Friday, September 30, 2011

Baseball, Hugh Chalmers and the MVP Award

by Nancy DeWitt
© Luke Johnson/Southcreek Global

Two nights ago the sports world watched an astonishing drama unfold during the final games of Major League Baseball's regular season. Tom Verducci of Sports Illustrated aptly described it as "the most thrilling 129 minutes in baseball history." With the Atlanta Braves, Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees less than three outs away from winning their respective games, fans witnessed a series of spectacular, come-from-behind plays that propelled the Philadelphia Phillies, Baltimore Orioles and Tampa Bay Rays to victory.

What does this have to do with antique automobiles? Well, there's a good chance that the 2011 Most Valuable Player (MVP) awards presented by the American and National Leagues will go to athletes that played in Wednesday night's games. And, it just so happens that baseball's first MVP award originated with an automobile company. Just over 100 years ago, the Chalmers Motor Car Company cleverly decided to promote their cars by piggy-backing onto baseball's popularity at the time. In 1910, president Hugh Chalmers announced that the player from each league with the highest batting average would be presented with a trophy and brand-new Chalmers Model Thirty. Controversy soon surrounded the American League's top contenders, Ty Cobb and Napoleon Lajoie, which Chalmers sidestepped by awarding each a new car.

Photo courtesy of the Creamer Family
Hugh Chalmers soon lost interest in the award and ended it in 1914, but not before broadening its scope to award "the most important and useful player to his club." The Chalmers Motor Car Company would meet its own demise in 1924 after producing 6,525 automobiles. Fewer than 150 of those survive today, one of which is generously on loan to our museum by the Creamer family. This 1910 Chalmers-Detroit Model K "30" Roadster has a rich Fairbanks history, arriving here in 1912 by way of steamship, rail car and sternwheel riverboat. It eventually passed to Charlie Creamer, owner of the northernmost operating dairy in America. Besides appearing in numerous parades, this treasured automobile was the first car to travel across two new Chena River bridges when they opened in 1953 and 1960.

While it remains to be determined who will be remembered as baseball's Most Valuable Players from 2011, this Chalmers-Detroit has already established itself as one of Alaska's most valuable automotive artifacts. While she still needs work to get her in top running condition, hopefully she will be ready to run in next year's Golden Days Parade--exactly 100 years after her arrival in this fair city.

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