Baseball fans… can you help?

May 11, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

baseball_lajole_iiA customer was requesting a newspaper with a report of Nap LaJoie, one of the more notable names in baseball in the early 20th century, ending the 1901 season  with a .422 batting average.  He was one of only a few to do so in the 20th century (there’s been a 67 year dry spell since Ted Williams was the last to do so, in 1941).

Finding reports of batting averages in 1901 is very difficult, but I did find a report at the end of the season which notes: “Lajoie…took part in 131 games. He was at bat 554 times, made 226 singles, 48 doubles 12 triples and 13 home runs…”.

Never mind that the numbers are slightly off from the official record book, which notes 543 games, 229 singles, 48 doubles (only one correct), 13 triples and 14 homers, as such errors might be understandable. But even given the accurate numbers, in calculating his average one comes up with a sum of 304 successful at bats, divided by the number of games (543) giving an average of .560.  But curiously, if you just took his 229 singles divided by 543 the result is exactly his recorded batting average: .4217, rounded out to .422.

Should I surmise that the term “singles” actually means “hits” by today’s terminology ? Was this the common practice back then, to call any type of “hit” a “single”? If so, when did they make the switch?

Thanks for your help !