A Biography of Jackie Jensen
by George I. Martin
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TY COBB'S ADVICE
Less than two years after receiving the American League MVP award and numerous RBI, homerun, and stolen bases honors (in addition to appearances on the covers of Collier's and Sports Illustrated), the Golden Boy was ready to enjoy a well-deserved rest at home. Such was the conclusion of Al Hirshberg's The Jackie Jensen Story (Mesner Press, 1960). However, as one of Jackie's sons said more than twenty-five years later, "Jack's story really began where that book left off."
Hirshberg couldn't possibly have foreseen the turbulent life that awaited his hero. Like the DuPont Cavalcade movie produced two years earlier, Hirshberg's book inspired young men to make the best of their talents while adhering to high moral standards. Hirshberg had mentioned Jack's early life during the Great Depression with a single parent and the role his high school guidance counselor had played in shaping Jack's character. Furthermore, Jack's fear of flying had been justifiably listed as a cause for his quitting the sport he loved, while his marriage problems had been glossed over. Hirshberg's references to such famous teammates of Jack's as Billy Martin, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, and Ted Williams must have piqued readers' interest.
When Jackie announced that he would not start the 1960 season with the Red Sox, despite a respectable .277 batting average the year before, with 112 RBIs and twenty-eight home-runs, and sixty-seven stolen bases, most of his fans and many sportscasters did not believe him. However, one person took him most seriously. Writing from a hospital bed, Ty Cobb, the seventy-three-year-old "Georgia Peach," apologized in his February 6 letter for giving Jackie unasked-for advice. He felt strongly that Jackie was making a mistake in quitting, and he related his own experience to Jackie's:
I was a ballplayer. I know so well your feelings per being away from your family.
I have been through it, with 5 children their growth and developments and my having to be away. The salary amount as quoted is too much to toss aside. Your family future is in the picture much. Remember you are not going to drop out of baseball for a year or two and come back in your present stride.
You are a hell of a fine ball player Jackie, you are the top man on that club, the figures show. I go on record to you, I say you should not quit, you should lay your true cards on the table ... you represent a lot of money to them also you represent a material amount per salary for your families future. You hav[e] a short period to earn & save, don't kick such aside, unless you really mean it. If its your desire to quit Jackie that's your business only but always remember this letter.
Get the money sure, how much that's also your business. I stress to you, keep this confidential. No one. I do not need publicity, I only felt an urge to write you & shed the light of my experience.
Evidently Jackie did not deem Cobb's advice valuable enough to change his mind, for he stuck to his decision not to return to the Red Sox. However, Cobb's letter did prove to have extrinsic value: Two decades later it was sold at auction to Malcolm Forbes for several hundred dollars.
From The Golden Boy: A Biography of Jackie Jensen by George I. Martin.
Copyright © 2000 by George I. Martin. Reprinted with permission.