In major league baseball, the favourite sport of the worldÕs richest nation, there is an annual tradition of honouring the player in the league who has contributed most to the success of their team. It is known as the Most Valuable Player Award or the M.V.P.
Presented since 1931 by the Baseball Writers Association of America Ð San Francisco Giants left fielder Barry Bonds won it for an unprecedented seventh time in 2004 Ð the award dates back to 1911.
There have been three different Òmost valuable playerÓ awards in baseball. Before the M.V.P. there was The League Award (1922-1929) and before The League Award there was the Chalmers Award.
It was in 1910 that Hugh Chalmers, president of the Chalmers Motor Company of Detroit, announced that he would present a Chalmers 30 roadster to the player who had the highest batting average in the major leagues that season. Amidst controversy bordering on scandal, the great Tyrus Raymond ÒTyÓ Cobb of the Detroit Tigers and his rival Napoleon Lajoie of the Cleveland Indians ended the season with identical averages.
Chalmers awarded a car to each man but proposed a different contest for 1911, with an award to be presented to the player in each of AmericaÕs two baseball leagues who was selected by a panel of sportswriters as Òthe most important and useful player to his clubÓ.
By a unanimous vote American Leaguer Ty Cobb Ð known as The Georgia Peach Ð was the first recipient of the trophy along with Chicago Cubs slugger Frank Schulte, of the National League. They were followed in 1912 by Tris Speaker (Boston Red Sox) and Larry Doyle (New York Giants), in 1913 by Walter Johnson (Washington nationals) and Jake Daubert (Brooklyn Dodgers) and in 1914 by Eddie Collins (Philadelphia Phillies) and Johnny Evers (Boston).
But by 1915, amidst rumours of cheating and frustration at a stipulation that the same player could not win twice, the public had lost interest. The Chalmers Award was not brought back in 1915 and this important relic of baseball history fell into obscurity. Now, what appears to be a contemporary replica of the Chalmers Award made its way to Surrey for auction on July 26.
Via an American vendor who owns a cache of art and antiques that formerly belonged to Charles Wakefield (1859-1941), founder of Castrol lubricants, the staff at John Nicholson of Fernhurst found themselves typing the words Chalmers Award into Google. Theirs was not, evidently, the award that had been owned by some of the finest players of the so-called Dead Ball Era but a replica made in 1915 for presentation. Measuring 2ft 6in (75cm) across, the ebonised wood and two-tone metal award was finely worked with six baseball bat motifs surrounded by the names of both Westside Brewery Co. and Chalmers Motor Co. The centre of the plaque depicted the messenger Mercury bearing the Chalmers emblem and holding a laurel wreath and baseball. The surrounding eight rose petals are engraved with the contenders of the award from 1911-1914. An additional inscription suggests that it was given in 1915 to Abel Linares, a well-known baseball promoter and team-owner in Cuba, for his contribution to the game.
Estimated at £5000-6000, bidding from a handful of American collectors who had picked up on the sale saw the hammer fall at £13,500 (plus 17.5 per cent buyerÕs premium). ItÕs a substantial sum, but in the context of baseball collecting, where six-figure prices are commonplace, it does not seem a lot of money.
Incidentally the transatlantic theme continues at Nicholsons. Their September 27 sale includes more Charles Wakefield lots, including a Philadelphian mahogany commode.
By Roland Arkell