Episode 65 — Chapter 73
April 26, 27, 28
Atlanta at Cleveland
The Braves traveled to Cleveland for a three-game inter-league series. When Cobb first entered the field to warm up, he blinked hard at the sight of the opposing players. For a brief instant, he thought he had returned home. The Cleveland players were adorned in precisely the same attire that Cobb remembered when the Tigers had played the Naps more than a hundred years before. Their uniforms were white with the word “Cleveland” in capital letters across the chest in a semi-circle, collars on some players extending up the neck and black caps with a small white “C.”
Cobb remained perplexed until he heard the starting line-ups announced. “… and to commemorate Ty Cobb’s return to baseball, the Cleveland Naps are attired in throw-back uniforms from 1910.” There was strong applause and even a couple of the Indian players doffed their cap in the direction of the Braves’ dugout.”
Unfortunately, Cobb’s performance didn’t live up to expectations. He did manage an infield hit in three official atbats, but his play in the field directly contributed to the Braves’ loss when he misplayed a ground ball single into a double and failed to charge a short fly ball that should have been caught. Only days before, he could do no wrong; now many of the fans were muted in their applause for Cobb and the boo-bird club was growing.
After the game, Carpenter intensified his relentless pestering to Bolt to have Cobb benched; this time, Bolt reluctantly acquiesced after witnessing Cobb’s lackluster performance in the Tuesday night affair.
I wonder why he hasn’t called?
Arriving a half hour early to her office at Sport Report, Savannah clicked onto the MLB.COM website and accessed the highlights from the Atlanta-Cleveland game. There was a highlight excerpt entitled, “Cobb’s Misplays Doom Braves.” Savannah cringed as she watched his fielding errors. He seemed tentative in the field, unsure of himself—diametrically different from his normal confident swagger. It didn’t make sense. He had been razor sharp in the field until the last couple of games.
Something is wrong.
Was Ty just a college player who had finally been seized with a crisis of confidence playing at the game’s highest level? She’d seen it happen to other rookies, soon after their initial splash.
Could this be more evidence to refute Cobb’s fantastical claim of being the Detroit superstar? The player considered by many experts to be the greatest ever to play the game would certainly not wilt under the pressure of a handful of major league games.
He’s hypnotic, he mesmerizes me with his look, his language, his actions. But, who is he really?
Savannah’s thoughts returned to the conversation she’d had with Ike Hughes, Chase Ripley’s college coach. She wondered if it was possible that Ripley had somehow assumed Cobb’s identity following the horrific accident? Ripley seemed a potential candidate because of the similarities in size and baseball skill. And Cobb shared at least some of the personality traits of Ripley: a troubled soul, a loner, a domineering father. But why would anyone want to take on the persona of Ty Cobb, one of the most reviled men in America, despite his extraordinary talent?
As Savannah continued reflecting, she began typing on her keypad. She recalled that Ripley had been M.V.P. of the Fall College World Series. Savannah located a YouTube video from the Series, that indicated a playing time of 05:32. After the obligatory ad, the video started.
One minute into the video, she heard: “2 and 0 to Ripley. Here’s the pitch. He swings.” Boing! “He got all of that, it’s heading toward the rightfield bleachers. Ripley puts the Dogs up 4 to 3.”
The metallic sound of a baseball hitting an aluminum bat reminded her that college players used metal bats. Thank goodness major league baseball has never gone metal; the crack of the ball striking a wooden bat is one of the sweetest sounds there is.
The video of Chase batting lasted only a couple of seconds. She replayed it several times, studying his batting stance–it did seem uncannily similar to Cobb’s—Ripley stood straight up, leaned toward the plate, with a slight bend in his knees. But what Savannah was really looking for was Ripley’s batting grip. Cobb was the only player she had ever seen who used a split-grip and if Ripley held the bat the same way, that would certainly bolster the premise that they were one and the same. Unfortunately, from the playback of Ripley’s home run swing, it was impossible to discern Ripley’s batting grip.
Savannah allowed the video to continue and to her surprise, the next clip was a bird’s-eye slow-motion view of Ripley’s swing. From this angle, the grip of Ripley was easily discernible.
Hands together! There was no split in his batting grip at all.
There it was—mystery solved.
Cobb was obviously not Ripley. Investigation over!
Savannah knew that a hitter wouldn’t change his grip after years of batting. It had all been a wild goose chase. Savannah felt a bit of let down; part of her had hoped he might be the answer to Cobb’s true identity.
I should have known a college player couldn’t jump straight to the majors. Savannah knew that only a very small number of players had ever successfully made the jump from college directly to the majors. In fact, she could think of only two: Dave Winfield and Jim Abbott.
So, if not Ripley, who was this man who seemingly walked in from the past? Savannah’s musings were suddenly interrupted by Ramsey poking his head into her opened office door.
“Shields wants to see you. Act surprised, but I think he’s sending you to Japan for an exclusive story on the World Masters Games.”
Savannah’s jaw dropped. “Are you serious?”
Ramsey gave her the thumbs up. “Congratulations! You better pack your bags.”