And so it was. When Ban Johnson, the league president, got word of Lajoie's suspicious 8 for 8 and the attempted bribe, he was irate. Within the week he summoned Corriden and O'Connor to his office in Chicago and interrogated them. Corriden explained that he was simply a rookie following orders. O'Connor stuck with the story that he gave reporters on the day of the game: "Lajoie outguessed us. We figured he didn't have the nerve to bunt every time. He beat us at our own game." Lajoie was no help either. He sent the St. Louis newspapers a telegram reading, "After I made my first hit, a clean drive to centre for three bases, the St. Louis men played deep, expecting me to pound the ball every time. I fooled them right along. The pitchers did their best to deceive me, I am certain."
On Oct. 15 O'Connor boarded a train for the trip back to St. Louis from the commissioner's office. He was asleep in the Pullman car when a porter awoke him with the news: Johnson was banning him from baseball. (O'Connor later successfully sued to receive his $5,000 salary for the 1911 season. He went on to manage in the upstart Federal League.) Howell was banished as well. Corriden was absolved, though he spent the following season in the minors until he was signed by, of all teams, the Tigers. Lajoie, not surprisingly, was cleared of any wrongdoing as well.
Johnson had also ordered his longtime apparatchik, Rob McRoy, the American League secretary, to recheck the data. Lo and behold, McRoy found an error. The Tigers had played a doubleheader on Sept. 24, yet the league statistician only recorded the first game. Cobb had gone 2 for 3 in that missing game. It turned out, Johnson said, that Cobb was not 194 for 506 (.383) on the season, but rather 196 for 509, which pushed his average to .385—after rounding, a full point above Lajoie's.
The situation sounds comical now, but it was plausible at the time. The Oct. 9 doubleheader in St. Louis? According to The New York Times the times of the games were 1:42 and 1:16. Yet according to the St. Louis newspapers, the times were 1:12 and 1:36. In his Cobb biography Stump noted that in the days after the 1910 season, as everyone awaited Johnson's decision, the Chicago Tribune had Lajoie winning the batting race .385 to .382, but The Sporting News called it .38415 to .38411 for Cobb.
Six days after the season ended, Johnson announced his findings. He declared that "there is no substantial ground for questioning the accuracy" of Lajoie's 8-for-8 doubleheader. He also said that Lajoie's sacrifice—the source of the attempted bribe—should have been ruled a hit. And yet after retabulating the averages for the 1910 season, "their respective batting averages are as follows: Cobb, 509 times at bat, 196 hits, percentage .384944; Lajoie, 591 times at bat, 227 hits, percentage .3840948." (As if the episode called for more confusion, Johnson got his math wrong. Cobb's percentage should have been .385069.) Said Johnson, "I will certify ... that Cobb has a clear title to the leadership of the American League batsmen for 1910 and is therefore entitled to the Chalmers trophy."
Johnson appealed to Hugh Chalmers to provide cars to both Cobb and Lajoie. Chalmers agreed, and the following season his company's baseball ties were strengthened further when the Chalmers Award, a forerunner of the MVP, was presented to the "most important and useful player to the club and to the league," as determined by a committee of baseball writers. While it did little to assuage the fans who rooted for (or bet on) the wrong player, giving both Lajoie and Cobb a new car seemed like a Solomonic solution as well as an effective way to avoid more public relations damage. Cobb drove his car south for the winter. Lajoie motored back to Rhode Island. As Cobb wrote (rather richly, given his disposition) in his autobiography, "All the fussing and feuding had been for nothing, as it so usually is in life."
Still, the affair showed how easily the integrity of the game could be undermined. By the end of the same decade eight members of the Chicago Black Sox, including Shoeless Joe Jackson, conspired with gamblers to throw the 1919 World Series, perhaps the greatest stain on baseball's history. A number of historians have made a compelling analogy between gambling in the Dead Ball era and steroids in the modern era. Baseball authorities a century apart ignored abundant warning signs of corruption (the Chalmers controversy, Barry Bonds's swollen head and statistics), and by the time they were forced to confront reality (the 1919 World Series, the Mitchell Report), the malignancy had metastasized.
After his decision Johnson said, "The Cobb-Lajoie affair is a closed matter." Not quite. In the late 1970s baseball statisticians began computerizing their records, and as the researchers Pete Palmer and Leonard Gettelson were transposing the data of the 1910 season, they noticed an inconsistency. The doubleheader the Tigers had played on Sept. 24 that hadn't been recorded, the lost game in which Cobb went 2 for 3? In fact it had been recorded. It had simply been placed mistakenly in the Sept. 25 line on the ledger. In other words Cobb's original total had been correct and, because of a clerical error at the American League office, he had erroneously been credited with a duplicate 2-for-3 game.
The April 18, 1981, edition of The Sporting News publicized the error and republished the league office's original official log from the duplicate game. Someone in the office had clearly realized that an error had been made. The statistics for the Detroit players had been crossed out and nullified. Every Detroit player, that is, except one: Ty Cobb. It takes something less than a detective to arrive at the conclusion that at some point Johnson (or someone in the league office, anyway) realized the error and decided to conceal it.
Though it was more than 70 years after the fact, long after both principals had died, Palmer's finding had all sorts of implications. Without the phantom game, hadn't Cobb finished behind Lajoie in the misbegotten 1910 batting race after all? Therefore, didn't this deprive Cobb of another record he held, his streak of nine straight batting titles from 1907 to '15? Of more pressing concern: At the time, Pete Rose was in pursuit of Cobb's alltime hits record, which was thought to be 4,191. Didn't Rose now need fewer hits to eclipse the mark?