1910 A Carload of Trouble

The World Series becomes anticlimactic following a strange and controversial ending to the individual batting race between two of baseball's premier hitters: Ty Cobb and Nap Lajoie.

Cleveland’s Nap Lajoie and Detroit’s Ty Cobb take a backseat in the luxurious Chalmers 30 as their highly publicized batting race went into high gear and resulted in one of the game’s most controversial endings.

A four-cylinder engine. Thirty horsepower. An exquisite exterior with plush vinyl upholstery on the inside, protected by a retractable top. Excellent for touring. It was the Chalmers 30, and starting in 1910, it was yours if you had the best batting average in major league baseball.

Throughout the season, many of the game’s finest hitters played musical chairs with the top spot of the batting charts in a bid to secure one of the sweetest automobiles Detroit had to offer. But toward season’s end, only two of the game’s very best remained the last men running in the race for the Chalmers: Nap Lajoie and Ty Cobb.

Between them, Lajoie and Cobb had won six batting titles over the American League’s first nine years. Lajoie was so well liked and highly regarded, they renamed the team after him when he came to Cleveland. Cobb, on the other hand, remained the consensus choice for the most hated man in baseball, thanks to his vicious attitude toward almost everything in life.

Both pennant races long decided, the baseball public became transfixed on the Lajoie-Cobb race. The players were into the drama as well; in an era where a gift such as a sparkling new car could greatly augment a player’s yearly worth, extra income was nothing to yawn at.

At midseason, Lajoie appeared all but a lock for the Chalmers’ keys, leading Cobb by 30 points. Cobb, bothered by eye problems for much of the year, was all 20/20 over the season’s final two weeks—batting .550—to suddenly jump ahead of Lajoie, .383 to .376, going into a doubleheader to end the year.

Rather than risk the batting crown and the Chalmers with two bad games, Cobb opted to sit—officially complaining that his eyes were acting up again. Others rolled their eyes back, suspicious that Cobb was simply practicing protectionism from the dugout.

The pattern continued all through the day—Lajoie bunting, Corriden sprinting in too late —and before the twinbill was over, Lajoie had laid down six bunt hits. It was more than obvious: The Browns were literately handing the batting title—and the car—to Lajoie.Meanwhile, Lajoie and his Naps readied for a season-ending doubleheader of their own in St. Louis—where Browns manager Jack O’Connor was going to make sure that Lajoie, not Cobb, would get that car. After all, Lajoie was far more popular within and outside the lines, and the Browns weren’t going anywhere except a miserable last-place finish of 47 wins and 107 losses.

In his first at-bat of the doubleheader, Lajoie smashed a triple against the Browns. When he came up for his second at-bat, Lajoie noticed St. Louis third baseman Red Corriden positioned well behind the bag, almost out into left field. Capitalizing on this defensive alignment, Lajoie bunted cleanly down the third base line; by the time Corriden had rushed in to field the ball, Lajoie was crossing the bag at first, his second hit in two at-bats.

Thinking the Browns’ defense would react by moving their infield in his next time up, Lajoie was stunned to again see Corriden remaining stationed well behind third base. Lajoie offered the bunt once more toward Corriden, who again failed to throw him out.

This pattern continued all through the day—Lajoie bunting, Corriden sprinting in too late—and before the twinbill was over, Lajoie had laid down six bunt hits. It was more than obvious: The Browns were literately handing the batting title—and the car—to Lajoie.

E.V. Parish, scoring the game for the Browns, quickly caught onto what was up, but there was little he could do; a hit was a hit. Even after Parish scored one of Lajoie’s bunt attempts an error (when Corriden threw wildly past first base), he was approached by St. Louis team assistant Harry Howell, who on orders from O’Connor promised Parish a new suit if he’d changed the scoring of the error to a hit.

Deciding he’d rather be three pieces of wardrobe poorer than be part of an outrageous, thinly-veiled conspiracy, Parish refused the bribe. It didn’t matter; the seven hits in eight at-bats gave Lajoie his fourth AL batting title, barely edging out CobbUnderscoring the hatred for Cobb even from his own teammates, numerous Detroit players telegraphed congrats to Lajoie following his tarnished doubleheader performance.. Or did it?

In a time when it was hard to find the official gospel on statistics, the final word on who won the AL batting title depended on what newspaper you read. Some had Lajoie winning by a whisker, others had Cobb out in front.

To a man, the press didn’t like Ty Cobb, but they hated scandal even more. And they all felt Cobb had been scandalized by the Browns. Even the papers in St. Louis sided against the doings of their home team, calling the suspicious defensive tactics against Lajoie a “deplorable spectacle”—adding that the city “should subscribe to a fund to buy Ty Cobb a Chalmers.”

