Position: Second Baseman
Teams: Philadelphia Phillies, 1896-1900; Philadelphia Athletics, 1901-1902, 1915-1916; Cleveland Blues (Naps), 1902-1914
Manager: Cleveland Naps 1905-1909
Managerial record: 377-309
In 1896, Napoleon Lajoie (1874-1959) was purchased by the Phillies from Fall River of the New England League. By Nap's fifth year with the Phillies, the club seemed ready to mount a serious pennant bid.
A salary hassle with Phillies owner Colonel Rogers, however, induced Lajoie to jump to the Philadelphia Athletics of the fledgling American League when A's manager Connie Mack offered him a four-year, $6,000-per-season pact. It seemed as if this would be sufficient enticement for Lajoie, who set a 20th-Century record by batting .422 and winning the Triple Crown in 1901, the AL's first campaign as a major league.
Nap Lajoie (left) won three AL batting titles and was the most popular player on his team.
Since the injunction applied only in the state of Pennsylvania, Mack sent Lajoie and Flick to Cleveland, for which they could play in every other AL city but Philadelphia. Owing to all the legal wrangling, Lajoie got into only 87 games in 1902. Nap swiftly made up for the setback by winning the hitting titles in 1903 and 1904.
In all, Lajoie won three American League bat crowns, with one, in 1910, that is still in dispute. That year, Nap edged Ty Cobb by a single point after making eight hits in a season-ending doubleheader, six of them bunts that Lajoie was able to beat out because St. Louis Browns third baseman Red Corriden was playing deep on orders from his manager Jack O'Connor, to deny the hated Cobb the hit title.
None of Lajoie's many other accomplishments are tainted or diminished, however. For the first 13 years of the 20th Century, he was the AL's equivalent of Honus Wagner -- the greatest fielder of his time at his position who was also one of the game's greatest hitters.
Unlike Wagner, who played on four pennant winners, Lajoie was never on a championship team. He came close in 1908, when Cleveland lost the pennant to Detroit by a half-game. Lajoie was then in his fourth season as Cleveland's player-manager. He was so popular the team was renamed the "Naps" in his honor.
Although Lajoie stepped down as manager following the 1909 season, he remained with Cleveland for five more seasons as a second baseman. He concluded his major-league career with a two-year stint with the A's. Lajoie was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1937.
Here are Nap Lajoie's major league totals:
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