Detroit Tigers Legend Ty Cobb Alive and Well Thanks to Norm Coleman


Norm Coleman embarked on a new dream journey at age 70. With no prior acting experience, the self-described "ham" developed a one-man show portraying Detroit Tigers legend Ty Cobb. He has since traveled around the country and reconnected with rival "Babe Ruth." Now remind me, why are you waiting to pursue your dream?

Dreaming Made Simple: What made you think you could do a one-man show? That’s pretty courageous not to have a supporting cast.

Dreaming Made Simple: Why pick Ty Cobb to portray?

Norm Coleman: I’ve been a baseball fan since I was a child, growing up in Brooklyn. Until roughly six years ago, I did not know a thing about him, except he was this great ballplayer with terrific records. Visiting my local library in Half Moon Bay, Calif., I went to get a book on Jackie Robinson. Right next to the book on Jackie Robinson was a book on Ty Cobb, written by Al Stump. As I read the book, I became fascinated with the complex character of Ty Cobb. I quickly envisioned a one-man show.

At that time, I had just started acting in a local theatre. I had never acted a day in my life. I’m a retired award-winning photographer. I joined SABR (Society for American Baseball Research), and they put me in touch with numerous Cobb historians. I became obsessed with the Cobb story. I read, I’d say, 10 to12 books on the man. I saw him as politically incorrect for our day and time, but I saw his story as very interesting.  I wanted to tell the other side of the man.

As I began to read more and write a script, I contacted several local Rotary clubs. They loved the performance. They loved the story and referred me to about 18 other Rotary clubs. Between the Rotary, Lions and Kiwanis clubs, I got to perform quite a bit and hone the show.

SDB:Where have your travels taken you by now?

Norm Coleman: I did a couple other shows in California, I did a small one up at The Marsh in San Francisco. My big break came after writing to the Detroit Tigers. I got a Tigers media guide and wrote letters to about 15 top officials.

I heard from nobody, but I have a lot of perseverance.

The following year I again wrote to several people, including Tigers Owner Mike Ilitch. He referred me to [Tigers President/CEO/General Manager] David Dombrowki. Mr. Dombrowski referred me to [Director, Lakeland Operations] Ron Myers from the Tigers Spring Training site in Lakeland, Fla. I will never forget the moment when he called and said, "Norm, we want you." That was the first time I did the entire 85-minute show. Rotary gives you 20 to 30 minutes.

Dreaming Made Simple: How did you get connected with "Babe Ruth?"

Norm Coleman: That’s an interesting story. I am in contact with a lot of bloggers. One of them was a gentleman who used to work for ESPN, out of Pasadena. He told me he videotaped a Babe Ruth impersonator out of Boston named Steve Folven. I saw the video and contacted Steve. I had been considering a two-man show with Ty Cobb and Babe Ruth for some time. He said, yes, I’d like to do it with you. I wrote the script and went to Boston this past August. We performed six shows in six different cities for Rotary clubs.

The two of us got on the same page very quickly. Steve came to San Francisco in April of this year, and we met at [famed sports restaurant] Lefty O’Doul’s. We went to the restaurant in costume. We sat down at a table in the back, and we attracted a lot of attention. We had no script. We talked like two old guys having a beer together. Restaurant owner Nick Bovis liked the show so much that he booked me to do a show at Lefty’s next month. Steve and my photograph is hanging under an 11 X 14 photo of Ichiro.

Dreaming Made Simple: Let’s talk about fellow San Francisco native Joe DiMaggio. You actually photographed Joe D., right?

Norm Coleman: Yes, I did. I had a portrait studio in San Mateo, Calif. for 30 years. I did a bar mitzvah for a well-to-do family. They told me they had a VIP coming. It was Joe DiMaggio, who was a good friend of the grandfather. "Don’t talk to them. Just take the picture. Don’t ask for an autograph," they said.

Dreaming Made Simple: How did you get into photography?

Norm Coleman: I started in New York City. I studied at the New York School for Social Research. I studied with a very famous photographer named Lisette Model. She was the second woman photographer hired for LIFE magazine. I was very fortunate to be in her class. I later moved out to Santa Fe, NM. I photographed the ghost town, and I photographed Indians. When I came out to California, I got a job as a ballet photographer. In 1965, I opened up my own portrait studio in San Mateo and got into the wedding business. I photographed many athletes over the years at social events - Willie Mays, Joe Montana, Johnny Bench - My claim to fame was I photographed Ronald Reagan when he was running for president back in 1980.

Dreaming Made Simple: Why did you start acting?

Norm Coleman: I went to a local theatre called the Coastal Repertory Theatre. I was so impressed with the acting. As I was walking out of the theatre, there was a letter on the table. It said there were auditions for the next show. I picked the letter up and put it on my bulletin board. I looked at it numerous times. I went down there and read a bunch of lines. I came back and read some more lines. Then I got a call back, and they said, 'We have a small part for you.' It was a small part - exactly 16 lines - I played a juror. It took me forever to memorize those lines. I didn’t know stage right from stage left, but I loved being part of the theatre family. I was bitten by the theatre bug, you might say. At that time, I was reading about Ty Cobb. I began to put it together that this could be a one-man show.

Dreaming Made Simple: What’s your dream, and how has that evolved in the six years you have been playing Mr. Cobb?

Norm Coleman: My big dream is to perform at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y. They know who I am. They have my information. I have performed at the Ty Cobb Museum, but my big dream is to perform at Cooperstown.

Learn more about Norm Coleman, a.k.a Detroit Tigers legend Ty Cobb, and see where he will be appearing on his Web site