Stump, Al(vin J.) 1916-1995
STUMP, Al(vin J.) 1916-1995
PERSONAL: Born October 20, 1916, in Colorado Springs, CO; died, December 21, 1995; married Jo Mosher. Education: Attended University of Washington.
CAREER: Freelance writer. Oregonian, Portland, OR, sportswriter, 1939-41. Military service: U. S. Navy, during World War II.
AWARDS, HONORS: E. P. Dutton Best Magazine Sports Story Award and the Associated Press Best Sports Story of the Year Award, both 1962, both for article "Ty Cobb's Wild Ten-Month Fight to Live."
Champions against Odds, Macrae Smith (Philadelphia, PA), 1952.
The Champion Breed, Bantam (New York, NY), 1969.
Cobb: A Biography, foreword by Jimmie Reese, Algonquin (Chapel Hill, NC), 1994.
Work appears in anthologies, including Best Sports Stories 1949, 1950, 1952, 1953, 1958, 1960, 1961, 1962, 1963, 1964, 1967, 1968, 1969, 1970, and 1971, Dutton (New York, NY). Contributor of numerous sports articles to periodicals, including True, Argosy, Sport, Esquire, American Heritage, Saturday Evening Post, Los Angeles Herald-Examiner, Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Magazine, and Golf.
ADAPTATIONS: A True article Stump wrote about Ty Cobb in 1962 was adapted for the motion picture Cobb, written and directed by Ron Shelton and released by Warner Bros. in 1994.
SIDELIGHTS: Al Stump was a sports journalist and the author of sports biographies aimed at both adults and children. He is best known for Cobb: A Biography, a candid account of the life of Ty Cobb, partially based on the author's experiences working with the former baseball star to compose the autobiography My Life in Baseball: The True Record, published in 1961. Richard Sandomir of the New York Times, reviewing Cobb, called the earlier book "a sanitized account of baseball's greatest hitter and meanest character." Sandomir further stated that in Cobb, "Stump has resurrected much of what he excluded from the earlier volume and presented a substantially more rounded picture of Cobb." "Like the Hall of Famer with whom he is always paired," Nate Stone noted in the Dictionary of Literary Biography, "Stump had a long career marked by both greatness and controversy. Using his gift for narrative and his insight into the athlete's psyche, Stump helped create myths and then broke them down."
Stump first began writing about sports while attending the University of Washington, where he was the sports editor of the school newspaper. After leaving school, Stump got a job as a sportswriter with the Oregonian newspaper, a position he left to serve on an aircraft carrier during World War II. Following the war, Stump began a career as a freelance writer for a number of newspapers and magazines. Stone recounted that Stump "interviewed luminaries such as writer Ernest Hemingway; athlete Jim Thorpe; actors John Wayne, Alan Ladd, and Humphrey Bogart; and gangster Benjamin 'Bugsy' Siegel. Stump covered the Charles Manson murder trial in 1970-1971, reported from Vietnam with Vice President Spiro Agnew, and was evicted from the M-G-M lot by director John Ford. Nevertheless, Stump always considered himself a sportswriter."
In 1959 Stump was asked to collaborate with baseball legend Ty Cobb on the player's autobiography. Cobb, Stone revealed, "had already angered or frightened off six other writers." Stump agreed to the assignment and, during the winter of 1960-61, the two men stayed at Cobb's lodge in Lake Tahoe to write the book. "Cobb needed a wide variety of medications," Stone noted, "to fight his cancer, high blood pressure, heart disease, and diabetes. A heavy drinker, he could neither sort the pills properly nor manage a useful insulin injection; since he had no servants or nurses, despite his multimillion-dollar fortune—their absence was a testament to Cobb's demeanor: he had a short temper and was known to blow up for the most inconsequential actions—Stump took over caretaking details." Cobb passed away in July of 1961, just as Stump was putting the finishing touches on the autobiography.
My Life in Baseball: The True Record was a bestseller, although Stump was to admit in an article for True magazine that it whitewashed many incidents in Cobb's career and overlooked the man's personal flaws. Although he had worked with Cobb for some ten months, Stump did not attend Cobb's funeral because, as Stone quoted him as explaining, "I was fed up with him. I thought he was a monster who had no love for his fellow man."
