Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Baseball's first $1,000,000 memorabilia

Lou Gehrig was presented with his 1936 American League MVP
Award on Aug. 3, 1937, at Yankee Stadium by George M. Cohan.

Is one of the most valuable pieces of sports memorabilia hidden away in a Texas VA hospital?

The Sporting News of June 29, 1944, reported . . . 

Gehrig’s Trophy Brings
$1,000,000 in Bond Sales
            DALLAS, Tex.—A trophy won by Lou Gehrig, former captain of the Yankees and famous Iron Horse of baseball, when he was voted the American League’s most valuable player in 1936, brought $1,000,000 in bond purchases on being auctioned during a bond-selling drive on the night of June 20.
            Mrs. Eleanor Twitchell Gehrig, widow of the player, contributed the trophy through her brother, Pfc. Frank Twitchell of the Fifth Ferrying Group, stationed in Dallas.

The winning bidder was the Dallas-based Southland Life Insurance company. On July 8, the insurance company presented the "trophy" to the patients at McCloskey General Hospital, an Army hospital in Temple, Tex. I'm unsure of what format the MVP Award took in 1936. It didn't become the Landis award  and familiar large round plaque until 1944.

Assuming the million dollar price mentioned referred to the face value of the bonds when redeemed in 10 years, the insurance company would have effectively paid $750,000 for the MVP award and would recoup the full $1,000,000 at maturity. 

According to a common inflation calculator found on the internet, $750,000 in 1944 is equivalent to about $9.8 million today. 

Mrs. Gehrig is reported to have expressed astonishment at the amount of money generated by the award's sale; she had anticipated it might bring $10,000-15,000. 

Eleanor Gehrig's contributions of Lou's memorabilia generated more than $6 million in war bond sales over the course of World War II. 

The Sporting News commented, “The spirit of Lou Gehrig, whose courage has become one of the greatest sagas of baseball, has come to Temple, Tex., as a lasting inspiration to thousands of young Americans wounded in the service of their country.” 

McCloskey General Hospital was activated in June, 1942, at Temple, about 30 miles east of Ft. Hood. The hospital was named for Maj. James A. McCloskey, who was killed on Bataan on March 26, 1942, the first regular United States Army doctor to lose his life in World War II.

The hospital was one of the army's largest and was noted as a center for orthopedic cases, amputations, and neurosurgery. The number of patients at the peak of admissions was more than 5,000.

In May, 1946, the hospital was turned over to the Veterans Administration and became a general medical and surgical center. It has been enlarged and modernized over the years.

In 1979 the McCloskey Veterans Administration Center was renamed in honor of Olin E. Teague, who served as Chairman of the Committee on Veterans Affairs in the U.S. House of Representatives for 18 years.

My cursory poking around the internet failed to turn up information on the current whereabouts of Gehrig's 1936 MVP award; hell, it may still be on display at the VA hospital.

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