Lajoie was one of the first players to become a Hall of Fame member. He was a star in the National League and the American League, dominating both sides of the game. Throughout his career, there was superb play, political rifts, and legendary rivalries.
If Lajoie was part of the Major League Baseball roster now, the MLB odds would swiftly turn in his favor.
The First Superstar In Major League History
Lajoie was an extraordinary hitter, a masterful fielder, and a legend walking. Every player during this time looked to him for inspiration. Even his opponents knew the majesty of this skill.
Lajoie jumped from team to team, and even league to league, but no matter where he played he crushed the competition.
He earned the Triple Crown in 1901, which meant he led the league with the best batting average, home runs, and runs batted in.
The accomplishment has only been achieved 27 times in history, showing just how rare the triumph is.
His Time In Stats
Breaking down his career into stats, you’ll notice that the standards of yesteryear are not the same as today. However, that doesn’t mean we can forget this trailblazer.
By the end of his career, Lajoir had a batting average of 0.339. He made 3.252 hits and 82 home runs for a total of 1,599 runs batted in.
His team’s winning rate was 0.550, while his managerial record was 337 – 309.
During that time, he also received the following awards:
- Triple Crown (1901)
- Cleveland Guardians Hall of Fame
- Runs Batted In Leader (3 times – 1898, 1901, 1904)
- Home Run Leader (American League, 1901)
- Batting Champion (American League, 5 times – 1901, 1902, 1903, 1904, 1910)
The Legacy He Brought To The Game
Lajoie’s 2,522 hits were a record for the American League until Ty Cobb beat the record with 4,189 12 years later.
Lajoie was part of the second group of players to join the Hall of Fame. It was created in 1937, just over 20 years after his playing retirement.
Baseball historian William McNeil has done the math and comparing Lajoie’s offensive and defensive playing achievements, he rates Lajoie as the second greatest baseman of all time.
The Ty Cobb Rivalry
The rivalry between Lajoie and Cobb comes down to statistics. They both kept breaking each other’s records and reached limits that no other players could attempt.
The race to become the best players in the game was solely between the two of them. If we had that kind of tension in the World Series 2023, the game would be three times as intense.
During this time, the media and teams didn’t care about stats. However, Cobb would often boast about how great he was in comparison to other players, using his speed and home run counts as markers for success.
Fans would point out Lajoie’s record which often beat Cobbs, but because Nap didn’t make the connection himself, he was seen as a natural and modest player. This was a battle of statistics and dignity, where you couldn’t win one without losing the other.
This rivalry really came to a head during the St. Louis Browns game in Sportsman’s Park. It was the final game of the season, and Cobb was Lajoie’s main opponent.
In his second bat, Nap reached the base but the runner on first base advanced. Because of the rules at the time, the hit was considered a sacrifice, and so couldn’t be labeled an official at-bat. In the end, Nap finished with a doubleheader and a perfect 8-8. His batting average increased to 0.384 which was 0.001 greater than Cobb’s.
Although the AL didn’ announce the results officially, everyone started congratulating Nap, even Cobb’s coach.
It later came to light that Harry Howell tried and failed to bribe the game’s scorer to look kindly on Nap. If he had made the sacrifice, it would have been a success. In later investigations of the game, AL President Ban Johnson agreed that the hit should have been played, but so should one of Cobbs. The results are therefore the same.
Fans of Cobb used this moment as a way to reduce Nap’s dominating score.
Penny Pinching Changed The Game
Lajoie started his career with the Philadelphia Phillies in the MLB National League. During this time his batting average was 0.363. He became the first baseman of the team due to the encouragement of teammate Delahanty.
It didn’t take long for people to notice just how great Nap was. Brooklyn Manager, Ned Hanlon publicly made Lajoie an offer of $10,000 to switch teams.
Nap didn’t want to break his loyalties so asked for a raise. His penny-pinching owner said he would make the same salary as Delahanty, but by the time his payments came he was still earning $2,600 (compared to Delahanty’s $3,000).
For this reason, Nap left. They tried offering an increase of $200 but the damage had been done. Although this wasn’t the biggest moment in his career, it changed the way owners saw players and respect through fair payment.
Nap Lajoie was a heavy hitter, a phenomenal fielder, and a gentlemanly player.