Top 100 Cleveland Indians: #3 Nap Lajoie

Next in the countdown is the man for whom the team was named during its early years.

Napoleon Lajoie

Second Baseman, 1902-1914

Height: 6'1" Weight: 195 lbs

Throws: Right Bats: Right

Acquired: Signed as free agent (May 31, 1902)

Left: Sold to the Philadelphia Athletics (January, 1915)

It is possible that if today's top young MLB star is allowed to reach free agency, contract negotiations will include a clause that the team be renamed the Los Angeles Trouts (of Anaheim), but it's hard to imagine an entire team going by the moniker of a single player. For more than a decade though, that was the state of the Cleveland ball club. Such was the popularity of the team's first star, Nap Lajoie.

A Fast Rise to Stardom

Lajoie, born September 5, 1874 in Rhode Island, was the youngest of at least 8 children in a family that had moved from French-Canada a few years earlier. Nap's father Jean died seven years later, and the children were soon forced to find work in order to support the family. Lajoie's formal education ended when he was just 10 years old, when he dropped out to sweep floors at a nearby textile mill. LIke so many American boys of that era, Nap was crazy about baseball, and proved to be quite talented. His mother did not approve of baseball, so he often played under the name Sandy. By his late teen years Lajoie was playing part time for a local semi-pro team, and also appearing in big games for a number of other teams, at a price of up to $5 a game (nearly a week's salary at his actual job).

In 1896 Lajoie moved to Massachusetts to play for a Class B team in Fall River, for $100 a month. Less than four months later, with Lajoie batting .429, his contract was purchased by the Philadelphia Phillies. He wasted no time in proving himself up to the challenge of the National League, batting .326 over the rest of that season, and then hitting .361 in 1897, while also leading the league with a .569 slugging percentage and 310 total bases. In 1898 Lajoie was turned into a second baseman, having played center field as a semi-pro, and first base in his first couple seasons in Philadelphia. He continued to star for the Phillies through the end of 1900 season, at which time professional baseball underwent a massive change, which ultimately led to Nap being banned from playing in the state of Pennsylvania.

On the Run From Johnny Law... It Ain't No Trip to Cleveland

Baseball was booming at the turn of the century, and a group of men looked to jump into the market in 1901 by creating a rival for the dominant National League, to be known as the American League. Angry that he hadn't been paid as much as had been promised the previous season, Lajoie was among the many players who jumped to the startup. Phillies owner John Rogers was lived, and moved to block the deal, filing a suit that sad Lajoie was his "property" as a baseball player. The case slowly worked its way through the Pennsylvania court system. Meanwhile, Lajoie dominated the new league, leading all players in hits, doubles, home runs, runs scored, runs driven in, batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage. In fact, his .426 batting average is still the AL record, more than 100 years later.

Early in 1902, the court ruled that while Lajoie could not be forced to play for the Phillies, unless he played for them, he was not allowed to play in the state of Pennsylvania. Connie Mack had no choice but to release him from the A's, and so Lajoie signed on with the Cleveland team instead, which had been known as the Blues in its first season, but had changed to the Bronchos for 1902. Lajoie hit .379 for the team in 86 games, none of which were road contests against the Athletics. Lajoie took mini-vacations in Atlantic City whenever the team was in Philadelphia that season. At the end of the year, the two leagues worked out an agreement, the most significant element of which was the creation of the World Series. The deal also meant the ban against Lajoie would be lifted.

Name the Team After HIm, Then Hand Him the Reins

Before the 1903 season, Cleveland fans were asked to choose a(nother) new name for the local team. "Naps" was an overwhelming winner. Lajoie lived up to the honor by winning his third consecutive AL batting crown, by hitting .344. Bill Armour was the team's official manager, but Lajoie probably had as much to do with how the team was run as anyone. In 1904 he won another batting title, and near the end of the season, Armour re-signed. Lajoie accepted the manager's job at the end of the year (while it's been decades since Pete Rose became the last to hold the the position, player/managers used to be somewhat common).

Lajoie played the game at full speed, and his temper sometimes got the best of him on the field (he was once suspended for spitting tobacco juice on an umpire). In 1905, Lajoie suffered a bad cut when he was spiked ar second base. Dye from his dark socks seeped into the cut, leading to blood poisoning. He missed weeks and weeks of action, and at one point there was even discussion that he might have to have his eg amputated at the knee. He was able to return in August though, but it was easily the worst season of his career to that point.

