As the 1910 season wound down, Detroit's Ty Cobb and Cleveland's Nap Lajoie were locked in a batting race for the American League title. What added spice to the race was that the Chalmers Automobile Co. had pledged to give one of its cars to the winner.
In early October, thinking he had the car already won, Cobb skipped the Tigers final two contests to protect his average, claiming an eye ailment.
However, driving away his new Chalmers "30" would not be as simple as Cobb expected.
On October 9, Lajoie and the Naps were playing a doubleheader in Sportsman's Park against the St. Louis Browns to close out the season. When Lajoie came to the plate, he noticed Browns rookie Red Corriden playing deep at third. Corriden later said this was because his manager Jack O'Connor (a former Cleveland Spider) told him to play back, saying one of Lajoie's line drives might kill him.
Seeing a chance to fatten his average, Lajoie bunted six times for six hits. He also added a triple and an infield single, giving him eight hits in nine trips. His lone blemish was reaching base on an error by shortstop Bobby Wallace.
In his book, Ty Cobb, author Charles Alexander details that Browns coach Harry Howell sent the team's batboy with a note to official scorer E.V. Parrish, offering a suit of clothes if he changed his call on Wallace to a hit for Lajoie. Parrish declined.
The next day, unofficial final batting averages in different papers declared Lajoie the winner by anywhere from one to three points. Cobb's fans howled, led by Tiger president Frank Navin. But many in baseball who detested Cobb were delighted with Lajoie's victory. Eight of Cobb's Detroit teammates even sent a telegram to Lajoie, congratulating him on the batting title.
AL president Ban Johnson quickly summoned O'Connor, Howell, and Corriden to his office. Johnson later ruled that nothing dishonest had gone on, but O'Connor and Howell were soon chased out of the major leagues. Corriden, because he was a rookie, was absolved of any wrong doing and continued his career.
When the official averages were announced, The Sporting News cleared the controversy by naming Cobb the winner with a .3850687 average to Lajoie's .3840947. In a great public relations move, Chalmers made both Cobb and Lajoie fans happy by awarding each player a car.
But perhaps the Chalmers Automobile Co. also had a favorite player. "I've always understood," Lajoie said later of the incident, "that the automobile I got ran a lot better than the one they gave to Ty."
The story doesn't end there. More than 70 years later, The Sporting News historian Paul MacFarlane discovered Cobb was mistakenly credited with two hits during the season, which would give the batting crown to Lajoie. However, then baseball commissioner Bowie Kuhn refused to take Cobb's 1910 batting title away, thereby preserving his string of nine consecutive AL batting titles.