Episode 44 — Chapter 50
After a quick shower, Cobb was on his way toward the manager’s office, flanked by Calvin and Savannah. Bolt had commandeered Carpenter’s chair between the G.M. and the field general. The manager’s office contrasted sharply from Bolt’s luxurious quarters in Bolt Tower. The walls were unadorned except for a confusion of messages and notes attached to a bulletin board behind the desk.
As the guests entered, Bolt stood to greet them.
“Thud and Emerson, I introduce you to the Georgia Peach himself, none other than Tyrus Raymond Cobb, formerly All-Star centerfielder for the Detroit Tigers.”
Cobb shook hands with the G.M. and manager, who exchanged quizzical looks.
“Boss, what is this, some kind of a joke?” Thud blurted out.
Bolt raised his eyes in a serious no-nonsense fashion, an expression Carpenter had seen countless times before—the manager knew that his boss was not joking.
“You tryin’ to tell me this guy is supposed to be the Ty Cobb, the greatest player of all-time?” Carpenter stammered in disbelief and exasperation.
“Come on, Ben,” Simmons squinted. “I read the article. This is the guy from the Atlanta hospital, right? Where’s he been playin’ ball? In Japan, Korea… the Dominican Republic?”
Bolt extended both his palms outward as he spoke. “Gentlemen, you saw the demonstration yourself. You’re familiar with the talent pool—majors, minors and international players—hell, even some of the top high school prospects. Take a look at him. Compare him with the century-old photographs of Cobb online. It’s the same man.”
The silence was so thick, it was nearly palpable. Bolt quickly made it dissipate. “Mr. Cobb, I’d like you to become a member of the Atlanta Braves. I figure we can let you play your way into shape in the minors—we’ll farm you out to double-A ball and then move you up the ladder after you’ve shown us what you can do there.”
Expressionless thus far, Cobb’s demeanor instantly changed to one of indignation. “I’m not playin’ minor league ball! I’ve paid my dues, dammit. I led the league in batting the last five years. It’s the majors or I’ll hook up with another club.” Cobb stood up, ready to exit the office.
“Wait just a minute, Mr. Cobb,” Bolt’s tone softened. “I meant no offense. But you haven’t had the benefit of spring training. I mean, it takes a month or two for players to get ready for the season.”
“Spring training is a damn waste of time. I’ve never needed more than a week or two, tops, to get ready. And, I’ve been doin’ plenty of spring training on the Cain farm for the past month. I’m ready to go!”
Carpenter looked away and rolled his eyes.
“Okay. You’ve made you’re point,” Bolt wasn’t about to jeopardize this extraordinarily rare opportunity and he defaulted to flattery. “We could hardly do justice to the greatest player of all-time by sending him to the minors. We’ll make a spot for you on the major league roster. But, Mr. Cobb, you’re going to be faced with game pressure, not batting practice. Playing in front of fifty thousand screaming maniacs is a bit different than batting in the cool morning without cameras or reporters.”
“I’ve spent my career playing in front of parks full of rabid bugs. I thrive under pressure.” Cobb’s tone became less combative, “You’ll see. Not only will I compete… I’ll be the best damned player you’ve ever seen.”
Carpenter shook his head in disbelief at the upstart’s arrogance.
“Bold comments indeed. You do have a lot of gumption, Mr. Cobb—that’s for sure. Now, let’s get down to business,” Bolt responded. “Thud, you’re free to go. No need for you to sit in on the contract talks.” Carpenter exited the meeting, muttering under his breath on the way out.
Bolt continued, “We’ll pay you the major league minimum, which is a pretty handsome salary these days, at well over half a million. We can even include an incentive clause, jumping it to a million if you have three hundred plate appearances.” Keeping a straight face, Bolt added, “And, we’ll juice it up with our standard clauses for All-Star selection, playoffs, series and season M.V.P.”
Cobb turned to Savannah. She was smiling.
