"The most popular unpopular man in baseball": baseball fans and Ty Cobb in the early 20th century.
|Abstract:||This essay deciphers the complexities of early twentieth century American male sports spectator behavior by examining how baseball fans responded to one of the most controversial athletes of the early 20th century--Ty Cobb. By exploring the ways in which fans interpreted Cobb's fierce style of play, this essay argues baseball fans were active agents in the early stages of the emerging mass culture. Though they went to the ballpark for escape and release, fans responded to events on the field in ways that gave these events personal meaning. By cheering and booing, that is to say endorsing some behaviors and censuring others, early 20th century baseball fans projected their collective concerns about changing conceptions of masculinity onto the ball field. Specifically, they looked to stars like Cobb for evidence of ideal manhood. By their active participation in the game, fans tested Cobb, challenging him to display those attributes of manhood that they valued the most--especially that quality of manhood that they called nerve. More times than not, Cobb succeeded and thus became their hero--the personification of their hopes and dreams amidst the changing conceptions of manhood in the early 20th century.|
Baseball players (Public opinion)
Baseball fans (Behavior)
Baseball (Professional) (Fans)
Baseball (Professional) (Behavior)
|Publication:||Name: Journal of Social History Publisher: Journal of Social History Audience: Academic Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: History; Sociology and social work Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2009 Journal of Social History ISSN: 0022-4529|
|Issue:||Date: Fall, 2009 Source Volume: 43 Source Issue: 1|
|Topic:||Event Code: 290 Public affairs|
|Product:||Product Code: 7941010 Professional Baseball NAICS Code: 711211 Sports Teams and Clubs SIC Code: 7941 Sports clubs, managers, & promoters|
|Persons:||Named Person: Cobb, Ty (American baseball player); Cobb, Ty (American baseball player)|
|Geographic:||Geographic Scope: United States Geographic Code: 1USA United States|
With two weeks remaining in the 1915 season, the second place
Detroit Tigers arrived in Boston for a crucial four game series against
the first place Red Sox. Though the Red Sox led by only a single game,
Boston fans were wild with excitement, hoping that their team would take
the series and thus build an insurmountable lead heading into the final
games of the season. The stadium was packed and overflowing for the
first game as Boston fans came to cheer for their Red Sox and boo the
hated Tigers. And boo they did, directing much of their verbiage at Ty
Cobb, the Tigers' star outfielder and the league's best
player. Throughout the contest, fans razzed Cobb, hoping to disrupt his
concentration, if not break his nerve completely. They should have known
better. A popular target of scorn during his decade in baseball, Cobb
was used to the fans' wrath and often boasted that a loud and
hostile crowd motivated him to play better. True to form in this
contest, Cobb drove in the first run and scored the second as the Tigers
won easily, 6 to 1. It was vintage Cobb. He even displayed his infamous
temper, defiantly throwing his bat at a Boston reliever in the 8th
inning after the pitcher hurled two balls near his head. Fans were
furious. After the game, several hundred swarmed onto the field and
surrounded Cobb as he walked from the outfield to the clubhouse. Those
who could get close enough shouldered and taunted him. Others contented
themselves by shouting obscenities and throwing wads of paper into the
mass of humanity that encircled him. They dispersed only after police
arrived to escort Cobb to the clubhouse. Throughout the tumult, Cobb
walked steadily on, occasionally returning shoves with a stiff shoulder
of his own. Cobb had experienced this sort of thing before. This was
just another day at the ballpark for him. (1)
Writing about the Great Depression, the late Lawrence Levine observed that cultural historians could learn a great deal about the sensibilities of the American people during this era by examining comedic movies to explain "why they laughed at what they did." Laughter, as Levine suggests, did not reflect audience passivity but engagement and agency. According to Levine, filmgoers imposed meanings that were often at variance with what the filmmakers may have intended. Ultimately, audiences helped shape Depression-era culture, no less than the so-called producers themselves. Indeed, Levine suggests that much of the popular culture of the Great Depression emerged from the give-and-take relationship of producers and audiences. (2)
Historically, American sports fans have not demonstrated much of a tendency to laugh, but they have done a great deal of cheering and booing. And when they have, their actions may have been just as pregnant with meaning as the guffaws of movie-goers. Clifford Geertz's observation that people often reveal the most about themselves when consumed by some popular obsession seems especially apropos for early 20th century American baseball fans who demonstrated their devotion to the game by loud, raucous, and spontaneous overtures. And thanks to an attentive media--first sportswriters and later radio and television commentators--we know what sorts of behaviors inspired fans to respond as they did. Yet historians have rarely and only haphazardly examined the cultural and social contexts behind fan reactions to events on the field. Most commonly when historians have recorded fan behavior, they have done so only to illustrate the relative popularity of a specific player, team, or sporting event or to suggest the diverse meanings that fans absorbed from watching the game. (3) Lost in such presentations is the dynamic interplay that occurred between players and fans and the ways in which fans tried to use their collective enthusiasm to affect outcomes and shape the emerging spectator culture. Even those who have employed Clifford Geertz's use of "deep play" to explain the popularity of certain sports have paid little attention to fans' behavior at these sporting events, though this was a central part of Geertz's famous study of Balinese cock fighting. (4)
The intent of this essay is to decipher some of the complexities of sports spectator behavior by examining how early 20th century baseball fans responded to one of the most controversial athletes of the early 20th century--Ty Cobb. As this essay suggests, first by looking at the ways in which fans interpreted Cobb's style of play generally and then by examining fan reactions to some of the more controversial incidents in Cobb's career, baseball fans were active agents in the early stages of the emerging mass culture. They may have gone to the ballpark for escape and release, but they responded to plays on the field in ways that gave these events personal meaning. In this sense, they acted as both consumers and producers. By cheering and booing, that is to say endorsing some behaviors and censuring others, early 20th century baseball fans projected their collective concerns about changing conceptions of masculinity onto the ball field. Specifically, they looked to stars like Cobb for evidence of ideal manhood. By their active participation in the game, fans tested Cobb, challenging him to display those attributes of manhood that they valued the most--especially that quality of manhood that they called nerve. More times than not, Cobb succeeded and thus became their hero--the personification of their hopes and dreams amidst the changing conceptions of manhood in the early 20th century.
