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Monday, April 25, 2016

Ty Cobb

Roots in Ripon
25 April 2016
Chuck Roots

Ty Cobb

As I continue to research Ty Cobb the baseball player and the man’s character, I come away forming a much different picture of this larger than life person who inexplicably became a target for those who chose to denigrate him.
How could so many writers, sports writers in particular, get so many stories wrong about this man? I don’t know. But this much I can surmise: Sports writers worked under deadlines which meant they had to write stories which would appeal to their readership. In that era newspapers were king in the world of communication. The demand for current and updated material for publication no doubt exerted its own pressure on those making a living investigating reports on the antics of professional athletes.
One of the hits on Cobb was his aggressiveness, which lead to fights with other players. It’s true that he hated to lose. Then again, who doesn’t? He had three fist fights, originally reported to have been with black players. This was later proved to be false. He did mix it up with other players on a number of different occasions. I can hardly blame him for mixing it up with an opposing player, or even a teammate. In my own time in sports I had my share of “knuckle-and-skull” encounters, beginning with Pee Wee League baseball running through a year of college football, two years of football in the Marine Corps, and years of fast and slow pitch softball in the service. Today I’m relegated to golf, but I’m just as competitive as ever! But throwing hands in an altercation with someone is, thankfully, long ago in my past.
Charles Leerhsen, the other of this article on Ty Cobb, asks the question:So how did such a distinguished author (Charles Alexander) make such obvious mistakes? When I asked Alexander about this, he simply replied, ‘I went with the best information I had at the time.’” Thus the mischaracterization of Major League Baseball’s first member of the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, Ohio was analytically tarred-and-feathered by a sensationalistic media that looked to spice up any rumor or supposed true story about one of the game’s great players.
“Ty Cobb getting a walk is more exciting than Babe Ruth hitting a home run,” a sportswriter once said. Leerhsen reports that Cobb held a batting average of better than .400 in three different seasons. He also holds the record in stealing home plate – 54! He once stole 2nd, 3rd, and home on three consecutive pitches. He would constantly shuffle around in the batter’s box, attempting to distract the pitcher. On base he would do the same thing to disrupt the infielders. It must have worked because they could never stop him.
Another hit on Cobb was the accusation that he sharpened his spikes so he could cut opposing players while sliding into base. Players he played with and against were later interviewed, and to a man they denied that Ty Cobb ever filed his spikes. Leerhsen writes, “And some sportswriters—understanding that sports is less about scores than about storylines, and that without antagonists stories fall flat—were willing to fan the flame and depict the aggressive, unpredictable Cobb as a dirty player. Many of the quotes I found from opposing players defending Cobb’s style were in response to charges that he was a spiker. To a man, they said he wasn’t. And in 1910, Cobb wrote to the American League president asking that players be forced to dull their spikes so that he might be free of the dirty-player charge.”
In the late 1950s Cobb went on the wildly popular TV show, “I’ve Got A Secret.” Baseball had changed so much since Cobb retired in 1928 that no one guessed his secret even after he told them he still held the record for the highest batting average in baseball. To top it off, none of the panelists even recognized him. He had fallen into the sports world’s version of “The Twilight Zone.”
As he aged he was troubled that his legacy was being framed by unscrupulous sports writers. Wanting to set the record straight, he was to have his story told for publication by Doubleday & Company who hired a discredited writer who spent a couple of days with Cobb, only to stonewall the great player as to what he was writing, refusing to share with Cobb the manuscript he was putting together. Al Stump was known for simply making stories up for the purposes of the sensational effect it garnered. Cobb threatened to sue Stump and Doubleday, but unfortunately he died before any legal action could be taken. A few months later the book was published, My Life in Baseball: The True Story, mischaracterizing a flawed human being, dragging his name and reputation through the proverbial mud.
Stump wrote that everyone hated Ty Cobb, and that only three people attended his funeral. Leerhsen further writes, It didn’t matter that Cobb’s family had put out the word that his funeral was a private service, or that four of his closest friends in baseball did attend, or that thousands of people packed the church and lined the way to the cemetery. Despite all this, people thrilled to the story of the monstrous Cobb.
“What I didn’t understand before," Leerhsen says, “was the power of repetition to bend the truth. In Ty Cobb’s case, the repetition has not only destroyed a man’s reputation, it has obliterated a real story that is more interesting than the myth.
A friend wrote following last week’s initial article on Ty Cobb informing me that having grown up in Georgia, everyone already knew the real Ty Cobb. That was good to hear.

