Oct. 31, 2011
Baseball Hall of Fame President, Jeff Idelson, and Hall Communications Director, Brad Horn, spent the week at the World Series hoping to secure artifact donations from Cardinal and Ranger players and they ended up walking away with quite a haul. Both headed back to Cooperstown with the ultimate Series prize of David Freese’s shredded Cardinal jersey worn for his Game 6-winning home run. The Hall officials somehow tracked down pieces of the jersey that was torn by Freese’s teammates as he crossed home plate and, thanks to a generous donation by the Cardinal hero, its next destination is a display case in Cooperstown.
But just as one artifact is added to the Hall’s impressive collection, another is apparently hitting the auction block in the Texas Rangers’ own backyard, at Heritage Auction Galleries in Dallas. Slated for sale in its November auction is yet another rare document that may have been stolen from the National Baseball Library as part of a massive theft in Cooperstown during the 1980s.
Lot 80923 is a 1924 letter addressed to National League president John Heydler from Pittsburgh Pirate owner and Hall of Famer Barney Dreyfus and related to a questionable call by umpires in a protested game. Dreyfus, who was forwarding the league the written statement of his manager, Bill McKechnie,wrote, “The failure of the two umpires to see where the ball went when the other 12,000 people in the park did is a disgrace.” Authentic letters written by the Hall of Famer are scarce and have commanded sale prices topping $10,000. Heritage currently has a bid on the letter for $1,912.
The letter is strikingly similar to several documents that have been offered at auction by Heritage, the auction house that employs Antiques Roadshow appraiser Mike Gutierrez as a consignment director. Gutierrez was a prime suspect in a 1980s FBI investigation into thefts that occurred at the Hall of Fame. Over the past two years Heritage has offered and withdrawn similar letters written by Hall of Famers Charles Comiskey, Ban Johnson, Joe Tinker, Fred Clarke, Ed Barrow and Kenesaw Mountain Landis that are believed to have originated from the Hall of Fame’s famous August Herrmann Papers archive, perhaps the largest single holding of baseball correspondence and documents known to exist. The collection features the personal and business files of Reds owner August Herrmann who was also the head of Baseball’s ruling body, the National Commission, before the game had a Commissioner. The archive was discovered by Reds owner Powell Crosley Jr. in a storage room at Crosley Field and was donated to the Hall in 1960.
The National Baseball Library was the final destination for Herrmann’s special case-files of documents related to protested games in the National League between 1902 to 1926. Each protested contest case was decided by the National Commission and featured correspondence and affidavits from players, managers, umpires and ownership related to each game. However, likely due to the thefts in the 1980s, many of the game files have incomplete records and others are missing. It is believed that many of the valuable documents from this collection have made their way into some of the nation’s top private collections.
The Heritage auction features Dreyfus’ letter to John Heydler and references his enclosing the statement of his manager, Bill McKechnie.
However, other letters written by Dreyfus to Heydler and statements from McKechnie regarding protested contests still reside in Cooperstown as part of the Herrmann archive and its “Protested Games” section. So why isn’t Heritage’s Dreyfus letter available for researchers at the Hall’s A. Bartlett Giamatti Research Center along with the others he wrote to League presidents between 1902 and 1926?
Those letters Dreyfus penned to NL Presidents Heydler, John Tener and T. J. Lynch are still found in the Herrmann Papers archive at Cooperstown and serve as evidence illustrating how the National Baseball Library was the target of a large-scale theft of historic documents. One such document that eluded thieves is another Dreyfus letter addressed to Heydler and is dated May 10, 1909. It is still part of Herrmann’s original treasure-trove.
Heritage’s current offering is not the first Dreyfus letter believed to have been stolen from the Hall of Fame or to appear at public auction. In 2008, another example, also addressed to NL President John Heydler, sold for $9,000 at Mastro Auctions. The letter is dated, May 25, 1909, just two weeks after the letter that is still part of the Hall of Fame’s collection.
Protested game letters believed to originate from the Hall of Fame’s collection have also appeared at other auctions including Clean Sweep, SportsCards Plus, Robert Edward Auctions, Lelands, Hunt Auctions, Christies, Mike Gutierrez Auctions, Richard Wolfers, Superior and the 1999 Sotheby’s sale of the Barry Halper Collection.
Many of the suspect documents trace back to the Halper Collection, which has been documented as including many items stolen from the Hall of Fame, the New York Public Library and the Boston Public Library. In particular, the 1999 Halper sale featured another protested game letter addressed to John Heydler in 1923 by Boston Braves President Christy Mathewson.
An examination of the Hall of Fame’s Herrmann archive shows that all of the valuable protest correspondence from Mathewson as the Reds manager and the Boston team president appears to have been removed from the files, while less valuable documents from utility players and officials remain in Cooperstown.
For example, the Hall’s Herrmann Papers archive still includes the July 4, 1923 statement from Mathewson’s manager, Fred Mitchell, written just five days before Mathewson’s letter to Heydler. Both letters focus on a play involving a Brave player named Fournier during the same protested game. How could one letter still be at Cooperstown and the other have made its way into the Halper Collection? (Another Mathewson protest letter written as the Reds manager in 1916 sold at an REA sale in 2000 for $3,701.)
A source who requested anonymity, told us that Halper acquired several of his National League ”protested game letters” and other correspondence addressed to August Herrmann directly from Mike Gutierrez . Gutierrez also authenticated all of Halper’s “protest letters” and August Herrmann correspondence for the 1999 Halper sale as a Sotheby’s expert consultant for autographed materials.