Cobb lends himself to a study of this type because of the intensity with which fans responded to him. Few athletes of the last century have generated as much debate as Cobb. Although Cobb was one of the greatest hitters and base runners in the history of baseball, (5) we remember him as a ruthless and self-absorbed player whose viciousness and obsession with being the best made him virtually friendless, both on and off the field. He is often characterized as the first of the brutish egomaniacal athletes--a star who, despite his moral failings, was granted considerable license simply because he was the best of his era. Though a few substantive biographies have tried to soften Cobb's image by emphasizing the hardships he faced when he first came up to the major leagues--including the efforts of teammates to ostracize him and the shooting death of his father by his mother under very suspicious circumstances--general histories of the game still portray him as "despicable," "ruthless," and "bordering on the abnormal." (6) Small wonder that in 2001, the editorial staff of ESPN.com and a subsequent readers' poll by the same e-journal ranked Cobb as the "least likable ballplayer" of all-time, beating out more recent scoundrels as John Rocker, O.J. Simpson, Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds, and Pete Rose. Eighty years after his retirement and nearly fifty years after his death, Cobb's name continues to be associated in the popular imagination with the worst that sport has to offer. (7)
For their part, fans were often brutally hostile to Cobb, hurling invectives and objects as he patrolled the outfield, usually in response to what they perceived to be his most recent misdeed. Many fans loved to see him fail. Cobb's reception at a game in Boston in 1911 was typical. Early in the game, Cobb took a long lead at first base after receiving a base on balls from Boston pitcher Larry Pape. Cobb made a few breaks to second, only to be rushed back by Pape's quick pick-off throws. As the drama unfolded, fans along the first base line began to chide Cobb, daring him to make a run for second while simultaneously encouraging the Boston pitcher to keep trying to pick Cobb off. After a dozen attempts, the pitcher finally caught Cobb leaning the wrong way. With a quick snap throw, Pape nailed Cobb "like a rat in a trap," according to one sports writer. Once the umpire yelled, "He's out!," the crowd "broke loose" in a chorus of "jeers and sneers." Later Cobb tried to steal second base again, only to be cut down by a near perfect throw from Boston catcher Bill Carrigan. Though the Tigers eventually won the game, the journalist noted, "the fans went home happy" for "Ty Cobb, the most feared base runner in Major League baseball, had been twice caught attempting to steal second. That was enough for the fans, what matter if the Tigers did win." In fact, they may have felt particularly satisfied in contributing to Cobb's bad day by daring him to take such foolish chances. (9)
Yet Cobb was more than just a favorite target for derision and scorn. He was, in fact, a sports celebrity. Luminaries from all walks of life--politics, theater opera--lobbied to be seen with him. Sports writers constantly remarked on Cobb's fame. At the height of his career, The Sporting News, the so-called "Bible of Baseball," observed that Cobb "has attracted considerable attention in this and other American League cities, not to mention every hamlet in the country, as a player extraordinary. As they say of the after dinner speakers when introducing them--"he needs no introduction." Baseball Magazine, a second leading sports journal of the day, was even more effusive. In a 1916 piece, the journal christened Cobb "the national Hero of the diamond, as well-known throughout the United States as the president himself." And Sporting Life, the third leading sports journal of the age, called Cobb "the greatest press agent in the game. There is no one engaged in entertaining the public as widely advertised as he is." People who "care little for baseball and many who have no particular interest in any team go to the park when Detroit plays for no other reason than to see Tyrus perform." Observers agreed that he was the greatest draw of his age, increasing attendance by as much as ten to twenty percent for an average league game. Cobb's fame in the 1910s was such that the Tigers--perennial also-rans most years--regularly outdrew such pennant contenders as Philadelphia and Boston on the road. Even J.G. Taylor Spink, editor of the Sporting News and a longtime critic of Cobb, appreciated Cobb's value to the popularity of professional baseball. Summarizing Cobb's influence on the game as his career ended, Spink observed that Cobb "built up the American League in its earlier days when the league struggled with the pertinacity of a healthy infant that will kick in its crib and yowl for more experience." He was "a greater factor for arousing the baseball sentiment of the populace than any ball player of the league." Or as a writer for the Detroit News offered, "only the peerless Tyrus knows when, where, and how to set America agog." (10)
Though fans often responded negatively toward Cobb, most were not necessarily predisposed to boo him in all situations. The same writer who observed Cobb's reception in Boston after being thrown out twice in one game also noted that "there is not a fan in the country who will not cheer a player who has successfully stolen a base and at the same time yell his lungs out cheering the catcher who caught a daring base runner." Such was the nature of the fans' behavior toward Cobb--often hostile, but deeply appreciative of his skills as a player and fascinated by the daring that he brought to the game. Indeed, several times in Cobb's career, he won over sniping fans by the quality of his play. The day after Cobb was mobbed by irate Boston fans amidst the 1915 pennant race, for example, he received "tremendous applause" and a standing ovation from the crowd after hitting a home run. Though one scribe noted that the "conflict was fought as bitterly" as the previous game, on this day Boston fans gave Cobb his due because they recognized, as the writer put it, "Cobb's worth as a player." (11)
Such appreciative responses may reveal a distinctive spectator ethic at work. According to sports historian Allen Guttmann, late nineteenth-century civic leaders tried to impose an "ethos of fair play" upon sports fans for fear fan conduct might get out of hand if passions were allowed to reign unchecked. According to Guttmann this ethos encouraged spectators to respect opponents and to control their expressions of passion for the game. Though civic leaders and baseball management tried various efforts to curb rowdy behavior at sporting events, fans likely fashioned this ethos for themselves, seeing in it an extension of their own ideals of mutualism and reciprocity, manly bearing, and honor. Examples of this ethos predate and lie outside civic leaders' efforts to discipline spectators. For example, just moments after losing the heavyweight title, a sport shunned by polite society, John L. Sullivan stood at center ring and praised the man who had humiliated him, James Corbett. This was the ethic of sports aficionados of the turn-of-the-century: to give no quarter in a contest, but to graciously recognize the brilliance of one's adversary if he shows himself to be worthy. As a St. Louis sportswriter observed after watching Cobb win over a hostile crowd in a 1909 series, "merit wins its reward whether you are on a home team or on the visitors' cohorts." This same appreciation for excellence apparently motivated a Senators' fan to stand just before Cobb took his last at bat of the year in Washington's American League Park and announce, "Ladies and Gentlemen. This is positively the last appearance this season on Washington grounds of the Great and Only. Here's hoping he makes a hit." Two weeks later when Cobb made his final appearance in Boston, fans again "cheered heartily" for him in honor of his fine year. (12)
Following this understanding of sports spectatorship, fans' passions often careened between booing and cheering. Fan response was especially volatile toward Cobb because of the many dramatic moments that he created on the field through his audacious style of play and uneven disposition. At any given moment, he might perform a wondrous feat, the likes of which fans had never seen before, or viciously slash a favorite local player in a desperate--perhaps even foolhardy--effort to take an extra base. Yet there was often more to it than that. Because he played with such reckless abandon, Cobb came to represent a sort of raw manhood to sports spectators of the era. Thus when fans tried to incite Cobb by their booing and cheering, they were in some sense testing and exploring not only Cobb's manhood, but perhaps their own. (13) As numerous historians have observed, issues of masculinity were a matter of extreme importance to early twentieth century men, especially men of the new middle-class who were baseball's most ardent fans. They were after all in a period of profound transition. Raised in the late Victorian era, they were taught a masculine ideal that emphasized independence, assertiveness, decisiveness, and physicality. Yet the world they lived in seemed to have little regard for such qualities. Instead, the modern city and corporation encouraged compatibility, cooperation, and compromise. Fine personality traits to be sure, but was there no way for men to still behave as men, to prove themselves as their fathers had done? Was it even possible for men to retain anything like the traditional attributes of manliness in this new environment?
The ballpark proved to be an ideal environment for men to explore these issues. The park was quintessentially a man's world. The park allowed--and often encouraged--its male patrons to act in ways that were now prohibited in virtually all other forms of public amusements, including theaters and vaudeville houses. At the park, men were free to gamble, drink beer, spit, swear, cheer raucously, and hurl seat cushions, wads of paper, fruit, and other such projectiles at umpires and opposing players. For these reasons, women rarely attended ballparks in the first decades of the twentieth century, despite efforts by civic leaders and baseball management to lure them in. (14)
An easy familiarity informed fans' behavior toward the players and umpires. Ballplayers may have been the fans' heroes, but they were also their neighbors. Most players lived in the same neighborhoods as their fans. They rode streetcars to and from the park with them. Sometimes after a game they stopped for a beer and conversation at a neighborhood bar where they talked over the game with their adoring public. During the off season players often found employment in fields similar to their fans. Ty Cobb managed a car dealership and took care of the family farm until wise investments in General Motors and Coca-Cola made him a wealthy man. His teammate Sam Crawford cut hair in his hometown. Another teammate, Davy Jones, owned a drug store. His manager, Huey Jennings, practiced law. (15)
The physical environment of the ballpark contributed to the informal rapport between players and fans. Built small and compact, the park encouraged an intimate relationship between fans and players. Grandstands were close to the field. When games were sold out, fans stood along the foul lines and deep in the outfield where they often stood just a few feet from the players. The protagonists had few secrets in this environment: fans in the grandstands could register on many of the grunts and expletives that players expressed during the course of the game while players could hear nearly every comment fans hurled their way. Verbal exchanges between players and fans were common. Far more than the modern stadium, players and fans participated in a common decidedly male culture of bravado and bluster.
