Episode 2 — Chapter 1

| Jun 3, 2020 | Baseball Immortal | 0 comments

Chapter   1

 

June 18, 1911
Bennett Park
Detroit, Michigan 

The muscular Percheron whinnied and reared, causing Officer O’Rourke to shift his weight to the stirrups. “Easy, Arrow, easy. Atta’ boy.”

O’Rourke felt the horse relax and he gently coaxed the black gelding forward. A horde of spectators stood in the grass nearby and slowly pressed forward, trying to get a closer look. Arrow trotted up and began nudging them back in line with the others.

“Order! Order!”

If they could just stand bloody still! O’Rourke cursed to himself. It would make my task a far lot easier.

Normally Officer O’Rourke enjoyed the occasional assignment at Bennett Park when the crowd swelled—it gave him a superlative view of the action. But today was different. Today, the crowd was surly and out for blood.

O’Rourke watched small clusters of people separate from the crowd and migrate toward the far side of the field on their way to the park’s exit. Apparently, they couldn’t take it any more. Neither can I, O’Rourke thought. I suppose if all the bugs leave the field, I shall follow them out, for there will be no more need for order.

Despite the forecast of heavy rain, there had only been a morning drizzle. By noon, the sun began to wink through billowing clouds, but now in the late afternoon there was nothing but blue sky.

As he scanned the chafing crowd, Officer O’Rourke scratched his bushy mustache and inhaled the scent of newly-mowed grass. Suddenly he heard a loud crack and snapped his head back in the direction of the sound. From a good distance, he spied a small sphere taking flight, rising high in the air. O’Rourke judged that the ball was heading his way and he noticed a uniformed man sprinting toward him, tracking its flight.

“Move back! Move back!” O’Rourke yelled to nearby spectators.

The policeman gave Arrow a squeeze of his legs, then pushed down and forward with his hips. The ball carried over the fielder’s head and bounced an instant later where Arrow had been standing before disappearing into the crowd. Another crescendo of boos erupted from all corners of the park as two more White Sox runners completed their circuit around the diamond on the ground-rule double.

The fielder came to a stop a short distance from O’Rourke, holding up his gloved hand as he waited for the ball to be retrieved. For a moment, the policeman imagined himself wearing the white flannel uniform with its Gothic D emblazoned on the chest and shirt collars fastened upward by a silver pin, with a white, blue-billed cap, short baggy pants, and dark blue stockings. It had once been his dream to be a professional baseball player, but family tradition had obliged him to follow in his father’s and grandfather’s footsteps.

Never before had the officer been in such close proximity of the man who, at the youthful age of twenty-four had already been anointed the wonder of the baseball world and who was considered by most experts to be the “greatest player of all-time.”  O’Rourke watched the center fielder glance at the scoreboard, behind the standing spectators, before the ball was returned.

 

Chapter One Scoreboard

 

The look on the face of Ty Cobb chilled O’Rourke to the very bone; it was a crazed look of smoldering fury that he had never seen before on the face of any man. O’Rourke shuddered as he watched the fielder turn and toss the ball back into the infield, before jogging to his station.

In all his years of playing ball, Ty Cobb could not recall ever having been on the losing end of such a drubbing, except twice before against these same bitter rivals. Just ten games into his big league career, the Sox had shut out the Tigers in a doubleheader, but it was the second game of that twin-bill that he had never forgotten—a 15-0 mugging where the Tigers hadn’t managed a single base hit. Then, in the opening game of the ’08 season, the Sox had humiliated them again, building up a 13-0 lead, before coasting to victory. Now twelve runs down, with the Sox threatening for more, it was clear that Chicago relished the opportunity of shoving the Tigers’ faces in the dirt again.

Cobb’s mind was numb to the insults and obscenities hurled by the normally partisan Tigers fans at the home charge, until he heard his name called out:

“Hey, Mister Cobb, hang some crepe on your nose, your brain’s dead!”

“Yeah! Tyrus the great! Stay out of them saloons and get some sleep!”