In 1994 director Ron Shelton filmed the life story of Ty Cobb. The film was based in part on Stump's True magazine article of years before and included many of the darker aspects of the baseball star's personality. The renewed interest in Cobb sparked an interest in Stump's own story of having worked with the famous ballplayer. Stump arranged to write a new biography of Cobb, one that told the true story. "This time Stump held nothing back," Stone wrote, "recording a scathing portrayal of a man driven by a competitiveness that went beyond obsession."
In Cobb, Stump tells the story of Cobb beginning with his childhood in Georgia and rise to the major league, despite his father's objections to his playing baseball. At age seventeen, Cobb earned a position with Augusta in the South Atlantic League. During his second year in the minors, Cobb suffered the death of his father, who was accidentally shot and killed by Cobb's mother while trying to enter their home through a second-story window. Stump maintained that the loss of his father haunted Cobb for the rest of his life.
The year after his father's death, Cobb moved up to the majors, joining the Detroit Tigers. The hostility Cobb encountered from his teammates, partly because of their prejudice against Southerners, Stump explained, fueled Cobb's natural aggression and caused the player to suffer a nervous breakdown during his first season. After more than a month in a sanitarium, Cobb returned to the field and channeled his rage into his sport, quickly becoming the best player of his time, according to some commentators. Cobb stayed with the Tigers from 1905 until 1926, when he joined the Philadelphia Athletics until his retirement in 1928.
Cobb set records in stealing bases that still stand, including stealing home plate some 35 times. Rival players spread the story that Cobb sharpened the spikes on his athletic shoes to scare any second baseman who tried to tag him out during a feet-first slide, but the rumor has never been proven. Once when he was heckled by a fan who shouted out a lewd remark about his mother, Cobb climbed into the stands and beat the man, earning a suspension that spurred the Tigers into major league baseball's first strike on his behalf. As Gene Lyons wrote in Entertainment Weekly, "Cobb was, hands down, the most brilliant player of his era. But he was also almost universally hated by teammates and opponents, and subject to paranoid delusions and fits of ungovernable rage."
Cobb: A Biography received generally positive critical appraisal. A Publishers Weekly reviewer predicted it would "stun readers with its brutal candor" and deemed it a "bare-knuckle, shocking biography." Also applauding Cobb was New York Times Book Review critic Robert Peterson, who wrote: "It is not often that a biographer gets a second chance at a subject. Al Stump has, and he has made the most of it. . . . Ty Cobb was at once despicable, beneficent and a magnificently talented athlete. Al Stump has done an excellent job of plumbing the character of a sports legend." William O. Scheeren, in Library Journal, called Cobb "the definitive biography of this mercurial man." A writer for Kirkus Reviews concluded that "Stump's wonderfully descriptive writing, yeoman historical research, and personal knowledge of Cobb make this an extraordinary achievement in sports biography."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 241: American Sportswriters and Writers on Sport, Gale (Detroit, MI), 2001.
American Heritage, November, 1994, review of Cobb: A Biography, p. 121.
American Libraries, October, 1994, Bill Ott, review of Cobb, p. 896.
Booklist, October 15, 1994, Bill Ott, review of Cobb, p. 393.
Entertainment Weekly, January 13, 1995, Gene Lyons, review of Cobb, p. 56.
Houston Chronicle, December 4, 1994, Richard Sandomir, "The Search for the Real Cobb: Writer Al Stump Gets His Second Swing at the Truth," Sports Section, p. 1.
Kirkus Reviews, August 1, 1994, review of Cobb, p 1064.
Library Journal, September 15, 1994, William O. Scheeren, review of Cobb, p. 75.
Los Angeles Times, January 26, 1996, Geoff Boucher, "This Raconteur Was Simply the Best of the Best," p. E10.
Movie Maker, March-April, 1995, Tim Rice, review of film Cobb.
New York Times, November 30, 1994, Richard Sandomir, review of Cobb, pp. B15, B17; December 5, 1994.
New York Times Book Review, November 20, 1994, Robert Peterson, review of Cobb, p. 12.
Publishers Weekly, January 13, 1969, p. 95; October 3, 1994, review of Cobb, p. 62.
San Francisco Chronicle, January 9, 1995, Lowell Cohn, "Ty's Dirty Laundry: Daughter Angered by Cobb Movie, Book," p. E1.
Sporting News, November 28, 1994, Steve Gietschier, review of Cobb, p. 47.
Bibliography Committee of the Society for American Baseball Research Web site,http://sabrbib.home.mindspring.com/ (October 28, 2002), Leverett T. Smith, review of Cobb.*