An old steamer trunk sitting in a house outside Royston, Georgia contained 40 years of letters written to Erwin Manley, a retired rural mail carrier. They mainly concerned his chicken business and motorcycle repair receipts from delivering mail on his bike. At the bottom of the trunk, though, were seven letters that may help write baseball history.
Written in the hand and with the mind of a teenager, the letters were sent to Manley by his boyhood baseball teammate, Ty Cobb. Recently consigned to auction by Erwin Manley’s last surviving relative, they have been unknown to the public until now.
Manley and Cobb played together on the Royston Reds before Cobb left to try his hand at pro ball with semi-pro teams elsewhere in Georgia and in Alabama. The early letters are believed to represent the earliest known hand-written correspondence from Cobb.
Roykas.com, a Massachusetts auction company, will offer them as one lot in an auction slated for Tuesday, August 9.
The letters consist of 17 pages of hand written personal and baseball content along with signed envelopes and the only known photo of Ty Cobb in an Augusta Tourists uniform. They begin ten days prior to his first game and name a new team that he played for when the other team disbanded. “I am nearly hitting .500 while I have been with Sheffield” Cobb wrote to Manley. The teenage Cobb is also interested in who might be chatting up his girlfriend back in Royston and begs for Manley to return his correspondence.
Roykas has published a 38-page downloadable catalog showing each piece of correspondence and the photo that was sent to Erwin Manley more than a century ago (click the ‘image wrap’ tab).
“I am truly amazed at these letters and what they reveal about this young ball player’s early life. I am absolutely certain beyond any reasonable doubt…that these letters are written in the hand of Ty Cobb,” stated Wesley Fricks, National Ty Cobb Historian and one of the founders of the Ty Cobb Museum in Royston, Georgia. Fricks says in a two-page letter that some of the minor details about Cobb’s life and acquaintances of the time period prove they were indeed written by the young Cobb, who would make his big league debut in 1907.
“There is absolutely no possible way, based off the information contained in these letters could anyone other than Ty Cobb have penned this information,” said Fricks, who has studied Cobb’s life for 25 years.
Cobb relays details of games, discusses some pesky boils that forced him out of action and offers his insight on the league to Manley, who was apparently hoping to also land a tryout.
“It’s truly amazing to read the letters before Tyrus Cobb knew he would become the baseball legend Ty Cobb. The content is so personal and endearing,” said Paul Royka, owner of the Boston area auction company.
In the last letter dated 1907 while he was playing with the Detroit Tigers, Cobb writes to Manley about his reputation in the newspapers. “No I don’t like the notoriety of being a prize fighter – it’s sickening to me,” he states.
A more favorable light has been shed on Cobb’s once violent reputation by recent books such as Charles Leerhsen’s Ty Cobb: A Terrible Beauty and Wesley Frick’s research that contradicts the fictionalized portrayal of Ty Cobb in the 1994 movie Cobb which was based on the now discredited biographer Al Stump book.
Royka says he’s spoken with officials at the Baseball Hall of Fame who are hoping a charitable buyer will step forward and donate or loan the collection to them.