Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Napoleon "Nap" Lajoie [la-ZHWAY] (September 5, 1874 - February 7, 1959), also nicknamed "Larry," was an American professional athlete. In his career as a second baseman in Major League Baseball, he was considered one of the greatest players of the fledgling American League in the early 20th century and the most serious of Ty Cobb's challengers.
Born in Woonsocket, Rhode Island, Lajoie started his career in the National League with the Philadelphia Phillies in 1896. In 1901, he jumped to the crosstown Philadelphia Athletics, owned by Connie Mack. Lajoie's batting average that year was .422, still a league record. Lajoie also became the first major leaguer to be intentionally walked with the bases loaded that year.
The next year the Phillies obtained an injunction, effective only in Pennsylvania, barring Lajoie from playing baseball for any team other than the Phillies. The American League responded by transferring Lajoie's contract to the Cleveland Indians, then known as the Broncos and subsequently renamed the "Naps" in Lajoie's honor for several seasons before adopting their current name in 1915 when Lajoie left the team. For the remainder of 1902 and most of 1903, Lajoie and teammate Elmer Flick travelled separately from the rest of the team, never setting foot in Pennsylvania so as to avoid a subpoena. The issue was finally resolved when the leagues made peace through the National Agreement in September 1903.
Lajoie won three batting crowns and might have won a fourth if he had not contracted blood poisoning from an untreated spike injury in 1905. With Cobb's arrival in the majors in 1905, however, Lajoie faced real competition.
Their rivalry reached a peak in 1910, when the Chalmers Auto Company promised a car to the batting leader that year. Lajoie, a far more popular player than Cobb, improved his average by going eight for eight in a doubleheader with the St. Louis Browns on the final day of the season. The details of the game led many to question the legitimacy of the hits: six were bunt singles, with the third baseman stationed at the edge of the outfield grass; another was, at best, an error. The Browns fired their manager in the uproar that followed.
Even so, Cobb won the close race after choosing to sit out the final two games rather than risk lowering his .385 average. As it turns out, Cobb's average might have been inflated by counting a single game twice in his statistics, as researchers discovered 70 years later. The Chalmers Auto Company avoided taking sides in the dispute by awarding cars to both Cobb and Lajoie.
Lajoie ended his career in 1915 and 1916 with a return to the Athletics, finishing with a lifetime .339 average. His career total of 3242 hits was the second best at the time, behind only Honus Wagner's total in major league history; Lajoie's total of 2521 hits in the AL was the league standard until Cobb surpassed it in 1918.
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