Cleveland fans are very familiar with a person being the source for a team name – Paul Brown generally is credited with Cleveland’s football team being the Browns.
They may be less aware that such “person-team” naming also once occurred with Cleveland’s baseball team.
From 1903 to 1914, Cleveland’s baseball team was named the Naps after Cleveland’s star second baseman Nap Lajoie.
It was only when Lajoie left Cleveland that the team became the Indians in 1915.
Nicknamed “The Frenchman”, Lajoie was an outstanding batter and fielder.
For his play over 21 major league seasons, 13 with Cleveland, Lajoie is inducted in the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
Nap Lajoie HOF for Cleveland takes a break during practice. circa 1911 pic.twitter.com/6spvlDDIhf
— The Skimmers (@TheSkimmers) June 9, 2021
We take a look at the life of Nap Lajoie – before, during, and after his major league baseball career.
The Early Years Before Major League Baseball (1874-1896)
Napoleon Lajoie (alternatively pronounced as “Lah-ZHWA” or “LAJ-way”) was born on September 5, 1874 in Woonsocket, Rhode Island.
Woonsocket is located in northern Rhode Island.
Jean Baptiste Lajoie and Celina Guertin Lajoie were Lajoie’s parents.
Jean was French-Canadian and had emigrated from Canada to the United States.
Lajoie was the youngest of eight surviving children.
After Jean died in 1881, Lajoie and his siblings were forced to find jobs as soon as they could work to help support the family.
In 1885, Lajoie dropped out of school and found work as a sweeper in a textile mill.
He later clerked for an auctioneer and worked as a horse and buggy taxi driver (locally known as the “Slugging Cabby”).
Lajoie first played semi-pro baseball for the local Woonsocket team.
His mother, Celina, did not approve of Lajoie playing baseball, so he played under the alias, “Sandy”, to hide his baseball playing.
One of Lajoie’s teammates gave Lajoie the nickname, “Larry”, because he could not pronounce Lajoie’s last name.
As Lajoie’s baseball playing talent started to become known, he began to play for other semi-pro baseball teams.
Lajoie would earn $2 to $5 per game.
In 1896, Lajoie left Woonsocket for Fall River, Massachusetts to play for the Fall River Indians in the Class B New England League.
Playing center field, first base, and catcher for the Fall River Indians in 1896, Lajoie had a batting average of .429, with 15 home runs, in 380 at bats.
Lajoie also hit 34 doubles and 17 triples, stole 21 bases, and had a slugging percentage of .726.
Lajoie earned $25 per week playing for Fall River.
Several major league teams, including the Pittsburgh Pirates, the Philadelphia Phillies, and the Boston Beaneaters, took notice of Lajoie’s outstanding play with Fall River.
The Pirates made an offer of $500 to Fall River to acquire Lajoie, but Fall River turned it down.
On August 9, 1896, the Phillies and Fall River agreed for Philadelphia to acquire Lajoie and outfielder Phil Geier for $1,500.
Lajoie was headed to the major leagues.
The Major League Baseball Years (1896–1916)
On August 12, 1896, Lajoie made his major league debut, in a 9-0 Philadelphia shutout of the Washington Senators.
Lajoie played first base and hit a single.
In 39 games, all at first base, Lajoie had a batting average of .326, with 42 runs batted in and four home runs, in 175 at bats, for the Phillies in 1896.
He also had a slugging percentage of .543.
Philadelphia had a 62-68 record, finishing in eighth place in the National League, in 1896.
In 1897, Lajoie, mostly playing first base, had a .361 batting average, with 127 runs batted in and nine home runs, in 545 at bats.
He also hit 40 doubles and 23 triples, stole 20 bases, and had a slugging percentage of .569 (leading the National League).
The Phillies finished in 10th place in the National League, with a 55-77 record, in 1897.
George Stallings, manager of Philadelphia, moved Lajoie from first base to second base in 1898.
Lajoie was to principally play second base for the rest of his major league career.
“[Lajoie would] have made good no matter where I positioned him.”
In 1898, Lajoie had a .324 batting average, with 127 runs batted in (leading the National League) and six home runs, in 608 at bats.
