Episode 71— Chapter 80
May 20, 21 and 22
Atlanta @ Philadelphia
After losing the opener of the series with the Phillies, the Braves blew a five-run lead in Saturday’s game with Carpenter staying too long with Fournier. In the top of the sixth inning and the Phillies up 6 to 5, the slow-footed Burnham reached first base. Although Carpenter’s personal dislike for the aloof Cobb hadn’t diminished, he was no longer perceived as a threat. He fully expected that Cobb would soon be gone, either released or shipped down to the minors. Nonetheless, there was no denying Cobb’s blazing speed. And if Cobb could help get the club back to .500, where he could breathe a sigh of relief, Carpenter was willing to insert him into a game. What Carpenter did not want was another ground ball double play, something Searling, the next batter, had shown a recent proclivity for. Carpenter motioned for Cobb to pinch-run for Burnham.
The steal sign was given to Cobb, after the first pitch to Searling was a Ball. After several keep-him-honest tosses to first base, Cobb burst toward second. Oscar Gambling, the Phillies’ catcher, called a fast ball and he received the ball in perfect position. In one swift motion, he hurled a strike directly toward second base where the Philly second baseman, Aussie Crandall, was covering on the play. Crandall put his glove in position to receive the throw just a foot above the ground. As Cobb approached, he began his slide, leaving his feet and aiming his spikes high. Cobb’s cleats rammed into Crandall’s ankle, causing the ball to deflect off the fielder’s glove, into the dirt.
Crandall immediately began hopping on the uninjured leg in pain, as he shouted oaths and curses at Cobb. Cobb called time and dusted himself off, pretending to ignore Crandall’s taunting. Angered by Cobb’s indifference, Crandall shoved Cobb hard off the base. Cobb maintained his balance and put up his hands defensively, with a sly smile on his face.
Just as it appeared that Crandall was about to throw a punch, the sprinting Philadelphia trainer came between the two players, and pulled Crandall away before examining his ankle. There was a nasty cut and blood was seeping out of the wound down Crandall’s leg. The trainer sprayed the area with an anti-septic numbing agent, before applying gauze and tape.
“Just wait ‘til I get a chance to return the favor!” Crandall yelled at Cobb as he returned to his position with a noticeable limp.
The partisan Philly fans booed lustily, as play resumed. Moments later, Searling’s routine ground ball, which would have been another double play but for the steal, moved Cobb to third.
Carpenter’s chess play was vindicated when Cobb scored from third on a sacrifice fly. Cobb remained in the game and went to center field, with Rhodes moving to left in place of Burnham.
With the score still tied, Cobb came to bat in the top of the eighth inning with one out and Permak on second base. The feelings of insecurity and ineptitude at the plate continued to plague Cobb as he walked toward the plate. Making matters worse, Gambling, the Philly catcher, began to taunt Cobb; he had taken exception to Cobb carving up his teammate at second base. After a foul ball, Gambling left the plate and advanced several steps toward Cobb, who was retreating to the plate after running halfway to first.
Loud enough for Cobb to hear, but not the umpires in the din of the crowd, he spoke with a menacing look, “You’re a dead man! Next pitch, you are going down for good! You’ll never get up from the dirt. Understand?”
Cobb didn’t acknowledge the threat, which made Gambling’s blood boil even more.
Half expecting another throw at his head, Cobb nevertheless stood fearlessly in the batter’s box, waiting for the pitch, which came in tight on the inside corner of the plate. Swinging hard, Cobb crunched the ball into the dirt directly in front of home plate. The ball bounced incredibly high in the air. By the time it came down, Cobb was a white blur nearing first base and Permak was safely perched on third. Moments later, Permak scored the go-ahead run.
In the top of the ninth inning, the Braves added two more tallies, both coming with two outs. Cobb came to the plate for his second appearance. The incensed Gambling, elevated his threats and taunts another level, hoping for Cobb to react. Cobb maintained his focus and cool and on a 1 and 1 pitch, hit a ground ball just hard enough to elude the grasp of the diving first and second basemen. Semton snuffed out the Phillies’ last chance and the Braves claimed victory.
Similar to the evening before, Cobb entered the hotel bar following the game. He cursed himself for failing so miserably at the plate. The recent fluke base hits did nothing to buoy his confidence—they were not worthy of his talents and as far as he was concerned were further indications of his eroding batting skills. Slowly sipping a gin and tonic on the rocks, he yearned to numb the pain and escape the memories of his life before. With each sip of the drink, he gradually drowned the anxiety and burdens of the day. But Cobb’s descent into oblivion was suddenly arrested when he heard his name called out loudly.
“There’s that son-of-a-bitch Cobb! Filthy, white trash.”