So, for me, I want the truth about someone. Not fabrications and sensationalism. And good for Ty Cobb for being a man who is the genuine article: a baseball pioneer and icon who is dressed in the frail trappings of humanity.

Monday, April 18, 2016

A Baseball Surprise

Roots in Ripon
18 April 2016
Chuck Roots

A Baseball Surprise

It has been said that if you repeat a lie long enough it becomes truth in the minds of the masses. This story corroborates this old adage.
As a kid growing up in the 1950s my every waking moment was an exercise in figuring out a way to play baseball with my friends. If we didn’t have enough guys to field two teams we’d usually play “Flies Up!” The complete name is “Three Flies Up”, and has variations on what constitutes the game. All I knew back then is I could never get enough of it. I loved playing baseball!
Because of a similarity in names, I was often asked by adults if I was related to the Chicago Cubs pitcher, Charlie Root. He played from 1926-1941, and still holds the club record for games, innings and career wins with 201. Some people called me Charlie when I was a kid. My sister started calling me Chas sometime in the mid-to-late 1950s. Today my wife calls me Charles, but I’m known as Chuck to most everyone else. But my last name ends in “s”, clearly separating me from Charlie Root.
The baseball player I want to tell you about actually was ending his career about the time Charlie Root was starting his. A contemporary sports writer decided to do an updated version of the story of Ty Cobb since it had been several decades since anyone had written about this well-storied and maligned player.
Journalist, author, lecturer, and adjunct professor, Charles Leerhsen, has been an editor for Sports Illustrated, People, and US Weekly. In a lecture on April 7 at Hillsdale College he really opened a can of worms -- at least for me. His book published in 2015, entitled, Ty Cobb: A Terrible Beauty, won the 2015 Casey Award for best baseball book of the year.
The title for his talk given at Hillsdale was, “Who Was Ty Cobb? The History We Know That’s Wrong.” In the 1995 movie, Cobb, starring Tommy Lee Jones, the supposed dark side of Ty Cobb is portrayed, titillating our more prurient interests in man’s fallen nature. It certainly is easier to believe the worst about someone, especially if we don’t know them or if we don’t care to know the truth. After all, it makes for juicier stories if we ignore the truth. Such was the case in the life of Ty Cobb.
As author Leerhsen explains, he became curious about this “bad-boy” of baseball. Were all these stories about him really true? As a journalist more interested in the truth than sensationalism, Leerhsen began to dig into newspaper stories dating back to the early 1900s when Ty Cobb first appeared in a Detroit Tigers uniform in 1905. What he discovered was a much different story than we have been told. Leerhsen makes no effort to raise Cobb to sainthood (nor do I through this article) but Tyrus Cobb was no more flawed in his character than anyone else.
 Cobb, starring Tommy Lee Jones in the title role, told me it was “well known” that Cobb had killed “as many as” three people.” (Imprimis, Who Was Ty Cobb: The History We Know That’s Wrong, March 16 – Volume 45, Number 3, Charles Leerhsen).
Cobb was also portrayed as an unsavory character in the blockbuster film, Field of Dreams, starring Kevin Costner and James Earl Jones. In one of the final scenes, Shoeless Joe Jackson says they don’t want Cobb to join them because no one liked Cobb.
A writer by the name of Al Stump wrote a biography of Cobb following the player’s death in 1961. He penned such nasty stories that they quickly grew in the buzz of baseball circles and beyond so that these stories were later, erroneously, incorporated into books and film leaving our current generation believing lies about an otherwise very good man who happened to be one outstanding baseball player.
“Baseball historian Timothy Gay wrote that Cobb would pistol-whip any black person he saw on the sidewalk,” was one of the many false narratives going around. Leerhsen discovered the opposite to be true.
“But what about Cobb’s 19th-century Southern roots?” Leerhsen asks. “How could someone born in Georgia in 1886 not be a racist? What I found—and again, not because I am the Babe Ruth of researchers, but because I actually did some research—is that Ty Cobb was descended from a long line of abolitionists. His great-grandfather was a minister who preached against slavery and was run out of town for it. His grandfather refused to fight in the Confederate army because of the slavery issue. And his father was an educator and state senator who spoke up for his black constituents and is known to have once broken up a lynch mob.
“Cobb himself was never asked about segregation until 1952, when the Texas League was integrating, and Sporting News asked him what he thought. ‘The Negro should be accepted wholeheartedly, and not grudgingly,’ he said. ‘The Negro has the right to play professional baseball and whose [sic] to say he has not?’ By that time he had attended many Negro league games, sometimes throwing out the first ball and often sitting in the dugout with the players. He is quoted as saying that Willie Mays was the only modern-day player he’d pay to see and that Roy Campanella was the ballplayer that reminded him most of himself.”
This sure makes you wonder about what is said about anyone.

