't used this much, Hersch. It's mostly for show. But I thought I'd bring it along to show you, and maybe test it out." He turned out the overhead light but left the dashboard light on. I sat in silence, eyeing his shotgun and looking out the window, hoping to see a deer or some other animal.
Nobody talked for a while, until Granddaddy asked my father what I liked to do best. "Does little Hersch like to hunt or fish more?"
"Neither, really. Hasn't fired a gun yet. Still a sissy, I think. Plays with his stuffed toys."
Daddy's voice was muffled, but the gruff answer cut into my thoughts. I was always on alert if he sounded like he was angry. I didn't know what "sissy" meant, but it was true that I liked my stuffed animals. Granddaddy's hand squeezed my shoulder and then patted it. He didn't say anything but winked at me. I liked that he thought stuffed animals were just fine.
The deeper we descended into the canyon of the Snake, the darker it became. I was afraid of the dark because nighttime was full of bogeymen, or so Dad told me. He had told me about the bogeyman from the earliest time I could remember. Every time I didn't behave or he wanted me to do something, he told me the bogeyman would get me.
A wave of anxiety overcame me, and I suddenly pleaded, "Hurry up, Daddy. The bogeyman's out there." I pointed out the windows of the car.
"The what?" my grandfather boomed in my ear. "What did you say? What's out there?" he was asking my father.
"It's nothing, Dad. I'll tell you later," my father responded quickly. "Hersch," he said, "stop your fretting. We'll be there soon enough." He gripped the top of the steering wheel with his right hand, curling his shoulder upward, partially shielding his face from view.
With the dash light still on, I could see Granddaddy was examining his son severely. He'd heard what I'd said. I moved closer to Granddaddy. His arm wrapped around me, and I relished the comfort it provided. My father never held me this way.
Granddaddy didn't say anything the rest of the way to the boathouse, and I didn't dare open my mouth. I knew Daddy was seething because he drove faster, hit the bumps harder, and wrestled the car sharply around the tight turns. I didn't know what scared me more, the bogeymen outside the car or my father inside.
"We'll be there any moment now," my father finally announced. He rolled down his window, letting cold air and the rushing sound of the Snake River fill the car. I breathed in deeply. The air tasted clean and exciting. Even though I knew what was lurking out there in the dark, I loved the excitement of just barely being able to see through the trees, and at the same time, being able to look straight up, overhead, and see millions of stars.
Daddy parked in front of the boathouse, rushed to open the front door, and yelled back to us, "Wait a minute, I'll get the lanterns lit." The boathouse didn't have electricity, so we used kerosene lamps for light and a propane stove for cooking. It had an icebox, but we didn't bother to bring in any blocks of ice because we weren't staying long enough.
Granddaddy opened his door and said, "Come on, Hersch, we'll unload the trunk."
I scooted out and stood upright, holding onto the car door. My eyes hadn't adjusted to the dark, and I couldn't see anything beyond the car. I felt Granddaddy's hand take mine and shove something heavy into it.
"Here, take this. You hold the light, and I'll open the trunk." He led me around to the rear of the car and opened the hatch. Inside lay the shotguns in their cloth cases, resting on top of sleeping bags, a box of food, and a dozen boxes of shotgun shells.
"Your dad packed enough guns, that's for sure," he said almost to himself. "I've got my side-by-side up front, my twelve-gauge over-under here. Really nice gun, Hersch. Bit much for you until you're bigger, though. And I see your dad's twelve-gauge, a twenty-gauge over-under, and two others." The sight of them made him pause. "Wonder what he wants those for? Well, I suppose he wants all of them inside."
Giving me a job, he moved the guns to one side and handed me the box of food. "Sure hope there's some ice cream in there, Hersch." He smiled as he handed the box to me. "Go ahead. The light is on inside, so leave the flashlight here."
Where one of the lanterns in front of the cabin provided a funnel of light, I peeked in the box of food, and sure enough, I saw a carton of ice cream, marked "chocolate." It still had that frozen hard look. I knew Granddaddy loved ice cream, so I put the box on the small countertop, took out the ice cream, and put it into the icebox even though we didn't bring ice.
With my father's large bulk filling the space, I remembered how small the cabin was. The cabin and boathouse were really one building, with the cabin erected on the bank of the river and the boathouse built out over it. The light from the lanterns reflected off the yellow linoleum countertops and the yellow linoleum floor. Except for a small throw rug, the floors were bare. The small kitchen adjoined a small eating area, which was right next to the built-in bunk beds. The bottom bed was larger, and sometimes we used it to sit on while we ate at the table. The toilet was outside and around the corner, outhouse style. The living and eating areas were close and crowded and not very comfortable, but that wasn't the purpose of the boathouse. It was supposed to protect Daddy's new speedboat, moored in the water, always ready to go. The doorway down to the boat was right behind me, guarded with a padlock.
Granddaddy walked in, carrying three guns over each shoulder, and nearly shouted, "Well, where is this beauty?" He was talking about Daddy's new Chris-Craft inboard. The speedboat had arrived in June, and Daddy had showed it off to all his friends during the summer. "I want to see where all that money you're making is going."
I wasn't sure exactly what he meant by this, but the tone of his voice was more of a demand than a question. Daddy had bought an airplane a couple of years before, and I overheard him when he called Granddaddy to tell him about it. The phone call turned into a shouting match. I could tell Granddaddy wanted to know why he had bought an expensive airplane because Daddy kept yelling louder and louder that he needed it for something or other.
"Be right there," my father said. He was looking over his shoulder, fiddling with one of the kerosene lamps as he answered. "Got to get this lamp set so it doesn't fall over. The key to the padlock is in the drawer, right behind Hersch. Taped to the left side in the rear."
I knew what he meant and immediately opened the drawer to look for the key.
"Hersch, leave that alone," he ordered me, his voice loud and sharp. I could tell that he was close to yelling at me: his eyes and face were rigid, holding back a torrent of anger. I quickly backed away from the drawer and let my arms hang stiffly at my sides.
Excerpted from Heart of a Tiger by HERSCHEL COBB. Copyright © 2013 Herschel Cobb. Excerpted by permission of ECW PRESS.
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