|Name:||Napoleon Lajoie||Position:||Second Base/Manager|
|Accolades:||Hall of Fame (1937), Top 20 MVP (1911, 1913)|
|Best Season (1904)||140||553||92||208||49||15||5||102||27||19||29||.413||.546||.376||.959|
|Best Season (1908)||90||64||.584||2nd|
The Indians first great player and still Cleveland’s greatest “free agent” ever signed, Nap Lajoie was a second baseman and manager for the first American League Cleveland franchise for more than a decade. Originally signed with the Philadelphia Phillies in 1896, Lajoie played five years there, then one year with the Athletics in 1901 before jumping teams after one game in 1902. Lajoie originally made the jump from one Philadelphia team to the other for $8,000, becoming a free agent in 1902. From here, he signed with Cleveland as a 28 year old and he would stay there until he turned 39.
The signing of Lajoie, who was already one of the biggest stars in baseball, was so huge for Cleveland that they renamed the team the Naps after him in 1902, a name they kept for his entire tenure with the team. In his first year, he batted .379 with seven home runs and 64 RBI in just 86 games, quickly becoming one of the team’s biggest offensive stars.
The 1903 campaign was his first full season in Cleveland and he lead the league in average (for the third year in a row), slugging percent and OPS, hitting another seven home runs and knocking in 93. He had an incredible line even for the time of .344/.379/.518 and it would be his second of nine qualified seasons with an average above .300 and one of four with a slugging percent above .500. While he didn’t walk much, he didn’t strike out either with just 24 K’s to 26 walks in 1903 and struck out just 222 times to 408 walks in his Indians career.
The following season, 1904, was possibly the best in Lajoie’s career as he set the high mark for hits, doubles, RBI, average, OBP and SLG in the AL with numbers that would certainly have won him the AL MVP had such an award existed at the time. It was after this year that the 30 year old Lajoie was named manager of the Naps in 1905, although there was plenty of bad to go with the good news.
After beginning the year strong, Lajoie was spiked in the leg and when the dye from his socks entered his blood stream and went untreated it eventually went septic and he was bound to a wheelchair. During this period, Bill Bradley took over the managerial reins although after Lajoie recovered, he returned to both his duties on and off the field.
Even with the injuries, Lajoie still knocked in 41 runs and batted .329, a precursor to another amazing season in 1906 when he lead the league again in hits and doubles batting .355/.392/.465. As a manager, his first full season was also a success, winning 89 games, the most in team history to this point, and finishing just five games out of first in third place, both high marks for the team.
As a hitter, Lajoie’s 30’s were as good as anyone to ever play the game and from the ages 30 through 39 he batted .331 with 299 doubles, 660 RBI and 171 steals. He was consistently good throughout this period, but after 1906, his next stand out season was in 1910 when he again lead the league in hits (227), doubles (career best 51) and average (.384, his top as an Indian). Both his hits that year and average remain in the top ten in Indians history although his single season Indians record in average wouldn’t last long as Shoeless Joe Jackson surpassed it by batting .408 the following season (he followed that up with a .395 in 1912).
The 1908 season was his best as a manager, winning 90 games and pushing the Indians into 2nd place in the American League behind one of the best pitching staffs in Cleveland history of Addie Joss, Bob Rhoads, Glenn Liebhardt and Heinie Berger. The 459 runs allowed were the least in team history to that point, a number only surpassed in 1918. Despite this, the Indians directed by Lajoie finished a half game behind Detroit in the attempt for their first AL pennant.
He began the next season as manager as well, but after a 57-57 start, was relieved of his duties. Considering the incredible talent of those teams and his results, it isn’t hard to say that Lajoie was a significantly better player than manager. Even so, he is still seventh in total games managed and sixth in winning percent among Indians managers with at least 300 games.
Among the career leaders in just about every statistical category, Lajoie is also seventh all time in all of baseball history with 657 doubles. The odd thing is that he is not even first on the Indians, though since the greatest doubles hitter ever (Tris Speaker) played the majority of his career with the Tribe. Lajoie still leads all Cleveland players ever in at bats and hits during a career and is the only Indian (Nap, Blue, etc) to acrue over 2,000 hits while with the team. He also ranks in the top 5 in games played, doubles, RBI, total bases, steals and batting average and is in the top 10 for runs scored and triples. His total hits (227) and batting average (.384) in 1910 remain in the top 5 single season bests for an Indian.
The 1914 season saw a quick decline of Lajoie’s abilities as he batted just .258 at the age of 39. After this season, he was sold back to the Philadelphia A’s, leading to a change in name for the Naps, who would be renamed the Indians prior to the 1915 season. In Philadelphia, one of just two cities he played in during his 21 year career, he had one more solid part time season in 1915 and another mediocre year in 1916 before leaving Major League Baseball for good. Not quite ready to call it quits, Lajoie played two more years in the International League and American Association, batting .380 in 150 games for the Toronto Maple Leafs and finishing his professional career with 78 games with the Indianapolis Indians in 1918.
Napoleon Lajoie is in baseball’s Hall of Fame as a Cleveland Nap and is a member of the Cleveland Indians Hall of Fame (class of 1951) as well. He would most certainly have had his number retired as well, if they had worn numbers back in 1910. He was not only the greatest Indians second baseman of all time, but one of the greatest to ever play the position for any team at any time. Lajoie died in Daytona Beach, Florida at the age of 84 in 1959.