Day 19: 30 days of baseball books in April, 2014 — Why the 1910 AL batting race wasn’t necessarily on autopilot

$_12

  • The pitch: It’s a story that first came across our radar a few years back in an L. Jon Werthheim Sports Illustrated story, and then again while reading the new book, “Tales From the Deadball Era: Ty Cobb, Home Run Baker, Shoeless Joe Jackson and the Wildest Times in Baseball History” (by Mark S. Halfon, Potomac Books, 248 pages, $26.95).
    51hxIluE-uL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_There, contained to pages 12-15, in the course of giving example after example about the “blatant corruption” that often took place in baseball during the first 20 years of the 20th Century, came this incomprehensible tale.
    When famous auto maker named Hugh Chalmers offered one of his Chalmers “30″ Roasters to the player with the base batting average in the big leagues in 1910, fans took notice. Few people owned a car at that time but were captivated by the technology.
    (Imagine Richard Branson offering the home-run winner of 2014 a chance to fly into space on one of his new-fangled Virgin Galactic rocket ships).
    So there went Detroit’s Ty Cobb and Cleveland’s Nap Lajoie in the “great automobile race” — far and away ahead of the eventual NL champion Sherry Magee.
    Huhn, who has done bios on Eddie Collins and George Sisler, allows the story to play out without giving away the ending — which you could easily look up.
    For those who’ve continued:
    So now it’s the last weekend of the season, and Cobb thinks he’s got a safe lead — enough to sit out the last two Tigers games and protect his prize (take that, Ted Williams). But then, who really wanted to see Cobb, one of the most despised players in the game, awarded such a luxury item? Not even his own teammates.
    But Lajoie had to play a double-header to end his season against St. Louis. The Browns were all too accommodating to Lajoie, “misjudging” fly balls, failing to field bunts in time to get him out at first, even trying to bribe the official scorer to change a ruling of an error to a hit to help him out.
    Lajoie ended up going 8-for-8 on the last day, finishing at .384, one point ahead of Cobb.
    Or did he really win it?
    CobbLajoieThe Washington Post wrote: “Never before in the history of baseball has the integrity of the game been questioned as it as by 8,000 fans this afternoon.” Added the St. Louis Post: “All of St. Louis is up in arms over the deplorable spectacle, conceived in stupidity and executed in jealousy.”
    Not to give away the ending, but …
    “I’ve always understood,” Lajoie said later of the incident, “that the automobile I got ran a lot better than the one they gave to Ty.”
    And at that time in American’s history, that may be what really mattered most.
Facebook Twitter Plusone Digg Reddit Stumbleupon Tumblr Email