I will address this troubling historical injustice toward Ty Cobb further in my next article.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Minimum Wage Increase

Roots in Ripon
11 April 2016
Chuck Roots

Minimum Wage Increase

         Recently, my daughter, Laura Spence, wrote an article for her Face Book page. She takes on the new California law signed by Governor Jerry Brown, authorizing a gradual increase in the Minimum Wage until it tops out at $15.00/hour. I asked her if I could share it with the readers of my Roots in Ripon column. Enjoy!

So many of you are excited about the new California $15 an hour minimum wage increase because you think you will be making more money.  And you will, sort of. Let me explain to you how the minimum wage increase actually works.  
Let’s say you are a small business owner and your profit (personal take-home) is $100,000 a year after all of your expenses (using nice round numbers for simplicity).  As the business owner you have 2 full-time employees who currently make $10 an hour working a 40 hour week.  As the employer, on top of the wages you pay, you are also responsible for the overhead: insurance, sick pay, taxes, gas, transportation costs, etc.  Now if you take those same 2 employees and increase their hourly wage from $10 an hour to $15 an hour they go from making $20,000 a year to $30,000 a year (accounting for two weeks of vacation).  That is now $20,000 more a year (or the equivalent of hiring a 3rd employee). 
Now, as the business owner, are you going to take that out of your $100,000 a year take-home profit leaving you with $80,000 a year? Or will you pass that raise increase and additional expenses on to your consumers by raising your prices? Of course you will pass it on. Keep in mind that along with the business owner’s prices being raised, all the prices of doing business up and down the chain go up:  taxes go up (got to pay the government more, too), insurance goes up, transportation costs go up, overhead goes up, etc., etc.  So instead of raising prices just a little bit to cover the salary expenses, business operators will raise their prices a LOT to cover ALL their expenses in order to make a profit!  A cheeseburger for $1.50 will now be $3.00; a $5 latte will now be $7; a $20 clothing item will now be $25; a $20,000 car will now be $25,000, etc. So tell me, are you really making more money? Technically, yes, you will bring home more money (But maybe not! Since you will be making more, your personal taxes go up too!). In the long run your money will not go as far, and you will be just as broke as you were before.  
Now what about those people who already make $15 an hour? They either worked their way up to that amount, or they have acquired a skill in their trade (went to school to learn it). What happens to them?  Do they get a wage increase too?  Nope! They lose that pay difference and will now be making what everyone else makes (reducing their value to the company, or damaging the incentive to work harder). And they have to pay the higher prices along with everyone else.
Minimum wage was not designed to be a lifelong career choice, or to support a family. It’s meant to be a stepping stone or a starting point for young people to gain experience and learn by working their way up the career ladder. I wish that the lawmakers in Sacramento would stop assuming they know what is best for “We the People” and allow the free market to run itself. They obviously have no clue how this all works!  
Wake up California!  We will ALL be losing in this deal. Raising the minimum wage is one more step toward embracing socialism. If you think otherwise, then you are severely mistaken! But don’t just take my word for it. Study any country that has attempted to engineer socialism. Cuba, Greece, Russia, England, and others. It never works! It never has, and it never will.

