“Heart of a Tiger” by Herschel Cobb is a book about the summers spent by the author with his grandfather Ty Cobb at his home in Lake Tahoe in the 1950s and 1960s. The purpose of the book was to give another viewpoint of Ty Cobb, one of the greatest baseball players to ever play the game. With a major league record career batting average of .367 the Hall of Famer spent 24 seasons in the major league, mostly with the Tigers, retiring in 1928. Ty was know for his tough, mean-spirited play, keeping his spikes high as he came into bases. However, the book describes Herschel being shown Ty’s legs which were badly scarred by infielders cleating him for stealing so many bases. Ty claimed he had to have his cleats high as a defense and the game was played like that in the early days.
Ty’s hyper-competitive ways and hostile temper (attributed by Cobb to his abuse by veteran players early on jealous of the young prospect) made him unpopular among many of his fellow players although he had many good friends. He also had a drinking problem and these combined to give Ty a reputation as a disreputable person among some, although greatly respected for his baseball talent.
Herschel paints a different picture of his grandfather. Herschel had been raised by an emotional and physically abusive Father and indifferent Mother and it was his grandfather’s love and guidance that kept him from mental/emotional problems that might have resulted from the abuse. Along the way we learn of Ty’s generosity by helping old ballplayers who were broke, giving them cash, and how he established and helped fund the Cobb Educational Fund which awarded scholarships to needy Georgia students bound for college. Cobb, from Georgia, had invested heavily in Coca-Cola stock during its early years and this led to a small fortune. Cobb was a loving but demanding Father to his own children, expecting his sons to be exceptional athletes in general and baseball players in particular. This led to estrangement between Ty and his sons and he seemed to have much regret over the mistakes he had made with them which led to his more loving embrace of his grandchildren.
The book presents both sides of Ty, the loving grandfather and glimpses that Ty occasionally shows of his less attractive side. The book does have too much information on mundane details of Herschel’s time at the lake and pretty much the whole first half of the book is more about Herschel than Ty, setting up his abuse to contrast it later with his loving grandfather. This make it a slow read through the first half. The second half gets more into Ty and unique glimpses into his character. There is Ty’s view on base running (he has the fourth most steals in baseball history), his relationship with Babe Ruth, the players who he thought were the best players and which players were his friends or foes. One touching episode shows Herschel helping Ty carefully and generously sending signed autographed pictures and balls to many little leaguers that requested them. Throughout his hatred of losing and competitiveness comes through. At the same time Ty teaches his grandchildren lessons of trust, humility, inner-strength and love.
While not a biography, this is an important book on the great Ty Cobb that will be enjoyed by anyone with an interest in Ty or baseball.