Cobb's growing domination of the art of hitting angered many in the baseball world, for they hated to see Cobb beat players they admired. This hatred of Cobb came to a head in 1910 when he and Napoleon Lajoie, the player-manager of the Cleveland Naps, squared off in an epic race for the batting title (Cleveland had renamed its team in honor of the wildly popular Lajoie, who had come over from Philadelphia in 1902). The winner of the 1910 batting crown would receive a brand-new Chalmers "30," to be donated by Hugh Chalmers, baseball devotee and owner of the Chalmers Motor Car Company.
|Cobb and Lajoie pondering a piece of lumber|
In early July, Lajoie had almost a .030 lead on Cobb, but by the beginning of September, Cobb had cut the deficit to .008. Then just before a series in Cleveland, Cobb came down with an inflamed optic nerve and missed the entire series. Many people felt that he was afraid to go head to head with Lajoie. Once the inflammation subsided, he went 5 for 6 in a doubleheader with New York and 4 for 7 over two days in Chicago. Then, with a virtually insurmountable lead, he sat out Detroit's last two games. Cobb claims, of course, that he wasn't just sitting out to preserve his lead; it seems that a recurring eye problem began to flare up worse than ever forcing him to sit out those last two games of the season.
Lajoie needed to have a perfect last few games to beat Cobb. With the Naps in St. Louis to wrap up the season, the Browns' manager, Jack O'Connor, decided to go the extra mile to help Lajoie win the batting title. He had his rookie third baseman, Red Corriden, play near the outfield grass so that Lajoie could lay down bunts all day and beat them out. O'Connor told Corriden that he didn't want him to get hurt by a sharp line drive. Lajoie's first time up, he tripled. But in seven other times at bat, he laid down bunts to Corriden, beating them out for 6 hits and a fielder's choice. He also bunted successfully to shortstop, for an 8 for 9 performance. He supposedly later received a telegram congratulating him on his accomplishments from several Detroit Tigers.
Cobb quotes a piece from Heywood Broun, writing in the aftermath of the debacle in St. Louis:
As the world knows now, Tyrus Raymond Cobb is less popular than Napoleon Lajoie. Perhaps Cobb is the least popular player who ever lived. And why? Whether you like or dislike this young fellow, you must concede him one virtue: what he has won, he has taken by might of his own play. He asks no quarter and gives none. Pistareen ball players whom he has "shown up" dislike him. Third basemen with bum arms, second basemen with tender shins, catchers who cannot throw out a talented sliderall despise Cobb. And their attitude has infected the stands. Why do they so resent Cobb when he plays the game at every point on the field, giving his best at every moment, and makes life miserable for those less willing?Broun poured it on thick, as was the style for sportswriters in the day. His rhetoric cannot be taken too lightly, however. A good deal of anti-Cobb sentiment was probably the result of jealousy, but Cobb also did little to make friends around the league. Lajoie played with just as much fire and determination as Cobb did, and yet Lajoie was far more popular than Cobb could ever have been. The Browns laying down for Lajoie was just a very public statement by them (and by extension the rest of the league) that Cobb was simply not well-liked.
Ahhhone wonders. Here is the best man in all the world at his game, without the shade of doubt; the best of any time. Is it because he is swell-headed? But Cobb is nothe is, indeed, not spoiled at all. He is a gentle, well-mannered youth off the field, full of boyish life and spirits. On the field, he is full of the ebullience of his 24 years and of power and success. Hated why? What player gives the fans so much value for their money? (Cobb, 98)
When the official statistics were released, Cobb was the champion, .384944 to .384084. When word got out about what O'Connor had done in St. Louis, Johnson ran him out of Organized Baseball. Much of the league was in uproar over what had happened, and Chalmers, enjoying the publicity, gave a car to both Cobb and Lajoie. In the years since, research by Total Baseball has shown that Lajoie actually won, .384 to .383, although the MacMillian Encyclopedia still lists Cobb as the winner.
Statistical revisions like this one pop up because this was an era that failed to live up to the rigorous standards employed today. Hence, much of what was thought to be true in 1910 and thereabouts has been disproven.
I'm all for accuracy; I think it is great and necessary. However, as has been said many times, if there comes a time when the legend is more exciting than the truth, let the legend stand. That's not the best way to approach history, I know. But sometimes legends supercede truth. For example, research has revealed that Cobb had one less hit, 4190, and 5 more at bats in his career, lowering his average to .366. Thus, the legendary figures of .367 and 4191 are wrong. So what about Pete Rose's 4191st hit? That one seems to have been the record breaker. Each revision opens more and more Pandora's boxes. Food for thought as the unending saga to update and correct old stats continues.
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