Three museums, three baseball greats

Call it the baseball triangle, those lines linking three museums in two states. It starts at Royston, where Ty Cobb got his start; then reaches to Greenville, South Carolina, where Joe “Shoeless Joe” Jackson first picked up glove and bat; and then come around to Demorest, the Habersham County town where slugger Johnny Mize grew up.

What better time to explore that triangle than now, with the World Series in full (pardon the pun) swing? Sure, the Braves are out of the running after stinking up September, but we still have other erstwhile boys of summer to celebrate.

Why not make the drive north, from Atlanta to Royston to Greenville to Demorest and back home. It’s the automotive equivalent of rounding the bases. It’ll be a hit, and you can do it all in a day — OK, a long day; the round trip will exceed 320 miles.

So don your favorite cap, traveler. Put some gas in the family hauler. If you have a convertible, that’s even better: the air is sweet on some of the country roads you’ll be traveling.

Got a map? Oh, right; who has them anymore? Well, grab the GPS.

Ty Cobb Museum

From Atlanta, travel about 80 miles up Interstate 85, then take taking exit 160 toward Royston. It is a pleasant trip. Ga. 51 arrows past fields where corn stood until the late-summer harvests. When you hit Royston, look for signs pointing to the museum.

Cobb was not born in Royston, but got his start there in baseball. And what a start! The “Georgia Peach” went on to play 24 years in the major leagues, all but two of them for the Detroit Tigers. His lifetime batting average of .366 is the baseball equivalent of Everest — overwhelming, sky-high.

For the $5 admission, you can linger as long as you want, eyeballing authentic Cobb paraphernalia ranging from an old glove to a worn cap. The museum also offers a 20-minute film showcasing the man and his accomplishments. How many players stole home 55 times in one season?

“He was the greatest ballplayer, ever,” said Julie Ridgway, the museum’s director. And she’ll be glad to sell you a cap, pencil or other souvenir to show the world you have paid homage to one of baseball’s immortals.

Shoeless Joe Jackson Museum

OK, retrace your steps through the countryside. When you hit the big I, turn north. Set the car on cruise control, because you have about an hour’s travel. Your destination: a little house in the heart of Greenville’s West End community, the shrine of Joe.

A few words about Mr. Jackson: He was born poor, the nearly illiterate son of a mill worker who found employment near Greenville. The mill owner eyed young Joe, then asked his mother if her kid wanted to play on the mill’s baseball team (mill teams were the norm back then). She said yes, and thus was launched one of the strangest, saddest sagas in baseball history.

Jackson eventually made it to the bigs, where in 1915 he joined the Chicago White Sox. He played like a man possessed, and was no small reason the Sox made it to the 1919 World Series. The team’s opponent that year, Cincinnati, was an underdog.

The Reds won, touching off rumors that some Sox players — among them, a South Carolina mill worker’s son — took bribes to throw the series. Shoeless Joe and seven others, the so-called “Black Sox,” went to court on charges they took a dive. They were acquitted, then banned from baseball for life.

Arlene Marcley, the Jackson museum’s director, sounded indignant about what happened nearly a century ago. “He did not take a bribe,” she said. “He said that to his dying day.”

Statistics indicate Jackson told the truth. He got 12 hits and batted .375 during the series, the whole time running like Satan was rounding the bases behind him.

In 2006, Jackson’s home was dismantled, moved three miles, and reassembled at 356 Field St. The street number is not random: Jackson batted .356 in his too-short career.

Johnny Mize Athletic Center and Museum

Your itinerary takes you back to that big highway, 85. Follow it from Greenville back into Georgia until you see exit No. 173. Take that and follow Ga. 17 for about 30 miles until you reach Demorest. It is fine little journey, part of it wending through the green folds of Sumter National Forest.

Johnny Mize is honored in a museum at Piedmont College, where the Hall of Famer played baseball until he began a superb career that spanned 15 years with the Cardinals, N.Y. Giants and Yankees. In 1947, Mize wowed the sports world by hitting more than 50 home runs (he smacked 51), while striking out fewer than 50 times (he whiffed 42 at-bats). Compare that to B.J.’s stats.

He was called “Big Cat,” honoring his quick defensive skills. But it was at the plate where Mize established his fame, compiling a .312 lifetime batting average. He also hit 359 homers.

Demorest is proud of its native son, said David Price, public relations director at Piedmont College. Recently, he said, the town renamed a street in his honor. A plaque outside his house reminds the world that one of baseball’s greats came out of the hills of North Georgia.

“He’s definitely remembered here,” he said.

You can take in the museum in less than an hour. Then it’s time to head back to the interstate and turn right — south — toward the metro area.

When you reach Atlanta, or wherever you live in the metro area, congratulate yourself: You’ve rounded the bases. You’re home.

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