Failures Can't Come Home

On Aug. 30, 1905, his first day in the majors, the centerfielder walked, then took off for second base. Eighty years later, players are still trying to catch Ty Cobb. Maury Wills first did it in 1962 when he ran by the old mark of 96 stolen bases in a season. Now Pete Rose, barring calamity, will exceed the hallowed record of 4,191 hits. But, like Wills, he will surpass only the man, not the icon.

Even in his playing years Cobb assumed a mythic stature. The garrulous Casey Stengel summed up his contemporary in a lone sentence: "It was like...

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