In addition, Lajoie hit 43 doubles (leading the National League) and 11 triples and stole 25 bases.
With a 78-71 record, the Phillies finished in sixth place in the National League in 1898.
After suffering an injury in a collision with Cincinnati Reds infielder Harry Steinfeldt, Lajoie appeared in only 77 games in 1899.
Lajoie had a .378 batting average, with 70 runs batted in and six home runs, in 312 at bats in 1899.
He also stole 13 bases and had an on-base percentage of .419 and a slugging percentage of .554.
Philadelphia posted a 94-58 record and finished in third place in the National League in 1899.
Lajoie broke his thumb in a fistfight with teammate outfielder and future National Baseball Hall of Famer Elmer Flick in 1900 and appeared in only 102 games.
In 1900, Lajoie had a .337 batting average, with 92 runs batted in and seven home runs, in 451 at bats.
Lajoie hit 33 doubles and 12 triples, stole 22 bases, and had a slugging percentage of .510.
The Phillies finished in third place in the National League, with a 75-63 record, in 1900.
Lajoie had been promised by John Rogers, the majority owner of the Phillies, that he would make the same salary as his teammate outfielder and future National Baseball Hall of Famer Ed Delahanty.
When Lajoie found out that in fact his $2,600 salary was $400 less than the salary of Delahanty, Lajoie was very upset.
In 1901, the American League was formed as a competitor to the National League in baseball.
The American League sought to attract top National League players, such as Lajoie.
1901 All-Americans – Nap Lajoie, Rube Waddell side by side in the top row. pic.twitter.com/wIjOYdTs3S
— BaseballHistoryNut (@nut_history) March 24, 2021
The Philadelphia Athletics in the American League offered Lajoie a salary of $4,000, and Lajoie “jumped” from the Phillies to the Athletics.
“The Phillies opened their season and drew 6,000 fans. A week later, when we opened, there were 16,000 in the stands. The American League was here to stay.”
John Rogers filed litigation to attempt to block Lajoie from moving to the Athletics from the Phillies.
While the litigation was pending, Lajoie had an outstanding season for the Athletics in 1901.
Lajoie led the American League with a .426 batting average, in 544 at bats, in 1901.
His .426 batting average is the highest batting average ever recorded in the American League, the highest batting average ever recorded in major league baseball in the 20th or 21st centuries, and the fourth highest batting average ever recorded in major league baseball history.
In also leading the American League in runs batted in (125) and home runs (14) in 1901, Lajoie is one of only 15 players in major league baseball history to win baseball’s “Triple Crown”.
Lajoie also led the American League in 1901 in runs scored (145), hits (232), doubles (48), on-base percentage (.463), and slugging percentage (.643).
He also hit 14 triples and stole 27 bases.
In an 11-9 Athletics loss to the Chicago White Sox on May 23, 1901, Lajoie was so feared as a batter that he was intentionally walked with the bases loaded.
The Athletics had a 74-62 record and finished in fourth place in the American League in 1901.
Lajoie was managed in 1901 by future National Baseball Hall of Famer Connie Mack.
“He plays so naturally and so easily it looks like lack of effort. Larry’s reach is so long and he’s fast as lightning, and to throw to at second base he is ideal. All the catchers who’ve played with him say he is the easiest man to throw to in the game today. High, low, wide – he is sure of everything.”
Consistent with Mack’s comments, Lajoie, who threw righty, was an excellent fielder.
He led the American League in 1901 (as he also did in 1903, 1906, and 1908) in putouts by a second baseman (395 in 1901) and (as he also did in 1906, 1907, 1908, and 1913) in fielding percentage by a second baseman (.960 in 1901).
In April, 1902, following a decision by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in favor of John Rogers, Rogers obtained an injunction preventing Lajoie from playing for any other major league team other than the Phillies.
Nap Lajoie mounted an early challenge to void the reserve clause in his contract
The court told Nap: "the provisions of the contract are reasonable & the consideration is fully adequate"
Happy Birthday Nap 9/5/1874 🎂
— #BaseballandtheLaw 🏛 ⚾️ (@BaseballandLaw) September 5, 2020
The injunction was later interpreted to be only enforceable in the state of Pennsylvania, and thus could only prevent Lajoie from playing for the Athletics or for other American League teams playing games against the Athletics in Philadelphia.
