An American Hobby: Baseball Memorabilia – Nap Lajoie’s 1933 Goudey Gum Card
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Saturday, April.13, 2013
MLB Reports: We are pleased to present you with Baseball Author Lee Edelstein as the newest writer with us at the Reports. Lee will be providing us with great stories about baseball memorabilia on a regular basis.
An American Hobby
Napolean Lajoie’s career spanned twenty-one years, 1896-1916. He hit over .350 in ten of those seasons (.421 in 1901) and wound up #18 All-time with a lifetime Batting Average of .338.
Lajoie is #14 in hits with 3,243 and, for you sabremetric fans, he is #17 in Career WAR. Lajoie was considered to be the consummate Infielder of his day. He was the first Second Baseman inducted into the Hall of Fame.
For much of his career, Lajoie’s primary challenger for best hitter in the American League was Ty Cobb. Their rivalry peaked in 1910 when Hugh Chalmers of the Chalmers Automobile Company announced he would give one of his new Model 30 automobiles to the batting champions of the National and American Leagues.
This was a heady and unusual offer. In that era, newspapers paid scant attention to individual records and players who ballyhooed their accomplishments were unpopular with their teammates.
Nap Lajoie and the Top 10 Hitters Of ALL – Time:
Lajoie, an old school veteran of thirty-five, was modest and never touted his achievements. Cobb, just entering his prime at age twenty-three, was an aggressive and mean-spirited upstart who was absorbed by his individual numbers. Lajoie was adored by his fellow ballplayers while Cobb was loathed. This served as an important backdrop to the batting title race in 1910.
With an expensive new automobile at stake, fans and newspapers followed the batting race closely as Cobb and Lajoie, separated by a few percentage points, battled it out. With two games left in the season, Cobb led Lajoie by seven percentage points.
Figuring his lead was safe, Cobb made the decision to sit out the last day of the season, a doubleheader against the White Sox. Lajoie, whose Cleveland team faced the St. Louis Browns in a doubleheader, would need a perfect day at the plate to beat Cobb.
After hitting a triple and a single in his first two at-bats, Lajoie dropped five consecutive bunts down the Third Base line, each going for a hit. He went eight for eight in the doubleheader and wound up with a .384 batting average, one percentage point better than Cobb. One of the great clutch performances in baseball history? Not exactly.
A lot of baseball people didn’t like Ty Cobb. Included in this group was the manager of the Browns, Jack O’Conner. After Lajoie got his first two hits, O’Conner ordered his rookie Third Baseman, Red Corriden, to move to shallow left field whenever Lajoie came to bat.
Lajoie took full advantage of this unusual defensive shift and dropped bunts in each of his next five at-bats. In his last at-bat, he was ruled safe on an error. O’Conner and one of his coaches tried to bribe the official scorer to change the error to a hit.
As the season came to an end, Lajoie received congratulations from fans and players around the league, including many of Cobb’s teammates on the Tigers.
Ban Johnson, President of the American League, investigated. Confusion reigned when it was discovered that one of Cobb’s earlier games, for some reason, hadn’t been counted. A question was raised that, on that last day of the season, a sacrifice credited to Lajoie should have been ruled a hit. Meanwhile, Johnson banned O’Conner and his coach from baseball.
Eventually, Johnson announced that Cobb was the winner by less than one percentage point. He convinced Hugh Chalmers to give both Cobb and Lajoie a car, essentially calling the race a tie. In the end, everyone was happy, although Cobb had the bigger grin on his face. To this day, the actual result remains unclear.
In 2001, the author James Vail wrote: “To date, it seems that no one knows for certain who won that 1910 batting title. Total Baseball, which is now the official major-league record, lists both men at .384 in its seasonal section, but its player register has Lajoie at the same number and Cobb at .383—so even the various editors of that source do not, or cannot, agree.”
Seventeen years after his retirement, Nap Lajoie was involved in another controversy that made him famous in baseball memorabilia circles. It was not of his making.
The 1933 Goudey gum card series was wildly popular in its day and remains one of the most attractive and sought after of all baseball card sets. For some unknown reason Goudey failed to print card #106, Nap Lajoie.
No matter how many packs of cards collectors of the day purchased, they could not find card #106 to complete their set. Enough kids wrote complaints to Goudey that they belatedly decided to print the card in 1934. But they didn’t put the card in general circulation. Instead, they mailed it only to those who had written them and complained.
To date, less than one-hundred Lajoie Goudey’s have been graded. The Lajoie Goudey card is considered one of the four most important pre-war cards in the hobby – in any condition. Pictured below is one that is graded Mint (PSA grade 9). It sold for a cool $118,500 in 2012.
Do you have any Nap Lajoie memorabilia – let us know!
***The views and opinions expressed in this report are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of mlbreports.com or their partners***
A big thank-you goes out to Our ‘Baseball Memorabilia Enthusiast’ Lee Edelstein for preparing today’s featured article. Lee was born and raised in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn, New York. He inherited his love of baseball from his dad. The game has been Lee’s constant companion since he was seven years old – when his dad took him to see his first ball game at Ebbets Field. This was followed by a brief and largely unsuccessful Little League career. While he wasn’t all that good on the ball field he became an ALL-Star at collecting baseball cards.
His collection is still alive today after surviving many scares over the years. Lee was also much better at business than playing baseball. He was good enough that he was able to retire and pursue his other passion – writing about baseball! Chin Music is his first novel. He is hard at work on his second, Mound Music. You can read a full overview and find links to purchase here and also check out a quick synopsis in the picture below. Feel Free to follow Lee on Twitter and chat about the game of baseball. Follow @chinmusicstory
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Posted on April 13, 2013, in The Rest: Everything Baseball and tagged 1933 Goudey card set, @chinmusicstory on twitter, American league, bennett, chalmers automobile company, chicago white sox, chin music the novel, hugh chalmers, jack o'conner, James Vail, lee edelstein, nap lajoie, red corriden, st. louis browns, ty cobb. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.