At the same time, the ballpark did not allow the more immoral aspects of some other exclusively male denizens of leisure--namely saloons, dives, and whore houses. Prostitutes were not allowed to ply their trade at the ballpark. And at twenty-five cents a ticket, most lower-class men--popularly associated with crime and dissolution--could not afford the price of grandstand seats. Those lower-class men who did attend games usually sat in a small section of cheap seats--sun-bleached benches, or "bleachers,"--in one corner of the outfield. (16) No doubt the very homogeneity of the general seating in the grandstands was itself liberating for middle-class spectators. Here they acted out their manhood in ways that they themselves would probably not have found acceptable beyond the gates of the ballpark. Here they were free to explore in overt performances of raucous manhood. (17) According to Albert Spalding, whose annual baseball yearbook became a staple of the sport's devotees, baseball was unique because "it is the only form of field sport known where spectators have an important part and actually participate in the game. ... His words of encouragement to the home team, his shouts of derision to the opposing players, find sympathetic responses in the hearts of all present." Thirty years later, The Sporting News made a similar observation: "The baseball fan is a peculiar creature. We believe no one will question that fact. He deems it his inalienable right and privilege to criticize and jeer, in words that not always are the choicest or the most gentlemanly. Not even a Ted Williams or a Joe DiMaggio or a Babe Ruth is immune." (18)
Whether baseball fans were as unique as such commentators suggested is immaterial. What is significant is that fans believed their behavior mattered. Equally important, early 20th-century baseball culture tacitly encouraged fans to bait and harass players. Those who conclude that Cobb was unpopular because he was booed have largely failed to consider the historical context in which such booing occurred. Fans often booed because they hoped to increase the dramatic moment. Thus New York American sports reporter C.E. Van Loan was only half right when he suggested that what drew baseball fans to ball games was not the science of the game or their knowledge of "inside baseball, but the melodramatic moments in which a star performer delivers in the clutch." Fans certainly loved such moments, but only because they helped to create the melodrama by their rabid participation. (19)
In such an environment, sports fans must have had a difficult time ignoring issues of masculinity when watching Cobb. If gender is a kind of performance as some cultural anthropologists suggest, Cobb offered observers a great deal to think about. (20) Everything he did seemed to defy the stultifying and emasculating conventions of the day. Scientific management and bureaucratic rationalization required predictability and systemization of human behavior; Cobb mastered the art of the unexpected and thrived on risk-taking. Corporate America encouraged middle-class managers, clerks, and functionaries to be agreeable, well-liked, and emotionally restrained; Cobb was often surly, combative, and prone to mercurial mood swings. Society encouraged men to take up sports that encouraged collaboration, selflessness, and specialization--skills that converged with the new economic order; Cobb often chose to act alone and in open defiance of managers, owners, and sometimes even his teammates. To a large extent, Cobb represented the inversion of the very values that were becoming identified with the urban middle class. Thus it is not too much of a stretch to suggest that fans found in Cobb the embodiment of their stifled frustrations and unspoken desires. (21)
Yet Cobb performed these feats in the world of commercialized sports--a world that was entwined with the same modernizing processes as the workplaces of many baseball fans. Like them, Cobb often confronted an impersonal and often unwieldy hierarchical power structure, intense scrutiny by superiors and customers alike, and daily statistical assessments of his productivity. Through his many deeds and his confident and bold demeanor, Cobb demonstrated that contemporary males could live with the modern world and still be men. That Cobb performed some of his most daring deeds--stealing home, running from first to third on an infield out or from second to home on a pop fly--against the combined efforts of the opposing team (a metaphor for the modern corporation?) added to this presentation.
One incident, in particular, reveals how fans used their dynamic relationship with Cobb to explore their concerns about manhood in the modern world--his infamous spiking of Philadelphia Athletics third baseman Frank Baker. The incident unfolded within the context of a heated championship race between Philadelphia and Detroit late in the 1909 season. In the last week of August, the Athletics visited Detroit for a crucial series. Though the American League was less than a decade old, the two teams had already become bitter rivals. And Cobb was at the center of the rivalry. His aggressive base stealing and bullying demeanor irked the Athletics, who tended to follow the more conservative manners of their manager, the reserved and gentlemanly Cornelius Alexander McGillicuddy, or "Connie Mack," as he was more commonly known. Since the beginning of the season, teams had accused Cobb of intentionally hurting opposing players as he ran the bases. Now, just before the first game of this important series, the Athletics claimed that they had overheard Cobb boast that he intended to take out each Athletics infielder with hard slides and sharp spikes. (22) Coincidence or not, in the first inning of the first game Cobb spiked Frank Baker's left arm as he tried to steal third. Though the resulting wound was not serious enough for Baker to leave the game, the Athletics denounced Cobb, claiming that he had deliberately tried to disable the third baseman. Even the normally reticent Connie Mack said it was "just Cobb's nature to act mean on the ball field." He promised to make a formal complaint to the league and suggested that Cobb should be arrested for assault. (23)
Meanwhile in Philadelphia, the city's dailies tried to outdo one another in their support of the Athletics by denouncing Cobb. The day after the incident, the Philadelphia Inquirer condemned Cobb's action on its editorial page. A few days later, the paper's sports columnist, "The Old Sport," wrote the first of a series of editorials denouncing Cobb's "brutality." According to "Old Sport," Cobb possessed "homicidal instincts" that he selectively unleashed against those players who were most likely to give Detroit trouble in their fight for the pennant. Other journalists were not as scathing as those employed by The Inquirer, but still found opportunity to denounce Cobb. The Philadelphia correspondent to The Sporting News suggested that if justice were served, the pennant race would be between Philadelphia and Boston. A Detroit pennant would be bad for baseball, the writer suggested, because the Tigers "resort to foul means to win games." With a rematch scheduled in Philadelphia for mid-September, the writer even offered a veiled threat, advising Cobb and the Tigers to behave "mighty well" when they came to town. Meanwhile, the Evening Bulletin noted that fans were "very much wrought up over the Cobb incident" as "all kinds of stories are being flooded ... some of which would appear to make Cobb the lowest kind of murderer ..." Only the more staid Philadelphia Press tried to quell animosity between the two teams, suggesting that true fans would forget the Cobb incident and concentrate on the game itself. "Games are never won by showing animosity towards a player, no matter what his character," the newspaper counseled. (24)
The spiteful language of Philadelphia's newspapers apparently encouraged a handful of fans to consider taking matters into their own hands. As the rematch approached, Cobb received over a dozen "Black Hand" letters threatening him with bodily harm if he played in the series. One assured Cobb that he would "get shot in Philadelphia;" another warned him that he would be mobbed if he ventured onto the streets alone. (25) Anti-Cobb sentiment intensified as the series began. From the moment the Tigers arrived in the City of Brotherly Love on September 16th, fans hounded and harassed Cobb so much so that Philadelphia's police commissioner arranged a special police escort to protect Cobb as he traveled to and from the ballpark. Meanwhile, attendance at each game broke league records, a testament--at least in part--to how eager fans were to harass Cobb. Excited fans came to the park early so that they could claim a spot near Cobb's right field position where they would have near unobstructed access to him. Many fans brought noise makers to annoy the Georgian. To protect Cobb, Athletics officials employed nearly three hundred off-duty policemen to patrol the stands and suspended the sale of bottled beverages at the park lest fans be tempted to use these as missiles. (26) The extra security helped, but only to a point. During the first game no one threw any dangerous projectiles at Cobb, but fans did toss their straw hats and seat cushions at him. And after the game, a groundswell of fans overwhelmed security and rushed toward Cobb. Though no one touched him, some jeered as he walked back to the clubhouse.
