Episode 62 — Chapter 70
“Breaking news! Black teenager shot by police in West Altanta’s Bankhead Hood. He has been transported to the hospital in critical condition. Details are sketchy, but word is that the teen scuffled with the police during his arrest and attempted to flee…”
Cobb didn’t need to hear any more depressing news and switched the channel to ESPN for the day’s sports highlights. He then noticed the phone light on the table next to the couch was blinking. He muted the television sound, while retrieving the message.
“Wow! Ty, I remember you telling me about stealing second, third and home, but I never believed I’d see it in my lifetime. I wish I could have been there! No way Carpenter can keep you down after that performance. You’re bringing baseball to the national stage again. I can’t wait to catch your next game… only wish I could be there in person.”
The message put a smile on Cobb’s face, but there was nagging anxiety that he still had to deal with an irate manager who despised him fiercely.
Cobb depressed the mute button and the television sound returned. It amazed him how he could see highlights from every game in the major leagues, not to mention a steady stream of highlights from other sports. Basketball was certainly an intriguing new game, with teams competing in the first round of playoffs. But, he was delighted when SportsCenter opened its show with highlights of his triple-steal in the Mets opener.
Bolt’s labor negotiations continued on until 1:00 a.m. When he received word of Cobb’s exploits, Bolt was ecstatic and flabbergasted to hear about Cobb’s triple-steal feat, but he cursed himself for having missed the live performance. He was also thrilled to learn that the crowd had remained in the stadium cheering for another twenty minutes after the game. It rankled him that he would likely miss the following night’s game as well, with the tense labor negotiations nearing an impasse.
Carpenter placed several calls to Bolt, but the calls went to voice mail, as Bolt’s attentions were focused on averting a strike from 38,000 of his merchandising workers. After a few hours’ break, Bolt, the union and their respective lawyers resumed talks, aware that the strike would begin Saturday night at midnight, if an accord was not reached.
Carpenter felt anxiety as he debated how to deal with Cobb. Without Bolt’s blessing, he expected to incur more of his owner’s wrath if he benched Cobb. But he was also aware that Bolt had no tolerance for insubordination and had supported him earlier when Cobb had attempted a steal without the sign. It was anger and pride that caused him to finally omit Cobb’s name from the line-up. If he put Cobb back on the field after suspending him for insubordination, the other players would lose all respect for him. Hell, Billy Martin would have done the same thing. Yet, he couldn’t rid himself of the queasy feeling that he was trifling with his job by benching Cobb.
As game time soon approached, the Mets’ lineup was first announced over the stadium loudspeaker. The sold-out crowd began cheering in anticipation of hearing the Braves’ starting lineup. There was some softening in the crowd noise when Cobb’s name was not heard in his customary second slot in the order. But, by the time the pitcher’s name was given and Cobb’s name had not been mentioned anywhere in the lineup, a curtain of boos thundered down upon the stadium. The chaos of noise gradually evolved into an orderly chant: “We want Cobb! We want Cobb! We want Cobb!”
Carpenter stood defiantly at the top of the dugout, basking in the angry refrain. He was in charge now! Despite his ordered suspension, Cobb had dressed and warmed up for the game. Since Bolt hadn’t yet ratified the suspension, Carpenter had no choice but to ignore Cobb’s presence and continued insubordination; he had convinced himself that he had made the right call. Bolt would agree with him. Order would be restored. The players would again respect his authority and leadership.
The game commenced and the crowd was in a surly mood. As each inning passed, a palpable crescendo of anger and frustration swelled within the fans, most who had come to witness Cobb’s latest highlight reel. The Mets scored in each of the first two innings and when Carpenter went to the mound to remove Art Yeats, the stadium exploded in a chorus of boos, directed at the manager. By the sixth inning, the Mets led 6 to 2 and several brawls had erupted in the left field stands, while members of the Stadium Control Crowd were laboring mightily to restore order.
By the bottom of the seventh inning, the Braves had scored a run and were threatening for more with the bases loaded and one out. With the Braves’ second relief pitcher scheduled to bat, the fans lobbied hard for Cobb to pinch hit. The now-familiar chant served only to reinforce Carpenter’s resolve to keep Cobb confined to the bench. When Karras’s name was announced as the pinch-hitter over the loudspeaker, the boos became intolerable. Had Karras succeeded at the plate, order may have been restored, but he hit a comebacker to the mound, resulting in a 1-2-3 double play, igniting another riot in the outfield bleachers. Drunken fans poured beer onto newspapers and programs, igniting them with cigarette lighters. The torches were lofted toward the field area, but most didn’t reach the field of play. Singed fans in the front rows, believing the flaming embers were intended for them, lashed back at the fans behind, returning fire—some charging up the bleacher steps to attack. By the time the eighth inning opened, more than a hundred fans were embroiled in a full-blown melee and the number of combatants grew rapidly as fans on the periphery soon became enmeshed in the mob’s madness.
