By the fall of 1959, Cobb had been diagnosed with cancer, diabetes, high blood pressure, an enlarged prostate, and Bright's disease, a degenerative kidney disorder. He returned to his Lake Tahoe lodge with painkillers and bourbon to try to ease his constant pain. He did not trust his initial diagnosis, however, so he went to Georgia to seek advice from doctors he knew, and they found his prostate to be cancerous. They removed it at Emory Hospital, but that did little to help Cobb. From this point until the end of his life, Cobb criss-crossed the country, going from his lodge in Tahoe to the hospital in Georgia.
Al Stump, one of the most celebrated sports writers in the country at the time, was asked by Doubleday to ghostwrite Cobb's autobiography. Like John McCallum, Stump found Cobb rather difficult to work with most of the time and totally impossible when drunk. Stump's time with Cobb was "interesting," but not necessarily in a good sense. Despite the troubles, Stump stuck it out mostly because he feared Cobb's reaction if he tried to leave. From the time the two spent together we now have two books and a movie, each of which offers a slightly different point of view of Cobb's life.
A powerful moment in Stump's experience was the visit to the Cobb family mausoleum in December 1960. Cobb had used the mausoleum as an attempt to reunite his family members in death, disinterring some of them to do so. It was here that Cobb told Stump about the murder of his father, and pointed the finger at his mother. He had never spoken much about the incident, and most people at the time probably didn't even know that W.H. had been shot.
Cobb also spent much of his last few years making visits to places important to him, like the Hall of Fame. He traveled to Cooperstown in June 1960, and lingered after-hours in the Hall, gazing at the plaques on the wall, including his own, with tears in his eyes.
By the spring of 1961, Cobb was spending most of his time at Emory Hospital for cobalt treatments to slow the spread of his cancer, which had now moved into his spine and skull. He did feel good enough to make it to spring training of the new LA Angels in 1961, and then to his last ball game on their Opening Day, 1961.
In his last days Cobb spent some time with the old movie comedian Joe E. Brown, talking about the choices Cobb had made in his life. He told Brown that he felt that he had made mistakes, and that he would do things differently if he could. He had played hard and lived hard all his life, and had no friends to show for it at the end, and he regretted it. Publicly, however, Cobb claimed not to have any regrets: "I've been lucky. I have no right to be regretful of what I did" (Newsweek, 31 July 1961, 54). His last year or so must have been quite trying for him, old, alone, and sick. There were probably times when he was feeling fine and did not have regrets, and others when he was alone and in pain and couldn't help but wonder if things could have been different somehow.
He checked into Emory Hospital for the last time in June 1961, bringing with him a paper bag with a million or so dollars in securities and his Luger pistol. This time his first wife, Charlie, his son Jimmy and other family members came to be with him for his final days. His final day came a month later, July 17, 1961.
His funeral was perhaps the saddest event associated with Cobb. From all of baseball, the sport that he had dominated for over 20 years, baseball's only representatives were three old players, Ray Schalk, Mickey Cochrane, Nap Rucker, along with Sid Keener from the Hall of Fame. Also there were his first wife, Charlie, his two daughters, his surviving son, Jimmy, his two sons-in-law, his daughter-in-law, Mary Dunn Cobb, and her two children. He had outlived many of his contemporaries, had alienated most of the others, and a lot of them were glad that he was finally dead.
In his will, Cobb left a quarter of his estate to the Cobb Educational Fund, and the rest of his reputed $11 million he distributed among his children and grandchildren.
The Stump autobiography came out a few months later to take advantage of the publicity surrounding his death, and sold well for the four years that it was in print.
Efforts to create a Ty Cobb Memorial in Royston failed, primarily because most of the artifacts from his life were in Cooperstown, and the Georgia town was too remote to make a memorial worthwhile. The building erected is now Royston City Hall.
However, on July 17, 1998, on the 37th anniversary of his death, the Ty Cobb Museum opened its doors in Royston. The time had become right to honor the man in his own hometown.
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