Lajoie's own numbers at the plate dipped during his five years at the helm. He was still a very good player, and aging probably explains some of the decline, but his line for the five years prior to his taking over as manager was .374/.409/.558. In the five years he filled both roles, his line was .319/.368/.417, a difference of nearly 200 points in OPS. He'd won four batting titles in a row from 1901 to 1904, but he wouldn't come close to another until after he stepped down as manager near the end of the 1909 season.

When he had stepped down as manager, and did again compete for the batting title, it wasn't just any competition. The race for the 1910 American League batting crown was the biggest story in baseball that season, and remains one of the most controversial finishes in the game's history.

The Chalmers Detroit Model 30

The batting crown was probably second only to boxing heavyweight title among sporting accomplishments in those days, and in 1910 automobile mogul Hugh Chalmers declared he would give a Detroit Model 30 (one of the finest cars in existence at that time) to whomever finished with baseball's highest average. Cars were a rarity in those days, and the contest was a huge story.

Most expected either Detroit's Ty Cobb Cobb (who had taken the AL title three years in a row) or Pittsburgh's Honus Wagner (had had led the NL four years in a row) to win the car. Lajoie was considered past his prime, but at midseason he was batting over. 400, and was 25 points or so ahead of Cobb. Lajoie slumped a bit in July and August, and entering the season's final couple weeks, it was a close race between the two of them. No one knew for sure how close it was, because official numbers were only released at the end of the year. Newspapers tried to keep up, but different papers posted different numbers. (One even reported that Fred Snodgrass of the Giants was ahead, but when official numbers were released, he was more than 60 points behind.)

Entering the final day of the season, most papers were reporting that Cobb had a large enough lead that the race was basically settled. The Naps were playing St. Louis in a doubleheader that day, and their manager apparently decided that Nap should win the car. He inserted himself as catcher (despite not having played for 3 years, and put a rookie into the game at 3rd base, then instructed the rookie to play very deep at third when Nap came to bat, to avoid having his lead taken off by a line drive. Lajoie bunt in all but one of his at bats that day, and finished 8 for 8. By almost everyone's math, he'd pulled ahead of Cobb and won the title.

Wrote the Washington Post: "Never before in the history of baseball has the integrity of the game been questioned as it was by the 8,000 fans this afternoon." Commissioner Ban Johnson was not pleased, and when official numbers were released (weeks later), Cobb was ahead by a point. Ultimately, both men were given a car by Chalmers, but Cobb was considered the batting champion. Years later it was determined that for the official numbers, Johnson counted one game twice, in which Cobb went 2 for 3. The record was not corrected for decades, and so when Pete Rose broke Cobb's all-time record in 1985, it was not celebrated until Rose passed the incorrect total of 4,191.

Winding Down an Incredible Career

Lajoie continued to hit fairly well over the next few seasons, but his power and speed were in decline, as was ability to stay on the field. In 1914, at the age of 39, with his eyesight reportedly not what it used to be, his batting average dropped all the way to .258, after having been lower than .324 only twice in 18 seasons as a professional. That September though, he became only the third player in history to collect 3,000 hits.

That offseason, at his request, he was sold back to the A's (the team would have to be renamed again; Indians was the new choice). He played two more seasons in Philadelphia, but his time as an effective player at the Major League level was over. He retired at the end of 1916, and was at that point the all-time leader in doubles (with 657), and was second only to Wagner in hits (with 3,243).

That winter he signed on to play for and manage Toronto, in the International League. He somehow managed to hit .380, which I suppose says something about the level of play in the International League at that time. Lajoie held the same roles with Indianapolis of the American Association in 1917, but when World War I ended that season early, Lajoie's time in baseball came to an end.

At that point Lajoie returned to Cleveland. He and his wife (whom he'd married in 1906) lived in South Euclid for years. Lajoie worked in the rubber business, served on the Cleveland Boxing Commission for a time, and set up a brass manufacturing business. He'd always been good with his money, and the couple (they had no children) lived comfortably. In 1937 Lajoie was the leading vote getter in the second year of balloting for the Baseball Hall of Fame. He was one of ten members present in Cooperstown for the first actual induction ceremony, which took place until 1939.

A few years later, the Lajoie's retired to Daytona Beach, Florida. Nap passed away there after a fight with pneumonia in 1957. He was 84 years old. His 2,047 hits in a Cleveland uniform remain a franchise record, and he remains the last player to have a Major League team named after him.

