Welcome to my new series for Dodgers Nation, the Dodgers NL MVP Annals! In each installment, I will take an in-depth look at every single MVP season by a Dodger and the player who won it. The Dodgers franchise can currently lay claim to 13 National League MVP winners, won by 11 different players. These span from 1913 to 2014, starting in the lean nascent days in Brooklyn to the Guggenheim Era in Los Angeles today.
They say there’s nothing like your first. Even after 135 seasons and 13 National League MVP awards in their lineage, the Dodgers have indeed never had a player like the man who won their first iteration of the most valuable player honor in 1913. His name was Jacob Ellsworth Daubert, a sturdy first baseman who embodied the franchise’s ethos of superior play and professional integrity in its early years.
Born in Shamokin, Pennsylvania in 1884, Daubert was a man whose baseball and working class sensibilities were dually forged in the coal mines of his home state. It wasn’t merely an offseason or pre-baseball occupation: it was quite literally Daubert’s heritage. His father and two older brothers were miners, and by age 12 he was already working as a breaker boy.
While many ball players spend their youth learning baseball uninterrupted, it was merely a weekend hobby for Daubert. When he wasn’t swinging a bat on the baseball diamond, he was primarily swinging a sledgehammer to dislodge coal from age 16 onward. So dedicated was he to mining that he didn’t even consider baseball as a full-time occupation until his wife persuaded him. Starting with a semi-pro team of fellow miners in 1906, Daubert eventually reached the majors in 1910 when he signed with the Brooklyn Superbas (one of many names the team alternated between, including the Dodgers, before settling on their eternal moniker in the early ‘30s).
After a decent start as first baseman in 1910, he became a top player in the next two seasons. It all came together in 1913, leading the National League with a robust .350 batting average. Baseball writers voted to recognize him as “the most important and useful player to the club and to the league,” giving him what is now the National League MVP. The award, which started two years prior in 1911, was then called the Chalmers Award due to sponsorship from Chalmers Automobile. Daubert thus received one of the namesake automobiles, but was hesitant in accepting it as he didn’t know how to drive.
Three years after winning the franchise’s first MVP award, Daubert led them to their first National League pennant in 1916. His .316 average was the best on the team, which finally made the World Series after years of watching teams like the Cubs, Pirates and arch-rival New York Giants win it. Awaiting Brooklyn, however, was a Red Sox team with a pitching rotation of Babe Ruth, Dutch Leonard, Carl Mays, Ernie Shore, and Rube Foster. In an outcome all too familiar to Los Angeles fans in the present day, Daubert and the rest of the batters were silenced by Boston’s cadre of aces in just five games.
Daubert was, by every measure, a superb baseball player. Yet his greatest contribution to the game wasn’t his hitting or fielding, but rather his trailblazing advocacy for the union rights of baseball players. In 1913, his MVP year, he served as vice president of the Baseball Players’ Fraternity, which demanded rights such as freedom to negotiate with any team after unconditional release, proper notice before unconditional release, and teams providing uniforms and shoes free of charge. MLB executives didn’t give in to any of their demands, however, and labor conditions for players would remain oppressive for decades.
In hindsight, Daubert’s brave championing of labor is a perfect antecedent to similar chapters in Dodgers lore, such as Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier in 1947 and especially Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale’s 1966 salary holdout setting the tone for labor advancements in baseball soon thereafter. It was certainly becoming of the Pennsylvanian coal miner’s character, known for selflessly dismissing his fantastic playing accomplishments and using his player’s salary to support his father as well as his wife and children.
For Daubert himself, however, his unionization efforts yielded negative consequences. He became known as a “troublemaker” throughout baseball for his unrelenting demands, and when he thus got into a salary dispute with Brooklyn owner Charles Ebbets in 1918, he was swiftly traded to the Cincinnati Reds. Despite finishing with career totals of 2,326 hits, 1,128 fielding assists, 165 triples, and a .303 average (hitting over .300 in ten seasons), he has yet to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, which some believe to be a result of his uncompromising work for players’ rights.
All the same, his sale to Cincinnati ended up being a blessing, as he not only won a World Series with them right away in 1919, but served as team captain for the rest of his career there. But it would be a career cut short, as he fell ill during the 1924 season. An appendectomy after season’s end only led to complications, dying one week later on October 9, 1924 with his family and teammates at his bedside. It was later revealed a hereditary blood disorder contributed to his sudden passing.
Almost a century after his death, Daubert remains a tragic, overlooked figure in baseball history. In the vast sweep of Dodgers lore, he is an original, winning their first NL MVP and leading the offense of their first World Series team. His consistently brilliant play in the Deadball Era, coupled with his ahead-of-the-curve advocacy for unionization, merit long overdue enshrinement in the Baseball Hall of Fame.