- The Chalmers Race: Ty Cobb, Napoleon Lajoie, and the Controversial 1910 Batting Title That Became a National Obsession by Rick Huhn
The history of baseball includes statistics, personalities, and scandals. All three appear in The Chalmers Race. This story also includes an historical revision. A book about events from the Deadball Era, the period between 1900 and 1910, when fans watched low-scoring defensive games rather than homeruns flying over the outfield wall, The Chalmers Race recounts the race for the American League batting title in 1910. Called the Chalmers Race because the Chalmers Automobile Company offered a 1911 Chalmers 30 Touring Car to the winner, the competition for the highest batting average in the American League came down to two players: the despised twenty-three-year-old Georgian Ty Cobb of the Detroit Tigers and the beloved thirty-five-year-old New Englander Napoleon “Nap” Lajoie of the Cleveland Naps. Rick Huhn provides an in-depth examination of the events and aftermath of the 1910 contest, including an examination of scorekeeping, the trial of Jack O’Connor, and new research published in the 1980s, which challenged the decided outcome.
The statistics: During the Deadball Era, the practice of scorekeeping was not uniform. When determining which individual accrued more hits in a season, accurately recording the number of hits in each game becomes very important. During this era, the system of record keeping was unregulated. Those recording the statistical information lacked formal training. While it may seem easy to quantify which player had more hits than another did in an individual game or over a season, Rick Huhn shows that accurate records of score-keeping were problematic and varied by newspaper.
The personalities: Through its history, professional baseball has included larger-than-life characters. Three of the actors in this story, Ty Cobb, Nap Lajoie, Byron Bancroft (Ban) Johnson, were each future inductees to the National Baseball Hall of Fame. In 1910, Detroit Tiger center fielder Ty Cobb was in his fifth year in the major leagues. Nap Lajoie, second baseman for the Cleveland Naps, was a fifteen-year veteran. Ban Johnson helped establish the American League in 1901 and became its first president. Huhn describes the role these personalities played in the outcome of the race.
The scandal: Thinking he had won the competition, Ty Cobb chose to sit out the last two games of the season. Meanwhile, Nap Lajoie added eight hits to his total in a [End Page 256] double-header against the St. Louis Browns. Lajoie’s accrual of the eight hits on the last day of the season became the center of a controversy about the fairness of the contest. Ban Johnson later investigated Jack O’Conner, the manager of the St. Louis Browns, the Naps opponent in their last games, for influencing players to assist Lajoie in earning hits. After an investigation, both Jack O’Conner and St. Louis Browns pitcher Harry Howell, who tried to persuade the scorekeeper to give Lajoie another hit, were banned from major-league baseball. Ban Johnson declared Ty Cobb to be the winner. In the end, the Chalmers Automobile Company gave a car to both Cobb and Lajoie. Huhn goes in depth into Jack O’Conner’s trial and provides new information about the proceedings.
The historical revision: The debate over the rightful winner became even more controversial in 1981 when the Sporting News reported the findings of researcher Pete Palmer. Palmer discovered that Ty Cobb received double credit for his hits in the game on September 25. With a corrected record, Lajoie had the higher batting average and should have received the American League batting title. In the final chapter, Huhn examines the process of reviewing the statistics and the question of the accuracy of the statistics on which many fans of baseball rely.
The Chalmers Race is an accessible story about a specific contest in professional baseball during the Deadball Era. By focusing on the details...