- - - - - -

Sources

Statistics with Indians
Year Age G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BA OBP SLG OPS OPS+
1902 27 86 381 348 81 132 35 5 7 64 19 .379 .421 .569 .990 178
1903 28 125 525 485 90 167 41 11 7 93 21 .344 .379 .518 .896 169
1904 29 140 594 553 92 208 49 15 5 102 29 .376 .413 .546 .959 203
1905 30 65 271 249 29 82 12 2 2 41 11 .329 .377 .418 .795 151
1906 31 152 655 602 88 214 48 9 0 91 20 .355 .392 .465 .857 170
1907 32 137 558 509 53 153 30 6 2 63 24 .301 .347 .395 .742 135
1908 33 157 667 581 77 168 32 6 2 74 15 .289 .352 .375 .727 136
1909 34 128 521 469 56 152 33 7 1 47 13 .324 .378 .431 .809 151
1910 35 159 677 591 94 227 51 7 4 76 26 .384 .445 .514 .960 199
1911 36 90 353 315 36 115 20 1 2 60 13 .365 .420 .454 .874 143
1912 37 117 500 448 66 165 34 4 0 90 18 .368 .414 .462 .876 147
1913 38 137 525 465 66 156 25 2 1 68 17 .335 .398 .404 .802 132
1914 39 121 468 419 37 108 14 3 0 50 14 .258 .313 .305 .619 84
CLE (13 yrs) 1614 6695 6034 865 2047 424 78 33 919 240 .339 .389 .452 .840 155

