You Don’t Know Who Ty Cobb Was?

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A baseball great.  Record holder. In the first class of Hall of Fame players inducted in 1936. Lifetime batting average of .366 – the highest of all time. Three times batted over .400 for a season. Possibly the greatest player of the early 1900s.

Violent temper with a reputation for viciousness and thought to be a racist.

Some recent studies seem to indicate that some of the things thought to be true about him may not have been factual. (This may have been due to an inept and extremely biased biographer.)

Earlier biographers depicted Cobb as extremely violent, sharpening his spikes and endeavoring to slide into other players and cut them. He is said to have attacked blacks and sought to inflict bodily harm on them. Even Ken Burns of the famous video series Baseball, presented that picture of Ty Cobb. In the movie “Field of Dreams,” the ghost player Shoeless Joe Jackson talks about not inviting Cobb to come to the magical field because “we hated the ____.”

More recent studies seem to show that he was not hatefully racist, was respected by teammates and opponents alike and tried to graciously reach out to fans. He was, according to Charles Leershen, in “Ty Cobb: A Terrible Beauty,” an extremely complex man, far from perfect, but not guilty of many of the things alleged in earlier biographies.

Ty Cobb was born in Georgia in 1886, just 21 years after the Civil War ended. He played for the Detroit Tigers, and because of his attitudes and actions, and being a Southerner, he may have created more problems for himself than he should have.

Interestingly enough, Jackie Robinson, who broke the color barrier in 1947, was also born in Georgia, 33 years after Ty Cobb. And recent information would seem to show that Cobb was not against African Americans playing in the major leagues. “The Negro should be accepted wholeheartedly, and not grudgingly,” he said. “The Negro has the right to play professional baseball and whose [sic] to say he has not?” And he was proved correct in the years that followed as African Americans reshaped the all-time baseball statistics from that point forward.

Now while I am sure there are those who do, it is likely that most people in China, India, or the heart of Africa would not know who Ty Cobb really was; in fact, he or she would never have even heard of him. Fame is not only fleeting, it’s also limited by time and place. In this case, the real and total truth about Tyrus Raymond Cobb is known only to God.

Historical facts, anecdotes, trivia and the like, are interesting, at least to some people, at certain times, and in at least a few places. They do serve as good attention grabbers, make for memorable illustrations, and help transition us to consider more important things. But only one bit of information and only one Individual makes any real difference.

It’s not Ty Cobb who must be known – it’s Jesus! Jesus, Name above all names. Jesus, who said of Himself “I am the way, the truth, and the life, no man cometh unto the father but by me.” Jesus, supernatural birth, sinless life, sacrificial death, and glorious, bodily resurrection, all to save people from their sins. Jesus, of whom it was said: “Neither is there salvation in any other, for there is none other name under heaven, given among men, whereby we must be saved.”

If Ty Cobb remains unknown except for a small group of baseball aficionados and historians, it will make virtually no difference. But if Jesus is not known – and received – there are eternal consequences. He tells us to go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. His name is to be proclaimed in all the earth.

Last, but certainly not least: we must clearly and accurately communicate the message. If indeed historians have missed the boat on what kind of person Ty Cobb was – intentionally or accidentally – that is sad, to be sure. However to miss the message of Jesus, or to transmit or receive a distorted message, is tragic.

There are still hundreds of millions of people who are not only unreached with the gospel – the only message that can save them, remember – but are still unengaged in the sense that no believer or group of believers is plotting a strategy to engage them with the gospel. There remain some 1,600 languages and dialects that do not have even a portion of the Bible. Thankfully, major efforts are underway to change that and get the Word to them in their tongue.

Ty Cobb was a great baseball player and a complicated person and while it is interesting to know who he really was and what he accomplished, that knowledge holds temporal importance. The same cannot be said about the most significant person to walk the face of the earth – Jesus Christ. We are to know Him and to make Him known to the uttermost ends of the earth. We should proclaim the Good News about Jesus with clarity, accuracy, and consistency. There is nothing more eternally significant than this.

Steve Lytle

Steve and his wife Judy have spent the majority of their ministry in Panama with Free Will Baptist International Missions. They recently retired and are hard at work serving the Lord locally. Steve is serving the elder generation of Cofer's Chapel mainly, but is also involved in visiting sick, hospitalized, and shut-ins of any generation at our church. Steve is also heavily involved in the church's Hispanic ministry as teacher and translator.

5 thoughts on “You Don’t Know Who Ty Cobb Was?

  • May 9, 2018 at 12:12 pm
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    This is great!

    This further shows the importance of the careful and precise way the Bible has been translated and passed down from generation to generation. Believers did not allow the message of Scripture to become corrupted by adding or taking away from it. The preserved it and for that we should be thankful.

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    • May 9, 2018 at 6:28 pm
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      You are right, Phill. Accurate transmission of the message, with truth and thoroughness, is vital. The consequences of not doing that, as in the,case of Cobb, are sad. Thankfully with Scripture God supernaturally preserved His Word, though people have corrupted it with false teachings.

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  • May 9, 2018 at 6:07 pm
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    I think another takeaway from this (and where I thought you might be headed before I reached the conclusion), is that we need to be careful in how we conduct ourselves and not give people ammunition to portray us in an inaccurate light. With all of the recent occasions that we’ve seen where people are “uncovering” or “newly remembering” some questionable comments or actions that historical figures may or may not have participated in, along with the increasing ability to share offhanded comments around the world via social media, it’s important that we don’t let comments of the type that (could have) defined Ty Cobb (or former Red Sox owner Tom Yawkey, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/26/sports/baseball/yawkey-way-name-change.html, or anyone else inside or outside of baseball) have an outsized effect on defining us.

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  • May 9, 2018 at 6:23 pm
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    You make a valuable and extremly important point, Marcus, one that needs to be emphasized and reemphasized. Thanks for bringing it to our attention.

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  • May 15, 2018 at 8:58 am
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    I have to admit, as much as I love the Ken Burns’ “Baseball” series, it bothers me that he didn’t do his own research on Cobb and just went with what was the popular narrative at the time. Makes me wonder how many other things he missed by just repeating the accepted storyline.

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