Al Stump's article on Ty Cobb is a remarkable portrait of a complex, tortured human being who was very possibly the best baseball player who ever lived. There was one paragraph in the story that particularly caught my eye.
"Some 150 fan letters reached him each month, requesting his autograph. Many letters enclosed return-mail stamps. Cobb used the stamps for his own outgoing mail. The fan letters he burned."
Probably so. But that's not what the Georgia Peach did with my fan letter. When I was a young boy in grade school, I started to write to ballplayers to ask for their autographs. The responses were phenomenal. Almost 100% positive return. When I had compiled a file of virtually every great contemporary player, I decided to add the names of the legends. Again, a wonderful response. I heard from all of them: Ruth, Sisler, Young, Wagner, Speaker. All that is, but Cobb. On Sept. 21, 1942, I requested his signature and enclosed a self-addressed stamped envelope. Never heard a word.
Never, until Feb. 15, 1948. Over five years later I received a letter from "Tyrus R. Cobb" from Menlo Park. It contained four little sheets of paper on which were written "Ty Cobb, 2/15/48," a signed picture of Cobb and a small pamphlet entitled "Batting Tips From Ty Cobb." The covering letter, which was clearly written in another hand (presumably a secretary), contained a sentence that perhaps adds an insight to Mr. Stump's character study. Cobb wrote: "This letter probably arrived during my absence and was misplaced. . . . If I was a fellow who 'brushed off' such requests, I would not be the fellow who takes pains to write you now, at this late date."
What do we make of that? A belated plea for understanding? Forget (forgive?) the guy who sharpened spikes and cut down infielders?
And then the postscript in his own handwriting: "P.S. . . . I shall presume I am your friend as signed, TRC."
A boozer and brawler? Beyond question. A cantankerous, miserable old man? Certifiably. Without redeeming virtues? Not in this fan's book.
EDWIN T. VANE