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Thursday, March 26, 2020

Today in Baseball History: A new car and a batting title scandal

On March 25, 1910, the Chalmers Auto Company of Detroit came up with a cool idea: it offered to award a new car to the batting champion of each league. After some consideration, the National and American Leagues would accept the offer.

I don’t care about the award as such, but it did lead to a pretty tasty baseball scandal I want to talk about. I’ll get to that in a minute. First, a little background.

What would become the Chalmers Auto Company started as the E.R. Thomas Company of Detroit. It was one of many late 19th-early 20th century companies trying to make a go of it in the auto business, but it was making a pretty poor go of it. In 1908 Thomas hired a bright young cash register salesman from Dayton named Hugh Chalmers to boost its fortunes. Chalmers was named president. Later that year he bought out Thomas completely and changed the name of the company, creating the Chalmers Auto Company of Detroit.

Chalmers had a knack for promotion and did a lot to increase the company’s visibility. He hired professional drivers and arranged for them to enter Chalmers cars in road races, endurance events and other sorts of contests and exhibitions. Via partnerships he got involved in the nascent Hudson Motor Company, but eventually sold off his interest there, leaving Hudson to produce smaller, more economical cars, while Chalmers increasingly focused on building larger, more luxurious cars. His crown jewel: the Chalmers Model 30 Roadster. It was a pretty sweet ride. It was also the model of car that Chalmers would award the batting champ of each league.

Or, why offering prizes for statistical performance can backfire in a hurry…..

 

QLE Posted: March 26, 2020 at 12:50 AM | 13 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: awards, cars, chalmers, history, nap lajoie, tigers, ty cobb

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   1. bbmck Posted: March 26, 2020 at 12:21 PM (#5933736)
How the Hall of Fame became a haven for cheaters in 1937. Nothing wrong with offering a car, the problem was a commissioner that tolerated and participated in activities that compromised the outcomes of games.
   2. Sweatpants Posted: March 26, 2020 at 08:49 PM (#5933885)
Baseball didn't have a commissioner in 1910.
   3. kubiwan Posted: March 26, 2020 at 10:17 PM (#5933903)
it offered to award a new car to the batting champion of each league


In his Baseball 100 article on Nap Lajoie, Joe Posnanski insisted this oft-repeated claim is factually wrong, but rather Chalmers offered a single car to the batting champion of the majors, even noting that "In 1910, Sherry Magee won the National League batting title. He did not get a car. He was actually pretty bitter about it.".
   4. bobm Posted: March 26, 2020 at 10:55 PM (#5933909)
Chalmers – the president of the Chalmers Motor Car Company of Detroit – offered to award a new car to the player with the highest batting average in the Major Leagues in 1910. The car was to be a Chalmers Model 30, one of the most luxurious automobiles produced in that era.

Sherry Magee of the Philadelphia Phillies led the National League that year with a .331 average, but the winner of the Chalmers car was destined to come from the American League.

[...]

In the furor that followed, Chalmers gave cars to both Cobb and Lajoie. Then on April 4, 1911, Chalmers announced a change in the award structure. From that point on, Chalmers would give the award to the player who “should prove himself as the most important and useful player to his club and to the league at large in point of deportment and value of services rendered.”

Cobb won the AL version of the Chalmers Award in 1911, and three more future Hall of Famers – Tris Speaker, Walter Johnson and Eddie Collins – took home the AL award in each of the next three seasons. In the NL, Wildfire Schulte of the Chicago Cubs won the Chalmers Award in 1911, followed by New York Giants second baseman Larry Doyle in 1912, Brooklyn Dodgers first baseman Jake Daubert in 1913 and future Hall of Famer Johnny Evers of the Boston Braves in 1914.

Following the 1914 season – with the United States in a recession – the award was retired. In all, Hugh Chalmers awarded 10 cars to six future Hall of Famers. More importantly, he established a template for the Most Valuable Player Award that was resurrected by the two Major Leagues in the 1920s and then cemented by the Baseball Writers' Association of America in 1931.


Link to article on BBHOF site
   5. bbmck Posted: March 26, 2020 at 11:34 PM (#5933916)
.
   6. Perry Posted: March 27, 2020 at 01:05 AM (#5933925)
How the Hall of Fame became a haven for cheaters in 1937. Nothing wrong with offering a car, the problem was a commissioner that tolerated and participated in activities that compromised the outcomes of games.


