Cobb played major-league baseball from 1905 through 1928, all but two of those seasons coming with Detroit. He was one of the inaugural members of the Hall of Fame, getting more votes in its first election in 1936 than anyone else, being listed on 222 of 226 ballots - seven more than Babe Ruth. Until Pete Rose broke it, Cobb was also the record-holder for most hits in a major-league career: as with many statistics from that era, the exact number is uncertain, but B-R.com credit him with 4,189. He still holds the mark for highest career batting average (.366), was MVP of the American League in 1911 and had three seasons worth more than ten bWAR.
His numbers were perhaps overshadowed by his temperament, Ty himself writing, "In legend I am a sadistic, slashing, swashbuckling despot who waged war in the guise of sport.". Cobb is often mentioned as an example, when people point to members of the Hall of Fame who fail the "character" test, people pointing at events that depict Cobb as a man possessing both a violent temper and racist tendencies. The most famous incident, as recounted here, is a glimpse, both of the man, and of a radically different era:
In 1912, Cobb assaulted a New York Highlanders fan at Hilltop Park in New York City. The fan, Claude Lueker, was missing all of one hand and three fingers on the other from a printing press accident, but he spent the entire game heckling the Detroit players. After enduring taunts that were “reflecting on my mother’s color and morals,” Cobb reported in his autobiography, the Georgia native had had enough. He jumped the rail along the third-base side of the field and climbed 12 rows of seats to get to Lueker, whom he slammed to the ground and beat senseless. Someone screamed for Cobb to stop, pointing out that the man had no hands. “I don’t care if he has no feet!”
However, the reality appears to be even less reliable than his statistics, mostly due to Cobb's biographer, Al Stump, who appears likely to have exaggerated the more...colorful, shall we say, aspects of Cobb's character, in order to make a more salacious story. Originally hired to ghostwrite a puff piece book, after Cobb's death in 1961, Stump came out with a second, "tell all" volume, Cobb: A Biography, which purported to be the "real" story of the man. But many aspects appear fictitious: the story that Cobb's mother blew his father's head off with a shotgun are not supported by court records. Not that this stopped Stump from selling the supposed shotgun to a collector...
The movie uses Stump's relationship to Cobb while collecting the player's memories, as a framing device to explore his history. Stump finds Cobb a bitter old man, full of hate for everyone and almost continually intoxicated. The pair travel to Cooperstown together for the Hall of Fame induction ceremony, where they encounter players from Cobb's time, then to the player's native state of Georgia, where his daughter, long estranged from her father, lives. But Stump is torn between writing the book Cobb wants, and the truth, just as he is torn between an admiration for Cobb's feats on the field, and a deep dislike of the man himself.
Director Ron Shelton has made a habit of directing or writing sports movies - not just about baseball, but also covering basketball (White Men Can't Jump and Blue Chips), boxing (The Great White Hype and Play It to the Bone) and golf (Tin Cup). That's no surprise, as Shelton was actually a pro baseball player himself, playing in the Orioles farm system from 1967-71, making it as high as Triple-A, where he played alongside current Diamondbacks hitting coach, Don Baylor. However, the labor stoppage of 1972 forced him to change careers. He went to graduate school in LA, which eventually led to his entry into film, with his first script Under Fire in 1983.
Most of the baseball scenes were filmed at Rickwood Field in Birmingham, which has tussled with Warren Ballpark in Bisbee for the title of "America's oldest". Here, it stood in for Philadelphia's Shibe Park and Pittsburgh's Forbes Field. However, Tommy Lee Jones's participation in the baseball side was seriously curtailed, due to him having broken his ankle, while practicing Cobb's slide on his ranch in Texas. As a result, he had to wear a cast during much of the movie's shooting, and rewrites were necessary to reduce the amount of actual game footage required.
There's a few cast members to look out for. Stacy Keach's father, Stacy Sr, plays Jimmie Foxx. Real-life minor-leaguer Crash Davis, whose name inspired that of the hero in Shelton's most renowned movie, Bull Durham, is Cobb's great rival, Sam Crawford. Roger Clemens - a man also of interesting character, shall we say - plays an opposing pitcher, and Tyler Logan Cobb, a descendant of the man himself, depicts Cobb as a young man. Ernie Harwell, the Tigers play-by-play guy for 42 years, is the MC at the Cooperstown ceremony, and Jimmy Buffett gets a cameo, as heckler Claude Lueker.
Mrs. SnakePit almost had a heart-attack when I told her tonight was the inaugural SnakePit Movie Night - she calmed down when I explained that didn't actually mean people coming over, but just hanging out virtually and MST3K'ing the movie, or whatever. This is probably your only chance to engage in entirely non-theater approved behavior like that, so hopefully people will show up and have fun!