This month marks the 50th anniversary of the death of Ty Cobb, the irascible Detroit Tigers right-fielder who was the first player voted into baseball’s Hall of Fame.
Less well known is that Cobb, a Georgian who eventually retired to California, was a Twin Falls businessman during the 1940s and ’50s.
In his third season in the major leagues — 1907 — Cobb began buying Coca-Cola stock and doing magazine and newspaper endorsements for the Atlanta-based beverage maker. By the time he died, he owned 20,000 shares of stock and bottling plants in Twin Falls; Bend, Ore., and Santa Maria, Calif. Cobb invested well elsewhere, but his relationship with Coke alone made him a rich man.
After Cobb retired in 1928, he made a salmon-fishing trip to Idaho and discovered Twin Falls. In the years that followed, he returned several times and eventually built the city’s first soft-drink bottling plant.
Then he hired his second-oldest son, Herschel, to help run it.
Herschel Cobb had a troubled childhood, according to Ty Cobb’s latest biographer, Don Rhodes.
In 1935 at the age of 18, Herschel was arrested by San Mateo, Calif., County sheriff’s deputies after a 19-year-old female friend accused him of assault and battery — apparently the result of a romantic encounter gone wrong. He was acquitted by a 10-man, two-woman jury.
According to Rhodes’ 2008 biography “Ty Cobb: Safe at Home,” two years earlier in Augusta, Ga., Herschel Cobb had been helping an older friend put gas in a car parked back of the Cobb residence. The boy struck a match, which ignited the gas and severely burned the older man. He died three days later.
Herschel Cobb was sued by the man’s mother, but a jury decided in his favor.
Some time after his acquittal on the assault and battery charge, Herschel Cobb went to work for his dad, first at the Twin Falls plant and then in Santa Maria. He died there of a heart attack in 1951, at the age of 33.
Ty Cobb, meanwhile, was a frequent visitor during the ’40s to the Harmon Park stadium where the minor league Twin Falls Cowboys — affiliates of the New York Yankees — played. He struck up a friendship with Charlie Metro, the player-manager of the Cowboys in 1948-49, and took an interest in the careers of future major leaguers Gil McDougald, Gus Triandos and Hal Smith — and in Metro, who went on to manage the Chicago Cubs and the Kansas City Royals.
The reputation of Cobb, perhaps the most intense player ever in the major leagues, hasn’t improved since his death. Hard-drinking and openly racist, he delighted in denigrating the reputations and harming the careers of those he played with and against.
But he set 90 major league records, and still holds the marks for the highest career batting average (.366) and most batting titles with 11 during a 25-year playing career.
Steve Crump is the Times-News Opinion editor.