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November 18, 2008
by Ryan Hudson
Yesterday, Albert Pujols of the St. Louis Cardinals was selected as the 2008 National League MVP. To some, it was surprising, given that the Cardinals finished fourth in the Central Division, 11 ½ games out of first-place, and the man who finished second, Ryan Howard, not only led the Phillies to the N.L. East crown and the second-best record in the league, but he also led all of baseball in both home runs and RBI.
Amazingly, he is just the second player in the history of the award to lead MLB in homers and RBI for a team that advanced to the postseason, but still not win the MVP award for his efforts. But the MVP-argument is hardly something new to baseball, and it will no doubt continue today when the A.L. winner is announced.
In Pictures: Baseball's Most Controversial MVP Winners
The Most Valuable Player Award was born in controversy. The first effort to reward baseball’s best came in 1910, when the Chalmers Automobile Company decided to give a Chalmers Model 30 to the leading batter in each league. The American League battle was tight, only a few points separating Ty Cobb and Napoleon Lajoie on the season’s last day. Cobb was widely hated around the league, and the St. Louis Browns, in an effort to boost Lajoie’s final statistics, kept their third baseman unusually deep when Lajoie was batting; Lajoie tripled in his first at bat, then bunted for seven more hits during the doubleheader, bringing his average to .384.
There was an immediate outcry over the suspected collaboration, and Browns manager Jack O’Connor, who had ordered the rookie third baseman to play on the outfield grass, never managed again in the major leagues. It appeared that Lajoie’s (and O’Connor’s) efforts would win him the title, but AL President Ban Johnson announced that a discrepancy had been found in the records for Cobb, raising his average to a fractional point above Lajoie’s.
Chalmers wound up giving a car to both Lajoie and Cobb, and the National Baseball Commission decided to prevent future manipulations by creating the Chalmers Award for each league’s Most Valuable Player, as determined by vote of a committee of baseball writers.
The exact meaning of “most valuable” has never been determined, and this has caused some curious results, like most things decided by vote. We’ve chosen ten of baseball’s most controversial MVP selections through the years.