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Tyrus Raymond Cobb played baseball like a man charging a machine-gun nest. He gave no quarter, took no prisoners. And when his Hall of Fame career was over, Ty Cobb attacked life the same way.
Tommy Lee Jones portrays the legendary - and equally cheered and detested - Georgia Peach in this acclaimed film from writer/director Ron Shelton (Bull Durham, Dark Blue), also starring Robert Wuhl and Lolita Davidovich. From its recapturing of the outfielder's playing days (Roger Clemens portrays a rival pitcher) to its recreation of a 1961 Hall of Fame banquet, Cobb is a movie grand slam.
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Right after Al Stump (played wonderfully by Robert Wuhl) meets with Cobb (Tommy Lee Jones in one of his finest performances) at the ex-ballplayer's Nevada manse, there's a scene where the old man takes one shot with a long barreled revolver at a buck that has wandered onto his property. He does so from a second floor window and fires into a pitch dark night. The deer bolts away as Ty announces proudly that he's shot the animal's throat out. Of course Stump scoffs at this, but later he finds the dead buck on Cobb's snow-covered lawn, bloody fur near its throat.
By inference, Cobb's keen eye and hand coordination are undiminished, even at age 72. I've read in several biographies that Ty quit baseball at age 42 because his knees were wrecked and his reflexes had slowed. So this story is apocryphal, but it helps to cue us that what's ahead is a piece of fiction about the arguably greatest player to ever set foot on a diamond.
So, I enjoy this movie for what it is: sports-related entertainment. It's a personal favorite.
Ty, "Stumpy" and Cobb's baseball cronies are all presented here as very flawed human beings. The other players publicly honor his career at a Cooperstown dinner but in private they tell Tyrus to go to hell. Even Mickey Cochrane, whom Cobb supported for years, gives his benefactor the thumb when Ty attempts to crash a hotel room party being attended by other Hall of Famers.
Comic relief kudos go to Lou Myers as Willie, the great man's outspoken ex-servant. In a hilarious moment while Cobb, Stump and Willie are careening down a snow-clogged twisty mountain road on their way to Reno, Will sits in the car's back seat and trashes Cobb's ballplaying, naming --his-- choices for the best in every category that Ty excelled in. Not surprising, none of Willie's preferences are white. His story of Cool Papa Bell is the movie's funniest moment.
Louis Prima and Keely Smith lookalikes, entertaining a late-night Reno audience, are another highlight. Ty manages to co-opt their show, and brings it to a screeching halt with his racism and vulgarities.
Lolita Davidovich also gets a nod as casino cigarette girl Ramona. Her encounter with Stump and Cobb has a general ring of truth to it. Trying to bed an attractive but shy fellow (Stump), Ramona gets too drunk. Just as they're becoming friendly in Al's room, Cobb comes crashing in, totally out of control. He knocks the sportswriter unconscious and drags "his girl" back to his own room. It's the sort of dangerous situation that has probably occurred untold times. This actress handles a very tough scene like a pro. Our sympathies are with Ramona as she flees half-naked from Ty and Al, cursing them both, clearly sobered and perhaps wisened up.
At story's end, we don't like Al Stump nearly as much as we did at its beginning. Ty Cobb is dead, in his own words, "misunderstood in his genius, as genius always is." He died rich in money yet destitute for lack of friends. The great tragedy is, on-field acheivements, and they are considerable, were all that mattered to the universally despised Tyrus Raymond Cobb. As he stated in the autobiography ghosted by Stump: "Baseball was everything to me."
It's too bad people didn't matter, even a tiny bit, to this man.
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