"Substantial justice between the parties requires the court to restrain Lajoie from playing for another club" while under his contract with the @Phillies
— #BaseballandtheLaw 🏛 ⚾️ (@BaseballandLaw) April 21, 2021
Given the injunction, the Athletics decided to transfer Lajoie and pitcher Bill Bernhard to the Cleveland franchise (then known officially as the Bluebirds, and unofficially as the Blues, Bronchos, or Broncos) in the American League.
In his first game for the Cleveland franchise, a 4-3 Cleveland victory over the Boston Americans on June 4, 1902, Lajoie (hitting “cleanup”) had a double, drove in one run, and scored one run.
“I knew from that day I was going to be happy in Cleveland.”
Because of the legal issues, Lajoie (playing at a height of six feet and one inch and a weight of 195 pounds) played in only 87 games, 86 with Cleveland, in 1902.
Lajoie, with a .378 batting average in 352 at bats, led the American League in batting average for the second consecutive year.
He also posted 65 runs batted in, hit seven home runs and 35 doubles, stole 20 bases, and had an on-base percentage of .419 and a slugging percentage of .565, in 1902.
The Cleveland franchise had a 69-67 record and finished in fifth place in the American League in 1902.
In recognition of Lajoie, based on a newspaper poll, the Cleveland franchise changed its team name to the Naps in 1903.
Nap Lajoie of the Cleveland Naps (AL) standing on the field with his bat during practice, 1903 pic.twitter.com/izYNKyBaVc
— The Skimmers (@TheSkimmers) February 19, 2021
With a .344 batting average in 485 at bats, Lajoie led the American League in batting average for the third consecutive year in 1903.
He also led the American League in slugging percentage (.518).
In 1903, Lajoie also posted 93 runs batted in, hit seven home runs, 41 doubles, and 11 triples, and stole 21 bases.
Lajoie also led the American League in 1903 (as he also did in 1906, 1907, 1908, and 1909 (tied for first in 1909)) in double plays turned by a second baseman (61 in 1903).
With a 77-63 record in 1903, the Naps finished in third place in the American League.
Lajoie, with a .376 batting average in 553 at bats, led the American League in batting average for the fourth consecutive year in 1904.
In addition, Lajoie led the American League in runs batted in (102), hits (208), doubles (49), on-base percentage (.413), and slugging percentage (.546), in 1904.
He also hit 15 triples and stole 29 bases.
About Lajoie’s hitting ability (Lajoie was a right-handed batter), National Baseball Hall of Famer Cy Young said:
“Lajoie was one of the most rugged hitters I ever faced. He’d take your leg off with a line drive, turn the third baseman around like a swinging door, and powder the hand of the left fielder.”
The Naps had an 86-65 record and finished in fourth place in the American League in 1904.
Lajoie took on new duties when he was named manager of the Naps for the 1905 season.
On the playing field, an injury again limited Lajoie in 1905.
As a result of an untreated spike injury, Lajoie contracted sepsis and appeared in only 65 games.
In 1905, Lajoie had a batting average of .329, with 41 runs batted in and two home runs, in 249 at bats.
Antique Circa 1905 Nap Lajoie Endorsed Wright & Ditson Baseball Bat pic.twitter.com/nDpJRIl59E
— The Skimmers (@TheSkimmers) February 26, 2021
He also stole 11 bases.
With a 76-78 record, the Naps finished in fifth place in the American League in 1905.
Lajoie had a batting average of .355, with 91 runs batted in, in 602 at bats in 1906.
He led the American League in both hits (214) and doubles (48) in 1906.
Mounted photo of Nap Lajoie on the left had been in our archive but sold in 2018. I knew the artwork must have been mounted this way for publication but where was it used? Mystery solved! Found him hiding in Lajoie's 1906 Base Ball Guide. pic.twitter.com/sVAzn4CnHs
— Andrew Aronstein (@AndrewAronstein) July 5, 2020
He also stole 20 bases.
Lajoie also led the American League in 1906 (as he also did in 1907 and 1908) in assists by a second baseman (415 in 1906).
