In the book, Stanton chronicles one of baseball greatest and bitterest rivalries. Cobb was widely regarded as the best player of his day, at a time when small ball, bunting and stealing were part of the science of baseball. Cobb was on top of the baseball world until a young slugger who was more brawn than brains captured the Nations baseball attention.
Stanton vividly describes their on field clashes and the venom that eventually turned to a mutual respect and even friendship years after their retirement.
The book also details the Has Beens Golf Tournament that took place after both retired from the game. It was a series of 3 matches that took place in Boston, New York and Detroit that got the competitive juices flowing for both old timers.
I thoroughly recommend the book. Stanton did a wonderful job spinning details of the battles on the diamond and the links. The book also presents Cobb in a much more favorable light than you are used to reading. He clearly wasn’t a saint, but he’s not depicted as evil either and at times Stanton even paints him as a sympathetic character.
For your enjoyment, here is an excerpt:
Cobb realized the game had changed. At Yankee Stadium one afternoon, the Tigers watched from the dugout as Babe Ruth lifted balls into the right-field stands during batting practice. Cobb stood beside Grantland Rice and stared out at the big slugger.
“Well, the old game is gone,” Cobb said. “We have another game, a newer game now. In this game, power has replaced speed and skill. Base running is about dead. They’ve all just about quit stealing….Ruth has changed baseball. I guess more people would rather see Babe hit one over the fence than see me steal second. I feel bad about it because it isn’t the game I like to see or play. The old game was one of skill-skill and speed and quick thinking. This game is all power….A lot of these kids, in place of learning the true science of hitting or base running, are trying to knock every pitch over the fence.”
But Ruth did more than hit home runs in 1924. He scored more runs than anyone else, and, more significant from Cobb’s perspective, Ruth took the batting title. As the holder of twelve of them, Cobb could appreciate that feat. Ruth had nearly done it the year before as well. Even if Cobb didn’t like the long ball, he would have had to admire Ruth’s average-and the fact that Babe had collected two hundred hits in each of his last two seasons. By the autumn of 1924, Cobb recognized that he couldn’t dismiss Ruth as a strange spectacle, a curious anomaly, a freak, a fad, or an oddity. Ruth qualified as something more.
It was significant that during the riot at Navin Field, Cobb hadn’t swung at Ruth. He had the opportunity; he had an invitation. Babe had challenged him, but Ty hadn’t accepted. Throughout his career, Cobb had seldom backed down from an altercation. Could it be that beneath the brutal heckling, the name-calling, and the razor-sharp zeal, Ty Cobb had come to admire and even like some things about Babe Ruth? No longer was Ruth simply a power hitter. He had won the batting title. He had excelled in the one category that Cobb valued most. How could that not have changed Cobb’s feelings about Ruth as a ballplayer?