The Free Press, Mankato, MN

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September 23, 2012

Thoma column: The inconvenient truth of Melky Cabrera

(Continued)

Cabrera’s batting average figures to be the best in the National League this year. That it pleases nobody  doesn’t change the fact.

History lesson

This sort of thing — the overriding of objective fact in search of a subjective truth in determining the batting title — also, oddly enough, has happened before.

1910: Ty Cobb and Napoleon Lajoie were dueling it out for the title, which carried that year the added incentive of a Chalmers automobile.

Cobb was widely hated around the league, Lajoie — a legitimately great player now largely forgotten — respected if not beloved.

Cobb sat out the last two games to protect his average. Lajoie played a doubleheader on the final day of the season against the St. Louis Browns, who had their third baseman play him back on the outfield grass. Lajoie bunted for eight hits in the two games.

American League president Ban Johnson, recognizing that the Browns had tried to cheat Cobb out of the title and under public pressure to disallow Lajoie’s gift hits, instead basically made up two hits for Cobb and declared him the champ. Chalmers awarded cars to both men.

1942: Ernie Lombardi hit .330 for the Boston Braves, 12 points higher than Enos Slaughter of St. Louis, but did so in only 309 official at-bats — by today’s standards, 130 plate appearances short of qualifying.

Even with the aid of Rule 10.22(a), Lombardi falls far short. But Ford Frick, the president of the National League, declared him the winner anyway, using the old 100-games-played standard (Lombardi had 105) rather than at-bats to rule him eligible.

In Lombardi’s case, there was legitimate disagreement over the standard. The American League used at-bats (400); Frick was a holdout for games played.

In Cabrera’s case, Selig (he’s not alone in this process, but it wouldn’t happen without him) is making up rules as he goes along.

 

Edward Thoma (344-6377; ethoma@mankatofreepress.com) maintains his Baseball Outsider blog at fpbaseballoutsider.blogspot.com. Follow him on Twitter @bboutsider.

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