Cobb was unimpressed. He had spent hours studying the lottery-size payments made to star players. “Mr. Bolt, I’m aware that the average player earns about five or six million a year. If I perform as an average player, I’ll take your offer and you can save four or five millions dollars. Conversely, if I prove to be the best, I expect to be paid accordingly. The star players today are making $20 to $30 million a year—hell, I’ve been told there’s a few at forty. If you’re prepared to offer me a fair contract, I’m prepared to have an impact on your club that you cannot begin to imagine…”
If he can’t play baseball, I may have a spot for him in my business empire, Bolt thought with a smirk. Speaking in a more defiant tone to temper the up-start’s arrogance, he glared at Cobb, “You can’t honestly expect me to sign you to a twenty million dollar contract based on a thirty minute tryout?”
Skirting the question, Cobb returned Bolt’s glare with an intensity that surprised the magnate. “Year before, your club finished next to last, right? What would you be willing to pay for a guarantee of a World Series championship? If someone could make you that guarantee, what would it be worth to you?”
Bolt’s eyes opened wide at the man’s arrogance. “And I suppose you can make that guarantee?”
“Mr. Bolt, if you’ll answer my question, I’ll tell you where I’m headed,” Cobb declared in a forceful voice that even had Bolt backing down.
“I’ll be honest with you, Mr. Cobb. If someone could make that guarantee, and of course no one can, I’d give away half my wealth. That’s frankly how important it is to me. But, there’s no player on earth who could make good on that guarantee! Not even the great Ty Cobb!”
Cobb persisted, “I’ve been told your empire has vast holdings. Even if you gave away half, your net worth would still be in the billions of dollars. I won’t ask for half, Mr. Bolt, just a small fraction. How about one tenth of a billion?” Cobb had rehearsed the figures out loud the night before, in anticipation of this meeting, because the numbers were enormous, far bigger than any amount he had ever imagined.
“A hundred million dollars, Mr. Cobb? That’s absurd!”
“Mr. Bolt, let me make the following proposal. If the Atlanta baseball team wins the World Series and I prove my contribution to that feat by hittin’ .400—both events must occur, understand?—then pay me the hundred million.”
“Hit .400. Are you out of your mind?” Bolt was now seriously wondering about Cobb’s sanity. “The .400 hitter in baseball is extinct and has been for generations.”
“Well, not only did I hit .400… I surpassed that mark by twenty points last year,” Cobb boasted.
“And you’re telling us that you can also single-handedly deliver the Braves a World Series championship?”
“Granted, the championship poses the greater challenge of the two, but there’s nothing more important to me than winning. I’ll do my part and hopefully the team will follow my lead.”
“Okay, I’ll play your little game. So, if both the conditions are not met?” Bolt inquired.
“Then I’ll play for the league minimum… don’t pay me any bonus no matter how well I perform,” Cobb reflected on his contract negotiations years earlier, when his salary with the Tigers had been based, in part, on his batting and fielding performances. But, he’d never come close to proposing such extraordinary conditions before.
“You actually believe you can pull this off, don’t you?” Bolt looked at Cobb in astonishment.
“You’re damn right I do!”
Bolt’s expression of astonishment remained. He looked at his General Manager, then Calvin and Savannah, and finally laughed out loud. “Maybe you really are Ty Cobb! No one but him would be foolish enough to make such an outlandish offer!”
“But imagine if the impossible happened,” Savannah interrupted, “and the Braves won the World Series. The amount your team would earn in increased gate, concessions, playoffs, television contracts, would easily pay for Mr. Cobb’s salary. And value of the team would go up another billion dollars.”
Cobb extended his right hand. “Then we have a deal, Mr. Bolt?”
Bolt hesitated for an instant, staring first at Calvin, then Savannah and finally Cobb. He had to will his hand over to meet Cobb’s, because for a moment he thought he was dealing with the devil himself. “I’ll have my attorneys draw up a contract tomorrow.”
Savannah and Calvin stood up to congratulate their friend. Bolt wasn’t through yet, though.
“There is one more thing we need to discuss, now that you are in my employ. What name are you going to use? I mean, I would love the publicity of announcing the signing of Ty Cobb, but the media will never buy it any more than I do. It might go easier for you if you’re not carrying the burden of that legend on your shoulders, not to mention, you’ll excuse me, some of his crackpot image…”
Cobb cut him short, “Mr. Bolt, I’ll manage just fine with my own name.”
I love this man! Bolt shouted to himself, stunned by the man’s hubris. “What the hell! You’re damn right. If you really are Ty Cobb, we’ll tell all the world! And if you are Ty Cobb, by God, you will be able handle it.”