If Philadelphia fans' intentions were obvious--to unnerve Cobb so that he would play poorly--the full significance of their efforts can only be understood within the cultural context of the era. To unnerve someone meant far more to early 20th century Americans than it might to us today. At that time Americans were obsessed with nerves and nervousness. They believed that nerve was an essential attribute of masculine behavior that was very much in danger. Leading scientists of the day counseled that the human nervous system could not cope with the growing complexities of modern urban-industrial life. The concern was especially poignant for middle-class men who suspected that their status at the forefront of economic change made them particularly vulnerable. Americans' obsession with nerve took form in a disease, neurasthenia, defined as the exhaustion of the central nervous system. Scientific explanations of neurasthenia went something like this: the human body was a closed system that contained a finite amount of energy or "nerve force;" as the individual used up his allotment, he might suffer from any number of symptoms, including blurred vision, headaches, insomnia, depression, nervousness, loss of appetite, and constant illness. Without proper care, these symptoms might ultimately lead to complete exhaustion and collapse. And indeed, by the end of the century, neurasthenia had reached near-epidemic proportions, especially among middle and upper class males.
The medical community was certain that the rigors of modern urban life caused the increase in cases of neurasthenia. The competitive nature of the expanding market economy, the monotony and repression of emotion that accompanied the rise of corporate America, the quickening pace of mass communication, the peculiar strain of over-use of the brain, the over-stimulation of urban life, indeed the very din of city living--all these basic features of bourgeois American culture could produce a malfunction of bodily physics that would destroy the individual's ability to live within the very world he helped create. Most doctors recommended complete rest for several weeks and even months. Once restored, the individual was then advised to avoid all the sources of nervous depletion that had created the condition in the first place. Obviously, this was a cure that most men could neither financially nor psychologically afford. (27)
Many were convinced that the neurological vulnerability of middle and upper class men was a significant problem for American society at large. Whereas previous generations of American men had won wars, settled a continent, and established a nation, the present generation seemed fragile, listless, and perhaps even effeminate. How could America's favored sons hold their own against the swarming hordes of immigrants and the growing assertiveness of women at home and the emerging imperial powers abroad if they could not endure the daily responsibilities of modern civilization? Many Victorians believed embracing sport might encourage men to regain their lost vigor, stamina, and lighting spirit. Middle and upper-class men were especially drawn to vigorous physical exercise as a way to prove their manhood both to themselves and to others. Football and prize lighting became especially popular among the upper classes because both required stamina, strength, tolerance for pain, a martial spirit, and raw cunning. (28)
And then there was baseball. Though historians of American sports have paid less attention to baseballs place in the "strenuous life," it, no less than football and prizefighting, possessed qualities that men might use to prove their masculinity. As America's emerging national game, baseball was swept into the nation's obsession with nerve. By some accounts, baseball was all about nerve. Popular psychologist H. Addington Bruce recommended baseball to all young boys because it would help them to learn to think quickly under pressure, an essential skill in the "serious business of life." Recreation advocate Henry S. Curtis suggested that baseball, "perhaps more than any other game, trains in quickness of thought, in ready response to condition, in ability to grasp a situation and take immediate advantage of it." Playing ball on an organized team, Curtis suggested, was perhaps the easiest way to "engraft" national characteristics of courage, skill, and self-control upon the "rising generation." Baseball Magazine agreed. In a 1909 editorial, the journal asserted that of all sports, baseball best reflected the "hustle and bustle" of modern life. As in life, "every moment is tense with anxiety, lest something already gained be lost." Both were a "survival of the fittest, a submersion of the weak. Sentiment--altruistic principle and higher thought--enter not into it." In feature articles, daily accounts, and the ubiquitous "how to" guides, baseball aficionados gave evidence that it took nerve to hit, nerve to pitch, nerve to field. Charles Comiskey, a true patriarch of the game having spent over thirty years as a player, manager, and owner, identified nerve as "one of the most important assets" of all great players. In How to Play Baseball, Timothy Hayes Murnane, the dean of early 20th century sportswriters, counseled boys that the "baseball fraternity" viewed nerve as "one of the essential ingredients to a winning player's makeup," valued more perhaps than all other "brilliant qualities." Without nerve, Murnane cautioned, "a ball player has little chance of winning a place among the stars of the profession." Albert Spalding echoed this sentiment. In his widely read Baseball: America's National Game, Spalding asserted that "baseball is war" and required "every faculty of brain and body." (29)
Ball players' interest in nerve stemmed in part from the sport's growing popularity. Larger crowds, increased prize money for winning, and greater scrutiny by journalists through daily coverage and special feature articles placed enormous pressure on players. For their part, journalists often drew attention to the pressures that modern players faced by expressing sympathy for those players who lost their nerve and admiration for those who thrived under pressure. (30)
Ever eager to influence the outcome of the game, fans tried to ratchet up the anxiety level of players, taking special delight in testing the nerve of the very best. Cobb was a favorite target, not simply because he was one of the elite players of the game but because he often comported himself with an air of confidence. In the wake of the Baker spiking, Philadelphia fans were set on unnerving Cobb. Their efforts were unrelenting. After the first game, a large crowd--perhaps several hundred strong--gathered outside his hotel in yet another act of intimidation. According to Cobb's most thorough biographer, the crowd "looked about ready to lynch him." (31)
Cobb was not lynched, but he was intimidated--at least initially. He played poorly the first game and newspaper reports agreed that he looked agitated and scared. Even those most sympathetic to Cobb, the Detroit sportswriters, noted that Cobb was off his game. The Free Press observed that Cobb "was at high nervous tension and ... in no shape to do himself justice." He went hitless, flailing at pitches that he normally did not swing at. While playing the outfield, he mistook a car's backfire for a gun's rapport. As he recalled, he jumped "about eight feet" and had to be consoled by centerfielder Sam Crawford, a player he was barely speaking to at the time. (32)
Remarkably, as Cobb continued to play, the mood of the Philadelphia fans began to change in his favor. As the second game ended, fans once again surrounded him as he walked off the field, but this time, a reporter observed, "not a man of the lot seemed desirous to annoy" him. Instead, several stopped to shake his hand, while others patted him on the back and offered words of praise and encouragement. The Detroit News boasted that Cobb had "gone from being an object of contempt and hatred" to a "hero in the eyes of the Quaker fans in just one day." The Detroit Free Press remarked that Philadelphia fans were "rapidly becoming friends of Cobb." By the third game, the paper noted that the "anti-Cobb crusade seems to have spent itself." Now, the "good-humored" fans "warmly applauded" Cobb for his aggressive play in front of what was then one of the largest crowds in baseball history. Philadelphia dailies also noted fans' changed response. In a self-congratulatory piece, the Philadelphia Press praised the local fans for acting the part of true gentlemen. The Press noted that fans were quick to recognize Cobb's "brilliant work" by greeting him with cheers each time he went to bat or made a good play. Though some booing continued, the local press noted that cheers now drowned out the jeers. Even after Cobb spiked shortstop Jack Barry in the final game--effectively ending Barry's season and possibly the Athletics' chances at the pennant--Philadelphia's dailies reported that fans refrained from booing and otherwise gave Cobb a warm reception. (33)
The Barry spiking underlines two important points regarding fan behavior in the early 20th century. First, the incident reveals--once again--that fans did not boo as a reflexive action to a designated enemy, but followed a distinctive ethos of spectatorship. In making a distinction between the Baker and Barry spikings, they demonstrated an appreciation for context and intent. In their view, Cobb had not tried to hurt Barry, so he was not deserving of blame. Second, the incident reveals the high value early twentieth-century fans accorded true exhibitions of nerve. They understood that aggressive players risked hurting one another when demonstrating their nerve. Yet they applauded such exhibitions even when performed by an opposing player. Philadelphia fans first warmed to Cobb because Cobb showed his mettle by confronting the home crowd head-on. After each game, he took his usual evening constitutional--even though it meant he had to walk through the large crowds that assembled outside his hotel to scare him. On the playing field, he gradually exerted himself, exhibiting the kind of aggressiveness and daring that had made him the talk of the game--hitting, bunting, stealing, taking the offensive to place added pressure on the opposition. He seemed to make a special point of showing Philadelphia fans that they had not gotten his goat. On more than one occasion he waded into the hostile outfield crowd to catch fly balls. When fans threw straw hats at him after he struck out, be used his bat to mutilate a few of them, as if to enfeeble their attempts to humiliate him. After the first game, be even resumed his habit of jawing with fans who hurled insults at him. Although Cobb did not have a particularly memorable series at the plate, he showed just enough moxie to convince all that he had not let the fans unnerve him. Fans had come to challenge him and he had stood up to them. His hard slide into Barry was the final example of this. He showed Philadelphia fans that he would not allow them to unnerve him. (34)
