There are players where it’s almost impossible to see them as anything but legendary: Ted Williams, Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig. Even in their flaws, they’re almost more than human; Babe Ruth’s love of excess and Ted Williams’ temper.
There is one player who goes beyond legend though, in every way. Ty Cobb set almost 120 records, plenty of which are still unbroken almost a century later. He was the best at bat. He was the best on base. He was the best in the field. He was ferocious, relentless, fearless, untiring, unwavering and almost unbeatable for the 20 some odd years he played baseball. Even in his twilight years, he was one of the top players.
He was also the most vicious, vile men to play the game. He never stopped fighting the umpires, the other players, the owners, the fans. He beat one fan brutally, despite the fact that the man had no hands. He took on three muggers single-handedly and beat one to death with his pistol. He hated African-Americans. He railed against integration. He beat one black groundskeeper and then, when the man’s wife intervened, he beat her too.
There is no way to measure the amount of contempt and admiration he managed to garner during and after his career. He spiked other players and spiked the umpires. He stole home 35 times, a record that hasn’t even been approached. He was sneaky and underhanded. He was a master tactician. He would play so hard that he would bleed and then he would play some more.
He was, with no exaggeration or hyperbole, the greatest baseball player to ever play in the major leagues. He was also, once again with no exaggeration or hyperbole, one the worst human beings to ever play the game.
It is my belief that an angel was ejected from Heaven and sent to Hell, but, on the way down, he decided to play some ball.