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Thanks to savvy advertisers, athletes today are often awarded a car for their feats on the field. Often they'll donate their prize to their favorite charity, to offset the hit when the tax man comes calling. But in 1910, the player with baseball's highest batting average was rewarded with a new, highly sought-after Chalmers car. The vehicle's $1500 value actually exceeded the salaries of most players.
In The Chalmers Race: Ty Cobb, Napoleon LaJoie, and the Controversial 1910 Batting Title That Became a National Obsession, Rick Huhn tells the story of the batting contest that may have overshadowed the World Series. Huhn joined Bill Littlefield on Only A Game.
Highlights from Bill's Conversation with Rick Huhn
BL: During the 1910 season, there was controversy surrounding the record keeping itself. What was the state of the art of scorekeeping at baseball games in those days?
RH: It was pretty crude. The teams each appointed an official scorer. The official scorer had no formal training – he was one of the local sportswriters. As such, he was just one among many, because back in 1910 there were a number of newspapers per city, many more than we have today. So what you had was one sportswriter keeping score, with no more training than any of the others, sending those records or his opinions on the calls of the game to the league offices. Other writers would also keep score, and their box scores would appear in their papers, and might differ from the official record.
BL: It seems to me that the real winner in the fall of 1910 was the Chalmers Motor Car Company. I wonder if any contest of that day or any other ever generated more publicity for a sponsor.
RH: Hugh Chalmers , who was a big baseball fan in addition to being a marketing genius, really made some pay on that one. But it was a car that was treasured. It was a sporty-looking model, and it was really an attractive-looking vehicle for its time.
BL: There is a happy ending here, right? Both guys ended up with a car.
RH: They did. And that, again, was Hugh Chalmers’ genius in that he saw an opportunity to make everybody happy. So, he gave away two vehicles, but in the end Napoleon Lajoie told everybody that he thought his vehicle drove just a little bit better than Ty Cobb’s.
Bill's Thoughts On The Chalmers Race: Ty Cobb, Napoleon LaJoie, and the Controversial 1910 Batting Title That Became a National Obsession
[sidebar title="Read An Excerpt" width="330" align="right"]Read an excerpt from Rick Huhn's The Chalmers Race: Ty Cobb, Napoleon LaJoie, and the Controversial 1910 Batting Title That Became a National Obsession.[/sidebar]Any story in which Ty Cobb is involved is likely to be a controversial story.
The extent to which Cobb irked his opponents (and many of his Detroit Tiger teammates, not to mention lots of fans, at least one of whom he beat up, as well as people who weren't white, several of whom he attacked) is critical to the story Rick Huhn tells in The Chalmers Race. Cobb and Napoleon Lajoie, a popular member of the Cleveland Indians, competed for the Major League batting championship in 1910. The winner would drive away in a Chalmers car. The chicanery and alleged chicanery inspired by that situation make for an entertaining tale. Rick Huhn ranks the episode among baseball's sketchiest.
Part of the fun of the book is that Huhn uses the term "hippodrome" to describe the way the members of the St. Louis Browns, Cleveland's late-season opponents, conspired to hand Lajoie hit after hit, attempting to insure the he, and not Cobb, would win the car. In those days, "hippodrome" was a term for a contest with a predetermined winner. The word could also serve as a verb, as in "the rascals hippodromed us."
It's not every day you learn a term current in 1910 that might be applicable to a contemporary game. Just sayin', I'll be on the lookout for a dubious contest, with fingers prepared to type "hippodrome."
This segment aired on June 28, 2014.