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The Haunting; Or, the Ghost of Ty Cobb

October 31, 2012 | by

In July, a bat of Ty Cobb’s sold at auction for $250,000. The buyer, a Denver collector named Tyler Tysdal, said the bat was a present for his two-year-old son, John Tyler. This seemed to me very risky: as a small child, I was terrified of the ghost of Ty Cobb.

I can only imagine this had its genesis with my own dad. When I was small, he wrote a novel that dealt with the 1919 Black Sox Scandal, and baseball players of the era were a frequent topic of dinner-table conversation. In any event, I was somehow aware of the outfielder’s penchant for virulent racism, spiking opposing players, and general nastiness.

The real fear, however, did not set in until the day in 1985 when Pete Rose broke Cobb’s all-time hit record. The next day’s paper—which, I don’t know—featured a cartoon of a vengeful Cobb glaring down from a cloud at the triumphant Rose. I was watching Saturday-morning cartoons when my dad joined me, carrying the paper. And the terrifying image was instantly seared into my brain.

At the time, I had a playhouse in my bedroom which my father and I had fashioned from a refrigerator box, and which I had painted in a manner that can only be called abstract expressionist. Whereas many monsters choose to lurk under beds, the Ghost of Ty Cobb dwelt in that playhouse. When my parents put me to bed, they had to make sure the cardboard entrance to the box was securely closed and the door to the room wide open, should I have to make a quick getaway. Frequently, even these precautions were inadequate and they would be awoken by shrill screams and tears.

What, exactly, he’d do was both unclear and irrelevant. I hadn’t broken his record; I hadn’t blocked the base path. He probably wouldn’t have wanted much to do with me—maybe wouldn’t have been exactly friendly to a small Yankee child—but it was the height of narcissism to imagine I’d have been singled out for punishment. And in fairness, in his lifetime the man started a scholarship fund.

I don’t know exactly when this phase passed, or why—although at some point my fear of Ty Cobb was supplanted by one of the headless queens in Return to Oz, and later the ghoulish drawing of Sweeney Todd on the cover of the audio tape’s box. The memory now is bittersweet: I can recall the fear, but also the utter comfort of my father’s presence, the sureness that he could take on the ghost of the legendary slugger and win.

One can only hope Mr. Tysdal is equally powerful.

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3 COMMENTS

3 Comments

  1. Paul | October 31, 2012 at 12:56 pm

    If there is somehow a ghostly presence to baseball players of times past (if you build it they will come…etc) then certainly ty cobb represents the dark side of this. even the lost names suggest an old weird america – honus wagner, rogers hornsby, etc) . one can listen to the harry smith folk song anthology and feel the crackerjacks in your hand. it is a time lost, but one that has a palpable presence that is kind of intoxicating. to me, pete rose is scarier.

  2. Joe | October 31, 2012 at 1:49 pm

    This reminds me of something that terrified me as a child. My parents had a large coffee-table book of “The World’s Greatest Paintings.” I loved to look through it, but I always had to skip a certain page. It contained Frans Hals’ painting “La Bohemienne.” There was something about her eyes that gives me a little shiver even today.

  3. Joe Carlson | October 31, 2012 at 2:37 pm

    Ty Cobb himself was haunted by the fact that his mother shot and killed his father in circumstances that remain ambiguous to say the least. It played a major part in his aggressive and sometimes even violent behavior.

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