Richards: Napoleon Lajoie, the king of ballplayers

From SABR member Lawrence Richards at The National Pastime Museum on August 13, 2015:

To be known as “The King of Ballplayers” is major hyperbole, an almost overwhelming reference. Yet, in his time Napoleon Lajoie was just that. That case will be made very shortly. But first, let’s address what most are thinking: How the hell do you pronounce this guy’s name?

Lajoie stated on many, many occasions the proper pronunciation is “Lash-You-Way.” His insistence did little to dissuade others. Herewith a brief sampling: “Laz-Hway,” “Luh-Joy,” “La-Zshwa,” “Lah-Joey,” “Lah-J-Way,” and a personal favorite, “La-Zchoo.” To add to the collective confusion, poet Edmund Vance Cooke wrote in Baseballology (1912):

And once, as all boys know by heart,
Napoleon’s name was Bonaparte,
But every urchin knows today,
His name’s Lajoie (or Lajoway).

Cooke got it wrong, throwing in the parenthesis. His tribute, while undoubtedly well intentioned, further muddled the situation for his contemporary, our present-day, and future urchins. Most settled on “Larry” or better still “Nap.” Some just simply referred to him as “The Frenchman,” or “Frenchy.” Didn’t matter he was born 3,468 miles from Paris in Woonsocket, Rhode Island. In reality, the French part wasn’t altogether wrong; just short a hyphen and a country. His parents were French-Canadian who lived in Vermont before moving their brood of eight children to Rhode Island. And what’s the English translation of Lajoie? Let’s just go with “great”!

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Originally published: August 13, 2015. Last Updated: August 13, 2015.