The attention of most fans shifted from the game to the growing riot raging in the outfield seats. The chants for Cobb seemed to fuel the fans’ frayed nerves, and stadium officials sensed that his appearance on the field might pacify the crowd’s angry mood.
In the top floor conference room of Bolt tower, labor negotiations had turned ugly; it appeared that both sides were digging in for a long-term work stoppage. A session that had begun with courtesy and decorum had degenerated into vicious personal attacks and threats. When his executive secretary entered the conference room at 10:12 p.m., Bolt was standing, spewing venom at labor leaders in response to innuendos of espionage—a charge Bolt knew to be without foundation. He had rarely before reached the fury of indignation that his words and actions conveyed.
“What is it, Schultz!” Bolt demanded from his employee, unable to shield his annoyance at the interruption in the middle of his fiery delivery.
“An emergency, Mr. Bolt” Victor Shultz walked over to Bolt and whispered in his ear, “There’s a riot at the stadium. The police chief has asked that you intercede.”
Bolt left the conference room in a huff.
In the corridor, an exasperated Bolt inquired, “Now, what the hell is so urgent that requires my intervention?”
Schultz proceeded to brief him on the events which had transpired at the ball park, including Cobb’s benching after his game-winning triple-steal the night before. Bolt erupted at the news. He immediately dialed the phone number in the Braves’ dugout.
With the Braves coming to bat in the bottom of the eighth inning, three runs in arrears, the outfield riot continued to rage, although it had finally been contained and was no longer affecting the game. A Braves’ coach answered the call. “Put Thud on, now!”
The coach handed the phone to the skipper, “It’s the boss… and he wants blood.”
Carpenter picked up the phone and received a verbal lashing unlike any he had ever received in his forty-year baseball career—the language made even the foul-mouthed Carpenter’s hair stand on end, concluding with the final threat, “Do you really want me to decide between you or Cobb?!”
Carpenter, unable to express more than a single word in the one-sided thrashing, hung up the phone just in time to witness Anthony Adams’s double into the right field corner. As Graydon Rhodes began striding to the plate, Carpenter called him back, the chants for Cobb having degenerated into an incomprehensible rumble. In disgust, the manager motioned for Cobb, who had been seated at the far end of the dugout. Maintaining a stoic expression, Cobb moved toward the batting rack. Inside, he felt vindication and victory–he knew that Bolt had entered the fray.
As he took his first steps out of the dugout, the loudspeaker boomed, “And batting for the right fielder Rhodes… it’s T-y-y-y-y-y Cobb!”
The response to the announcement was instantaneous—the chant of “Ty Cobb” was enthusiastically revived by the mob, the decibel level deafening as word spread that fans would finally witness the man they had paid to see. Word passed among the rioters in the outfield bleachers. In a matter of seconds, those posturing to throw the next punch changed their focus to the player striding toward the plate.
The umpire extended his hand while Cobb dug in at the plate. The Mets’ hurler, Zach Grover, rehearsed in his mind a decision that had been reached in the tavern the night before, following the humiliating defeat; “Whoever has first crack at him—take him down!”
Cobb had made up his mind to waste no time waiting for his fireworks; he planned to step into the first offering, if it was anywhere near the strike zone.
The first pitch was served at 98 miles per hour…
Directly at Cobb’s head.
Cobb stepped into the pitch as the hurler delivered; unable to shift direction, Cobb turned his head toward the plate at the precise instant that the missile crushed his helmet, toppling him to the dirt.
All eyes were on the stricken batter as he lay motionless on the ground. Time stood still for an instant as the crowd went speechless. Suddenly the Atlanta trainer and base coaches began running toward Cobb; however, no teammate exited the bench, nor did the Braves’ manager.
“That was one dangerous message sent to teach this rookie a lesson.”
“Stan, I can’t believe Carpenter isn’t out there screaming at the umpire and the pitcher. It’s as though the whole team is oblivious to what just happened.”
“There is obviously some deep-rooted resentment on the Braves’ squad against their own teammate…”
“Never seen anything like it. Cobb still hasn’t moved.”
“He looks unconscious. This could be very serious…”
DeMarcus Gates, the on-deck batter, remained in the on-deck circle on one knee, sending a subtle nod to the triumphant pitcher.
The trainer first checked Cobb’s pulse and then administered ammonia inhalants when he got no immediate response. Cobb suddenly convulsed for a second and came to. The trainer asked the questions dictated by the concussion protocol, but Cobb was unable to respond, only blinking his eyes and moving his head back and forth with a look of confusion. Cobb struggled to sit up and put his hands to his ears; he felt nauseous and there was a loud ringing in his ears. The trainer barked orders to the coaches to assist Cobb off the field.
The third base coach argued, “Wait a minute, let’s see how he responds. If we take him out… there’ll be mutiny.”
“We can’t risk it,” the trainer reasoned. “There’s no question he’s suffered a concussion. I need to follow league protocol.”
