Book Reviews

Book Review – Baseball Immortal: The Second Coming of Ty Cobb by Roland Colton

Watching baseball commentary, there are often musings on how the players of 100 years ago (or more) would fare against modern pitchers. The game was very different back then. It moved faster (something they are working o this year with the pitch clock) and it was expected that pitchers doctored the ball. On the other hand, there weren’t the finesse pitches that are prevalent in the game today.

In 1911, Ty Cobb is one of the more ornery players of the era. He’s frustrated with how the season ended playing for the Detroit Tigers. When he’s offered an inordinate amount of money to do a vaudeville tour, he reluctantly takes it, thinking it will be good for his family. When he’s outside of a hotel in Atlanta, he’s hit bu a carriage.

In the present day, a man is a victim of a hit-and-run car accident. When he wakes up, everything seems alien to him. He needs facial reconstruction and points to a picture of Ty Cobb, claiming that’s who he is. Savannah Cain is a sportswriter for a national magazine who hears his story and helps him escape the hospital and the doctor that wants him committed for his own personal notoriety. She takes him to her brother’s farm to hide out as well as recover. Calvin Cain is a former pitcher who recently retired from the game.

Through their connections, they manage to get him a try-out for the Atlanta Braves. “Ty Cobb” shows remarkable skills and is signed to a contract. At first, he dazzles everyone and draws the crowds. Is he the real Ty Cobb, come back from beyond? Or is he Chase Ripley, a college sensation who seems to have disappeared right around the time of the accident?

The story here is great for baseball fans. It paints the picture of a star from a bygone era dropped in the middle of the game of today. Well, a few years ago. There’s no pitch clock. Cobb thinks nothing of sliding into a base with his cleats held high in intimidation. The game of yesteryear was not a gentleman’s game. His meteoric rise to the major leagues and the attention he gets builds resentment among his teammates. Cobb had a reputation as a racist even back then, and here he has a hard time adjusting to playing with minorities and brings on the wrath of those teammates down on him. To a degree, he’s used to that, but he doesn’t have his family to go back to every night. He pines for his wife and children.

Author Roland Colton has done a great job with the story. There are a few things that bothered me, such as the way Savannah and Calvin basically abandon Cobb once he’s in the major leagues. Savannah doesn’t know what to make of him, and they aren’t really bonding romantically, but it’s like she used him for a story and then dropped him. Granted, they both have lives to go back to, but these are the only real friends Cobb seems to have in this time and they know that. Savannah isn’t sure she believes he’s really Ty Cobb, but she doesn’t even attempt to counsel him on the differences in the game from 1911 to 2011 (or thereabouts), particularly the presence of minority players.

However, the story of this man from that era being dropped into the middle of the modern game comes off as totally believable. Colton takes the reader into Ty Cobb’s head, so even if in the long run he turns out not to be the time-displaced superstar, we get an idea of how Ty Cobb would have reacted in these situations and how he would perceive them. I could understand Cobb’s reasoning in how he plays the game because Colton gives enough perspective from a player from 1911.

I really enjoyed Baseball Immortal: The Second Coming of Ty Cobb. It feels like the author got it right in terms of how Cobb would have to adapt to play in today’s game, and in what ways his style of playing would not be appreciated today. People can look at Cobb’s statistics and call him a great player, but he was also the product of the time he played in. Colton does a great job merging the two and showing what would work, what would be different, and why.

When I picked up this book to read, I thought it was the first in a series about different players dropped into the modern era. Instead, it seems to be the first in a trilogy of books about Ty Cobb in the modern era. At the end of this one, I still couldn’t be sure what the truth was about who the player was. I guess I”ll be reading the next two to find out.

Next book in the series:

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