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Ty Cobb: Anger in Athletes

Ty Cobb was probably the most aggressive baseball player who ever lived. He was better than everyone else at almost every baseball statistic except fielding, for which he still holds the American League record for errors (271) by an outfielder. During his baseball career, he set 90 major league baseball records and today still has the highest career batting average (.367) and most career batting titles (12). He was among the all-time record holders for runs scored, hits, triples, stolen bases, runs batted in, doubles, at bats and games played. He used his incredible natural speed to steal 892 bases and still holds the record of stealing home 54 times. The only reason that he was not among the home run leaders was that he played before the age of steroids and weightlifting.

He was also one of the meanest and loneliest baseball players of all time, fighting with opposing players, teammates, fans, family and anyone else who annoyed him. He was so competitive that opposing infielders and catchers were terrified of him sliding into bases feet-first, with his spikes aimed at their bodies. In the January 1949 issue of Sport magazine, Ogden Nash wrote:

C is for Cobb,
Who grew spikes and not corn,
And made all the basemen
Wish they weren’t born.

His competitiveness extended far beyond the baseball diamond. His investments eventually were worth 100 million in today’s dollars. He invested in General Motors and Coca Cola when they were start-up companies and spent his later years buying and selling stocks.

His Early Life Helps to Explain Why He Was So Aggressive
Tyrus Raymond Cobb was born in 1886 in a farming community that was too small to even be called a village. He decided to become a baseball player when he was very young, but his stern father was opposed. When Ty went to try out for a team, his father told him, “Don’t come home a failure.”

In 1905, when Ty was 19, his father suspected his mother of having a lover so he returned unexpectedly from an out-of-town trip, snuck up to their bedroom window and peered in to try to catch her. She thought he was an intruder and shot him. She was charged with murder but was acquitted. Three weeks after this horrific event, Cobb had his first start as the center fielder for the Detroit Tigers. Years later, he told reporters that he became such an aggressive player because he had to do his best because “my father . . . never got to see me play. I knew he was watching me, and I never let him down.”

In 1907, he was moved from center to right field and led the Tigers to three consecutive American League pennants in 1907, 1908 and 1909. The Tigers lost all three world series and he never was on another pennant-winning team. He went on to play for and manage major league baseball teams until age 42.

He Was Aggressive Toward Players, Umpires, Fans and Total Strangers
In 1909, he was arrested for assault in a Cleveland hotel. At 2:00 AM, he wanted an elevator operator to take him to another floor for a card game but was refused because of a rule that he could go only to the floor in which he was registered. A night watchman was called, and Cobb drew a pen knife and slashed the watchman across the hand. The watchman drew a gun and hit Cobb several times in his head. Cobb had to pay a $100 fine.

In 1912, during a game between the Detroit Tigers and N.Y. Highlanders (Yankees), Cobb was repeatedly heckled by a fan named Claude Lucker. At the end of the sixth inning, Cobb climbed into the stands and attacked Lucker, who had no fingers on one hand and only two on the other. When fans asked him to stop beating on the crippled man, he replied, “I don’t care if he got no feet!”

In 1921, furious after being called out by umpire Billy Evans, Cobb challenged him to a fight under the grandstand after the game. Cobb knocked Evans down and began choking him. Members of both teams stopped the fight before Evans was seriously injured. Evans went on to write a regular column that was syndicated to more than 100 newspapers.

Still Competitive Long After he Retired
In 1928, at age 42, he retired permanently from baseball. In 1941, at age 55, he beat Babe Ruth two out of three times in charity golf matches. In 1947 at age 61 in an Old-Timers’ Day game in Yankee Stadium, he came to bat and told the catcher, Benny Bengough, behind him to stand back from the plate because he had not played in 20 years and he might hit him with his bat. Bengough, not wanting to be hit by Cobb’s bat, stepped back and Cobb hit a perfect bunt and easily beat the throw from Bengough to first base.

