Cobb-Lajoie 1910 Controversy Lives On.

Ty Cobb (L) and Napoleon Lajoie engaged in the most heated and controversial batting title race back in 1910.

Ty Cobb (L) and Napoleon Lajoie engaged in the most heated and controversial batting title race back in 1910.

The 1910 American League batting average championship race between Napoleon Lajoie of the Cleveland Naps and Ty Cobb of the Detroit Tigers has to be the most controversial one in baseball history. It became such a heated and public attention grabbing contest that the Chalmers Automobile Company decided to jump into all the free advertising this baseball fire had inspired by announcing that they were going to give one of their brand new cutting edge cars to the eventual winner. And that move simply turned up the flame to “high.”

Across the nation, most of the “good guy” fan support fell all over Nap Lajoie like gravy on potatoes. Ty Cobb was too much the hated “bad guy” for his snarling and mean-spirited temperament on and off the field to ever become a national baseball hero to all of us hoi pa loi fans of the national pastime. Yes, our people existed even then – back in the day.

The thing – the race – festered with conflict and controversy for most of the 1910 season.

Better late than never, the most controversial event occurred on the last day of the season – with Cleveland and Lajoie playing a final day doubleheader against the Browns and not much on the line for either Detroit or Cleveland in the pennant race. The Tigers were already locked into 3rd place, en route to an 18 games back finish behind the pennant-winning Philadelphia Athletics. The Cleveland Naps were in a tight second division race with the Chicago White Sox and would finish a half game ahead of them for 5th place. Like all water, the Browns had long since found their familiar place at the bottom of the AL standings and would close the season with 107 losses and a 57-game distance deficit to the record of the Athletic league champs.

It was the perfect setting for ethically challenged manager Jack O’Connor of the Browns to do more than simply cheer for Nap Lajoie, his favorite in the batting title race. Both Lajoie and Cobb entered the last day of the season in the knowledge that a big day at the plate for either man could be the difference-maker. But Cobb was not going to be an active part of it. He sat out the previous game and also would do so on the last day. Support for Lajoie and hatred for Cobb had a wide-open opportunity just sitting there plotting against him in St. Louis.

Here’s where the math accuracy and ethics of several human figures get as fuzzy as the events and the reporting of them for that day by others over the years could possibly be.

A Wikipedia Report explains it this way:

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Controversy

At the start of the final day of the 1910 season, Ty Cobb of the Detroit Tigers held a slim lead in the race for the American League batting title, just a few percentage points ahead of the Cleveland NapsNap Lajoie. While Cobb did not play in the Tigers’ final two games of the season,[1] Lajoie played in two successive games on the last day of the season for the Cleveland Naps.

Because Cobb did not have a plate appearance, his batting average did not change finishing with an average of .38507. However, Lajoie hit safely eight times in the Naps’ doubleheader against the St. Louis Browns. With eight hits in eight at-bats, Lajoie finished the season with a .384 batting average (227 hits in 591 at bats). ……..

Aftermath

Browns’ manager Jack O’Connor had ordered rookie third baseman Red Corriden to play on the outfield grass. This all but conceded a hit for any ball Lajoie bunted. Lajoie’s final at-bat resulted in a wild throw to first base, which was scored as an error. After news broke of the scandal, a writer for the St. Louis Post claimed: “All St. Louis is up in arms over the deplorable spectacle, conceived in stupidity and executed in jealousy.” The issue was brought to American League president Ban Johnson, who declared all batting averages official, and Cobb the champion (.385069 to .384095). The Chalmers people, however, awarded automobiles to both Cobb and Lajoie (essentially declaring a tie). ……….

Modern Revision

In 1978, Pete Palmer discovered a discrepancy in Cobb’s career hit total, and the story was broken by The Sporting News in April 1981.[2] Initially recorded at 4,191 (still the total on MLB.com), researchers say that a Detroit Tigers box score was counted twice in the season-ending calculations. The statisticians gave Cobb an extra 2-for-3. Not only did this credit Cobb with two non-existent hits, it also raised his 1910 batting average from .383 to .385. As Lajoie is credited with a .384 average for the 1910 season, the revised figure would have cost Cobb one of his 12 batting titles and reduced his career average to .366.

O’Connor and coach Harry Howell, who tried to bribe the official scorer to change the error to a hit, were banned from baseball for their role in the affair.[3] The ensuing mathematical mess was described by one writer as follows: “It could be said that 1910 produced two bogus leading batting averages, and one questionable champion.”[4] ……….

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1910_Chalmers_Award

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Had the 1978 discovery that Cobb had been accidentally double credited for one “2 for 3” game in 1910 been accepted as the new measurement for the 1910 batting title, it would have reduced his batting average to .383 and given the batting title to Lajoie, but that late discovery did not change a posthumous battle title award from Cobb (.383) to Lajoie (.384) for 1910. Baseball Reference.com does now show these “correct” averages at their site for both men, but it respects the will of MLB to continue giving Cobb the bold type credit as 1910 AL batting champion, even though Lajoie now is featured with the higher batting average figure in the book of records.

Those eight Lajoie “hits” in the 1910 last day doubleheader at St. Louis, and how at least six of them were set up as “gimme” bunt single gifts from Jack O’Connor of the Browns, hardly earn Nap Lajoie much sympathy in 2015 for the legitimacy of his own figures for that 1910 season.

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eagle-0range

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5 Responses to “Cobb-Lajoie 1910 Controversy Lives On.”

  1. Rick B. Says:

    I wonder what would have happened if Cobb had played the final two games of the season – Ted Williams he clearly was not. Still, it’s a good thing that Lajoie didn’t get what he didn’t deserve. As for Cobb, however, I always recall Ray Liotta’s Shoeless Joe saying, “We didn’t invite him [to the field of dreams]. None of us could stand the son of a bitch when we were alive.” (And if you read Lawrence Ritter’s The Glory of Their Times that seems to have been the case, with only one exception that I can recall).

  2. Anthnony Cavender Says:

    According to the latest biography of Ty Cobb, most ballplayers respected Cobb, who was very generous to many of them when they needed assistance. He also championed the HOF credentials of Sam Crawford and Harry Heilman. Interestingly, the Browns manager was fired after the 1910 season, largely, I recall, for his role in this controversy. He sued the Browns for breah of contract, and his case was eventually decided by a Missiouri court of appelas a few years later.

    • Rick B. Says:

      Cobb may have championed Crawford for the HOF, but Crawford still doesn’t seem to have been a fan of Cobb. In Ritter’s book, Crawford said he thought Cobb’s autobiography had “too much I” in it and explained that Cobb had no friends on the Tigers because he wanted none – according to Crawford, Cobb called them all “Damn Yankees” and was always ready to fight.

  3. Dennis Corcoran Says:

    Bill I just wanted to let you know that SABR member, Rick Huhn has written a book about ths event.

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