Ron Shelton's Cobb
A review by David Pietrusza
SABR members eagerly anticipated Ron Shelton's
film Cobb but unless you lived in a major market it
probably didn't make it to a theater near you (and
even then you had to get down to the box office
before it left on a no-return road trip).
In February, however, I had the dual pleasure of
seeing Cobb and of meeting its creator,
writer-director, Ron Shelton.
As many of you may know Shelton, who also created
Bull Durham, is a former minor leaguer who spent
five years in the Orioles chain. I am pleased to report
that like most former ballplayers Mr. Shelton is both
a fine gentleman and a wonderful raconteur.
I must say I never been more surprised by a film
more than I was by Cobb. Most reviews have
centered on its dark vision of Cobb in his last days.
That's hardly a surprise to anyone who's ever read Al
Stump's magnificent article "Ty Cobb's Wild
Ten-month Fight To Live." But Cobb also is a
wonderfully funny movie. And that should hardly be a
surprise to anyone who's ever seen Bull Durham.
Now, not everything in Cobb is factually kosher,
although for baseball movies (and motion pictures in
general) it's accuracy quota is remarkably high. A
motion picture, nonetheless, is not the Baseball
Research Journal, and Ron admitted to a taking
dramatic license on occasion, particularly in regard
to Al Stump. Stump, for example, never did frighten
the willies out of that process server as you see late
in the film. But it is true that old Tyrus did know about
that brunette in Al's past. And to this day Stump has
never figured out how.
Some background on Tommy Lee Jones, who by the
way is Ring Lardner's grandson-in-law. If you're
wondering how he could so marvelously mimic the
halting movements of the septuagenarian Cobb, he
had a little help. Just before shooting starting, he
broke his ankle and performed with his leg with a
cast up to his knee. That cane he was using wasn't
exactly a prop. His baseball scenes had to be
delayed until the end of the schedule, and when a
double wasn't running for him Jones would just run
until he collapsed in pain. Then Shelton would yell
"cut," prop Jones up again and try to get a few more
shots in the can.
One last thing. I had always wondered if Bull
Durham's hard-throwing (but wild) Nuke LaLoosh
was based on another Oriole farmhand Steve
Dalkowski. My suspicions in that regard had been
heightened when I read Ron Shelton's chapter on
Dalkowski in Danny Perry's Cult Baseball Players.
You read it here first. Not only is Nuke LaLoosh
based on the Steve Dalkowski, the character of
Crash Davis, the veteran player sent down to steady
a fireballing prospect, is based on Joe Altobelli, who
Shelton knew in the Baltimore system, and who once
roomed with Dalko.
As Casey Stengle used to say, you can look it up.