Rubbing his eyes, Cobb had trouble focusing. There was a searing pain next to his right temple in addition to the loud ringing in his ears. Cobb struggled to get up, but the trainer had his hands on his torso and ordered him to stay put. Cobb pushed away the trainer’s arms and managed to get to his feet on his own power, but staggered for a moment, nearly losing his balance.
The buzzing fans suddenly detonated in a resounding cheer as they observed Cobb standing.
“I’m all right,” Cobb lied, resisting the trainer’s protestations.
“Now, hold on there a minute,” the trainer yelled, but Cobb was already lumbering down the first baseline.
The trainer followed Cobb grabbing his elbow, “I can’t let you play.”
Cobb brushed his arm away and continued to ignore the trainer, reaching first base. The trainer looked into the Braves’ dugout for further instructions from Carpenter. Carpenter motioned the trainer back into the dugout.
Meantime, the home plate umpire ceremoniously ejected Grover for what was obviously an intentional shot at the batter’s head. He then issued a stern warning to both skippers not to retaliate or there would be more ejections.
As the new Mets’ pitcher began warming up, the Braves’ pitcher, Jules Mervyn, sauntered over to Carpenter.
“Shall I return the favor, skip?”
“Hell no!” Carpenter responded back with a glare. “No retaliation. He deserves what he got!”
With runners on first and second, Gates ran the count to 3 and 0. He didn’t bother looking for the green light—the way he had been pounding the ball, it was automatic. He smashed the next pitch into the left centerfield stands where there was no longer any vestige of a riot.
The game was suddenly knotted at 6 runs a piece, and it was now Gates’s turn to exit the dugout—twice—to ear-splitting cheers.
The Mets came to the plate in the ninth inning, the crowd demanding payback, expecting a Met to be pasted on each succeeding pitch. However, no pitch from Mervyn remotely threatened any Mets’ batter. The crowd registered its disapproval until Mervyn finally retired the side without a run scoring and cheers supplanted the boos.
In the bottom half of the inning, Cobb was the fifth scheduled batter. Searling and Martinez reached on an error and walk, respectively. Anticipation in the stadium grew as the crowd smelled victory. Trevor Hampton pinch hit for Mervyn. On the third offering, Hampton hit a scorcher toward second base. The Mets’ gold glover, Claudell Jones, dove to his right and speared the line drive and before crashing, flipping the ball to the shortstop to double off Searling by an eyelash, deflating the crowd’s hope for victory.
With two outs, Adams advanced toward the plate; Cobb was on deck.
The Mets’ reliever quickly got two strikes on Adams. However, Adams refused to give in, coaxing the count to three balls and two strikes. When the next pitch hit the dirt, Adams dropped the bat and jogged toward first.
Cobb approached the plate to the shrill of the crowd. His vision had been blurry since the beaning; he still felt nauseous, his head ached and the ringing persisted in his ear. With uncontrolled anger, he bailed out at the first pitch, swinging and missing by six inches.
Cobb stepped out of the batter’s box. He hadn’t seen the first pitch clearly. Rubbing his eyes and adjusting his helmet, he readied for the next pitch. He started his swing and then held up, as the split-fingered pitch dropped into the dirt. After another pitch outside, Cobb retreated from the box for a second time, willing his eyes to focus.
I can’t pick up the spin on the damn ball!
With the count 2 and 1, Cobb swung at a chest-high fastball, barely making contact as the ball dribbled foul. After two more fouls, Cobb forced himself to wait on the next pitch; it intersected the plane of his bat, but the connection wasn’t square and the ball flared into centerfield.
The Mets’ center fielder charged toward the ball, knowing that the game was on the line. For an instant, it appeared that the ball would drop in front of the sprinting defender, but then the fielder dived with his gloved-hand fully extended forward and at that moment it was impossible to tell if he had made the catch.
Suddenly, thunderous applause reverberated through the stadium as spectators spied the ball rolling past the fielder, who lay dejected on the ground. Martinez rounded third base with arms fully extended as the crestfallen Mets began walking off the field. Rioters began exchanging high fives with their former enemy combattants, basking in the victory.
The Braves had won their second straight game, and third in a week on the last inning heroics of the rookie Ty Cobb.
Later that evening, Savannah turned on SportsCenter to catch up on the day’s highlights. In a matter of minutes, replays of Cobb getting hit in the head by Grover’s pitch were shown at various speeds and camera angles. Savannah gasped at the footage and was horrified to see Cobb lying motionless on the ground, but relieved when Cobb rose to his feet and trotted down to first base. She couldn’t understand how Cobb was allowed to remain in the game and then listened to network commentators also expressing their disbelief that Cobb had not been pulled from the game to insure that the league-mandated concussion protocol was followed.
Savannah immediately called Cobb’s Atlanta condo, hoping to reach him, but there was no answer.
“Ty, I just saw the replay. It sickened me. I just pray you’re okay. Grover should be banned for life. Call me. I’m really worried about you.”