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An Excerpt From 'The Chalmers Race'

This article is more than 5 years old.

This excerpt appears in the book The Chalmers Race: Ty Cobb, Napoleon LaJoie, and the Controversial 1910 Batting Title That Became a National Obsession by Rick Huhn. The author spoke with Bill Littlefield on Only A Game.


Chapter One
"I’ll sit here alone."
—Napoleon Lajoie
It was a well-rested, high-spirited bunch of baseball professionals who took in the festivities at Detroit’s Gayety Theatre on the evening of October 4, 1910. The Gayety held baseball nights from time to time. This was the final one of the season. The visiting Cleveland Naps and home-standing Tigers had just spent a lazy afternoon staring at raindrops, a number of them playing cards, none chasing fly balls or curve balls at Bennett Park. The scheduled affair would have been the Tigers’ next to last game with the Naps and their next to last home game to boot. These last few games meant little to either team, although the Tigers still had a shot at second place in the American League. Each had been eliminated from the 1910 pennant race some time ago. Fan interest now—and there was still plenty—centered on the individual batting race between Ty Cobb and Nap Lajoie. The rainout game this late in the season meant a doubleheader the next day and the final meeting of the season between baseball’s leading hitters. Reports from the Gayety do not indicate whether either man was in attendance. The next day, however, both players, in a bizarre meeting to say the least, were together before the game even started. The pregame event getting attention from players and fans alike was the unveiling of a 1911 Chalmers 30 touring car. The all-black topless sedan stood like a silent sentry behind the left-field wall down Bennett Park’s third base line. Some months before one of these horseless carriages had been offered to the player who finished with the highest batting average in the Major Leagues for the 1910 season. At some point, as the teams finished their on-field pregame preparations, a news photographer spotted the pair of odds-on favorites for the treasured object, Messrs. Cobb and Lajoie, approaching the vehicle. In a few days one of these men would undoubtedly own the machine. Praising his good fortune, the lucky photojournalist ran after the rivals and poised for a shot, but not before asking the players to take a seat in the car. They obliged, both climbing in the rear. This, of course, would not do. Which one, the photographer asked, would sit in front?
"I’ll sit here alone," said Lajoie, referring to the back seat.
"Me, too," said Cobb.
And there they remained.
"I’m not superstitious," said Cobb. Lajoie just smiled. Cobb patted the upholstery. "Pretty soft stuff this, Larry."
"Well, anyway, they will never get two handsomer looking chaps in this car. Mr. Photographer, go ahead," said Lajoie.
By this time a crowd had gathered to observe the scene.
"Do you think you will win?" someone asked Cobb.
"I’m not saying a word," replied the Tigers’ outfielder. "I’m just trying."
In the days that followed, the strange photo of the two rivals sitting abreast in the rear seat of the Chalmers they each cherished found its way onto sports pages around the country. Each man’s refusal to take the wheel in the other’s presence and the kind words each expressed about the other to the press in the days leading up to this final meeting of the season, merely served to belie that each one for his own personal reasons strove mightily to drive away with the valued vehicle in hand. That these were two of baseball’s fiercest competitors only underscored the endeavor. That today, more than a hundred years later, there is no clear-cut winner just adds to the intrigue and the fun.

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