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League Park - Nap Lajoie

 

Nap

"Second baseman Napoleon 'Larry' Lajoie combined grace in the field with power at the bat. Renowned for hitting the ball hard, Lajoie topped .300 in 16 of his 21 big league seasons, ten times batting over .350 for a lifetime average of 339." - National Baseball Hall of Fame

 

Nap Lajoie
Napoleon Lajoie
Born: September 5, 1875 in Woonsocket, R.I.
Died: February 7, 1959 in Daytona Beach, Fla
Debut: 1896 | Pos: 2B
H: 6'1" | W: 195 | B: R | T: R


Yrs

G

AB

R

H

HR

RBI

SB

BA

21

2480

9589

1504

3242

82

1599

380

.338

Napoleon Lajoie was so good that a team named itself after him for a brief period. Yet, one of the greatest hitters of the earliest years of baseball never played for a pennant winner. 
Still, he was an amazing player and for that he is enshrined in baseball's Hall of Fame. 
Among his career accomplishments:

  • He led the league in hits four times -- 1901, 1904, 1906, 1910
  • He led the league in doubles four times.
  • He won the first American League triple crown in 1901
  • He was the top RBI man for three seasons. 
  • He led the league in batting average five times, including four consecutive seasons.
  • He was the American League's answer to Honus Wagner. Both player were considered to be the dominant defensive players of their respective leagues.

Lajoie, born in 1875, made his debut with Philadelphia of the National League in 1896 at the age of 21. Two years later, he showed the first signs of things to come when he led the league with 127 RBIs.

The landscape of baseball changed during the 1901 season as the American League rose to challenge the National League's dominance. AL officials said they refused to honor contracts players had with NL franchises. The new league paid more and, with promises not to have some of the oppressive leadership the NL had shown, the upstart franchises were able to attract NL stars.

Nap Lajoie was one of the players to seize the opportunity and, in 1901, he took the field with Connie Mack's Philadelphia Athletics. The change of leagues paid instant dividends. Lajoie hit a modern record for batting average of .426 and led the league in home runs and RBIs to earn its first Triple Crown. He was so dominant, in fact, that on May 23 of that season he became the first player in baseball history to be intentionally walked with the bases loaded. 

The 1902 season was the equivalent of an episode of "Law & Order" for Lajoie. His former team, the cross-town Phillies, saw they had let a star slip away. The NL club went to a judge in the city and obtained a ruling that Lajoie still belonged to the National League club and that he should return there. Mack, being the shrewd manager he was sent Lajoie off to the American League's Cleveland franchise. 

The legal wrangling didn't end for Lajoie with the move to Ohio. If he were to return to Philadelphia, he would fall under the jurisdiction of the court's ruling. So, Lajoie steered clear of Cleveland's trips to Philadelphia to play the Athletics for the entire 1902 season. Despite the off-field circumstances, Lajoie led the American League in batting average for the second consecutive year.

The effort to keep Lajoie out of the Phillies' hands ended in 1903. The National League saw itself on the ropes. The upstart American League had outdrawn the senior circuit in attendance for the season and a truce was needed. The NL proposed a single league of 12 teams and the AL said no. The end result was the two league format still used today. And, the agreement put an end to claims that AL players still belonged with the NL clubs.

Lajoie was up to form again that seaons, leading the league with a .344 average. Despite his valiant efforts, Cleveland finished third, 15 games out of first place. He also became a star of sorts that season when he and teammate Harry Bay became part of the first moving picture of baseball.  The 1904 season marked the fourth consecutive and last time that Nap would lead the league in batting average. Lajoie in the AL and Honus Wagner in the NL were considered to be the most dominate infielders of the time in both defense and offense.

After a string of four strong seasons, Lajoie was limited to just 65 games in 1905. After being spiked during a game, Lajoie developed blood poisoning and nearly died. That season, he also served as the team's player-manager and the team was named the "Naps" in his honor.

After his scare with illness, Lajoie was back to form in 1905 to lead the American League in hits.  The 1910 season marks an incident that is part of the Ty Cobb legend. Cobb and Lajoie competed throughout the season for the AL batting title. With the rivalry and the averages so close, the Chalmers Motor Company offered a car to the winner of the 1910 batting title. The race finished with a controversy. 

Cobb was not a favorite of a large number of players in the game. In the last game of the season, the St. Louis Browns third baseman allegedly played back and allowed Lajoie to get to first on seven bunt singles -- an effort to rob Cobb of the title. The Browns manager was later fired, but Lajoie beat Cobb .383 to .382. The criteria for the Chalmers Award was changed to go to the "most important and useful" player in the league. Lajoie also led the league in hits with 227.

The 1913 season marked the last time that Lajoie hit over .300 and he collected his 3000th hit in 1914. In 1937, Lajoie joined Tris Speaker, Cy Young, John McGraw, Connie Mack, George Wright, Morgan Buckley and Ban Johnson as the second class of inductees into baseball's hall of fame.

Nap Lajoie Obituary

Sources: Baseball Chronicle, 2001 Encyclopedia of Baseball , Historicbaseball.com