Provided by Baseball-Reference.com

Selected American League Awards and Leaderboards
  • Hall of Fame: 1937
  • AL MVP: 11th, 1913; 13th, 1911
  • WAR: 1st, 1906-10.0; 3rd, 1903-8.0; 4th, 1907-7.6; 4th, 1908-7.8; 5th, 1904-8.6; 6th, 1909-6.4; 7th, 1910-9.8; Career MLB rank: 23rd (107.2)
  • WAR Position Players: 1st, 1903-8.0; 1st, 1904-8.6; 1st, 1906-10.0; 1st, 1907-7.6; 1st, 1908-7.8; 3rd, 1910-9.8; 4th, 1909-6.4; 6th, 1902-5.1; 7th, 1913-5.3; 9th, 1912-5.4; Career MLB rank: 17th (107.2)
  • oWAR: 1st, 1903-6.2; 1st, 1904-9.6; 1st, 1910-10.1; 2nd, 1906-7.5; 3rd, 1908-5.2; 4th, 1902-4.8; 7th, 1907-4.2; 7th, 1909-5.0; 7th, 1912-5.2; 10th, 1913-4.2; Career MLB rank: 19th (97.7)
  • Batting Average: 1st, 1902-.378; 1st, 1903-.344; 1st, 1904-.376; 1st, 1910-.384; 2nd, 1906-.355; 3rd, 1909-.324; 4th, 1912-.368; 6th, 1907-.301; 6th, 1913-.335; 8th, 1908-.289; Career MLB rank: 19th (.338)
  • On-Base Percentage: 1st, 1904-.413; 2nd, 1902-.419; 2nd, 1906-.392; 2nd, 1910-.445; 3rd, 1903-.379; 4th, 1909-.378; 5th, 1912-.414; 7th, 1913-.398; 9th, 1907-.347; 10th, 1908-.352
  • Slugging: 1st, 1903-.518; 1st, 1904-.546; 2nd, 1902-.565; 2nd, 1906-.465; 2nd, 1910-.514; 6th, 1907-.395; 6th, 1912-.462; 7th, 1909-.431; 9th, 1908-.375; 9th, 1913-.404
  • OPS: 1st, 1903-.896; 1st, 1904-.959; 2nd, 1902-.984; 2nd, 1906-.857; 2nd, 1910-.960; 5th, 1909-.809; 6th, 1907-.742; 6th, 1912-.876; 7th, 1913-.802; 8th, 1908-.727
  • OPS+: 1st, 1903-169; 1st, 1904-203; 2nd, 1902-176; 2nd, 1906-170; 2nd, 1910-199; 5th, 1909-151; 6th, 1907-135; 6th, 1912-147; 8th, 1908-136; 9th, 1913-132; Career MLB rank: 34th (150)
  • At Bats: 1st, 1910-591; 2nd, 1906-602; 4th, 1908-581; Career MLB rank: 39th (9589)
  • Plate Appearances: 2nd, 1908-667; 2nd, 1910-677; 5th, 1906-655
  • Runs Scored: 2nd, 1910-94; 4th, 1904-92; 7th, 1903-90; 7th, 1906-88; 7th, 1908-77
  • RBI: 1st, 1904-102; 2nd, 1906-91; 3rd, 1903-93; 3rd, 1908-74; 5th, 1910-76; 5th, 1912-90; 9th, 1907-63; Career MLB rank: 33rd (1599)
  • Hits: 1st, 1904-208; 1st, 1906-214; 1st, 1910-227; 3rd, 1908-168; 6th, 1903-167; 8th, 1909-152; Career MLB rank: 14th (3243)
  • Singles: 1st, 1910-1965;3rd, 1906-157; 4th, 1904-139; 4th, 1908-128; 10th, 1909- 111; Career MLB rank: 12th (2341)
  • Doubles: 1st, 1904-49; 1st, 1906-48; 1st, 1910-51; 2nd, 1903-41; 2nd, 1909-33; 3rd, 1907-30; 4th, 1908-32; 5th, 1912-34; 7th, 1902-35; Career MLB rank: 7th (657)
  • Triples: 8th, 1904-15; Career MLB rank: 33rd (163)
  • Home Runs: 5th, 1903-7; 6th, 1910-4; 9th, 1902-7; 10th, 1904-5
  • Extra-Base Hits: 1st, 1904-69; 1st, 1910-62; 2nd, 1906-57; 4th, 1903-59; 4th, 1907- 38; 5th, 1908-40; 7th, 1909-41; 9th, 1902-47
  • Total Bases: 1st, 1904-302; 1st, 1910-304; 2nd, 1906-280; 4th, 1903-251; 4th, 1908-218; 7th, 1907-201; 7th, 1909-202; Career MLB rank: 48th (4472)
Cleveland Indians (Naps) Career Leaderboards
  • 1st WAR (79.8)
  • 2nd oWAR (68.5)
  • t-4th dWAR (11.4)
  • 3rd Batting Average (.339)
  • t-12th On-Base Percentage (.389)
  • 34th Slugging (.452)
  • 20th OPS (.840)
  • 2nd Games Played (1614)
  • 1st At Bats (6034)
  • 3rd Plate Appearances (6695)
  • 7th Runs Scored (865)
  • 1st Hits (2047)
  • 3rd Total Bases (2726)
  • 2nd Doubles (424)
  • 8th Triples (78)
  • 3rd Runs Batted In (919)
  • 26th Bases on Balls (408)
  • 4th Stolen Bases (240)
  • 1st Singles (1512)
  • 3rd OPS+ (155)
  • 6th Extra-Base Hits (535)
  • 2nd Hit By Pitch (79)
Cleveland Indians (Naps) Single-Season Leaderboards
  • 3rd WAR (10.0, 1906)
  • 4th WAR (9.8, 1910)
  • t-9th WAR (8.6, 1904)
  • t-12th WAR (8.0, 1903)
  • t-15th WAR (7.8, 1908)
  • t-48th WAR (6.4, 1909)
  • 1st oWAR (10.1, 1910)
  • 2nd oWAR (9.6, 1904)
  • 14th oWAR (7.5, 1906)
  • t-35th oWAR (6.2, 1903)
  • 6th Batting Average (.384, 1910)
  • 8th Batting Average (.379, 1902)
  • 12th Batting Average (.376, 1904)
  • 15th Batting Average (.368, 1912)
  • 16th Batting Average (.365, 1911)
  • t-24th Batting Average (.355, 1906)
  • t-35th Batting Average (.344, 1903)
  • 14th OBP (.445, 1910)
  • t-37th OBP (.421, 1902)
  • t-39th OBP (.420, 1911)
  • t-46th OBP (.414, 1912)
  • t-49th OBP (.413, 1904)
  • t-33rd Slugging (.569, 1902)
  • 45th Slugging (.546, 1904)
  • 29th OPS (.990, 1902)
  • t-46th OPS (.960, 1910)
  • t-49th OPS (.959, 1904)
  • 3rd Hits (227, 1910)
  • t-11th Hits (214, 1906)
  • 18th Hits (208, 1904)
  • t-7th Doubles (51, 1910)
  • 12th Doubles (49, 1904)
  • t-13th Doubles (48, 1906)
  • t-45th Doubles (41, 1903)
  • t-17th Triples (15, 1904)
  • 1st OPS+ (203, 1904)
  • 2nd OPS+ (199, 1910)
  • 14th OPS+ (178, 1902)
  • t-21st OPS+ (170, 1906)
  • t-23rd OPS+ (169, 1903)
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