Posts Tagged ‘Hugh Chalmers’

Win the MVP, Get a Car

August 18, 2016
Hugh Chalmers pictured on the cover of his biography

Hugh Chalmers pictured on the cover of his biography

The idea of a Most Valuable Player isn’t new. The current award goes back to the 1930s and before that there were two other versions of the award. In the 1920s the League Awards anointed an MVP in each league and prior to that there were the very first MVP style awards–the Chalmers Awards.

Hugh Chalmers began his rise to entrepreneurial prominence with the National Cash Register Company, becoming vice president at age 30. He was also an early automobile enthusiast. He got into the business early, buying into the Thomas-Detroit car company (Thomas was E. R. Thomas another early automobile magnate) in 1907. He took control of the company in 1909. He changed the name to Chalmers-Detroit and in 1911 dropped the Detroit. The company was moderately successful doing well until the US entry into World War I (April 1917). The Maxwell Company, under lease from Chalmers, took over much of their manufacturing space under government contract and made vehicles for the war effort. After the war ended, Chalmers returned to manufacturing his automobiles, but the damage was done. The company faltered, Chalmers merged with Maxwell in 1922, and made his last car in 1923. Maxwell later became the basis of Chrysler. He died in 1932 still in his 50s.

Chalmers was also a baseball fan. In 1910 he hit on the idea of combining his business with the sport to sponsor an award for baseball’s best players. The award was one of his cars. It would be great publicity for his company and recognize baseball’s best all at the same time. He got the leagues to agree to the idea of an annual award. Originally the award was to be given to the batting champ (batting average), the man with the highest batting average in either league (s0 only one car was given away)

Of course it wouldn’t be baseball if controversy hadn’t ensued. On the last day of the American League season Ty Cobb, leading the batting race, sat out the game. Indians second baseman Napoleon LaJoie was only a few points behind him and managed eight hits in a season ending doubled header. That gave him the batting title except that the St. Louis Browns, in a rebuke to Cobb’s playing style, played their third baseman so deep that LaJoie easily beat out eight bunts. Detroit, and a lot of other places, called foul and AL President Ban Johnson gave the batting title to Cobb (and there is still controversy today over who actually won the title) and declared, with Chalmers’ consent, that both men would receive a car. The National League batting champ, Sherry Magee, was well behind both Cobb and LaJoie (as well as Tris Speaker) so he didn’t figure in the debate.

The next season there were some changes in the award. First, it became officially an MVP Award. It could go to the “most important and useful player” as determined by a committee of baseball writers, without reference to whether he won the batting title or not (meaning that now pitchers were eligible). Second, there would be one in each league. That seemed to solve the worst problems.

Except of course it didn’t. In 1911 Ty Cobb again had a great year and won the 1911 Chalmers Award in the AL (and another car). That created a problem. No one wanted to give Cobb a new car every year and there was good reason to believe he might be the “most important and useful player” for a lot of years. So they made another change. Having won a Chalmers Award, a player was ineligible to win a second (meaning no one got more than one car). That seemed to solve the problem, but it created another. When the League Awards began in the 1920s, the “win one, ineligible for another” rule was put in place. Apparently the powers that be forgot why the Chalmers Award had that rule (the League Awards didn’t give out a car). When they got to the modern MVP in the 1930s, they dumped the one award only rule.

The problem now arose that the Award wasn’t helping Chalmers sell cars. His sales didn’t go up as he expected and it was expensive giving away two cars every year. The Award last through the 1914 season when Chalmers dropped his offer (and MLB didn’t continue the award without the car).

Here’s a quick list of the winners of the Chalmers Award:

AL: 1911-Cobb, 1912-Tris Speaker, 1913-Walter Johnson (the only pitcher to win the award), 1914-Eddie Collins

NL: 1911-Wildfire Schulte, 1912-Larry Doyle, 1913-Jake Daubert, 1914-Johnny Evers

Although it only lasted four years (and the 1910 fiasco), the Chalmers Award is important in baseball history. It established the idea of a postseason award for playing excellence, leading to the current MVP, Rookie of the Year, Cy Young, and Henry Aaron awards, among others. It’s interesting to note that all four of the AL Chalmers winners ended up in the Hall of Fame, while only Johnny Evers among NL winners made it to Cooperstown. That might help explain why the AL was dominant in the World Series’ of the nineteen-teens.

Nap LaJoie and Ty Cobb (left to right) in a 1910 Chalmers 30 Automobile

Nap LaJoie and Ty Cobb (left to right) in a 1910 Chalmers 30 Automobile

 

 

 

The First MVP Awards

January 11, 2010

The modern version of the MVP Award began in the 1930s and has run since. It isn’t, however, the first MVP Award series in baseball. Way back in the 19-teens there was the Chalmers Award.

Hugh Chalmers owned Chalmers Automobiles in Detroit. He was a baseball fan and in April 1911 proposed the idea of giving one of his cars (the Model 30) to the “most valuable player” in both leagues.   A committee of  baseball writers would be set up to determine the winners. The league offiicals didn’t have objections, but a suggestion was made that once a player won the award, he couldn’t win it again. The idea had some merit from Chalmers’ point of view. It was good advertising, it promoted automobiles, it promoted baseball during the “off season.”  The idea of  granting a player only one award also made sense. It meant that Chalmers Autos would be seen in more places, there were more players available to pose for pictures with the car and give testimonials as to the quality of the automobile, and, from baseball’s point of view, it meant that you weren’t going to have to give a new car to Ty Cobb every year.

The previous year, 1910, there was a huge debate about the batting title in the American League. Cobb and Nap LaJoie both had claim to it (long story and not for this post). Chalmers decided to give a car to both (heck, it was good advertising). It also lead  to the idea of the Chalmers Award.

The next year  the award itself went to Cobb. Over the next four years the Chalmers Award, and the car, were given out. By 1915 the award had lost its luster. It was getting expensive for Chalmers, whose business was beginning to get into trouble, the obvious American League winner, Cobb, couldn’t win another, fans weren’t impressed or enthused, so the award was dropped.

And, Chalmers? His company lasted into the 1920’s when it was folded into first Maxwell, then eventually into Chrysler. Chalmers lost his job.

One of the best things the Chalmers Award does is indicate the superiority of the American League in the period. All four AL winners went on to Hall of Fame careers, while only one National Leaguer, Johnny Evers, did the same. In the period the AL won three of the four World Series’, losing only in 1914, the year Evers won the award. Below is a list of the winners with the following stats beside the name: batting average/RBI’s/slugging percentage or Wins/ERA/strikeouts in the case of pitcher Walter Johnson.

AL 1911-Ty Cobb 420/127/621

1912-Tris Speaker 383/90/567

1913-Walter Johnson 36/1.14/243

1914-Eddie Collins 344/85/452

NL 1911-Wildfire Schulte 300/107/534

1912-Larry Doyle 330/90/471

1913-Jake Daubert 350/52/423 

1914-Johnny Evers  279/40/338