There I was, reading my Baseball-Reference.com newsletter, when I came across a most startling discovery: the Twins’ Byron Buxton and Detroit Tigers Hall of Famer, Ty Cobb, were both born on Dec. 18.
In the great cosmic order of things, I know this means very little, but I must admit that I reacted with disappointment — not that it’s Buxton’s fault, of course, that he has a connection to the controversial Cobb. There’s another connection as well: both men are from Georgia, although at opposite ends of the state. Cobb was from the town of Narrows, while Buxton hails from Baxley. Cobb’s exploits earned him the nickname The Georgia Peach. Buxton is simply known as “Buck,” not exactly a household name, but it sure would be nice if it was. Perhaps then the memory of Cobb will be rightfully displaced.
There’s nothing you can do about history, and I would never advocate for the removal of someone from the history books. And Cobb certainly has his place in them because he set so many records, including one that likely will forever be his: a career batting average of .366. But perhaps we don’t have to speak so reverently about players such as Cobb.
My lasting image of the former Tigers player was formed by another controversial figure, writer Al Stump and his stories and biography about the former outfielder, one of which was included in a collection of the best sports writing of the 20th century. There’s also Cobb as captured by Ken Burns in his documentary, “Baseball.” If you have read and seen both, it’s hard not to think of Cobb, certainly late in his life, of being nothing more than a racist, gun-toting, paranoid alcoholic. A more recent biography has reportedly painted a more balanced portrait of the Hall of Famer, but I think this much is undeniable: he was an exceptional player on the field and a questionable human being off it.
Buxton, who turned 27 on Dec. 18, is never going to be the next Cobb (no player is). But I think most Twins fans would agree he has the potential to be so much greater. He is already a larger than life star in the outfield and on the base paths for his defensive skills and lightning speed. He hasn’t quite become the hitter we all hoped he would be, but when he gets an extra-base hit or drives a ball into the left field stands at Target Field, I think we all feel, sense and believe that Buxton can hit .300, smack 30 home runs, drive in 100 runs and score 100 runs, too. And when he does, the memory of The Georgia Peach will fade just a bit more. And if Buxton can do that over multiple seasons, perhaps we won’t think of Cobb and Narrows, Georgia ever again. Perhaps we will only be reminded of the man from Baxley.