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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

‘Cobb’ Shortchanges Us On Game

If life were just, then all athletes would be defined only by their numbers.

Consider the following: Babe Ruth, 60; Wilt Chamberlain, 100; O.J. Simpson, 2,003.

Notable achievements all. But in these tabloid times, when athletes are given no more a break than your average English movie star, such exploits are treated as only part of the story. Often they aren’t even the main emphasis.

What sort of a twisted world do we live in when a golfer as great as Greg Norman can be considered a “choker” of the worst sort merely for finishing second so many times in major championships? It’s a wonder that no stories have broken on his sex life.

Imagine, then, if Ruth, the harddrinking womanizer, were attempting to hit home runs today. His off-hours exploits would make him a “Hard Copy” (as well as ESPN) regular.

The same would be true for 100-point scorer Chamberlain and his self-proclaimed sexual gymnastics with (speaking of statistics) 20,000 women. As for Simpson, the first man to rush for more than 2,000 yards in a single season, well, we already know about his aerobic shadow boxing with a certain woman in his life.

So what would we make of Tyrus Raymond Cobb in the spotlight of modern sport?

His numbers are unimpeachable: In 24 years, he collected 4,191 hits, achieved 892 stolen bases and amassed a .367 lifetime batting average.

As for his character, well, several adjectives come to mind, but “unimpeachable” isn’t one of them.

It is Cobb’s character that Ron Shelton chooses to explore in his film “Cobb,” which made its straight-tovideo march in Spokane last week. Starring Oscar-winner Tommy Lee Jones as the title character, the movie is based on the writings of Al Stump. Sportswriter Stump was the man who wrote Cobb’s original 1961 biography, which failed to single out the man’s many warts.

In subsequent articles, though, Stump wrote of Cobb’s alcoholism, spousal abuse, racist opinions and overall bellicose nature that caused even the man’s teammates to despise him. Shelton’s film intimates that while other men were playing baseball as the game it was, Cobb was treating it like a war that he wasn’t about to lose.

Which, of course, he didn’t. His awesome statistics, which earned him charter membership in the baseball Hall of Fame, prove that.

Cobb’s downfall was that he applied the same take-no-prisoners attitude to his personal life. Baseball alone couldn’t fill the hole of pain that fueled his anger, especially after Ruth came along to change the game into a long-ball derby, thereby minimizing even Cobb’s prodigious accomplishments.

But Shelton, whose previous features - “Bull Durham,” “White Men Can’t Jump” - explored sportsthemed topics, experiences his own downfall, too. For one thing, he uses the conceit of telling the story in Stump’s voice. Thus, we learn almost as much about the writer as we do his subject. And, really, who cares?

Second, while Jones is good, he is forced to play off the one-note actor Robert Wuhl (“Batman”), who hasn’t the talent needed to make us care either for him or his meal ticket.

Finally, while the story of Cobb himself is a worthy one (Shelton’s treatment, believe it or not, even has its similarities to Orson Welles’ “Citizen Kane”), Shelton shortchanges the very game that made the man famous.

What’s needed is more of the sport. More of the numbers.

In today’s atmosphere, we know more than we care to about the man.


*** 1/2

The setting is a nameless South American country. The principal character (Sigourney Weaver) is a torture victim who is convinced she has found her ruthless interrogator (Ben Kingsley). Her attorney husband (Stuart Wilson) isn’t convinced. But, then, she has the whole night to force a confession out of the man - or kill him if he resists. Directed by Roman Polanski, this stage play-turned-movie is a riveting look at a sample story behind the headlines involving secret death squads and senseless slaughter. The acting, especially by Kingsley, is superb. The rest is pure Polanski, working at his Hitchcockian best. Rated R.

, DataTimes MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: WHAT’S NEW TO VIEW Available this weekend: “Death and the Maiden” (New Line), “Kingfish” (Turner), “Leprechaun 3” (Vidmark), “Avenging Angel” (Vidmark). Available on Tuesday: “Bad Company” (Touchstone), “Darkman 2” (MCA/Universal), “I.Q.” (Paramount), “Immortal Beloved” (Columbia TriStar), “Nell” (TBA).

This sidebar appeared with the story: WHAT’S NEW TO VIEW Available this weekend: “Death and the Maiden” (New Line), “Kingfish” (Turner), “Leprechaun 3” (Vidmark), “Avenging Angel” (Vidmark). Available on Tuesday: “Bad Company” (Touchstone), “Darkman 2” (MCA/Universal), “I.Q.” (Paramount), “Immortal Beloved” (Columbia TriStar), “Nell” (TBA).