The Naps posted an 89-64 record in 1906 and finished in third place in the American League.
In 1907, Lajoie had a .301 batting average, with 63 runs batted in and two home runs, in 509 at bats.
He also hit 30 doubles and stole 24 bases.
With an 85-67 record in 1907, the Naps finished in fourth place in the American League.
Lajoie had a .289 batting average, with 74 runs batted in and two home runs, in 581 at bats in 1908.
In addition, he hit 32 doubles and stole 15 bases.
Cleveland had a 90-64 record in 1908.
The Naps finished in second place in the American League, losing the pennant to the Detroit Tigers by only 1/2 of a game.
During the 1909 season, after managing Cleveland for over four seasons, Lajoie decided to relinquish his managerial duties.
As evidence that the responsibility of being manager may have adversely affected Lajoie’s play on the field, he exceeded his .289 batting average in 1908 in each of the next five seasons.
In 1909, Lajoie had a batting average of .324, with 47 runs batted in and one home run, in 469 at bats.
He also hit 33 doubles and stole 13 bases.
The Naps, with a 71-82 record, finished in sixth place in the American League in 1909.
In 1910, Lajoie, at the ages of 35 and 36, won his fifth American League batting title, with a .383 batting average in 592 at bats.
Lajoie also led the American League in 1910 in both hits (227) and doubles (51). In addition, he posted 76 runs batted in, hit four home runs, stole 26 bases, and had an on-base percentage of .444 and a slugging percentage of .514.
In 1910, the Naps had a 71-81 record and finished in fifth place in the American League.
Lajoie again missed significant playing time in 1911, appearing in only 90 games.
He had a .365 batting average, with 60 runs batted in and two home runs, in 315 at bats in 1911.
He also hit 20 doubles, stole 13 bases, and had an on-base percentage of .420.
In 1911, the Naps finished third in the American League, with an 80-73 record.
Lajoie had a .368 batting average, with 90 runs batted in, in 448 at bats in 1912.
In addition, he hit 34 doubles, stole 18 bases, and had an on-base percentage of .414.
With a 75-78 record, the Naps finished in fifth place in the American League in 1912.
— EbbetsFieldFlannels (@EbbetsVintage) March 11, 2019
In 1913, Lajoie had a .335 batting average, with 68 runs batted in and one home run, in 465 at bats.
He also hit 25 doubles and stole 17 bases.
The Naps had an 86-66 record in 1913 and finished in third place in the American League.
Lajoie, at the ages of 39 and 40 and bothered by poor eyesight, fell to only a .258 batting average in 419 at bats in 1914.
He also posted 50 runs batted in and stole 14 bases.
The Naps, with a 51-102 record, finished in eighth place in the American League in 1914.
Napoleon Lajoie and Honus Wagner shaking hands. Nap Lajoie collected his 3,000th Major League hit, September 27, 1914. Wagner had gotten his 3000th hit June 9 that year. pic.twitter.com/zx4tyc5Ozq
— Baseball In Pics (@baseballinpix) September 27, 2020
After the 1914 season, the Naps sold Lajoie to his former team, the Philadelphia Athletics.
With Lajoie no longer on the team, the Naps changed their name to the Indians for the 1915 season.
Lajoie played his final two major league seasons in 1915 and 1916 for the Athletics.
In 1915, Lajoie had a .280 batting average, with 61 runs batted in and one home run, in 490 at bats.
He also had 24 doubles and stole 10 bases.
The Athletics finished in eighth place in the American League in 1915, with a 43-109 record.
Lajoie had a .246 batting average, with 35 runs batted in and two home runs, in 426 at bats in 1916.
He also stole 15 bases.
In 1916, the Athletics, with a 36-117 record, again finished in eighth place in the American League.
On August 26, 1916, at the age of 41, Lajoie played in his final major league game, hitting a triple in a 5-0 Athletics win over the Cleveland Indians.
The Years After Major League Baseball (1917-1959)
Lajoie married Myrtle I. Smith on October 11, 2006.
They stayed married until 1954 when Myrtle died.
Myrtle and Lajoie had no children.
Although Lajoie’s last major league game was in 1916, he continued to play baseball for two more years.
