A record-breaking salary.
A jump to a new league.
A court challenge.
It may seem like the elements of a story you’d fine in the pages of a recent sports media website but actually, it was part of the baseball landscape in 1902.
Philadelphia star Nap Lajoie was offered big bucks to sign with the new American League in 1901 and for a salary of $4,000 (the equivalent of $115,000 today), he signed with the new Cleveland franchise. After a big year in 1901, a court upheld the reserve clause and ordered Lajoie back to the Phillies. More legal discussion ensued and the clause was ruled invalid for players who jumped to the A.L.
Lajoie was free to leave.
Playing for the franchise then known as the “Bronchos”, Lajoie was the American League’s biggest stars. Sometime during the 1902 season, he appeared in a new set of mounted player photos issued by The Sporting Life. Dressed in a suit and tie, Lajoie was in the first series of players made available to readers who could send in three two-cent stamps and a coupon from the paper. At the bottom of the photo are the words “Napoleon Lajoie, second baseman of the Cleveland (A.L.) club of 1902”.
Today, just five of what we call the 1902-1911 Sporting Life Cabinets (W600) cards of Lajoie in street clothes cards are in the combined population reports of PSA and SGC. One of them will be in Heritage Auctions’ May catalog. Graded SGC 55, it’s expected to sell for $30,000 or more.
W600 is among the most desirable of all pre-War card sets with the series featuring numerous Hall of Famers. They are rare today, with a constantly evolving checklist based on new discoveries. The Lajoie being offered by Heritage is one of only two with the green mount that surrounds the photo.
Lajoie remained with Cleveland for 13 years with his influence as a player and manager so great the team eventually would become known as the “Naps”.
Bidding in the auction is expected to begin April 19 and conclude May 11-13.