LOS ANGELES – This Ty Cobb prefers a big orange ball to a small white one.
The great-grandson of the Hall of Fame player chose basketball over baseball at Occidental College, a Division III school whose nickname would surely have the approval of The Georgia Peach — the Tigers.
The 19-year-old reserve freshman forward is averaging 3.4 points and 3.5 rebounds. His coach, Brian Newhall, found his name through an East Coast scouting service, and was intrigued.
Cobb was 6-foot-5, a good student from Menlo Park, Calif., and his father graduated from Occidental. The kid's name didn't register with the 50-year-old coach, who is clearly cornering the market on descendants of sports legends — John Wooden's great-grandson was on his team four years ago.
"I had no idea who Ty Cobb was," Newhall said. "My baseball career ended when I was 7 years old. Everyone else in the world other than me was aware who Ty Cobb was."
Tyrus Raymond Cobb was simply one of the toughest and greatest players in baseball history, his spikes high and his will to win unrivaled. The outfielder spent 22 seasons with the Detroit Tigers, including the last six as their player-manager, and played for the Philadelphia Athletics.
The great-grandson — Tyrus Charles Brogan Cobb — said the name has opened a window on baseball that he wouldn't have looked into otherwise, including a visit to the Hall of Fame.
"I did a lot of reading about old baseball players that were contemporaries of Ty Cobb," he said. "Just being connected to a part of history got me interested in research."
At times, the name has been a burden, usually with older adults who recognize it more than a lot of kids do.
"Every once in a while I'll get people who think they know more about Ty Cobb than I do and say, 'Oh, he was a terrible guy, he was a jerk,'" the younger Cobb said. "Ty Cobb does have kind of a tough reputation, but people who say that just aren't informed or just want to start an argument."
The elder Cobb was born in Narrows, Ga., in 1886 when the South was strictly segregated. Along with a reputation for a surly temperament and an aggressive playing style, he was widely regarded as a racist, with history noting his run-ins and scrapes with blacks on and off the field.
"I've got no qualms with how Ty Cobb led his life," his great-grandson said. "From what I've heard from my dad who knew him really well as a grandpa, he was a very generous, loving man. He was always fair to everyone and was just a pleasure to be around."
The younger Cobb plays on an Occidental team that includes three black and three Latino players.
"He was born in Jim Crow (era) Georgia," Cobb said. "It was a completely different world than living in California these days, which is such a diverse area and people are just comfortable being around people that aren't the same skin color or from the same background."
His namesake retired a wealthy man, having invested heavily in Coca-Cola and General Electric stock. He died in 1961 at 74.
"They don't know he made his money from investing. He retired to Atherton, California, which is a very nice area," Cobb said. "He had a big house in Tahoe right on the lake and that was all from being an astute businessman, even though he never went to college and never got much of a formal education."
Cobb is considering majoring in economics and possibly attending business school.
He played three sports at Sacred Heart Prep in the Bay Area. He was a double-figure scorer and rebounder on the basketball team and a first baseman and left-handed pitcher on the baseball team.
"If I was ever just playing around with friends, it was always throwing a basketball," he said. "I love basketball because it's five guys working together to accomplish one goal. Baseball is a lot more individual."
The Tigers (10-10) have won four of five, including two in a row, with five games remaining. Cobb has played in all 20 games, while making a few spot starts for the 2,100-student liberal arts college where President Barack Obama spent two years before transferring to Columbia.
"When he's on the court, good things happen," Newhall said. "He's just kind of clutch. He's not overwhelmed by anything. Sometimes freshmen will come in and talk a big game and Ty didn't say a word, he just worked and worked."
In their biggest game of the season, a 93-50 loss at then-No. 7 San Diego State, Cobb had two points, one block, one assist and two turnovers. He was playing in front of 12,414 fans instead of the 1,000 or less that turn up for a home game.
"Our bench was 20 feet from the student section and they took a lot of joy in screaming at us as much as they could," he said.
Occidental's baseball team began its season last week and coach Jason Hawkins has reason to be optimistic. Cobb talked to him recently about possibly pitching. He's torn between focusing on basketball year-round and unleashing his fastball.
"When the weather turns, you smell the fresh grass," Cobb said, smiling. "It's like instinct to be playing baseball. I miss being out there, but I'm still happier playing basketball only. That was my choice."
"For all the bad rep he got, I really liked watching Barry Bonds play," Cobb said. "He had one of the best, most compact swings in baseball and is a guy that's really good to imitate on that level."