Hardly anyone is alive who can honestly claim to have witnessed Ty Cobb play. It’s been nearly 85 years since The Peach flashed his sharp spikes in a major league ballgame.
Few movie clips exist of Cobb’s playing style – most of them were recorded during spring training or batting practice – few films were shot during actual games in the 1920s.
In fact, there are precious few recordings of Cobb’s voice, just a few snippets here and there, and several more have been lost to history. It wasn’t common for interviews and news clips to be kept in those days. Often, the tapes were re-used several times.
But now there’s an interview with Cobb that has surfaced from the collection of a venerable broadcaster who’s currently in his eighth decade in sports. The interview is one of the gems among more than 1,400 recordings donated to the Library of Congress by Bob Wolff.
For several years, Wolff was the radio voice of the Washington Senators. It was in that role that Wolff conducted an interview with Cobb while the Hall of Fame legend was in D.C. for a visit. It was the late 1940s, and Cobb was a retired businessman, a wealthy millionaire philanthropist whose baseball days were 20 years behind him. Wolff interviewed Cobb at the famed Statler Hotel (now known as the Capital Hilton). In a lengthy interview conducted in Ty’s suite, Wolff discussed Cobb’s career, his greatest moment (Cobb chose his game-tying homer in the 9th inning against the Athletics in a contest from 1907), and the lost art of basestealing.
Probably the most interesting part of the rare interview was when Wolff commented that Cobb was a “pretty mean man on the bases.” The two sparred verbally with each other on that point. Ultimately, Cobb blurted, “You know, the baseline belongs to the runner!”
Wolff was dedicated in the preservation of his collection, to our benefit. Other people he interviewed over the years include Babe Ruth, Jackie Robinson, Bob Feller, Henry Aaron, and nearly every baseball superstar from the last 70+ years.
But among them all, the one that stands out is Cobb. His voice dripping with a gentlemanly and casual southern drawl, Cobb leaps out at the listener in the recording. He seems measured, but also very intellectually capable. The interview is the only surviving long form recording of The Georgia Peach.
The 1950s would age Cobb, and by the time of his death in 1961 from cancer, disease and loneliness had worn on the baseball icon. This interview, a treasure that has only recently been digitally restored and archived for the enjoyment of future generations, is the final (and only) chance we have to hear how the great Ty Cobb really sounded.
Follow this link to here a portion of the Cobb interview and others from the collection.