Ultimately, this is what Philadelphia fans wanted to see during that 1909 series. And this is why they paid to see Cobb--not merely to boo him, but to challenge him, to see him struggle, and to witness either his triumph or his failure. Midway through the series, the Philadelphia Inquirer nearly said as much when it tried to explain fans' changed response to Cobb. After Cobb made an excellent play in the field on a long fly, the Inquirer remarked that "Cobb was right on the job, demonstrating none of the lack of nerve" that caused his "sorry showing" in the first game. Now, Cobb "was primed with ginger from the instant he trotted on the field," so much so that "even the most rabid ones warmed up to him." Equally important, fans appreciated Cobb because Cobb appreciated them. Rather than complaining about his hostile reception before and during the first game, he correctly interpreted fans' response for what it was--a challenge to his manhood and an attempt to affect the game. He accepted the challenge by giving them what they paid for--his all out effort to prove them wrong. In this way, he modeled the modern attributes of manliness even as be acknowledged fans' right to be active participants in the game. Not surprisingly, Cobb singled out Philadelphia fans as being particularly abusive, yet claimed that he played "his best ball against the Athletics." (35)
In certain respects, baseball fans and Cobb developed a sort of symbiotic relationship with one another based upon mutual need: fans needed fiery players like Cobb to test raw definitions of manhood; Cobb needed the active engagement of fans to goad him to further exploits of nerve and masculinity. Neither side was ever completely satisfied. Both sides recognized that manhood was something that needed to be continuously reestablished. Thus whatever goodwill Philadelphia fans bestowed upon Cobb during that dramatic 1909 series was abruptly withdrawn the following summer when the two sides met again. In the midst of another pennant race, Philadelphia fans once again jeered and taunted Cobb, spurred on perhaps by the city's dailies which revived their attacks on Cobb's playing style. (36) Such oscillating emotions may help to explain why one sportswriter labeled Cobb the "most unpopular popular man in baseball:" a good dose of his appeal came from his unpopularity. As the same writer observed, "no matter whether he comes to cheer or to jeer him, the cash customer still pays tribute for the privilege of seeing Cobb in action." (37) Neither Cobb nor the fans seemed to want it any other way, for in a very real sense their relationship satisfied both parties.
Just how eager fans were to see Cobb at his tumultuous best is illustrated by their generally favorable response to Cobb's behavior during another infamous event in his career--his mauling of New York Highlanders' fan Claude Lucker (sometimes spelled Lueker). (38) The incident occurred on May 15, 1912, the last game of a four game series between the hometown Highlanders and the visiting Tigers. For the previous three games, Lucker and a few others sat in the grandstands, just down the line from the Detroit dugout, hurling insults at the Tigers, especially Cobb. Though Cobb had heard invectives before, be found the comments of Lucker and friends especially obnoxious. (39) At the top of the fourth inning, things came to a head. As Cobb jogged to the dugout, Lucker mocked him for a blunder he had made earlier in the game. In response, Cobb made a disparaging remark about Lucker's sister. Lucker retaliated by shouting a slur that implied Cobb was of mixed blood, the product of an affair between his mother and a black man. As Cobb sat down, teammates told Cobb he would be "a gutless no-good" if he let the insult pass. Cobb's rage boiled over. He bolted from the dugout, leaped the fence that separated fans from the field, scaled through the crowd--as many as twelve rows deep according to one account--and confronted Lucker. "Even then," Cobb recalled, "he insulted me again." With that, Cobb hit Lucker in the face, knocked him down, and kicked him with his spiked shoes. Though Lucker was unable to defend himself, having lost parts of both hands in an industrial accident less than a year earlier, Cobb was unrelenting. When fans pleaded with him for mercy, shouting "Don't kick him! He is a cripple. He has no hands!" Cobb roared back, "I don't care if the--has no feet!" and pummeled him some more. He stopped only when several of his teammates and the umpires pulled him away. He was immediately ejected from the game. (40)
Though some editorials accused Cobb of breaking both written and unwritten codes of conduct, most New York fans were decidedly sympathetic to him. According to the New York American, "When Cobb walked off the field, the few boos that greeted him were drowned in vigorous applause," After Cobb left, several fans protested to security guards that Lucker should at least be expelled from the park, too (which he summarily was). Later, fans defended Cobb, telling reporters that he had given "the fan ample warning of the impending assault, but (Lucker) refused to give heed." (41) In his autobiography, Cobb boasted that he received hundreds of letters from New York fans, many of whom claimed to have been at the game, in support of his actions. Even the popular nationally syndicated comic strip "Mutt and Jeff" expressed support for Cobb. A late May item featured Mutt scheming "to be a hero like Ty Cobb." While playing the outfield for the local team, he instructs Jeff to harass him from his place in the stands. "Call me a big stiff," he tell Jeff, "and I'll come up after you like Ty Cobb did. I won't hurt you. I'll only make a bluff." Perhaps the most revealing example of the public's general support for Cobb was reflected in a poll conducted by the New York American a few days after the incident. Using secret ballots, the newspaper asked fans whether Cobb "was right or wrong in attacking a fan." Though every major newspaper in town denounced Cobb, the poll revealed that nearly three fourths of those who voted (3,013 to 1,167) backed Cobb. Several weeks later when Cobb returned to New York, the Detroit Free Press reported that fans greeted him with a "great ovation ... before and during the game on every instance he presented himself." (42)
Fans' support for Cobb after the Lucker incident reflected an abiding appreciation for Cobb's prerogatives as a white man. Yes, Cobb had allowed a fan's comments to get to him, but most believed that his behavior was entirely warranted given the nature of the insult. Early 20th century white Americans were extremely sensitive to issues of race, equating their skin color with manliness, civilization, and authority. When Lucker questioned Cobb's racial purity, he did more than simply insult Cobb's mother's morality; he questioned Cobb's claims to the very essence of Cobb's self-identity and claims of racial superiority. Though some like Christy Mathewson suggested that a true man ignored such epithets, others were not so sure this was a good strategy. These feared that over-civilization and the luxuries of modernity had left the white race unable to assert its authority over others. Unless white men learned to act decisively, they would find themselves overrun by the hordes of African Americans, Asians, and Southern Europeans that seemed to be overtaking their "White Man's Country." Cobb's willingness to take matters into his own hands demonstrated that there were still some white men who knew how to defend themselves and their race. As Red Hoff, then a 21 year old Highlanders' pitcher, remembered it, Cobb "went into his stands and did his duty." (43)
Class considerations may have also factored into some fans' support for Cobb as well. Accounts friendly to Cobb colored their descriptions of Lucker to emphasize his lower-class roots, calling him a "rowdy," a "low life," and a "Bowery type." Conversely, these same sources referred to those fans who refused to follow Lucker's lead as "the better type of people," "the better class in the grandstand and bleachers," and "decent men and women." Some journalists also made special mention of Lucker's clothing to define his social status, noting that Lucker wore an alpaca sweater, the outerwear of choice for working-class men at the time. Some accounts noted that Cobb identified Lucker by his sweater, a hint that the working-class Lucker stood out in the middle-class grandstands. One account even noted that Cobb yelled "Go back to your waiter's job!" to Lucker. (44) Finally, news accounts noted Lucker's affiliation with Tammany Hall, a political organization long associated with lower-class ethnic demagoguery in the eyes of nativist middle-class Americans. Some reports made this case explicit. (45)
Apparently, Cobb's behavior resonated with many middle-class spectators who felt similarly besieged by the seeming intractable assertiveness of lower-class groups--not only at the ballpark but in all forms of social exchange. For a generation of middle and upper-class men who were eager to re-establish a stronger hand in municipal affairs and defeat what they considered to be illegitimate sources of power, Cobb's actions matched their desire to act decisively, forcefully, and manly in the face of all challenges from below. No, they could not physically thrash their adversaries, but they may have enjoyed the vicarious thrill of watching Cobb do it. Men who were obsessed with the loss of vitality and nerve force may have seen Cobb's actions as a quick and sure tonic.
