May 22, 2011

Game 31 - Back Above .500

May 22, 1911
Philadelphia 9, Cleveland 3

The A’s take the first of a four-game series against Cleveland, a team whose entire identity is closely tied to the two Philadelphia teams. We’re still a few years away from them adopting the “Indians” name; they’re officially called the Naps, and it’s all thanks to a fight between the Phillies and the A’s.

Back in 1900, Napoleon “Nap” Lajoie (also known widely as Larry) was a 25-year-old second baseman with the Phillies who was developing as one of the league’s stars (he had hit .345/.374/.520 in five seasons). Then in 1901 Ban Johnson transformed the Western League into a new major league – the American. Promise of higher salaries enticed many players to jump leagues. In those days long before Curt Flood, teams had complete control over players’ careers, so jumping leagues was the only way to control your own destiny.

Connie Mack and Ben Shibe scored a major coup for the junior circuit when they convinced the Phillies’ Lajoie, who was upset with the National League’s salary cap, to join their new Athletics. In his first year with the A’s, Lajoie hit .426/.463/.643 (his BA for that season remains the highest of the modern era), and helped establish the legitimacy of the new league and cultivate a fanbase for the upstart A’s.

Of course the Phillies were none too happy about this turn of events and sued to get their star back (Bill Hallman had replaced Lajoie at 2nd and put up decidedly inferior numbers: .184/.236/.236). A Pennsylvania court ruled that Lajoie was under contract and could not offer his services to any other baseball team, but a lawyer noticed that the ruling was only enforceable in that state. So rather than capitulate to the more established Phillies, Connie Mack traded Lajoie to the Cleveland Bluebirds, who were experiencing financial troubles and considering a move.

Lajoie’s arrival was a shot in the arm for the franchise and helped permanently establish them in Cleveland. They officially renamed the team the Naps in his honor. Unfortunately, Lajoie was forced to travel separately from the team, as he could not set foot in Pennsylvania lest he be subpoenaed, until the leagues made peace in 1903.

Coming into this game, the Naps were on a five-game win streak and one game behind the Athletics. About a month earlier, Sporting News published the cartoon to the right*, illustrating the worry that the team was unbalanced with too much reliance on the great Lajoie. This was especially true given the death of their ace pitcher Addie Joss at the beginning of the season to tubercular meningitis. But Naps fans needn’t have worried, as a new star was emerging (and another former Athletic), Shoeless Joe Jackson, who was at present hitting .371, 10th in the league.

But neither star was able to do enough to swing the game in the Naps’ favor. Lajoie himself went 1-4, and Jackson had to leave the game early having “had a finger split at bat,” which sounds terrible, though he did walk and score a run in the first. The A’s continued their nice rebound from their losing streak, putting nine runs on the board against Fritz Blanding.

Jack Barry was back in the lineup at short after having spent most of the season injured. Which was fortunate, because it seems as though Stuffy McInnis, who is currently leading the lead in BA, has been injured. Let’s hope he’s not out long, with the way he’s been raking the ball.

With today's win, the A's are back above .500 with a 16-15 record.

* The caption at the bottom is difficult to make out, but reads "Critics of the Cleveland team say it will never have the balance required to make it a winner while Napoleon Lajoie remains; he is so great that too much dependence is put upon him." It seems to me that what the cartoonist is advocating is getting rid of the team's best player (and namesake!) rather than building strong supporting players around him, which seems ludicrous. Look how well that worked out for that city's basketball team this year.

To be fair though, the team was incredibly unbalanced the prior year. The entire Cleveland offense put up 12.6 WAR. Lajoie had 9.6. As it happens, the cartoonist practically got his wish, as Lajoie was only able to play in 90 games. The result: one player on the Naps still put up the great majority of WAR, only this time it was Shoeless Joe Jackson (9.0 WAR out of 14.6).

[Today's sources: and Sporting News for the Lajoie cartoon]


  1. Per Rob Neyer's "Big Book of Baseball Lineups", after the lawyering Lajoie's contract was invalidated by the courts, and thus a free agent. He liked Cleveland.

    Page 71.

  2. Interesting, I'll have to track down more info. I've seen a few sources that said the injunction held for a few years, and Connie Mack traded him to Cleveland as a favor to the owner there, who had helped financially support the A's as they were getting started.

  3. Neyer doesn't provide a work cited page, but the name of the man who found the Lajoie-to-Cleveland thing was Norman Macht.

  4. Macht wrote a great bio of Mack that goes through that first championship dynasty. I recalled the story from his book, but had read it a while ago, and re-read some internet sources about the transaction for this post. I have his book at home - I'll check it after work and see what he has to say.