Cobb was in no mood for a fight and ignored the slur.
“Hey, cracker! I’m talkin’ to you.”
Cobb remained immobile, pretending not to hear.
“You yellah-bellied coward. Turn around!” Cobb recognized the voice and as he turned around to face his accuser, a fist smashed into his face, sending him reeling to the ground.
Cobb got up on all fours, attempting to balance himself, when the toe of a boot smashed into his ribs, sending him crashing against the counter wall. Cobb didn’t have to see his attacker to know that it was the Philly catcher, Oscar Gambling. He was vaguely aware of two other conspirators. The shorter of the two was second baseman Aussie Crandall. Crandall egged his teammate on, “Break his ribs. Payback time!”
“Get up, ya racist maggot,” Gambling bellowed as he spit on Cobb, splattering saliva onto Cobb’s face. Cobb staggered to his feet, backpedaling away from the Philly catcher. Gambling charged into Cobb, striking his right side. The force of the blow caused Gambling to spin around and Cobb pummeled his right fist into the catcher’s nose, battering him hard against the bar countertop. His tormentor became momentarily stunned by the unexpected retaliation and Cobb forcefully kicked Gambling in the groin. The catcher doubled up in pain and Cobb came down onto Gambling’s back, fists locked, with all his might. Gambling collapsed to the floor.
A crash of glass diverted Cobb’s attention to Crandall, who was holding a beer bottle, the shattered top creating a deadly, jagged weapon. Crandall and the other Philly stepped toward Cobb. “You’re going to pay with your blood, you bastard!” Crandall promised.
Crandall jabbed at Cobb with the bottle and Cobb lurched backwards, just missing the thrust. Crandall made a second thrust, but Cobb’s quick reflexes clutched Crandall’s menacing wrist as it arced passed him. Twisting Crandall’s wrist hard in the same motion, the bottle dropped to the floor. Still clutching his wrist, Cobb rammed Crandall’s arm behind his back, causing the Philly to shriek in pain. The remaining Philly jumped on Cobb, forcing him to the ground.
“He busted my arm! The maggot busted my arm!” Crandall cried as he lay writhing in pain on the wooden floor beneath a nearby cocktail table.
Gambling had recovered and began kicking Cobb in the chest and head while Cobb lay prone on the floor. The spinning broken beer bottle came to a stop underneath the counter and between the bar stools where Cobb was being mauled. Cobb extended his left hand for the bottle, but a severe kick to his chest caused his arms to instinctively protect himself from further blows. He reached a second time and gripped the bottle tightly with his left hand and stabbed blindly at his attacker. The jagged edge sliced Gambling’s shin area, the searing pain causing him to stumble sideways into a nearby bar stool. The third Philly kicked the bottle out of Cobb’s grasp and began pummeling Cobb’s face, opening a wound above Cobb’s right eye.
In the corner of the bar, less than thirty feet away, four other men witnessed the skirmish. They had remained seated during the entire affair. Gates pretended not to notice the onslaught, but Karras and Concade were cheering on the Philly aggressors. Kevin Hadley, an African American like Gates and Concade, a utility infielder for the Braves, had remained stoic during the skirmish, but now fidgeted as Cobb continued to receive body blows from the Philly aggressor.
Hadley finally stood up and walked over to the scene of carnage. “That’s enough, Hank. You’re gonna kill him!” The Philly player ignored the order and continued kicking the prone Cobb.
Hadley grabbed Hank Washington’s arms from behind, “Y’all got what you came for. Stop before you kill him!”
Hank Washington, also black, looked surprised. “Hey man. You guys said ‘have at it!’” Gambling and Crandall were now upright, both hurting and angry.
“Ain’t through yet,” Crandall chimed, cradling his broken wrist. “I’m going to leave that bastard a reminder,” his pained wrist throbbing. Picking up the broken beer bottle, Crandall approached the semi-conscious and bleeding Cobb, who had slumped against the bar counter between two stools.
“You can leave a reminder without the bottle,” Hadley intervened again, standing between Cobb and Crandall.
“Aw shucks,” Crandall said, dropping the bottle, “Just trying to pay the asshole back.”
Crandall delivered several hard kicks to Cobb’s mid-section.
Hank Washington, Aussie Crandall and Oscar Gambling were all standing now, next to Hadley. “He looks kind’a pathetic now, don’t he,” Gambling said, clearly satisfied with their work. “Tell Karras we appreciate the tip.”
The three Phillies rushed out of the bar, the Braves’ players just steps behind, as the police sirens came roaring around the corner and headed toward the bar’s entrance. An ambulance was dispatched and thirty minutes later, Cobb was admitted to the emergency room of the Pennsylvania-Penn Presbyterian Hospital.