Cobb turned his head to glare back at the offenders, but his attention was diverted by the sight of Davy Jones, the Tiger’s left fielder, hopping to his left to narrowly avoid a beer bottle launched from the towering, wild cat bleachers, built upon the rooftops of homes across the street, beyond the left field fence. Cobb shook his head, grateful at least, to be out of range from those mutinous fans. His rage was not just directed toward the enemy combatants, but also inwardly, since he held himself partially to blame for the Sox’s seven-run outburst in the opening frame, having muffed a fly ball in his haste to catch a runner tagging from third.

Humiliating as the thrashing was, Cobb was far more infuriated by the broken promise he had made to his newborn daughter before the game.

 

***

 

The sound of the conductor’s whistle pierced the air as the passenger car jostled back and forth on iron tracks. The mail train, from Buffalo to Detroit, carried members of both the Detroit Tigers and Chicago White Sox baseball teams. The Tigers had just finished a series with the Yankees and the Sox had completed a three-game stint with the Athletics. A special car for each team was attached to the train as it rumbled through southern Canada in lightning fashion, stopping only once in St. Thomas to board individual boxes of breakfast` and a large pot of coffee for the players.

Jimmy Callahan entered the Tigers’ car and spotted Cobb sitting four rows back, peering out the window.

“Hey, Ty. How’s everything?”

“All’s fine, Jimmy.” Ty motioned for him to sit. Cobb did his best to mask his mild irritation at the interruption; still upset with the Yankee’s three-game sweep in New York, he had been deep in thought, critiquing his two strikeouts in the series, though he had garnered five hits in thirteen at bats.

The sound of squeaky wheels trundling on the iron tracks below made Callahan raise his voice. “I understand you haven’t seen your baby girl, Ty. You must be tickled pink to be gettin’ home.”

Callahan, a star pitcher later converted to a hitter, sat across from Cobb in the private booth. He was a bit shorter than the six-one Cobb and had come out of early retirement to join the White Sox at the beginning of the year, surprising everyone by becoming the team’s starting left fielder.      

“Darn right I am. She arrived on the second day of June. We were in D.C. playing the Nationals when I got the telegram. I had planned to hurry home then, but Hughie begged me to stay since we were in a poor spell.”

The cabin darkened while the train passed through a tunnel.

“Well, it’ll be worth the wait, I’m sure. So, what do you think about my proposition?”

Cobb shook his head. “Jimmy, I’ve been asked a hundred times before to do vaudeville. It’s just not me. I’m a ball player, not some play-actor.”

“Look, Ty. I’m already signed up and fetching a thousand dollars, can you believe it? Tell me what it’ll take to get you on board. I’ve been told to offer you a blank check.”

“It’s not about the money,” Cobb demurred. “I’m on the road enough during the season; if I’m gone during fall and winter too, my kids won’t remember their father at all.”

“Okay, it’s not about the money, it’s not about the money. No one’s bigger than you. Think of it as a new challenge. Your adoring fans, the ones who have never been able to see you play… they’ll get a chance to see the great Ty Cobb on stage. Every show will be a sell out!”

“Jimmy, I’m just not interested.”

“How much did you make last year?”

“Enough.”

“What, about seven or eight thousand?”

The compartment jerked side to side as the train tracks veered to the right.

Cobb shrugged. It had actually been nine grand.

“What if I can get you something close to what you received from the Tigers?”

“They’ll never pay that kind of money.”

“I wouldn’t be too sure about that. The great Ty Cobb in person! What would it take?”

Cobb enjoyed being chased. “Tell you what, Jimmy. You get ‘em to pay me an even ten thousand dollars, not a penny less. I’ll do it.”

Callahan shook his head. “Don’t be ridiculous. That’s a king’s ransom for just a couple of months work. Look, I might be able to get you five or even six… ”

“Ten grand’s my price,” Cobb smiled. He knew they’d never go that high.

