Those two near-indisputable opinions, and many more, are packed into Cobb, Lee Blessing's engaging, heated drama at the Mint Theater (presented by the Melting Pot Theatre Company). The play clocks in at a lean 75 minutes--not even four full innings at your average Yankee's game--but it's not for lack of material. Blessing (A Walk in the Woods, Chesapeake) is just a ruthless editor.
Cobb's stats are well-documented: He had a lifetime average of .366, and hit over .400 in three seasons; he won nearly 12 batting titles, racked up nearly 900 stolen bases, and was one of the first inductees into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Blessing doesn't linger over the numbers--no one disputes those; rather, he gives us some insight into the personality (or, say some, personalities) of this heroic, tragic man.
We are presented with three Cobbs. That is, Cobb at three stages of his life: the eldest, Mr. Cobb (Michael Cullen), stricken with cancer; the middle-aged Ty (Michael Sabatino), all business smarts and savviness (Cobb put his money into stock like General Motors and Coca-Cola, and emerged one of baseball's first millionaires); and the plucky Peach (Matthew Mabe), the player in his prime. Though they go back and forth from 1886 through 1961, all are speaking, Copenhagen-style, from beyond the grave.
Since Charleston exists in the play as a (somewhat clunky) dramaturgical device, he comes off a bit annoying, despite Jackson's earnest acting efforts. After all, the character is outnumbered three-to-one by a towering figure. Blessing's writing is at its most illuminating with the three Cobbs, and at its most exciting in the character of the Peach. Matthew Mabe's fiery portrayal doesn't hurt either; he makes the famously confident player both arrogant and appealing. Similarly, Michael Cullen brings an air of nobility to the defeated, aging Cobb; Michael Sabatino is fine as the underwritten Ty.
What we get in Cobb--remarkably, in such a short time--is a glimpse inside the man. This was a man who let his self-confidence destroy his personal relationships. A man whose possibly adulterous mother shot and killed his father (she claims she mistook him for an intruder) the very week Cobb became a major leaguer. A man who slept with a shotgun for fear of his teammates. A man who, in his mind, lived in the shadow of the homerun-hitting legend Babe Ruth. In spite of all Cobb's bravado--and he truly believed he was great--he was bitter that the fans didn't recognize his talent. They were too intoxicated by Ruth's showmanship. In his own mind (and those of many baseball historians, in fact), Cobb created the game. Ruth certainly changed it forever, but it was Cobb's to begin with.