Whenever I see experts select their All-Time Canadian All-Star teams, I always think that the squad lacks a solid second baseman. Yes, Pop Smith and Frank O’Rourke did play more than 1,000 big league games – nothing to scoff at, I know – but their .222 and .254 batting averages respectively wouldn’t strike fear into many pitcher’s hearts. But what if I told you that the greatest keystone sacker in baseball history was almost Canadian?
Nap Lajoie, who rapped out 3,242 hits in a 21-year big league career, might have been born in Saint-Hyacinthe, Que., if his parents hadn’t moved to Vermont in search of greener financial pastures. In fact, five of Lajoie’s siblings (four brothers and a sister) were born in Quebec. I first learned of this in Jim Shearon’s excellent book “Over the Fence Is Out!”
In his Hall of Fame career, Lajoie would hit .338 for Philadelphia and Cleveland. In 1901, he captured a Triple Crown, hitting .426, a mark that still stands as the highest single-season average in American League history. Lajoie was so popular in Cleveland that the club was renamed the “Naps” in 1903 in his honour. A graceful fielder, Lajoie hit over .350 in 10 different seasons.
After his big league career, a 41-year-old Lajoie came to Canada to serve as the player/manager with the International League’s Toronto Maple Leafs in 1917. While managing and manning first base in Hogtown, Lajoie would hit .380, record 221 hits and win his only professional baseball championship. He would spend his final pro season in Indianapolis the following year.
Lajoie passed away on February 7, 1959 in Daytona Beach at age 84. I’m still working on a citizenship loophole that would make him eligible to be the second baseman on my All-Time Canadian All-Star team.