Napoleon “Larry” Lajoie* was born on September 5, 1875 in Woonsocket, R.I. As a young man he worked in a cotton mill and drove a wagon for City Lumber for $1.50 a day. His baseball career started in Woonsocket when he played for the Globe Stars in the early 1890s. He played his first professional games for a Fall River minor league team in 1896. During that year he won the New England batting title with an average of .429.
After that outstanding season, Lajoie was acquired by the Philadelphia Phillies and played with that club until he “jumped” to the new American League Philadelphia Athletics in 1901. It was during that season that Napoleon not only led the league in home runs with 13, but he also set the still-standing American League record batting average of .422. He was the American League batting champion in 1901, 1903, and 1904. Lajoie was so feared as a hitter, that he was the first player to be intentionally walked with the bases loaded.
In 1902, Lajoie was traded to the Cleveland Indians where he played the majority of his 21 years in professional baseball. During his impressive career Napoleon accumulated a .339 lifetime batting average-hitting .350 or better during ten seasons. As a fielder, he was equally outstanding and no second baseman was his equal. In 1908 Lajoie set an American League record for the most chances accepted by a second baseman in one season –988.
Napoleon was so popular in the early part of the 20th century that his fans voted to change the name of the Cleveland team to the Naps (after Napoleon), before the team was again renamed the Indians. Lajoie’s 1901 baseball card is reportedly worth thousands of dollars, and one sports historian has called him the first modern American sports celebrity.
In 1937, when he was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York, his plaque singled him out as a “great hitter” and the most graceful and effective second baseman of his era.”
Napoleon Lajoie died at the age of 83 on February 7, 1959 at Daytona Beach, Florida. He is buried in that community at Cedar Hills Cemetery.