Chalmers Trophy

Nice cars, but $1,500? They didn’t even have TVs in the seats.

I could have sworn I already did a post about this, but I looked and could not find anything but a few mentions here and there. To rectify that, I’ll elaborate a little more on the mention I made in the post this morning about the first MVP Award — the Chalmers Trophy.

The Chalmers Automobile Company was a major brand of automobiles in the early 20th century. It flourished throughout the 1910’s, but after WWI, it fell on hard times and was done by 1923. In a sense, the Chalmers vehicles were the Lexus of today as their cars sold for around $1,500 when most other models sat in the $400-$700 range. But in 1910, owner Hugh Chalmers decided to make a big push into the advertising business by starting an award to take advantage of baseball’s popularity.

Originally, the award was to go to the player with the best batting average. The award of having said average was a beautiful new Chalmers Model 30, commonly called a “Thirty-Six”. But the award had some problems from the start. Nap Lajoie and Ty Cobb were making a serious run at the batting title, and they were so far ahead of everyone else that it was really a two-man race. Lajoie and Cobb didn’t really like each other (no one really got along with Cobb), and it was a fairly bitter affair.

Going into the last day of the season, Cobb held a narrow lead and decided “to take the day off”, leaving Lajoie with a doubleheader. Lajoie responded by going 8-for-8, but it was a controversial 8-for-8. St. Louis manager Jack O’Connor, upset with Cobb, told his third baseman to play back on the outfield grass even though Lajoie was known for bunt hits. Indeed, Lajoie laid six down, and on one of them, the third baseman made a throwing error. However, it was tallied as a hit. The scandal broke a few days later, but Ban Johnson demanded that all batting averages be counted final and official. Lajoie sat at .384 and Cobb at .385, but it was later discovered that Cobb was given an extra 2-for-3 and should have had a .383 average. Deciding against controversy, Chalmers awarded cars to both players.

Even without the controversy, people weren’t exactly happy with the award, but the controversy proved the point. Such a prestigious award shouldn’t be given on the basis of one stat. Instead, it should go to the player who was the best and most valuable to his team, but like today, that isn’t an easy thing to do. Going based on batting average gives one a clear, objective winner (even though the first wasn’t so), but the new award was subjective. Who would vote? Ban Johnson suggested that one writer from each city should vote because they saw the teams every day (sound familiar?). But should that player be on a playoff team? Originally, Chalmers said yes, but it was eventually left open. When it came to determining a winner, defense wasn’t included in the list, though sportsmanship was a big part.

The MVP Award was born, but it died a few years later. Chalmers only awarded the cars for four more seasons, stopping after 1914. Why? First, he didn’t really want to award a car to player twice. Second, Chalmers simply lost interest in baseball. For the next eight seasons, no one would win an MVP Award until the American League started handing them out in 1922.

Fun Facts:
– Ty Cobb won the award again in 1911 (Chalmers didn’t want to make this a habit)
– Walter Johnson, in 1913, was the only pitcher to win the award
– Johnny Evers, mainly known for being a key part of the Chicago Cubs in the 1900’s, won the award in 1914 as a Boston Brave and retired three years later

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