The Name on the Base
Jack Corbett’s best friend is Jack Corbett; his ideal, Jack Corbett; his criterion, Jack Corbett; and his hero, Jack Corbett.
– Winston-Salem Twin-City Daily Sentinel, March 11, 1916
It has been said that we must judge a man by the enemies he makes. Corbett has plenty of them, but it is safe to say that almost all of those who dislike him admire him at the same time.
– Winston-Salem Twin-City Daily Sentinel, August 14, 1916
Jack Corbett. Mobile Item, May 5, 1913.
Jack Corbett was a minor league baseball player, manager, and owner. He was the son of a professional gambler, played for the legendary Cap Anson, appeared in a Thomas Wolfe novel, married a minor movie star, and may have been a strongarm man for a movie theater mogul. He challenged baseball’s reserve clause and took the baseball establishment to the Supreme Court. His namesake product, the Jack Corbett Hollywood Base, appears today on every major league baseball diamond.
Corbett broke into professional baseball when he was 18 and played his last game when he was 30. Most of his days were spent in the hot, fragrant, semi-dilapidated ballparks of the American South, playing for teams in the low minors that teetered near bankruptcy. He was an excellent infielder with good range and a whip for an arm. He became a reliable Class D batter but couldn’t hit a Class C curveball.
As a player-manager, Corbett won two minor league pennants in four seasons. Contemporary critics described him as “clear-headed, a quick thinker and with a thorough knowledge of the game… ready at every minute to take advantage of the least lapse on the part of the opposing team.” He was also a world-class kicker ready to intimidate any umpire. He was loved by many and disliked by many. He was known to humiliate or attack his own players.
Corbett was the antecedent of Leo Durocher and Billy Martin: a scrappy, canny, annoying, in-your-face, good-field-no-hit middle infielder, a natural baseball player with a difficult personality. Durocher and Martin gained success at baseball’s highest level. Corbett found success at the bottom of baseball’s barrel. At the peak of his fame, he was the most popular person in Asheville, North Carolina.
Corbett’s comparator as a team owner is professional football’s Al Davis, the owner of the Oakland Raiders. Like Corbett, Davis feuded with his profession’s rulers and sued for the right to do what is today a common practice. At the end of his life, writers tagged Corbett “the eternal dissident,” a “perpetual gadfly,” a “stormy petrel,” and “baseball’s great suer.”
Corbett is now unknown to most baseball fans. He lacks even a Wikipedia entry, a courtesy afforded the most obscure and inconsequential of utility players and relief pitchers. Yet each major leaguer who reaches base stands on Jack Corbett’s name. Does a player ever look down and think, “Jack Corbett? Who the heck was Jack Corbett?”
Jack Corbett Hollywood Base, the official base of Major League Baseball.