His Aggression Carried Over to his Family
In 1908, he married Charlotte Lombard who suffered from his constant anger. The couple had three sons and two daughters. His family found him to be very demanding and hostile. His wife put up with him for 39 years with on-and-off divorce filings until the final divorce in 1947. He demanded that his sons train to be championship athletes. His oldest son, Tyrus Raymond, Jr., left Princeton after his father went to the campus and beat him with a whip for flunking courses. After that, he enrolled at Yale where he was captain of the tennis team, but in 1930, he had to leave Yale after being arrested twice for public drunkenness. After that, father and son had little to do with each other. Tyrus Raymond, Jr., eventually earned an M.D. degree from the Medical College of South Carolina and practiced obstetrics and gynecology in Dublin, Georgia. He died from a brain tumor in 1952, never having made up with his father.

In 1949. at age 62, Ty Cobb married 40-year-old Frances Fairbairn Cass, a divorcee from Buffalo, New York. Their divorce in 1956 was caused by his constant drinking.

His Unhealthful Lifestyle and Death
After his second divorce, he drank and smoked more than ever and it cost him dearly. He became overweight and developed diabetes that caused high blood pressure, that damaged his heart and kidneys. In 1959, he was diagnosed with prostate cancer and had it removed at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta. His anger had cost him all close friends. In 1961, he went to the hospital for the last time carrying a loaded gun and an envelope full of millions of dollars in securities. He died, having estranged so many people in baseball that only three ex-ball players, Ray Schalk, Mickey Cochrane and Nap Rucker, showed up at the funeral for one of the most gifted baseball players of all time.

Aggression in Athletes Goes Largely Unpunished
It is absurd that Ty Cobb was allowed to break laws restricting violence so often without being punished. Professional athletes are involved in a high rate of violent crimes such as domestic violence primarily because of the factors that help make them great athletes and the coddling that they receive from the teams and fans that thrive on their athletic prowess. The same testosterone that helps both men and women grow large and strong muscles also makes them more aggressive both on and off the playing field.

Today, college and professional athletes are punished far less frequently than non-athletes for breaking the rules of society. From 2010 to 2014, neither Major League Baseball (MLB) nor any of the MLB clubs punished a player for domestic violence or sexual assault. “A review of domestic violence and sexual assault allegedly perpetrated by athletes in MLB, the NFL and the NBA from January 1, 2010 through December 31, 2014 shows that . . . there were 64 reported incidents of domestic violence or sexual assault allegedly committed by athletes in MLB, the NFL and the NBA during this five-year period. The results show that only one of the 64 reported allegations resulted in conviction for the alleged crime (though four players pleaded guilty to lesser charges and five pleaded no contest), only seven players were punished by their league, and only two players were punished by their team” (The Harvard Journal of Sports and Entertainment Law, July, 2015).

Prostate Cancer
Almost all North American men will develop prostate cancer if they live long enough, and more than 99 percent of these men are alive five years after they are diagnosed (National Cancer Institute). However, some men do die from the aggressive form of prostate cancer and lifestyle has a very strong influence on survival rates. An excellent review of the world’s scientific research concludes: “Heart healthy equals prostate healthy . . . the best dietary advice for prostate cancer prevention or management seems to include: increasing fruits and vegetables, replacing refined carbohydrates with whole grains, reducing total and saturated fat, reducing overcooked meats and consuming a moderate amount of calories and reducing carbohydrates with a primary goal of obtaining and maintaining a healthy body weight” (BMC Medicine, January 8, 2015;13(3)).

In North America, most men over 90 have prostate cancer, while in rural China, prostate cancer is found in less than four percent of men over 90. Chinese men who adopt the Western diet and lifestyle have the same high rates as North American men. The rural Chinese habits of a plant-based diet, low calorie intake and daily manual labor probably account for much of the difference. Most North American men eat the typical Western diet, do not exercise and gain an average of five pounds every decade. The typical Western diet, loaded with red meat, processed meats, fried foods and sugar-added drinks and foods, appears to weaken your immunity and put you at increased risk for diabetes, heart attacks, strokes and various cancers including prostate cancer.