AL President Ban Johnson, who above all others detested the notion of game-fixing, got to the bottom of it. When he was done, everyone involved got his fair share of just desserts. O’Connor and Howell, already fired from the Browns for the incident, were banished from the game for life. Corriden, who was only following orders, was allowed to play on. And Ty Cobb was officially awarded the batting title when Hugh Fullerton, a New York sportswriter who scored games for the Highlanders, realized he should have restored a hit to Cobb that was originally ruled an error during an earlier game between Detroit and New York.

Harry Chalmers, realizing his desire to spread promotional goodwill had become an unwanted exercise in favoritism fueled by greed, played the good sport. He awarded both Lajoie and Cobb with Chalmers 30s. In following years, however, Chalmers’ cars would be given not to the batting champ but, instead, to the player voted by sportswriters as the best in the game; it would become baseball’s first iteration of the Most Valuable Player award.

Statistical revisionists have continued to make the Cobb-Lajoie controversy a lively issue. In 1981, The Sporting News discovered that a 1910 game in which Ty Cobb played and collected two hits had accidentally been counted twice in the final records. Deleting the copied game, Cobb had suddenly—and posthumously—fallen a batting point behind Lajoie, who was re-crowned with the title. Most other statistical bureaus of the day agreed, but the commissioner’s office stated that the matter was closed, and that Cobb officiallyThis Great Game uses the final numbers provided by retrosheet.org, which sides with The Sporting News: Lajoie .3841, Cobb .3833. remained the 1910 American League batting champion: Cobb .3849, Lajoie .3841.

So much attention had been paid to the controversy surrounding the two superstars, many had forgotten that there was a World Series still to be played.

With 104 wins in 1910, the Cubs finished a five-year period in which they totaled 530 victories—an all-time high average of 106 per season.

The Chicago Cubs, overpowered by Pittsburgh a year earlier despite playing so well, regained the top spot in the National League. A newfound offense was led by sluggers Wildfire Schulte, who led all National Leaguers with ten home runs, and Solly Hofman, whose .325 average was second only to Sherry Magee for the NL batting crown (but no Chalmers 30). On the mound, the Cubs continued to field the NL’s best; Three Finger Brown remained the staff’s most reliable, winning 25 for his fifth straight year above 20, while rookie King Cole emerged with a 20-4 record, highlighted with a NL-best 1.80 earned run average.

The Cubs’ 104 wins gave them a five-year total of 529—an astonishing average of 106 a year, all under the tutelage of player-manager Frank Chance. The Giants finished a distant second, and the Cubs’ easy return to prominence led New York poet Franklin P. Adams to write a somber piece entitled Baseball’s Sad Lexicon. Told from the perspective of a Giants fan, the poem spoke, “These are the saddest of possible words…Tinker to Evers to Chance,” in reference to the unfailing Cub double play combination. It has gone on to become one of baseball’s most legendary pieces of literature.

Johnny Evers throws on to Frank Chance after completing the first half of a double play from Joe Tinker. Franklin Adams’ poem likely added more to the immortality of the Tinker-to- Evers-to-Chance connection than their performance, which was barely a bit above par; but it didn’t keep the three from being inducted into the Hall of Fame together, in 1946.

An even more deflating view of first place came from Pittsburgh, where the defending champion Pirates saw their pitchers falter and their sluggers fading with age. The Bucs fell to third place.

The American League race was also sapped of suspense thanks to a runaway powerhouse of its own: The Philadelphia Athletics. Knocking Detroit off an AL throne it had sat on for three straight years, the A’s became the first team in the junior circuit’s ten-year history to produce 100 victories. Though their youthful and quickly maturing infield continued to solidify the offense, the real strength of the A’s lay in their pitching—whose 1.78 ERA set an all-time AL low. Four starters carried the A’s throughout the year, accounting for all but 14 of their wins. Each of their ERAs—1.30, 1.55, 1.58, 2.01, produced respectively by Jack Coombs, Cy Morgan, Chief Bender and Eddie Plank—told the combined story of the A’s unparalleled success.

While the latter three were well-known veteran hurlers, Coombs’ place within the rotation produced numerous double-takes. A player who had split his career with the A’s as an ordinary pitcher and part-time outfielder, Coombs went full-time as hurler in 1910 and commanded the pitching stage unlike few before him or since. His 31 wins led all major leaguers, and he only got better as the season elapsed, winning 18 of 19 from July through September—during which he had a string of 53 consecutive scoreless inningsCoombs’ scoreless streak set a record that would be topped by Walter Johnson in 1913. thrown. In 25 of his 31 wins, he allowed a run or less, with 13 of those shutouts—an AL record.

