The world knows Ty Cobb was among the best baseball players ever, and likely the fiercest. Did what happened between his parents one night when he was 18 years old contribute to both his huge success and his bitter, uncompromising style on the field and in life?
IT'S A STORY LACKING MANY HARD DETAILS, beginning as it does in the foothills of North Georgia in 1883, when Amanda Chitwood was a 12-year-old student in a class taught by one William Herschel Cobb. Cobb at age 20 was already a respected and educated member of his community – an ambitious man of strong demeanor who would go on to be an itinerant school superintendent and a state senator.
The fact that the 20-year-old teacher apparently married his 12-year-old student that same year, on the porch of the Chitwood home, despite Amanda's father's hesitations, is the beginning of a set of circumstances and events that would violently and irrevocably alter the lives of both W.H. and Amanda, as well as of their firstborn, who would nonetheless become arguably the greatest baseball player ever, and certainly the greatest pre-home-run-era player.
One of those missing details is a verifiable date for the marriage. While nearly all sources cite 1883 and go on to note that perhaps due to the bride's young age, consummation did not take place immediately, at least one genealogical source notes 1886 as the year of the marriage.
Suffice it to say, at ages 20/12 or even 23/15, the couple was a man-and-child union (as was not uncommon in this place and in this time), not only by birthdate, but apparently also by personality, education and achievement. W.H. was patrician in appearance and accomplished in business and politics as well as education. He's described by Ty Cobb biographer Charles Alexander as "a tall, good-looking, rather bookish young man," who early on "developed the dignified, punctilious way that impressed people… in north Georgia."
Descriptions of Amanda are all but non-existent, though the word "pretty" shows up now and again. In a photo from far later in life, she appears dark-haired, well-dressed and carrying an expression somewhere between serious and deeply sad.
WHATEVER THE DATE OF THE UNION, W.H. had to move around North Georgia to find schools with enough money to pay him, and in the fall of 1886, Amanda returned to her family to prepare to bear a child. Hers was the most prosperous of the families in the unincorporated town of The Narrows in northern Banks County, as her father – Captain Caleb Chitwood – had planted several hundred acres of cotton after he returned from the Civil War.
W.H. and Amanda's son – Tyrus Raymond Cobb – arrived on December 18, 1886, soon after one of the most ferocious snowstorms ever to hit North Georgia.
Legend has it that W. H. chose the name Tyrus for his son in honor of the resistance of the city of Tyre to Alexander the Great. If a name and weather can help determine the future of a new life, then Ty Cobb might rise close to Exhibit A.