Thursday, December 20, 2012

Controversial Batting Crowns (Part I)

Some of baseball's most prestigious awards have been steeped in controversy over the years. The annual batting title has been a source of hot debate on numerous  occasions. The most infamous dispute occurred in 1910,when Napolean Lajoie (through no fault of his own) practically stole the honor from Ty Cobb.

Cobb was among the most universally despised figures in the game. Hazed mercilessly by teammates upon his arrival in the majors, he became angry and bitter, vowing to get even with all who dared oppose him."They were all against me," he said later in life, "but I beat the bastards and left them lying in a ditch." His ruthless style of play came back to bite him in 1910 when members of the St. Louis Browns plotted to rob him of a batting crown.

Believing he held a secure lead over Lajoie of Cleveland, Cobb sat out the last game of the season. Chalmers Automotive, a Detroit-based company, had offered a new car to the winner, making the  title especially appealing that year. With his team slated to face the Naps (later known as the Indians) at home, St. Louis manager Jack O'Connor saw an opportunity to get back at baseball's reigning schoolyard bully. He instructed rookie third baseman Red Corriden to play back near the edge of the outfield grass every time Lajoie came to bat. Taking advantage of this charitable gesture, Lajoie beat out several bunts, boosting his average considerably. Browns pitching coach Harry Howell reportedly attempted to bribe the official scorer into giving Lajoie an extra hit, but the offer was refused. It appeared to be of no consequence when newpapers prematurely declared Lajoie the batting champ by less than a percentage point over Cobb.

Smelling a rat, AL President Ban Johnson detained O'Connor and Corriden for questioning. Corriden was absolved, but Howell and O'Connor were blacklisted from the majors. When the Sporting News published the official seasonal averages, Cobb was declared the winner by a small margin. In a gesture of good faith, the Chalmers Company gave cars to both contenders. Lajoie later joked:"The automobile I got ran a lot better than the one they gave Ty."

...More about disputed batting titles in my next post.

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