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Divided loyalties in Ty Cobb’s family

Published: Wednesday, Oct. 24, 2012 9:57 a.m. CDT

(MCT) — SAN FRANCISCO — The grandson of the most renowned player ever to wear a Detroit Tiger uniform will be rooting against family history Wednesday when the World Series opens at AT&T Park.

“Ty Cobb would be very excited about his Tigers playing in the World Series,” said Herschel Cobb, the 69-year-old descendant of one of baseball’s most colorful and controversial figures. “But we live in the Bay Area and have been Giants fans for a long time. We’re going to be rooting for the home team to prevail.”

His grandfather might even understand.

Ty Cobb, a Hall of Fame outfielder with a career .367 batting average, had his roots in Georgia but made the Bay Area his home much of the year shortly after retiring as a full-time player in 1928.

When the Giants moved from New York to San Francisco in 1958, Cobb became a regular presence in the clubhouse.

“He used to come by Candlestick all the time and talk to the boys,” said Mike Murphy, the Giants’ clubhouse manager who was has been with the team since it arrived here. “But I didn’t know it was Ty Cobb until my boss told me.”

Cobb would visit with managers Bill Rigney and Alvin Dark as well as some of the players, Murphy said. The visits ended with Cobb’s death in July 1961 at age 74.

Herschel Cobb, an investment adviser who lives in Menlo Park, said he was about 12 years old before he was fully aware of his grandfather’s baseball accomplishments. Herschel’s father died when he was 8, and his mother did not get along with the baseball giant.

“Growing up, Ty Cobb was not talked about in our home,” he said.

But by age 12, Herschel Cobb was spending part of each summer in Atherton at the Spanish-style home his grandfather purchased in 1930 and in the family’s Lake Tahoe cabin. Starting to play baseball himself in Little League, Herschel was trying to figure out why others had what seemed to be unreasonably high expectations for him.

He asked his grandfather.

“I literally insisted that he tell me everything he had done and why these people were shouting at me,” Herschel said. “He didn’t answer directly. He never really boasted about his baseball career with his grandchildren.”

Instead, Ty Cobb invited his grandson into an office in his home for the first time.

“I looked around at all of the memorabilia and realized to my amazement and awe just what an incredible career he had in baseball. It answered a lot of questions for me,” Herschel said.

Herschel Cobb is well aware of his grandfather’s reputation as a spikes-high base runner who would do whatever it took to win on the field and was equally tough to get along with off it as well.

“Very independent, very fierce competitor,” he said of his grandfather. “We talked about those things, and I don’t think he apologized for the ferocity he played with. He was playing to win, and that was part of the game.”

Ty Cobb’s great-grandson — also named Ty — has turned out to be the athlete in the family. After playing both baseball and basketball at Sacred Heart Prep, he opted for basketball in Occidental College near Pasadena.

The Cobbs are not Giants season-ticket holders, but they do get to about a dozen games at AT&T Park each year. And Herschel says his son is an ardent Giants fan.

“He loves the team,” Herschel said, “and he loves the enthusiasm.”

Someone in Detroit might not be too happy to hear that a Ty Cobb likely will be wearing orange and black this week.

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