This is speculative to be sure, but the point remains that most New York baseball fans--like baseball fans across the country--supported Cobb with full knowledge of Cobb's occasional penchant for physical aggression. At least tacitly, such fans aligned themselves with a larger cultural movement that preached the productive powers of violence for a just cause. Prominent individuals like President Theodore Roosevelt and renowned psychologist G. Stanley Hall publicly expressed admiration for the ferocity of primal masculinity. Each sought ways to encourage men to reconnect with mankind's savage origins as an antidote for the effeminizing tendencies of over-civilization. (46) Meanwhile, some of the most popular novels of the day, including Edgar Rice Burroughs's Tarzan of the Apes, Zane Grey's Riders of the Purple Sage (both published the same year as Cobb's encounter with Lucker), Owen Wilson's The Virginian, and Thomas Dixon's The Klansman all reveled in heroes who divested themselves of the constraining forces of civilization to protect virtue and vanquish evil. No doubt, many Americans believed that when Cobb mauled Lucker he simply put into action ideas that had been percolating in various forums for the previous decade or so. That Cobb acted spontaneously only heightened the dramatic heroism of his act. (47)
Yet baseball fans often wanted it both ways: displays of manly self-assertion and nerve coupled with the appearance of order, self-control, and decorum. The Lucker-Cobb incident allowed them to do this. Yes, middle-class patrons wanted to boo and to cheer, but they also realized that there were clear limits to how far one could go. Hurling insults and even certain objects at players was one thing, but Lucker crossed a line when he made racial slurs.
Were they at all troubled by the viciousness of Cobb's response? Certainly, some fans--just less than a third if the New York American poll accurately recorded popular opinion--disapproved of Cobb's actions. Many of these probably agreed with the position laid out in an editorial in the New York Times. As the Times saw it, the "sole underlying cause" of the entire episode reflected "the growing resentment of all authority and discipline throughout the world" and warned that support for Cobb might lead to a breakdown in public order. This, however, was the minority opinion. (48) Many of those who sided with Cobb may have had similar concerns, but were reassured by the limited scope of the assault and the subsequent actions of some of the principals. Both Lucker and Cobb were eventually forced to leave the stadium and American League President Ban Johnson immediately suspended Cobb. The next day, Cobb issued an apology through the press. Sounding chastened and contrite, he stated that he only acted when the Hilltop Park police refused to protect him. In other words, the rule of law and Cobb's subsequent gentlemanly conduct may have assured many fans that the conventional standards of ballpark decorum were not in danger. (49)
Perhaps most fans agreed with the opinion of Baseball Magazine, offered a month after the incident. In its summary assessment, the editors suggested that Cobb only did what was "natural" and "only such as might have been expected from any man of hot blooded tendencies." True, Cobb needed to be punished for taking matters into his own hands. That is why baseball needed Ban Johnson--to enforce "law and organization" by suspending Cobb for ten games. Yet far from censuring Cobb, the magazine praised him, claiming that his behavior "was on the whole creditable to the most brilliant player the game has ever known." Above all, he had proved himself to be the "the champion of individual rights," a necessary counterpart to Johnson's passion for order and discipline. According to Baseball Magazine, society needed rebels like Cobb to goad established institutions. To spectators who experienced overly managed and depersonalized work experiences, this interpretation must have had a certain appeal. Cobb acted for himself and braved the consequences. To these fans, Cobb was as exciting and unpredictable as the heroes of popular literature, but had the advantage of being an authentic person who they could watch and even test for the price of a ballgame ticket. (50)
Sports historians are never quite certain how to describe specators' view of Ty Cobb. Yes, he was widely understood to be the greatest player of his generation, but most historians are reluctant to conclude that he was admired, much less adored, by the viewing public, in part because some of his behaviors seem so abhorrent and in part because even at the height of his career, he generated considerable criticism. Most would probably agree with one recent popular study of the era that concluded that Cobb was "simply too ill-tempered to be any sort of national hero." (51)
What these historians have largely failed to understand is the social and cultural context in which fans observed and interpreted Cobb. The age of manufactured sports heroes would not fully develop until the ascendancy of the celebrity sports columnists. During the 1920s, writers like Damon Runyan, and Grantland Rice, Frank Lieb, and Paul Gallico helped create lionized heroes like Babe Ruth, Jack Dempsey, Red Orange, Lou Gehrig, Knute Rockne, Bobby Jones, and Bill Tilden. Though Cobb played into the 1920s, only Rice--a fellow Southerner and a friend--regularly wrote about Cobb in a positive tone. The rest demon strated an obvious bias toward the rising stars of the new decade, especially those who played for New York teams. On the rare occasions they wrote about Cobb, they portrayed him as a relic of an earlier and cruder era of professional sporting culture, making him the perfect foil to their fabricated heroes. (52)
During his prime, American sports fans were fascinated with Cobb. They flocked to see him for a variety of reasons. Most obviously, his rare combination of speed, skill, intelligence, and daring made him the most exciting player in the game--and its most popular. His bold exploits on the base paths coupled with his volatile personality gave fans an opportunity to let loose an array of emotions, matching his passion for the game with their own. Few fans matched Cobb's temper and truculent demeanor. Nevertheless, they understood the dilemma: just as Cobb found it difficult to conform to the rules of the game as he mercilessly tried to dominate his opponents, so too his fans felt pulled between the behavioral requirements of modernity and traditional conceptions of manhood. Indeed, their determination to affect Cobb through booing, cheering, and other collective acts of male bravado revealed an abiding interest in one of the essential features of true manhood--nerve. Thus watching Cobb allowed fans to clarify the issues even though they surely understood that Cobb could not serve as a role model beyond the ballpark. That Cobb often played to the crowd in these incidents revealed that he was the ideal protagonist for the dramas that fans so relished. With Cobb, they protected the ball park as a haven for a manly culture that was quickly disappearing in the modern city.
How then did fans respond to Cobb? Perhaps the best answer historians can offer is that they hated him, they adored him, they were repulsed by him, and they were fascinated by him--sometimes in the course of a single afternoon at the ballpark.
Allendale, MI 49401
The author wishes to thank Perry Bush of Bluffton University and A. Kristen Foster of Marquette University for their criticisms of an earlier version of this essay.
(1.) Boston Herald, September 17, 1915, p. 1, 6; Boston Gazette, September 17, 1915, p. 8; Washington Post, September 17, 1915, p. 8.
(2.) Lawrence Levine, "The Folklore of Industrial Society: Popular Culture and Its Audiences," The American Historical Review 97:5 (December 1992): 1369-1399; quotation is on p. 1370.
