Remembering Ty Cobb and the 1910 AL batting title

Leaderboarding: The greatness of Tony Gwynn in numbers

In the aftermath of Tony Gwynn's death, there have been lots of stories about Gwynn's rather impressive numbers. Many mention him being tied with Honus Wagner for the second-most batting titles in MLB history and when that is brought up, Ty Cobb having the most is naturally included.

Where things get interesting is that some outlets say Cobb won 12 batting titles while others say 11. Neither figure is 100 percent true or false, either.

From Cobb's biography on SABR.org, check this out:

By 1910 Cobb was recognized as the biggest star in the American League. However, he remained unpopular with his teammates and opposing players for his attitude and rugged style of play. This led to another major controversy--an attempt to fix the 1910 American League batting title. Cobb and Cleveland's popular star Napoleon "Larry" Lajoie were locked in a tight race for the A.L. crown. Cobb sat out the final two games of the season in order to preserve his lead. But Browns manager Jack "Peach Pie" O'Connor, who hated Cobb, decided to make sure that Lajoie caught Cobb in a season-ending doubleheader between St. Louis and Cleveland, by ordering rookie third baseman Red Corriden to "play back on the edge of the [outfield] grass." Lajoie responded by dumping seven bunt singles down the third base line, as part of an 8-for-8 day that seemingly gave him the title.

Cobb's teammates wired Lajoie their congratulations, but the press railed against the obvious fraud. American League President Ban Johnson investigated the matter but, in typical fashion for baseball officials of that day, decided to sweep the scandal under the rug. However, the official figures showed that Cobb had won the batting championship, thanks to one game's results being counted twice. The clerical error was discovered years later, and who should be considered the 1910 A.L. batting champion is still a matter of controversy. Lajoie has the higher average, but Cobb is still recognized by Major League Baseball as the official batting champion.

The final numbers now show that Cobb was 194-for-506 in 1910, good for a .383 average. If we take the decimal a few more places, it's .38339921. Lajoie went 227-for-591, which calculates out to .38409475. It seems pretty evident that Lajoie won the batting title because he has a higher average, but the circumstances seem pretty shady.

Then again, if Cobb just played, maybe the whole situation could have been avoided.

Something to ponder: How much drama would there be if something like this happened nowadays? Good lord, the Internet would explode and we'd surely have to hear about how selfish the players are these days and that it "never would have happened back" when everything was so much better and the players were real men and also had class, right?

If for nothing else, let this story serve as a reminder that baseball players don't "play the right way" sometimes, regardless of the era.

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