In 1917, Lajoie was a player-manager for the Toronto Maple Leafs in the International League.
Lajoie, with a .380 batting average in 581 at bats, led the International League in batting average and helped Toronto win the International League pennant.
He also hit five home runs and 39 doubles.
Lajoie next was a player-manager for the Indianapolis Indians in the American Association in 1918.
He had a .282 batting average in 291 at bats, as Indianapolis finished in third place in the American Association.
He also hit two home runs and stole 10 bases.
Following his time with Indianapolis, Lajoie announced his retirement from playing baseball on December 27, 1918.
After his retirement from baseball, in business, Lajoie worked for a rubber company, sold truck tires, and established a small brass manufacturing company.
During his retirement, Lajoie lived in South Euclid, Ohio and Mentor, Ohio, before moving to Florida to live in the Daytona Beach area in 1943.
On February 7, 1959, Lajoie, at the age of 84, died of pneumonia in Daytona Beach.
Lajoie was in the second group of players elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1937 and formally inducted in the National Baseball Hall of Fame when it opened in 1939.
Just look at this! The Hall of Fame induction ceremony of 1939.
Top: Honus Wagner, Pete Alexander, Tris Speaker, Nap Lajoie, George Sisler and Walter Johnson.
Bottom: Eddie Collins, Babe Ruth, Connie Mack and Cy Young pic.twitter.com/qnXwqi0jWR
— Augie Nash (@AugieNash) March 11, 2020
In his National Baseball Hall of Fame induction speech (one of the shortest on record), Lajoie stated:
“Ladies and gentlemen, I’m very glad to be here today and to meet all the old-timers that you probably watched play baseball and some of the greatest men that ever walked on the ball field, and I am glad to have the honor to be here today and join with them, and I hope everybody enjoys it as I do because I’m certainly having a great day. Thank you.”
In 1951, Lajoie was inducted in the Cleveland Indians Hall of Fame.
The Sporting News, in its list of “Baseball’s 100 Greatest Players” in 1998, ranked Lajoie in the 29th position.
Lajoie can lay claim to be one of the greatest players in Cleveland baseball history.
For his play over his 13 seasons with Cleveland from 1902 to 1914, Lajoie ranks high in numerous Cleveland career statistics.
In batting average, Lajoie ranks third in Cleveland history with a .340 batting average.
Lajoie had a batting average with Cleveland that exceeded .350 in six of 13 seasons and exceeded .300 in 11 of 13 seasons.
Lajoie had the most hits of any player in Cleveland history (2.052).
In addition, Lajoie ranks in Cleveland history third in runs batted in (919), tied for 106th in home runs (33), second in doubles (424), eighth in triples (78), fourth in stolen bases (240), tied for 17th in on-base percentage (.389), tied for 60th in slugging percentage (.452), and seventh in runs scored (865).
Lajoie’s greatness is further evidenced by his rankings in major league baseball career statistics.
He ranks in major league baseball history 24th in batting average (.338), 15th in hits (3,243), 37th in runs batted in (1,599), eighth in doubles (657), tied for 33rd in triples (163), 89th in stolen bases (380), and 73rd in runs scored (1,504).
Besides his rankings as a hitter, Lajoie also ranks high in major league baseball career statistics as a fielder.
Lajoie ranks in major league baseball history fifth in putouts by a second baseman (5,496), 11th in assists by a second baseman (6,267), and 26th in double plays turned by a second baseman (1,050).
Had Lajoie not missed significant playing time, his statistical rankings would even be higher; he played in less than 110 games in six of his 21 major league seasons.
While Lajoie never won a major league pennant (either with Cleveland or any other team), Cleveland did have a winning season in eight, and a winning percentage of at least .464 in 12, of Lajoie’s 13 seasons with Cleveland.
The poet Ogden Nash, in a poem written for the January, 1949 issue of SPORT Magazine, “Line-Up For Yesterday”, included Lajoie in his references to great baseball players.
“L is for Lajoie
Whom Clevelanders love,
With glue in his glove.”
Immortalized in a team name, in a poem, and in the National Baseball Hall of Fame, Nap Lajoie stands out as one of the greatest players in Cleveland baseball history.