(3.) Michael T. Isenberg, John L. Sullivan and His America (Urbana, 1988); Louis P. Masur, Autumn Glory: Baseballs First World Series (New York, 2003); John Sayle Waterson, College Football: History, Spectacle, Controversy (Baltimore, 2000); Michael MacCambridge, America's Game: The Epic Story of How Pro Football Captured a Nation (New York, 2004); Roger Abrams, The First World Series and the Baseball Fanatics of 1903 (Boston, 2003). Works that have looked closely at the cultural meanings that fans received from watching sporting events are myriad. Some of the most influential include: Elliott J. Gorn, The Manly Art: Bare-Knuckle Prize Fighting in America (Ithaca, 1986); Steven A. Riess, Touching Base: Professional Baseball and American Culture in the Progressive Era (Urbana, 1999); Steven Riess, City Games: The Evolution of American Society and the Rise of Sports (Urbana, 1989); Allen Guttmann: Sports Spectators (New York, 1986). S.W. Pope, Patriotic Games: Sporting Traditions in the American Imagination, 1876-1926 (New York, 1997); S.W. Pope, ed., The New American Sport History: Recent Approaches and Perspectives (Urbana, 1997); Patrick B. Miller, ed., The Sporting World of the Modern South (Urbana, 2002); Donald J. Mrozek, Sport and American Mentality, 1880-1910 (Knoxville, 1983); Warren I. Susman, The Transformation of American Society in the Twentieth Century (New York, 1984).
(4.) Clifford Geertz, "Deep Play: Notes on the Balinese Cockfight," in The Interpretation of Cultures, ed. Clifford Geertz (New York, 1977), 412-453.
(5.) At the time of his retirement, Cobb owned every major offensive record except for home runs and runs batted in. He still holds the record for highest lifetime batting average, runs scored, number of batting titles, and number of consecutive batting titles, among his countless records. He is currently second in total hits and third in stolen bases.
(6.) John Rossi, The National Game: Baseball and American Culture (Chicago, 2000), 80; Harold Seymour, Baseball: The Golden Age (New York, 1971), 107; Benjamin Rader, American Sports: From the Age of Folk Games to the Age of Televised Sports (Upper Saddle Creek, NJ, 2004), 166; Frank Deford, The Old Ball Game: How John McGraw, Christy Mathewson, and the New York Giants Created Modern Baseball (New York, 2005), 209. Biographers who have offered more complex presentations of Cobb include: Charles Alexander, Ty Cobb (New York, 1984); Richard Bak, Ty Cobb: His Tumultuous Life and Times (Dallas, 1994); Richard Bak, Peach: Ty Cobb in His Time and Ours (Ann Arbor, 2005).
(7.) "Least Likable Ball Players," Tuesday, August 14, 2001; ESPN.com: Page 2; updated December 31, 2001, http://espn.go.com/page2/s/leastliked/rcaders/010815.html (accessed March 1, 2008).
(8.) Lawrence Ritter, ed., "Davy Jones" in The Glory of Their Times: The Story of the Early Days of Baseball Told by the Men Who Played It. (New York, rep. ed. 2002), 41-42.
(9.) Harry Casey," The Pivot of the Baseball Diamond: Thrilling Plays Which Centre About First Base," Baseball Magazine 12: 6 (October 1911): 33-34.
(10.) The Sporting News, December 26, 1912, p. 8; "Editorial," Baseball Magazine 17, no. 1 (May 1916): 29; Detroit News, May 19, 1912, Sports Section, p. 2; Sporting Life September 21, 1912, p. 22; The Sporting News, November I, 1923; The Sporting News, November 11, 1926.
(11.) Boston Herald, September 18, 1915, pp. 1, 6.
(12.) St. Louis Star, May 7, 1909; Detroit News, September 24, 1909, p. 8; Sporting News, October 7, 1909, p. 6.
(13.) Victor Turner, Drama, Fields and Metaphors: Symbolic Action in Human Society (Ithaca, 1974). Geertz suggests that "Balineses go to cockfights to find out what a man, visually composed, aloof, almost obsessively self-absorbed, a kind of moral autocosm, feels like when attacked, tormented, challenged, insulted, and drive in result to the extremes of fury, he has totally triumphed or been brought totally low." I suggest a similar dynamic regarding spectators who came to watch Cobb. See Geertz, "Deep Play," 450. For works that examine sport as social drama, see: T. H. Breen, "Horses and Gentlemen: The Cultural Significance of Gambling among the Gentry of Virginia" The William and Mary Quarterly, Third Series, Vol. 34, No. 2 (Apr., 1977): 239-257; Heather Levi, "Sport and Melodrama: The Case of Mexican Professional Wrestling," Social Text, No. 50, The Politics of Sport (Spring, 1997): 57-68; David Wallace Adams, "More than a Game: The Carlisle Indians Take to the Gridiron, 1893-1917," The Western Historical Quarterly, Vol. 32, No. 1 (Spring, 2001): 25-53.
(14.) Andrew L. Erdman, Blue Vaudeville: Sex, Morals, and the Mass Marketing of Amusements, 1895-1915 (Jefferson, NC, 2004), 21-42; Lawrence Levine, Highbrow/LowBrow: The Emergence of Cultural Hierarchy in America (Cambridge, MA, 1990); John Kasson, Rudeness and Civility: Manners in Nineteenth Century Urban America (New York, 1991); David Nasaw, GoingOut: The Rise and Fall of Public Amusements (New York, 1993), 101-2; Gunther Barth, City People: The Rise of Modern City Culture in Nineteenth Century America (New York, 1980), 148-191.
(15.) Ritter, The Glory of Their Times, 42, 65.
(16.) Nasaw, Going Out, 101-2.
(17.) Here I am borrowing loosely from the cultural anthropological concept of liminality, most commonly associated with Victor Turner. As Turner famously defined it, liminal space is "betwixt and between the categories of social life." It is an experimental region of ambiguity and possibility, "betwixt and between," as he famously stated. Turner, "Metaphors of Anti-Structure in Religious Culture," in Dramas, Fields, and Metaphors ed. Turner, 273. See also Turner, The Anthropology of Performance (New York, 1986); Turner, The Ritual Process: Structure and Anti-Structure (Chicago, 1969).
(18.) Albert Spalding, America's National Game: Historic Facts Concerning the Beginning Evolution, Development and Popularity of Base Ball With Personal Reminiscences of It (New York, 1911), 51; Sporting News, November 1, 1945.
(19.) C.E. Van Loan, "Baseball as the Bleachers Like It," Outing 54: 6 (September 1909): 642.
(20.) For gender as performance, see Judith Butler, Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity (New York, rev. ed. 1999), 163-180.
(21.) Sociologists have identified the desire for stimulation as a primary motive for sport spectatorship, particularly in modern, industrial societies. See: Daniel Wann, Merrill J. Melnick, Gordon W. Russell, Dale G. Pease, Sports Fans: The Psychology and Social Impact of Spectators (New York, 2001), 38-40, 207-8; Norbert Elias and Eric Dunning, Quest for Excitement: Sport and Leisure in the Civilizing Process (Oxford, UK, 1986). For symbolic inversion, see Barbara A. Babcock, ed., The Reversible World: Symbolic Inversion in Art and Society (Ithaca, NY, 1978); Gorn, The Manly Art, 136-144; Ted Ownby, Subduing Satan: Religion, Recreation, and Manhood in the Rural South, 1865-1920 (Chapel Hill, 1990).
(22.) St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 22, 1909; St. Louis Post-Dispatch, May 1, 1909; St. Louis Republican, May 30, 1909; The Sporting News, August 26, 1909; Alexander, Ty Cobb, 77, 79. Connie Mack made the accusation that Cobb threatened to spike the Athletics second baseman, shortstop, and third baseman. See Philadelphia livening Bulletin, August 27, 1909.
(23.) Alexander, Ty Cobb, 81; Philadelphia Evening Bulletin, August 27, 1909; Philadelphia Inquirer, August 27, 1909.
(24.) Philadelphia Inquirer, August 26, 1909, August 30, 1905, September 5,1909; Philadelphia Evening Bulletin, August 29,1909; The Sporting News, September 9, 1909; Philadelphia Evening Bulletin, August 27, 1909; Philadelphia Press, August 30, 1909.