Both the Cubs and A’s entered the World Series handicapped. Chicago had lost shortstop Johnny Evers just days before season’s end with a broken leg, sustained while attempting a slide at home plate. Meanwhile, veteran Eddie Plank’s arm had become so sore, manager Connie Mack scratched him from the A’s starting rotation.

If coming out of relative obscurity to win 31 games during the 1910 regular season wasn’t amazing enough, Philadelphia pitcher Jack Coombs won three more games during the World Series—over a space of just six days.

No doubt advertised as a World Series matching up two of the greatest pitching staffs in baseball history, it appeared as though only one showed up. While Three Finger Brown and the rest of the Cubs’ pitching staff was being torn apart game in and game out by the A’s lineup, Mack got consistently solid efforts from a rotation of just two starters—Coombs and Chief Bender, who had combined for a 54-14 record through the year. Even more unorthodox was the manner in which Mack used his two best pitchers—Bender for Game One, Coombs for Game Two, and then Coombs again—on one day’s rest—for Game Three.

The A’s won all three.

Chicago averted a sweep by getting past Bender in Game Four, but had to tie it in the ninth and win it in the tenth to do so. For Game Five, the Cubs couldn’t believe their eyes to see Coombs on the mound for the third time in six days. And yet again, Coombs emerged victorious, giving Connie Mack and the Athletics total triumph.

The A’s battered Chicago pitching with a .316 team average—highest yet in a World Series, and aided by a lively cork-centered ball used partially during the regular season (but only in the NL) and entirely during the Series. Helping to lead the way at the plate were—surprise, surprise—Bender and Coombs. The pitching duo was just as sharp with the bat, combining to hit .368 while knocking in four runs.

Despite their status as the AL’s most consistently successful team to date—they had finished below the .500 mark only once over their first ten years—the A’s finally won their first-ever World Series. It would hardly be their last over the near future.

Connie Mack’s first dynasty was off and running.

1911 baseball historyForward to 1911: The Legend of Home Run Baker Frank Baker famously powers the Philadelphia Athletics past an aggressive New York Giant squad in the World Series.

1909 baseball historyBack to 1909: Three-Beat Sudden ace Babe Adams of the Pittsburgh Pirates stifles the Detroit Tigers into their third straight World Series loss.

1910s baseball historyThe 1910s Page: The Feds, the Fight and the Fix The majors suffer growing pains as they deal with a fledgling third league, increased scandal and gambling problems, and a brief interruption from the Great War.

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1910 Standings

National League
Chicago Cubs
New York Giants
Pittsburgh Pirates
Philadelphia Phillies
Cincinnati Reds
Brooklyn Superbas
St. Louis Cardinals
Boston Doves
American League
Philadelphia Athletics
New York Highlanders
Detroit Tigers
Boston Red Sox
Cleveland Naps
Chicago White Sox
Washington Senators
St. Louis Browns

1910 Postseason Results
World Series Philadelphia (AL) defeated Chicago (NL), 4-1.

It Happened in 1910

The First Fan
A big baseball fan in every sense of the word, President
William Howard Taft makes numerous visits to ballparks around the country during 1910—and inadvertently begins a couple of baseball traditions. In the Washington Senators’ home opener on April 14, the 300-pound Taft is persuaded by Senators manager Jimmy McAleer to throw out the first pitch, the first of many tossed over the years by American presidents at Opening Day games. Later, in the seventh inning of an eventual one-hitter being thrown by Senators starter Walter Johnson, Taft stands up to stretch—and the crowd, believing he is getting up to leave, stands up with him out of respect. The moment basically plants the seeds for the seventh-inning stretch. Taft’s love for the game will nearly help make him baseball’s first commissioner in 1920, before owners settle on Kenesaw Mountain Landis.

This Record Was Made Never to be Broken
Cy Young, pitching for the Cleveland Naps, records his 500th career victory on July 19 against the Senators at Washington. The 44-year-old Young throws a complete game, 11-inning effort that ends in a 5-4 win. Young is the first and only player to win 500 games; only Walter Johnson will approach—but not threaten—the record, with 417.

The Hitless Blunders
The Chicago White Sox, still wondering how to hit, record a team batting average of .211, the worst in major league history. Among everyday starters,
Patsy Dougherty leads the White Sox at .248. The team’s slugging percentage of .261 (barely bumped upward by an American League-worst seven home runs) is also an all-time low.

You Can Always Steal Home Again
Joe Tinker of the Chicago Cubs becomes the first player to steal home twice in the same game, during an 11-1 victory over the Cincinnati Reds on June 28.

