I saw the other day that a Ty Cobb baseball card sold for $432,000, an amount described as the largest-ever amount paid for a baseball card.
It was a 1915 Cracker Jack card showing a scowling Cobb, giving the same look he no doubt gave opposing pitchers during his raucous playing days a century ago.
The sale price easily eclipsed that of the other two highest-priced cards – a 1933 Babe Ruth and a 1952 Mickey Mantle. (Yes, I had a 1952 Mickey Mantle; my mother threw it out when she decided I had outgrown such things.)
By coincidence, I had just visited the Ty Cobb Museum in Royston, Ga., where Cobb grew up as a mean-spirited baseball phenom, then grew old as a beloved philanthropist.
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The museum visit was payback, of sorts, from my bride during a four-day camping trip to northern Georgia.
I had accompanied her to the Clarkesville, Ga., church where Barbara Brown Taylor, one of her favorite writers, once served as pastor.
The small church, Grace Calvary Episcopal, was built in 1838. It features box pews and a balcony that still houses the same pipe organ that was built in 1848. Pretty cool.
But on to Ty Cobb.
I’ve never been a big fan, but I’ve certainly known about Cobb since I was a grade-school shortstop.
His statistics still amaze. A lifetime batting average of .366 remains the highest in baseball history.
He held a record 12 batting titles during the so-called Dead Ball era and scored a major-league record 2,245 runs – 55 of them by stealing home.
Cobb still holds the all-time American League record with 4,191 base hits, second in the majors to Pete Rose’s 4,256.
He was also the first player voted in to the new Baseball Hall of Fame in 1936.
Cobb was a contemporary of South Carolina’s No. 1 baseball hero, Shoeless Joe Jackson – and in more ways than one.
Jackson was born in 1887, Cobb in 1886.
Jackson grew up in Pelzer, S.C., just 50 miles from Cobb’s Royston.
And Jackson, whose career was cut short by the Chicago Black Sox scandal, still has the third-highest lifetime batting average behind Cobb, .356. (Rogers Hornsby’s .358 was second.)
The Ty Cobb Museum offered a ton of highlights about his career, including a film, but with little or no mention of his reputation for rough play, his hair-trigger temper, his racial intolerance.
In later years, however, Cobb mellowed and became an ardent supporter of baseball desegregation.
He had become a rich man because of his investments in CocaCola and United Motors, which later merged with General Motors, and was worth about $12 million when he died in 1961 (about $94 million today).
About a quarter of his estate was donated to create a Ty Cobb Educational Foundation. As of June 2015, it had given almost $16 million in scholarships to more than 9,000 recipients.
In addition, Cobb donated money in 1950 to establish a hospital in Royston. Today the Ty Cobb HealthCare System has hospitals and health centers serving several small communities in northern Georgia.
I may not have been much of a fan before visiting the museum, but I guess I am now. Clearly, there was more to Ty Cobb than met the eye of sportswriters.
Contact Bob Bestler at firstname.lastname@example.org.