First, as #2 said, there was no commissioner in 1910. Second, the AL president, Ban Johnson, declared Cobb the champion and had the Browns' manager fired and informally banned for life. How is that tolerating?
   7. AndrewJ Posted: March 27, 2020 at 08:06 AM (#5933943)
SPORT Magazine used to give the World Series MVP a new car. After Brooks Robinson humiliated the Reds in the 1970 Series, Johnny Bench quipped in the losers' clubhouse, "If we knew he needed a car that badly, we'd have all chipped in and bought him one."
   8. Ron J Posted: March 27, 2020 at 08:20 AM (#5933945)
#6 Was going to make the same points. The first though is a nitpick. At that time Ban Johnson was at least as powerful as any commissioner. And bbmck knows enough about baseball history that I didn't feel like jumping on him for what amounts to a conversational shorthand.

Your second point is a good one. But bbmck is right that there was at minimum a lot of soft corruption (fellowship games for instance -- and persistent allegations of more. See for example Hal Chase. Accusations against him went back a fair time) which helped set the stage for the Black Sox scandal.

Though best we can tell the situation was a generally worse in the NL. By the end of the teens there appear to have been two groups in the NL arranging fixes. Nobody really knows how many games this was.

There was a fairly massive cultural change with Landis. But Landis was more a reaction to the situation than a cure. Anybody in charge would have taken broadly similar steps. Hell, Johnson tried to outdo Landis on several notable occasions ( accepting the accusations against Ross Youngs and company. Plus of course the whole Cobb/Speaker affair)
   9. Traderdave Posted: March 27, 2020 at 11:24 AM (#5934012)

Though best we can tell the situation was a generally worse in the NL. By the end of the teens there appear to have been two groups in the NL arranging fixes. Nobody really knows how many games this was.



Elaborate, please.
   10. Ron J Posted: March 27, 2020 at 01:27 PM (#5934084)
#9 There was a group of players centered around Hal Chase (nobody really knows how many games he threw)

And then there was Buck Herzog and Heinie Zimmerman as well as Jean Dubuc, Paul Carter, Claude Hendrix, Lee Magee, Gene Paulette (that we know of) involved in attempting to fix games. (As far as I can recall the central guy was Herzog)

The last group became pretty sloppy too. It was more or less open knowledge that Hendrix had agreed to throw his August 31 start. Evidently word got back to the Cubs manager because he switched to Pete Alexander for that game (going with Hendrix on the 30th). Nasty surprise to get a 27-13 pitcher not in on the fix instead of a 9-12 pitcher who had agreed to throw the game.

Baseball being what it is, the opposition pitcher (Hack Woodward) pitched a shutout (1-0 win) so all of the gamblers who didn't get their bets cancelled won.
   11. bbmck Posted: March 27, 2020 at 02:26 PM (#5934120)
Basically from the beginnings until Landis used a handful of players as scapegoats and decreed that game fixing wouldn't be tolerated going forward you had corruption and everything I've read on Ban is that all he cared about was making money for himself. Bud Selig was very much his lineal successor in every sense so Commissioner seemed to be an apt title as opposed to President and Founding Father of the American League who held considerable power due to the support of 5 of the 8 owners until the Black Sox were too high profile to sweep under the carpet.
   12. Ron J Posted: March 27, 2020 at 02:58 PM (#5934140)
Further to #11, one of the easiest things to document is that Cap Anson bet on Cubs games. And while as far as I'm aware nobody thought he personally threw games it's a terrible precedent to have among the biggest names in the game openly flouting the rules.

Anson probably was totally clean in his betting but he helped push a culture that made it OK. And it's not too far to go to get to fellowship games (fixing games that are meaningless in the standings) and from there ...
   13. Sweatpants Posted: March 27, 2020 at 08:43 PM (#5934298)
And then there was Buck Herzog and Heinie Zimmerman as well as Jean Dubuc, Paul Carter, Claude Hendrix, Lee Magee, Gene Paulette (that we know of) involved in attempting to fix games. (As far as I can recall the central guy was Herzog)

The last group became pretty sloppy too. It was more or less open knowledge that Hendrix had agreed to throw his August 31 start. Evidently word got back to the Cubs manager because he switched to Pete Alexander for that game (going with Hendrix on the 30th). Nasty surprise to get a 27-13 pitcher not in on the fix instead of a 9-12 pitcher who had agreed to throw the game.

Baseball being what it is, the opposition pitcher (Hack Woodward) pitched a shutout (1-0 win) so all of the gamblers who didn't get their bets cancelled won.
There was also the time that Magee spectacularly failed in an attempt to throw a game. I think he might have ended up getting the game-winning hit after while spending the whole game blatantly trying to blow it.

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