[Plea from the author: please read this article and share it far and wide. An injustice needs to be corrected.]
How old were you when you learned that you can’t believe everything that you read?
I mean, you always heard the cliché, even when small. “Don’t judge a book by it’s cover,” says Aesop. But like all clichés, they go in one ear and out the other. They’re not really real.
But how old were you when you read something that you later learned to be a flat-out lie?
The written word is a neat thing. Its permanence, plus the comfort a reader gets from knowing that an author was willing to sit down and thoughtfully record his thoughts, opinions, and knowledge for future generations, makes it feel inherently trustworthy. How could somebody put something in writing that they did not believe to be true?
Written falsehoods are jarring, when discovered. The reader feels betrayed. The inherent trust in what he has previously read has been shattered. The reader becomes jaded, and begins reading with a more critical eye. How do I know this is true?, I wonder when I read that there is a jellyfish that is quite literally immortal.
And so we begin perusing multiple sources to obtain our “facts”. If we are smart, we expose ourselves to sources contrary to our currently held opinions, in order to educate ourselves.
But it is still jarring, and a feeling of betrayal, and even guilt, when one learns that one has believed a lie due to the malicious intent of a person with the bravery to publish and propagate their lie for personal gain.
That should be almost every baseball fan’s feeling when reading this article about Ty Cobb (read this link after reading this post)
Ty Cobb, the first man elected into the Baseball Hall of Fame, was a colossal player, and a good man.
What? A good man? Hah! This is the man who:
- Bragged about killing a man with his bare hands
- Hated black people, and went out of his way to hurt them
- Sharpened his spikes and then intentionally spiked players when sliding into a base
- Had it said about him in Kevin Costner’s Field of Dreams by the character of Shoeless Joe Jackson: “Nobody liked that son of a bitch.”
- Had no attendees at his funeral
Yeah, that guy.
See, all of those things are based on a bald-faced lie. A lie written by an already-discredited newspaperman named Al Stump who recognized that sensationalism sells books.
When he took it upon himself to write the biography of Cobb, he lied about spending time with Cobb during his later years. He lied about the racism (Cobb’s family had a history of arguing for equality), he lied about the funeral (well attended by hundreds of fans and former players), he lied about the murder (no body, no victim), he lied about spiking players (Cobb’s opponents attested that he was a gentleman and this never happened).
Why did Stump lie? Money. And because he could. There was no internet to easily disprove his claims, and people (as we see these days) love to be outraged over successful people doing terrible (or even mildly distasteful) things.
Stumps lies were propagated by a legion of lazy historians for decades, to the point where, when Ken Burns made his famous “Baseball” ten-part documentary, the section on Cobb was no more than a regurgitation of Stump’s claims, which Burns took as gospel since they were repeated by so many other so-called historians.
A flat lie, and with a bit of legwork, all of Stump’s nonsense has been easily refuted.
Ty Cobb was a decent human being by the measures of the day. Instead of being honored as, “He’s one of the greatest ballplayers of all time, but…..”, he should be honered as, “He’s one of the greatest ballplayers of all time, period.”
Unfortunately, I still read baseball fans refer to Cobb more for his comically-villainous nature than for his setting the original gold standard for modern baseball greatness. And so I want to share the article above (go read it now. It’s long, but will change your perspective on baseball, and hopefully move you to read the news with a more jaundiced eye.