A reporter hired to write the 'official' biography of Ty Cobb discovers just how dark the baseball legend's real story is
The average Brit may only have heard of baseball legend Ty Cobb via a throwaway remark (“Ty Cobb wanted to play but none of us could stand the son-of-a-bitch when he was alive”) in Field Of Dreams. For the uninitiated, Cobb is unanimously (well, as far as this film is concerned anyway) thought of as the greatest baseball player of all time. His amazing records and attacking game earned him a super-bastard reputation he compounded with off-field bigotry, cruelty, misogyny and all-round scumbaggery.
Ron Shelton, filmdom’s biggest sports fan (Bull Durham, White Men Can’t Jump), mercifully saves us from yet another rise-and-fall movie by concentrating on Cobb’s last years. The aged Ty (Jones) engages sports writer Al Stump (Wuhl) to write his biography and drags him cross country to a Hall Of Fame event, shocking the journo with gonzoid behaviour which stretches to heavy racial and sexual abuse and frequent discharges of the gun he packs as a compensation for impotence.
Opening with a newsreel and having a media man investigate the life of a great American, Cobb borrows much from Citizen Kane, but also, weirdly enough, Ingmar Bergman’s Wild Strawberries: a road movie about a miserable old git travelling to a celebration of his career in the company of a younger person who hates him, with both forced to confront their own character flaws and maybe learn something about life in general. Shelton’s pithy and resonant dialogue gives it a freshness all of its own.
Hardly an easy sell to an none-the-wiser British public, this is still a movie to see, if nothing else for Jones’ screen bulging showboat performance: the film never sentimentalises the old swine as it explores the nature of his genius. Terrific ballplayer, miserable human being. Unworthy subject, great movie.
Massively underrated early Shelton.