Next week I will delve into the life of the first player to be inducted to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Monday, April 04, 2016

Walk into my Parlor

Roots in Ripon
4 April 2016
Chuck Roots

Walk into my Parlor

When traveling, a person is usually exposed to the many cultures, mores and traditions being practiced in the region of the world they happen to be in. The word “mores” (pronounced: mor’az) is taken from the Latin word meaning “customs”. Every people group and culture has its own peculiarities when it comes to these beliefs, and traditions.
Having had the privilege of moving frequently (an education in itself!) as a child, I soon learned that not everybody thought the same way as we Americans tend to do, nor did they understand our national peculiarities. For instance, my step father, joined with other American businessmen whom he had worked with in the grocery industry, formed a new company called International Supermarkets, Inc. This grand experiment was launched in 1960 in Paris, France. The plan was to convince the French (and hopefully all of Europe) of the wonderful convenience of shopping for their daily/weekly food supplies in one location. At that time France was still suffering the aftereffects of World War Two. Charles de Gaulle was president of France, and no friend to America. As a twelve-year-old kid from New England, I found it amusing watching and listening to this man pontificate on French television. I suspect he was not enamored with a group of American businessmen attempting to change French shopping habits.
At that time the French still shopped the way they had been shopping for generations. The women would grab their mesh bags and begin shopping at the meat market which was barely a hole-in-the-wall. In fact, all the various stands were similar in size and construction. After visiting the meat market, would be the vegetable stand, followed by the bakery, etc. Sanitation had to be a problem for these merchants. I remember only too well the skinned rabbits hanging from butcher hooks in the open air in Paris! Other meats were equally exposed to the elements which really didn’t bother me because I didn’t know any better. But I’m guessing my mother was very cautious. Since I was learning to speak French in school, I often did the shopping for my mother. There are some funny stories about that, but that’s for another article. Today, grocery stores abound.
After my time in Vietnam, I returned to college where I met my wife, Isaura. She initially introduced herself as Hazel. After we began a courtship, I learned that she and her family emigrated from Portugal (The Azores) in 1966. So I said to her one day, “What’s your real first name, since Hazel is not Portuguese?” When she told me her actual name was Isaura, I told her I liked that better. Over the next months and years I was immersed into the Portuguese culture. I discovered one of those Portuguese idiosyncrasies while on our visit to her home island of San Miguel when I was stationed in Rota, Spain. We took some leave and flew on a Navy plane to Lajes Air Force Base on the island of Terceira. We then flew to her home island where we stayed with one of her cousins, and visited numerous other family members for the five days we were there. In each of the homes I kept seeing the same strange arrangement of rooms and furniture. Depending on the financial status of the family they would create a part of the home actually they lived in, and a home they didn’t live in but wanted others to be impressed with. It was like part of the home was lived in, and the other part of the home was a showcase.
One night after retiring to our bedroom, I asked about this strange arrangement. Isaura explained that a living room, or dining room, or a kitchen might be set up with everything perfectly appointed, with the best of silverware and dishes, towels, napkins, candle sticks, rugs, and other furnishings depending on taste. The place where food was actually prepared, or where the family hung out or ate their meals was often more plebeian, lacking in everything the rooms-for-show had in spades.
The whole five days we were there we never once ate in the “formal” dining area of any of the homes.
As bemused as I was with this strange tradition, I well remember Isaura’s aunt, known to all as Tia Maria. Along with her uncle, Tio Manuel, this is where Isaura lived while attending San Jose State. Tia Maria was my favorite family member! Every time I was there to see Isaura, Tia would want to feed me! When I graduated from SJSU Tia Maria prepared a celebratory dinner in my honor, even inviting my parents to drive down from their home in Alameda for the occasion. I knew it was a very special moment because Tia Maria hosted the dinner in the “formal” dining room. Isaura commented that she had never seen her aunt serve a dinner in that room before or after.

If you’ve never been in our home, let me put you at ease. All the rooms in our home are used for their intended purpose. I love my wife’s family and their Portuguese history and traditions. But “showrooms” is not on the list for us!

Psalm for the Day