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In his quest for the Chalmers, Cobb was not his usual combative self and showed uncharacteristic sportsmanship. He didn't argue with official scorers over errors that could have been ruled hits for him. As Lajoie was eyeing .400, Cobb seemed resigned to losing. In that same letter to his Cleveland friend Cobb also wrote, "If I am not to win, no better, cleaner contestant could win than Lajoie. He is the one I wish to win it, if I can't."
Cobb had no personal animus against Lajoie. In fact, they had nearly played alongside each other: In 1907 the Tigers offered to trade Cobb to the Naps for Flick. The phrase didn't exist yet, but Cleveland rejected the trade on the grounds that Cobb was a clubhouse cancer. "We'll keep Flick," Cleveland owner Charles Somers allegedly said. "Maybe he isn't quite as good a batter as Cobb, but he's much nicer to have on the team."
By August, Lajoie's lead had diminished. Cobb's vision trouble had abated, and suddenly he was smiting the ball, turning in multiple-hit games as a matter of ritual. In his final 13 at bats of the season, against the New York Highlanders and then the White Sox, he logged nine hits. Perhaps showing his age, Lajoie slowed down the stretch, and going into the final day of the season Cobb led Lajoie .383 to .376. Not that anyone knew that for sure at the time. It's hard to believe now, given how meticulously baseball data are recorded and mined, but in the early 1900s statistics were often compiled by writers covering games and eventually sent to the league office. Mistakes and inconsistencies were common.
Even if the exact numbers were fuzzy, Cobb knew he had a healthy lead in the race. He decided to rest for Detroit's final two games against Chicago. He cited another flare-up of his vision problem, but it was assumed that the Georgia Peach was simply protecting his average. (It didn't help his case that he spent the final weekend in Philadelphia, playing in a mock All-Star game designed to help the Athletics prepare for the upcoming World Series against the Chicago Cubs.) The media jumped on him. As Lajoie's hometown paper, the Cleveland Plain Dealer, speculated, it was a faint heart, not faint eyesight, that prevented Cobb from playing.
Lajoie was faced with an impossible challenge against the Browns on Oct. 9: To have any hope of catching Cobb, it was assumed, he needed to get a hit every time he batted in the doubleheader. One strikeout, one ground out, one fly out and he'd be out of contention. There was a source of hope, though. Not only was St. Louis a dreadful team with the league's worst pitching staff, it was a franchise—like many others—with a hatred of Cobb.
With the season a lost cause, the Browns experimented with younger players and shifted starters from their regular positions. Red Corriden, a rookie shortstop, was stationed at third base. Before Lajoie stepped up to the plate for his first at bat, the St. Louis manager, Jack (Peach Pie) O'Connor, cautioned Corriden to play back. "He'll tear your head off with line drives," the skipper warned. Corriden obeyed, playing in short leftfield, both feet on the grass. Not that it mattered. Lajoie turned on a pitch and seared the ball to the centerfield wall for a stand-up triple.
Corriden was deployed deep again for Lajoie's second plate appearance, but this time there was no risk to the third baseman's head. Lajoie dropped a bunt and easily beat the throw to first base. Lajoie bunted again his next time up. And again. And again. And again and again and again. After the initial triple, Lajoie batted eight times, all bunts. Six of them were fielded by Corriden—who never changed his positioning—but resulted in infield hits. One was a roller to shortstop that Lajoie beat out for a hit. In his second at bat of the second game of the day, Lajoie beat the throw to first, but he also advanced a runner. Under the scoring at the time, it was ruled a sacrifice and thus didn't count as an official at bat. Then as now players might go an entire season without logging seven bunt singles. Lajoie had seven in one afternoon.
He finished 8 for 8 on the day—4 for 4 in each of the two games—to bring his average, we know now, to .384, .001 higher than Cobb's. It would take some time for the official announcement to come from the league office, but it appeared that the good guy had won the batting race. Yes, the Browns may well have had a hand in the outcome, but Lajoie would get the car. The telegrams of congratulations came rolling in over the following days, including one signed by eight of Cobb's Detroit teammates.
The debate over that hit that was scored a sacrifice, though, was just beginning. After the play St. Louis's pitching coach, Harry Howell, clad in street clothes, had made a surreptitious visit to the press box. He pulled aside the official scorer, sportswriter E.V. Parish, and allegedly offered a bribe to get Parish "to do well by Lajoie"—that is, to call it a hit and not a sac. (Of course, the point became moot after Lajoie's perfect day.) According to one account, there was an offer of cash. According to Stump's biography of Cobb, the scorer received an anonymous letter reading, "If you can see where Lajoie gets a B.H. [base hit] instead of a sacrifice, I will give you an order for a forty-dollar suit, for sure."
Despite the pressure, the scorer refused to change his ruling, and the newspapermen in the press box were disgusted by what had transpired on and off the field. The same writers who had ripped Cobb for sitting out the final game of the season now defended him staunchly. The local paper editorialized, "All St. Louis is up in arms over the deplorable spectacle, conceived in stupidity and executed in jealousy... . St. Louis people should subscribe to a fund to buy Ty Cobb a Chalmers auto, should it prove that he has lost one he legitimately won." The New York Morning Telegraph columnist Heywood Broun wrote, "As the world knows now, Tyrus Raymond Cobb is less popular than Napoleon Lajoie. Perhaps Cobb is the least popular player who ever lived... . Whether you like or dislike this young fellow, you must concede him one virtue: what he has won, he has taken by the might of his own play. He asks no quarter and gives none." And in a story titled ST. LOUIS TEAM 'LAYS DOWN' TO LET LAJOIE WIN, the Detroit Free Press called the games "a farce, a hippodrome which should be investigated by the highest authorities."