adventures in baseball archeology: the negro leagues, latin american baseball, j-ball, the minors, the 19th century, and other hidden, overlooked, or unknown corners of baseball history...with occasional forays into other sports
Bill James remarked of Spottswood Poles that he is “often called ‘The Black Ty Cobb’, usually by John Holway” (New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract, p. 190).
A gentle dig at Holway, perhaps, but not really one he deserves. For example, in 1919 Ed Bolden, longtime Hilldale owner and founder of the Eastern Colored League, referred in a Chicago Defender article to “Spottswood Poles, better known in the East as the black ‘Ty Cobb’…” (February 22, 1919). In 1911 the Cuban sportswriter Abel Du-Breuil said that “Poles es un Ty Cobb en las bases” (La Lucha, February 14, 1911).
We get annoyed now (at least I do) when an African-American player from the Jim Crow era is referred to as “the black Ruth” or “the black Gehrig” or the black whomever. But it was common in the 1910s for players, especially if they were fast and/or daring on the bases, to be compared to Cobb. (Du-Breuil also called Armando Marsans “el Ty Cobb cubano.”) Poles was an exciting baserunner, so the comparison came up relatively frequently. Annoying or not, it did happen. John Holway didn’t make it up.