Indecision 1910
There are a record 19 games declared ties in the American League. Among them is a 16-inning scoreless duel between the year’s two best AL pitchers: Philadelphia’s
Jack Coombs and the White Sox’ Ed Walsh. Coombs, in what he’ll later say is the best game he ever pitched, allows just three hits and strikes out 18, while Walsh allows only six hits. The undecided games do not count in the standings, but all individual and team statistics will.

Here Comes the Son
Earle Mack, the 20-year-old son of A’s manager Connie Mack, gets a shot at the big leagues playing for his father late in the year. While nepotism has much to do with his move—he was batting well below .200 in the minors—the younger Mack impresses in his major league debut, earning a single and triple in four at-bats during a 7-4 loss to the New York Highlanders on October 5. Two more, very brief flings in the majors over the next four years will result in a total of 12 hitless at-bats, and Mack will remain at the major league level in the only way he can—as a long-time assistant coach for his father.

A Slim Ray of Hope
In a 9-1 loss to the White Sox on September 30, the St. Louis Browns give 21-year-old
Ray Jansen his first major league action—and he makes good on his opportunity at the plate, collecting four singles in five at-bats. Though his effort seems to warrant a second game, Jansen will never get that chance—and will become locked in baseball history with an .800 career batting average and a spot in the miscellaneous section of the record book as the player with the most hits in his only game. Details are sketchy as to why Jansen never returns, but it may have something to do with his performance at third base during his one game; he commits three errors.

A Match Made in the Box Score
Pittsburgh and Brooklyn play about as even a game as it gets on August 13; each team collects eight runs, 13 hits (in 38 at-bats), three walks, one hit batsman, five strikeouts, and each commits one passed ball, 13 assists and two errors. Both teams use two pitchers each in what will be declared a tie game.

Picnic in the Outfield
When the Pirates and Dodgers reconvene two weeks later on August 26, the hitters apparently have a hard time getting the ball out of the infield. The outfielders on both teams combine to make just putout on the day, setting a major league mark for the fewest combined in one game.

Who Juiced Up the Deadball?
The Pirates hit 33 home runs during the year, but three of those come in the fourth inning of the second game of an August 22 doubleheader at Philadelphia. The home runs come from
Honus Wagner, Vin Campbell and pitcher Howie Camnitz—the only round tripper of his 12-year career.

Attention All Wise Guys
A couple of new rules are administered for the majors in an attempt to curb on-field behavior more suited for the sandlots. Fielders are no longer allowed to throw their glove or cap at the ball in a desperate attempt to keep it from getting past (all runners will be rewarded three bases if the rule is broken). The other edict demands that batters no longer are allowed to switch from one side of the batters’ box to the other in the course of an at-bat. The Phillies’
Johnny Bates apparently doesn’t get the memo; he switches from a right-handed stance to a left-handed one in the middle of a pitch on August 27 against the Reds, and is called out.

New Ballparks

League Park, Cleveland While many of baseball’s new steel-and-concrete palaces are being built from scratch, League Park is a modern update in which steel replaces wood. Originally built in 1891, League Park is modified for 1910 with the addition of double-deck grandstands down both lines that doubles seating to nearly 20,000. The short distance from home plate to right field—290 feet down the line—is unusual for its day, in part because landowners behind the tall, 40-foot right-field wall originally refused to cede their property. That wall will become one of the most entertaining in baseball, thanks to steel beams that jut out from the top of the wall toward the field that, when struck, causes the baseball to go any which way—leading to genuine headaches for outfielders. League Park will become a part-time home for the Indians for 15 more years after voluminous Cleveland Stadium opens in 1932.

Comiskey Park, Chicago At a cost of $750,000, Comiskey Park helps expand seating for White Sox games to 29,000—but does little to expand the team’s typically anemic offense. Part of the reason may be attributed to White Sox pitcher Ed Walsh, who aided famed architect Zachary Taylor Davis in drawing up the ballpark’s field dimensions (a healthy 362 feet down the lines, 420 to dead center). Davis had grand ambitions for Comiskey Park’s exterior, including neo-classical relief and landscaping, but those ideas were vetoed by White Sox owner Charles Comiskey, who couldn’t (or wouldn’t) pay for it. Built on a former dump, Comiskey Park’s turf will sometimes yield discarded relics that are accidentally uncovered by players; a more intentional use of refuse lay on the ballpark’s foul lines, represented by flattened water hoses. A major expansion will increase seating to 52,000 in 1927, and the ballpark’s drab aesthetics will be given a fantastical makeover by owner Bill Veeck starting in 1959, most notably from the dressing up of the large center-field scoreboard so that it “explodes” after every White Sox home run. The park lasts eight decades before giving way to its brand new—and far less cozy—namesake behind the first base grandstand.

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