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Uber-Prick Ty Cobb rises from the grave and helps us celebrate Opening Day by sliding into second spikes up – All-Time Sports Comics #5

April 4, 2012

Ty Cobb wanted to play, but none of us could stand the son of a bitch when we were alive so we told him to stick it.  — “Shoeless” Joe Jackson, Field of Dreams

Having grown up rooting for the New York Yankees, and now having adopted the Washington Nationals as a transplanted Arlingtonian, I have no rooting interest in the Detroit Tigers. But this Golden Age sports-themed comic has been sitting on my desk for a while, and it has a nice little Tigers feature within, so the they might as well be part of our Opening Day festivities. PLAY BALL and all that jazz. (Plus the Tigers were the favorite team of the greatest television private investigator of all time, Thomas Magnum, so that makes them doubly copacetic in these quarters.)

It should ne noted that the publication year of this comic is 1949, which means that another century-plus of the Tigers organization’s history was still coming. Sparky Anderson and Kirk Gibson and Lou Whitaker turning double plays with Alan Trammell all feel like they were a hundred years ago, but they were still thirty years away from this comic. Even by the mid-century mark, though, the Tigers still had a number of famous names and legendary ball-players among their pantheon. Here’s some of their smiling faces (with Bob Powell — who worked on the Man in Black story featured here recently — art), including Wheaties spokesman Hank Greenberg at 1 o’clock:

All well and good, but Ty Cobb, whose grim sepulchral visage rests underneath the Tiger’s belly, is the real star of this show. Yes, Ty Cobb, the man who once climbed into the stands to beat a heckler that had no hands, the Cobb who, when this little fact was pointed out to him, proclaimed “I don’t care if he got no feet!” The Cobb that was a rotten husband and father. The Cobb that had issues with black people. And the Cobb who may be the greatest pure hitter ever to play the National Pastime. The Cobb that had the most votes in the Baseball Hall of Fame’s first year of inductees — more than Babe Ruth. The Cobb whose biopic, Cobb, starring Tommy Lee Jones, portrayed him as one of the worst human beings ever to walk the Earth. Yeah. Him.

Four of the ten story pages available are devoted to the man, and after the early days and early leading lights of the Tigers are presented, we start on Ty. A jerk who pissed off just about everyone he came into contact with, his story starts off as you’d expect, with him disregarding a bunt sign, hitting a game-winning home run, and getting chewed out and booted by his bush league manager (back when he played for the Augusta Tourists of the South Atlantic League):

His dickish ways could never keep him pinned down in the lower rungs of hardball, at least not with that irrepressible talent of his. Soon he’s in the Show, where he hits singles, steals bases (with those deadly spikes of his), gets slugged by Honus Wagner and has his gear sabotaged by vexed (jealous?) teammates:

Wish there was a Walt Simonson KRAKATHOOM in that first panel.

All good things come to an end, even for the greats. Turns out Cobb, with a face that was well-primed for chasing kids off a lawn, retired (with the Philadelphia Athletics) on a date that would take on a terrible significance in 73 years:

The man carried a lot of tension around the eyes. You can’t take that away from him.

You want stats? How he matched up against his great contemporary, Babe Ruth? Here you go:

(That Lou Brock, and African-American, would one day break his career record for stolen bases quite possibly had him spinning in his grave.)

If all that wasn’t enough Cobb for readers, one of the other features within (there’s also a story with a lacrosse coach telling a horrifically violent tale about the Native American origins of the sport to his team) has a brief panel to further drive home the “TY COBB WAS GREAT” point:

I think a part of Cobb’s intimidation factor is the collar in the old-time uniform. It makes him look like Barnabas Collins from Dark Shadows or something. “I’ll pound you with this bat and then gore you with my cleats and then suck your blood. AND GOD HELP YOU IF YOU’RE NOT WHITE.”

There you have it. Ty Cobb, a Baseball Man in Full.

Above I alluded to one of the strangest things about reading this comic. So much of baseball history was still in the future back in 1949. I mean, the comic may be Golden Age, but the Golden Age of baseball — Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle, etc. — was in the offing, and the Dead Ball Era, of which Cobb was a part, was still well within living memory. It gives you an odd sort of feeling while you’re reading it, and you can’t help but put yourself in a 1949 boy’s shoes.

I don’t know what kind of artifact all that makes this short little story, but it’s something. And it’s a nice way to throw out the first pitch for the baseball season.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Johnny Tenspeed permalink
    April 4, 2012 9:19 pm

    You failed to mention the strangest thing of all about this comic: the umpire yelling “Ball four – yer out!” on the cover.

    • April 4, 2012 9:37 pm

      I took it to mean that the batter swung at a terrible pitch that would have been ball four, a pitch so bad the umpire couldn’t imagine a man would be dumb enough to swing at it. But, as you point out, if this wasn’t the cover’s intent, THIS WOULD BE A GLARING ERROR.

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