How to Decrease Your Risk for Prostate Cancer
• Eat a diet rich in fruits and vegetables because it is associated with reduced risk for suffering prostate cancer (Int J Urol, 2012, 19:134-141 and Asian Pac J Cancer Prev, 2014, 15:5223-5227). Eating a plant-based diet lowered risk for obesity-related cancers, including prostate cancer (Cancer Causes & Control, January 6, 2015).
• Restrict red meat which is associated with increased risk both for prostate cancer (Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, 08/04/2015) and for advanced type of prostate cancer that can kill (Am J Clin Nutr, 2010, 91:712-721),
• Use liquids when you cook. Frying, grilling, broiling, baking and other dry cooking methods produce advanced glycation end products (AGES) and heterocyclic amines which are known carcinogens (Cancer Sci, April, 2004;95(4):290-9; Cancer Causes & Control, 2012, 23:405-420).
• Avoid fried foods (Prostate, June, 2013;73(9):960-9).
• Restrict alcohol: Limiting alcoholic drinks to no more than two per day for men and one per day for women was associated with reduced obesity-related cancers, and particularly breast, prostate, and colo-rectal cancers (Cancer Causes & Control, January 6, 2015). Data from the Nurses’ Health Study and the Health Professionals Follow-up Study show that small amounts of alcohol increases prostate cancer risk in smokers (British Medical Journal, August 18, 2015).
• Eat tomatoes. Consuming ten portions of tomatoes a week can lower the risk of prostate cancer (Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Prevention, July 13, 2014). Lycopene, an antioxidant found in tomatoes, lowered prostate cancer risk by 18 percent. Other sources of lycopene include apricots, guava, watermelon, papaya and grapefruit, although tomatoes have it in greater amounts.
• Exercise and avoid being overweight. Lack of exercise and being overweight are associated with increased risk for the type of prostate cancer that kills (Cancer, June 2015; Cancer Prevention Research, May 19, 2015). An extensive review shows that exercise is associated with a lowered risk for prostate cancer and its recurrence (Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, January 28, 2015).
• Control blood sugar levels. Prostate cancer is associated with everything that involves high blood sugar levels: metabolic syndrome (pre-diabetes), diabetes, inflammation, obesity and weight gain (Cancer Causes and Control, 05/14/2014), lack of exercise (Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, 04/02/2014), and lack of vitamin D. A high rise in blood sugar causes a marked increase in insulin and IGF-1, hormones that cause cells to multiply and grow to increase cancer risk. People who take in a lot of refined carbohydrates have high insulin and IGF-1 levels and are at increased risk for prostate cancer (Prostate, 2008, 68:11-19).
• Avoid vitamin D deficiency. Men who have low blood levels of vitamin D are at increased risk for prostate cancer and specifically for the type of prostate cancer that kills (Clinical Cancer Research, May 1, 2014). Vitamin D plays several critical roles in how cells develop and grow. Vitamin D helps to regulate how stem cells change into prostate cells and the rate that normal cells turn into cancer cells. Adding vitamin D to prostate cells in a petri dish slows their rate of growth. Perhaps not having enough vitamin D can cause normal cells to become cancerous. Researchers found that almost all of 667 men referred for prostate biopsies because of high blood PSA tests or abnormal prostate exams had low levels of vitamin D. Their levels of hydroxy vitamin D were usually below 20ng/ml. Normal is 30 to 80. Furthermore, 44 percent of the men with prostate cancer had very low levels of vitamin D compared to 38 percent of those who tested negative. The lower the level of vitamin D, the more likely the cancer was to kill them.

Ty Cobb
December 18, 1886 – July 17, 1961 (aged 74)

November 1st, 2015
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About the Author: Gabe Mirkin, MD

Sports medicine doctor, fitness guru and long-time radio host Gabe Mirkin, M.D., brings you news and tips for your healthful lifestyle. A practicing physician for more than 50 years and a radio talk show host for 25 years, Dr. Mirkin is a graduate of Harvard University and Baylor University College of Medicine. He is board-certified in four specialties: Sports Medicine, Allergy and Immunology, Pediatrics and Pediatric Immunology. The Dr. Mirkin Show, his call-in show on fitness and health, was syndicated in more than 120 cities. Read More
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