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Confidence and Self-Doubt: Can They Make Sense In a Man's Life?

A Study in the Life of Ty Cobb -- for all Men

By Ernest DeFilippis
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Paper given at the Aesthetic Realism Foundation

3. Eli Siegel on Baseball -- Ty Cobb

A man has to see his relation to the whole world if he is to be confident. When we use something that we do well to be superior, not to see our relation to other things, we will have to doubt ourselves even as we may excel. This happened to me. I had seen baseball as in a special niche and I did play professionally for some years hoping to make it to the major leagues. Mr. Siegel encouraged me to use baseball and my athletic skills to see more meaning in the world and not use them to be separate and superior to it, and through what I learned I am very grateful I was able to value my care for baseball in a way that made me prouder and more sure of myself. Aesthetic Realism states: "The world, art, and self explain each other: each is the aesthetic oneness of opposites." When I learned this my life began to be integrated and whole in a way I thought I'd never feel. Important in my education is a poem Eli Siegel wrote after receiving a document I had written about the opposites in ice skating. In the poem, which is published in issue #1087 of The Right Of, Mr. Siegel shows sports are a means of liking the world. About baseball, there are these lines which I love: 
Playing baseball well is an observable sign 
A skill of ours can be at one with a divine, 
Great cause of this. What enabled us to field a ball? 
What enabled us to run at all, 
Let alone around four bases? It was the world of long ago 
Become ourselves. Both art and science tell us so.
I wish Ty Cobb could have studied Aesthetic Realism. He would have learned that it was his desire to like the world and not his desire to beat out other people that made him the great ballplayer he was. 

Here is this description of what he felt hitting...a clean single..."That bat literally tingled in my hand. It gave off an electric impulse that traveled through my body and told me I'd found the one endeavor that I could do well." 

I feel the place Cobb was most sure of himself was as a hitter. Over a period of 24 years from 1905 - 1928, he lead the league in batting 13 times and compiled the highest lifetime batting average of any player, .367. 

The reason Cobb was such a great hitter was because of the way he put opposites together - assertion and yielding, mind and body, abandon and precision, and opposites crucial in the idea of sureness - continuity and discontinuity. It was said that Cobb was "a man of many moods...in the heights of optimism or the depths of despair." But as a hitter he was consistent. A good hitter has to meet whatever the pitcher may throw and he has to do it day after day. A pitched ball can curve, rise, drop, screw in, dance up and down, come in very fast, medium or slow. Whatever the ball does the batter must be ready to whip the bat around and hit it squarely. A man wants to meet the diversity of reality squarely and not cower. He needs to do this if he is to be confident. About how Ty Cobb played writes Charles Alexander: 

...nobody before or since played as Cobb did. "The greatness of Cobb was something that had to be seen," said Hall of Famer George Sisler, "and to see him was to remember him forever" ... "Cobb had that terrific fire, that unbelievable drive." recalled Rube Bressler, "His determination was fantastic. I never saw anyone like him."...Cobb's genius as ball player, practically everybody agreed, was in his intelligence, "He was the Br'er Fox of the diamond."
The alert, all-out way Cobb played, his daring and flare for the unexpected on the base paths, catching his opponents off guard, was thrilling. Cobb showed new possibilities in baseball. He added to the game and to the enjoyment of thousands of people who came to the ball park to see him play.  However, this ability to play so beautifully clashed with his fierce desire to be the best, which often made him ruthless and mean. To get to the base safely was more important to him than the welfare of the opposing player. Cobb had a reputation for "spiking" people while sliding, by using the sharp steel spikes on the baseball shoes to slash at the arm or leg of a fielder. In defense of himself he said: 
I wanted a clear shot at the bag under the rules, and I went after it...In staking my claim people were bound to get hurt...
People did get hurt. Using "the rules" he tried to justify his ill will and contempt for people. Throughout his life Cobb was constantly fighting with people, defending himself, as he saw it, from those who tried to make less of him. The following shows how intense this was in him. While it is about himself as ballplayer it is also how he saw people as such: 
I always went into action with every ounce of fight.. 'ferocious' is an adjective I won't quarrel with but never in 24 years did I do anything low or underhanded...But I did retaliate...If any player took unfair advantage of me, my one thought was to strike back...put the fear of God in him...I went looking for him. And when I found him he usually regretted his acting...
Wrote sports writer Fred Lieb, an acquaintance of Cobb for nearly 50 years, "(He was) recognized as a great player, a dynamo, a fighter; but he lacked warmth as a human being and anything approaching love for--even understanding of--other people." Mr. Siegel once said in a class: 
Aesthetic Realism says the only things that can really make you feel sure of yourself are knowledge and good will--wanting to have a good effect on people.
Continued  >>   "Good Will Is a Oneness of Confidence and Self-Doubt"

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Copyright 2005 by Ernest DeFilippis