In terms of what we know about their personalities, among modern athletes, who is most like Ty Cobb?
While Alex Rodriguez has displayed none of Cobb’s violent temper, both players seem to have suffered from the same limitations in their personalities. For instance, many fans – rightly or wrongly – perceive Rodriguez as a jerk. They don’t know him personally, but the fragments of his personality that fans receive from the media tend to produce a picture of an unlikeable, arrogant, and selfish man. In every stadium, there are fans who delight in expressing their dislike for Rodriguez. The is an old story for A-Rod. For his entire career – once he left Seattle to sign the biggest baseball contract in history – he was a villain in the eyes of many baseball fans (and it defies easy explanation – for instance fan dislike of A-Rod predates any discussion of Rodriguez’s use of performance-enhancing drugs).
There is also reason to believe that Rodriguez’s team-mates and other players find him irritating, and that regardless of how well he plays, he remains socially on the outside of the ball-clubs he plays on.
Maybe another possible comparison with Cobb was Sean Avery, the NHL player. Like Cobb, he projected high self-regard (though unlike Cobb or Rodriguez, Avery was never considered among the best in his sport), struggled to get along with other playes, and had interests outside of sports that were unconventional for male athletes (i.e., beyond hunting or gambling). Avery famously was into women’s fashion design – and appeared to be pretty good at it. Cobb had diverse cultural interests outside of baseball, including ballroom dancing, acting in the theater, and making movies.
Not surprisingly, evidence suggests that Cobb – a high-born Southerner with a famously intense and confrontational personality, and diverse cultural interests – was at first an outsider on the Tigers, and had a hostile relationship with some of the other players.
But many writers misinterpret his outsider status and early troubles fitting-in as some sort of proof that throughout his career his fellow players generally hated him.
This is both an oversimplification and an exaggeration. It is an oversimplification because it ignores the temporal aspect to Cobb’s struggles with his team-mates – when he first joined the club he made a few enemies among the other ball players, but the Cobb antagonists may have been as culpable as Cobb in these squabbles. Within a few years, Cobb’s problems with team-mates largely disappeared.
And it is an exaggeration because even if – throughout his career – some players continued to resent Cobb’s pretensions (or his fame and paycheck) that is not the same thing as proving the other players actively despised Cobb. And the events of May 15, 1912 suggest that while Cobb may have been a bit of a loner under normal circumstances, under pressure the Tigers considered him one of their own.