(25.) Detroit Free Press, September 17, 1909; Philadelphia Evening Bulletin, September 16, 1909.
(26.) Alexander, Ty Cobb, 81; Cobb, My Life in Baseball, 116-8; Detroit Free Press, September 16, 1909, September 21, 1909; Detroit News, September 15, 1909; Philadelphia Evening Bulletin, September 16, 1909; Detroit News, September 21, 1909, p. 10.
(27.) Bederman, Manliness and Civilization, 1-5; Kasson, Houdini, Tarzan, and the Perfect Man, 10-11; E. Anthony Rotundo, American Manhood: Transformations in Masculinity From the Revolution to the Modern Era (New York, 1993), 185-193; T.J. Jackson Lears, No Place of Grace, 49-57; Tom Lutz, American Nervousness, 1903: An Anecdotal History (Ithaca, 1991), 4-19; Mrozek, Sport and American Mentality, 19-27; F.S. Gosling and Joyce M. Ray, " 'The Right To Be Sick' American Physicians and Nervous Patients, 1885--1910," Journal of Social History 20: 2 (Winter 1986): 251-267.
(28.) Gorn, The Manly Art, 194-206; Riess "Sport and the Redefinition of Middle-Class Masculinity," 184-190; Clifford Putney, Muscular Christianity: Manhood and Sport in Protestant America, 1880-1920 (Cambridge, MA, 2001), 4-5, 33-39.
(29.) H. Addington Bruce, "Baseball and the National Life," Outlook 104, no.3 (May 17, 1913): 103-107; Henry Curtis, "Baseball," Journal of Education 83 (January 1916): 466-7; "Editorially: The Spirit of the Times," Baseball Magazine, 2, no.7 (October 1909): 2; "Editorials," Baseball Magazine 17, no. 1 (May 1916): 32; New York Times, April 17, 1910, p. 2;. Timothy H. Murnane, How to Play Baseball (New York, 1914), 52; Albert G. Spalding, Baseball: American's National Game (1911; San Francisco, 1991), 5.
(30.) According to one baseball historian, close to twenty recently retired big leaguers committed suicide in the first two decades of the twentieth century. Scores of others relieved themselves through alcohol. Richard Bak, Peach: Ty Cobb In His Time and Ours (Ann Arbor, MI, 2005), 207; "The Gamest Player in Baseball," 11, no. 5 (September 1913), 51-61; John J. Evers, "Do Players Lose Their Nerve?" Baseball Magazine, .3, no. 12 (April, 1909): 41-2; "Failure as a Factor in the National Game," Baseball Magazine 11, no. 4 (August 1913): 29-32, 98; "Why Players Fail: Scenes from the Real Life of the Diamond," Baseball Magazine, 11, no. 5 (September 1913): 27-30, 106-108.
(31.) Detroit Free Press, September 17, 1909; Philadelphia Free Press, September 17, 1909; Philadelphia Inquirer, September 17, 1909; Alexander, Ty Cobb, 81.
(32.) Detroit Free Press, September 17, 1909; Detroit News, September 17, 1909; Cobb, Busin' Em, 26.
(33.) Philadelphia Press, September 18, 1909, September 19, 1909, September 21, 1909; Philadelphia Evening Bulletin, September 18, 1909, September 21, 1909; Philadelphia In- quirer, September 18, 1909, September 21, 1909; Detroit Free Press, September 18, 1909, September 21, 1909; Detroit News, September 18, 1909, September 21, 1909.
(34.) Detroit Free Press, September 17, 1909; Alexander, Ty Cobb, 82.
(35.) Philadelphia Inquirer, September 18, 1909; Ty Cobb, Busting 'Em And Other Big League Stories (Jefferson, NC, 1914, reprint, 2003), 26, 30-31.
(36.) Philadelphia Inquirer, July 29, 1910, p. 10; August 1, 1910, p. 10.
(37.) "In the Press Box with Baxter," Washington Post, July 10, 1924, p. s3.
(38.) New York Highlanders was the original name of the New York Yankees.
(39.) Alexander, Ty Cobb, 105; Fred Lieb, Baseball As I Have Known It (Lincoln, 1996), 59.
(40.) Cobb, Memoirs. 93; Cobb, My Life in Baseball, 131-2; Stump, Cobb, 205-7.
(41.) New York American, May 16, 1912; New York American, May 16, 1912. The Detroit Free Press estimated that about 80% of the fans in attendance cheered Cobb as he walked off the field three innings after he was ejected. See the Detroit Free Press, May 16, 1912, pp. 10, 11.
(42.) Detroit Free Press, May 16, 1912; Detroit Free Press, May 27, 1912, p. 10; Detroit Free Press, July 10, 1912, p. 10; Cleveland Plain Dealer, May 22, 1912, p. 11; New York American, May 21, 1912.
(43.) Bederman, Manliness and Civilization, 1-5, 10-15; Kimmel, Manhood in America, 57-62, 80-84; Gorn, The Manly Art, 192-194; Kasson, Houdini, Tarzan, and the Perfect Man, 11-12, 46-50; Mrozek, Sport and American Mentality, 24-26; Putney, Muscular Christianity, 25-33; Higham, Strangers in the Land, 142-144; Hoff quoted in Richard Bak, Peach: Ty Cobb In His Time and Ours (Ann Arbor, MI, 2005), 93-4. Three years earlier, a writer for the Philadelphia Inquirer made the point explicit, though sardonically. He suggested that Cobb meet Jack Johnson in the ring, but be allowed to keep his spikes on. "This ought to settle things for a bit," the writer suggested. "The unrest among Anglo-Saxons is getting serious." Philadelphia Inquirer, October 21,1909, p. 8.
(44.) New York Times, May 19, 1912, p. 1; Philadelphia Inquirer, May 18, 1912, p. 10; The Sporting News, May 30, 1912, p. 4; Detroit Free Press, May 19, 1912, p. 10; "Ty Cobb versus Ban Johnson," Baseball Magazine, July 1912 IX, No. 5 (July 1912): 12.
(45.) Cited in The Sporting News, May 30, 1912, p. 4; Detroit News, May 18, 1912, p. 8.
(46.) Arnaldo Testi, "The Gender of Reform Politics: Theodore Roosevelt and the Culture of Masculinity," The Journal of American History, Vol. 81, No. 4. (March, 1995): 1509-1533; Bederman, Manliness and Civilization, 115-7, 171-187; Rotundo, American Manhood. 222-239.
(47.) Bederman, Manliness and Civilization, 217-232; Kasson, Houdini, Tarzan, and the Perfect Man, 180-2, 203-215; Williamson, Crucible of Race, 141-151; Alan Trachtenberg, The Incorporation of America: Culture and Society in the Gilded Age (New York, 1982), 24-5; Roderick Nash, The Nervous Generation: American Thought, 1917-1930 (New York, 1990), 140-1; Kimmel, Manhood in America, 101-4.
(48.) New York Times, May 19, 1912, p. 12; The Sporting News, May 30, 1912, p. 4.
(49.) New York American, May 21, 1912, p. 1; Detroit Free Press, May 21, 1912, p. 10.
(50.) New York Times, May 19, 1912, p. 12; The Sporting News, May 30, 1912, p. 4.
(51.) Frank Deford, The Old Ball Game: How John McGraw, Christy Mathewson, and the New York Giants Created Modern Baseball (New York, 2005), 209.
(52.) Mark Inabinett, Grantland Rice and His Heroes: The Sportswriter as Mythmaker in the 1920s (Knoxville, 1994); Barry Smart, The Sport Star: Modern Sport and the Cultural Economy of Sporting Celebrity (London, 2005); Benjamin Rader, American Sports: From the Age of Folk Games to the Age of Televised Sports, 5th ed. (Upper Saddle River, NJ, 2004), 142-160.
By Steve Tripp
Grand Valley State University
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