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Game 161

October 9, 1910St. Louis Attempts to Hand the Batting Title to Nap Lajoie to Spite Ty Cobb

At the beginning of the 1910 season, Hugh Chalmers of the Chalmers Automobile Company pledged to give a Model 30 car to player with the best batting average in either league. 

Going into the last day of the season, Ty Cobb was leading the batting race by a healthy, but not insurmountable margin of .385 to Nap Lajoie’s .376. Cobb was sitting out the final game of the season for Detroit claiming an eye ailment. The Naps and Lajoie would play a double-header at Sportsman’s Park against the Browns. 

Prior to the first game, St. Louis manager Jack O’Connor told third baseman Red Corrigan to play back on the outfield grass. He reportedly told Corrigan, “one of Lajoie’s line drives might kill you.”

During the first game of the day, Lajoie bunted three times up the third base line, reaching safely each time. He also hit a triple, but it was not enough as the Browns broke the 4-4 tie with a walkoff hit in the bottom of the ninth. 

In the second game, O’Connor returned to his spot behind the cut of the infield grass. Knowing a good thing when he saw it, Lajoie put three more bunts up the line to go along with another infield single. In his fifth at-bat of the second game, Browns shortstop Bobby Wallace misplayed the ball. Lajoie beat his throw to first, but the play was scored as an error on Wallace. 

Coach Harry Howell then sent a bat boy with a note to the official scorer, a woman named E.V. Parrish, with an offer of a bribe. Howell offered up a new suit of clothes if she would change her call and give Lajoie a 9 for 9 double-header. Miss Parrish declined. 

The Naps won the second game of the doubleheader to finish the season 71-81 in fifth place in the American League. 

The next day, newspapers posted a wide variety of unofficial batting averages and declared Lajoie the winner. Critics of the cruel and impersonal Cobb rejoiced. 

However, once The Sporting News crunched all of the numbers for the season, they put Cobb ahead .3850687  to Lajoie’s .3840947. Commissioner Ban Johnson conducted an investigation and confirmed the result–Cobb was the batting champion. Ban Johnson insisted that both O’Connor and Howell be fired from the Browns. They were both effectively blacklisted from professional baseball for their tampering in the batting race. 

Chalmers delivered Model 30s to both players, effectively calling the batting race a tie. However, even Chalmers may have had a preference for the more affable Lajoie.  “I’ve always understood,” Nap later said, “that the automobile I got ran a lot better than the one they gave to Ty.” 

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