 

***

 

The train chugged into the Michigan Central Station shortly after the noon hour. The Tiger players were elated to be home after the long road trip, looking forward to remaining in Detroit for five weeks before their next excursion.

Cobb bolted from the train once it stopped, with the mid-afternoon game just three hours away. He hired a cab for the mile-and-a-half ride to his three-story brick home on Commonwealth Avenue.  Arriving at half past twelve, he raced up the short sidewalk and gobbled three steps at a time to the top of the front porch before turning the knob and pushing the etched-glass door open.

Entering the house, he saw Charlie coming his way with a wide smile. Wearing a light pastel floor-length gown with a lavender broach in her raven-colored hair. Cobb was delighted to see the slimmer version of his wife again; Charlie’s pale face was still plump, but it had thinned and appeared fresh and youthful. She had never looked more beautiful.

“Welcome home, Ty.” Charlie spoke in her delicious Southern drawl.

Cobb gave his wife a long embrace, inhaling the scent from Rosa Centifolia, his favorite perfume. As they parted, Cobb studied briefly his wife’s hazel-colored eyes before giving her a long passionate kiss.

The patter of feet on the hardwood floor accompanied a young child’s voice, interrupting their embrace, “Daddy! Daddy!”

Cobb whisked up Ty Jr. and held him in his arms. He stared longingly at his son’s joyous face for the first time in weeks.

“Ty, you also have a baby daughter who’d like to meet her daddy.”

With Ty Jr. still in his arms, Cobb followed Charlie up to the second-floor bedroom, where Shirley Marion lay sound asleep.

With a seraphic smile on his face, Cobb gazed at the sleeping child in the bassinet. Looking at Charlie, he nodded his head toward the crib. Charlie shook her head in a scolding smile, but finally relented. “Go ahead, Ty. Pick her up. She’s been waitin’ a long while to see her father.”

Cobb gently placed Ty, Jr. back on the floor. Pride swelling within, Cobb put his fingers under the tiny bundle and carefully lifted the sleeping child. Shirley’s eyes opened briefly, then closed. There was no cry, but a sigh. Cobb took the little infant in his arms and rocked her gently.

Wanting to get another look at the new stranger in her life, the baby opened her eyes again and fixated on her father. A tiny hand moved toward him and Cobb put his finger in her palm. He felt the squeeze and tears began to form in his eyes.

“Well, hello little darlin’,” Cobb spoke, his voice breaking with emotion.

Twenty minutes later, Charlie brought up a tray with a roast beef sandwich and lemonade. Cobb shook his head.

“Ty, you need to eat. You have a game soon and shouldn’t be playin’ on an empty stomach.”

Cobb nodded as Charlie came over to take the infant.

“Ah cain’t let her go, she’s fallen asleep again.”

“Oh, it’s all right. I’ll give her back when you’re done.”

Cobb smiled. “No one’s takin’ this little cherub from my arms today.” Still cradling the baby in his lap, Cobb grabbed the sandwich and started eating with one hand. A piece of watercress fell onto the baby’s blanket and Charlie gently chided Cobb. Cobb shrugged his shoulders with half a smile and continued eating.

“Ty, you better get goin’. You don’t want to miss a game the same day you first laid eyes on your baby girl.”

Cobb pulled out his timepiece.  It was nearly half past one. The ball park was just a couple of miles away, but even with his Chalmers it might take fifteen minutes to get there with the traffic expected for the league-leading Tigers’ first home game in weeks.

“You’re right. I’d sure love to take this little one with me. Do you think I might?”

“Ty, you’re bein’ silly. What’re you gonna do with a newborn baby at the ballpark. Just give her a present today. The way you’re beamin’, you should have the best game of your life.”

“I should and I shall.”

Cobb handed little Shirley to Charlie. She followed Ty to the door.

“Win it for little Shirley, Ty.”

Cobb kissed his wife and placed his hand lightly on Shirley’s head. Then he bent down and whispered in Shirley’s ear, without hesitation, “I promise, little sweetheart. A victory today for my l’il darlin’.”

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