Year Inducted: 1937 (BBWAA, ballot #2, 168/201)
In 1901, two future Hall of Famers jumped ship from the Philadelphia Phillies to the Athletics when the new American League was formed. Both players were technically under contract with the Phillies at the time, so the team got the state of Pennsylvania to pass an injunction to prevent both players from playing baseball in the state for a team other than the Phillies. To get around this, both players were flipped in 1902 to the Indians, where both became instant successes. One player was Elmer Flick. The other was Nap Lajoie, who became a such cultural sensation that they decided to rename the team the Cleveland Naps while he was playing there.
Lajoie is one of the more unheralded stars in the Hall of Fame. In his 21 seasons, he hit .338/.380/.467 with a wRC+ of 144. Larry collected 3242 hits, including 657 doubles, 163 triples and 83 homers. Lajoie played throughout most of the Dead Ball Era, and so his power numbers may seem low, but they were quite impressive for the time. Lajoie drove in over 100 runs four times in his career, and finished his career 1599 overall. A tall, wiry fellow, Lajoie was an OK baserunner. Despite being worth -3 runs on the bases, he managed to steal 380 bases and scored 1504 runs. Lajoie was also an excellent defender at the keystone position, worth well above 80 runs defensively.
Lajoie is owner of one of the greatest seasons in American League history. In 1901, his first season with the A’s, Lajoie won the first ever American League Triple Crown by hitting .426 with 14 homers and 125 RBI. However, this season highlights the only real problem with Lajoie offensively. Despite hitting .426, his OBP was only .463. While it’s a phenomenal OBP, he only drew 24 walks that season in 582 plate appearances. Lajoie, while adept at bunting and making contact, was a major free swinger. In his career he only walked in 4.9% of his plate appearances. So, while Lajoie could carry a high average most years, when his average plummeted later in his career, he never had the batting eye to compensate so his value stats plummeted as well.
When he retired, Lajoie was easily the best second baseman in the game. He led all second basemen in fWAR, RBI and average, while being second in HR and runs scored. The gap between him and second place was huge in nearly every stat. The only reason that he isn’t the top second basemen in this ranking is because Eddie Collins had a better batting eye longer and was a better runner, while Rogers Hornsby was one of the ten best hitters ever. Lajoie was an easy pick in the early years of the Hall of Fame, gaining induction on the second ballot ever. While it may have been for a short time, Lajoie for a time was the best second baseman ever.
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