Gutierrez was a known supplier to Halper as evidenced in the 2010 SABR article, Stumped by the Storyteller, by Ron Cobb. Cobb revealed in his article, “Al Stump, (who) was actively trying to sell Cobb memorabilia, worked with Mike Gutierrez on selling the Cobb items that Stump supplied. Many of the items were sold to Barry Halper.” Cobb also revealed that the items Gutierrez sold Halper were forgeries executed by Stump, himself.
Another collector, who also requested anonymity, revealed for us that he purchased other letters addressed to August Herrmann directly from Gutierrez. In addition, the first suspected Herrmann letters appeared at public auction in the early 1990s at Superior Galleries in Beverly Hills, California. At the time of those offerings Gutierrez was employed by Superior.
The mystery surrounding the origins of the “protest letters” being offered for sale at auction has added to the Hall of Fame controversy. None of the auction houses have answers as to the provenance of their offered documents and the Hall of Fame has failed to explain why the documents are no longer in their collection.
Heritage’s Director of Sports Auctions, Chris Ivy, did not have any answers for us regarding the provenance of his offered Dreyfus “protest letter.” All he could do was ask us, “If the letter originated from the HOF, then it will be removed from the auction. You write that it is believed to have originated from the HOF, what evidence to you have to support that claim?”
After receiving previous inquiries by Haulsofshame.com in the past two years Ivy, to his credit, has removed several letters suspected to have been stolen from the Hall of Fame. Some of those have been protest letters, one of which was another Pittsburgh Pirate statement issued by manager Fred Clarke.
Ivy also had no answers for us as to what has happened to the lots removed from prior Heritage auctions and whether the Hall of Fame has attempted to recover those suspected Herrmann items withdrawn from sales.
Likewise, Hall of Fame spokesperson Brad Horn and President Jeff Idelson did not respond to our inquiries about the Dreyfus “protest letter” or any of the prior items withdrawn from Heritage sales. When the last suspected Herrmann item surfaced for sale at Clean Sweep Auctions this past February, the Hall failed to pursue recovery of the document as Horn told Clean Sweep’s Steve Verkman, “There is insufficient information for us to unequivocally state that these were stolen from the Hall of Fame.” Sources indicate that Horn made that statement without the Hall having conducted their own investigation into the thefts.
In regard to selling the suspect letter, written by Cardinal owner Sam Breadon, Verkman also told us in February, “The Hall of Fame also distinctly did not ask for it back in any way, or for it to be removed from the auction, only that they welcome it, along with anything else of potential historic value as a donation as they are the main repository of baseball history in the U.S.” In response to the Hall of Fame’s failure to pursue the items in Clean Sweep’s auction Lelands’ president Josh Evans told us, “ “Now they are complicit in their own degradation.”
Evans was the first person to link current Heritage employee Mike Gutierrez to the sale of an item stolen from the National Baseball Library in 1988 when he purchased a Babe Ruth signed photo from Gutierrez featuring a Hall of Fame library accession number covered by white-out. According to an ex-Hall of Fame official, an investigation was then commenced by the FBI at the urging of head librarian Tom Heitz. Evans was interviewed by FBI agents who came to his NYC office and Gutierrez was investigated as a suspect because of his sale of the Ruth photo. The FBI also learned that Gutierrez had spent considerable time researching in the National Baseball Library during the mid-1980s.
A friend who accompanied Gutierrez on a trip to the Hall of Fame’s library told the FBI he was an eyewitness to actual thefts. Josh Evans says the eyewitness also told him that he saw Gutierrez “steal a Nap Lajoie letter from the (August) Herrmann archive.” Evans told us earlier this year, “He told me how he did it, he (Gutierrez) would take ten original letters, photocopying them, returning nine originals and putting one original and nine photocopies in his briefcase.” An ex-Hall of Fame official told us that Gutierrez was one of the only people to have unsupervised access to the Herrmann Papers archive in the 1980s.
Ex-Hall of Fame employee Bill Deane, who worked in the library at that time, also told us earlier this year “After Tom (Heitz) brought it to the attention of the brass, they said (Gutierrez) is not allowed here.” The ex-Hall of Fame official we spoke with stated that Gutierrez was banned from the National Baseball Library. Although the case against Gutierrez appeared strong, (including a claim of witness tampering), the Hall of Fame refused to file charges or follow through with prosecution. The ex-official we spoke with earlier this year told us, “They just didn’t want any negative p.r. to scare away past and potential donors. The old leadership just wanted to run and hide.”
Twenty-three years later the current leadership at the Hall appears to be running and hiding as well, hoping that the memories of the 1980s heist will just fade away. But with each auction offering of the suspected stolen documents, that memory is kept alive by outfits like Heritage and others who continue to ignore the tell-tale signs of Hall of Fame ownership and the non-existent provenance furnished by their consignors.
What the Hall of Fame appears to fear most is that the admission of its failure to safeguard donated artifacts in the past will negatively effect their ability to secure donations in the future. That the next World Series hero might think twice before handing over his championship treasures from the Fall Classic to Hall officials.
Considering the Hall of Fame may have lost well over $1 million in donated materials under their custodianship, those fears are surely warranted.
(UPDATE, Nov. 3, 2011: Chris Ivy, Director of Sports Auctions at Heritage Auction Galleries, has informed us that the 1924 Protest Letter written by Hall of Famer Barney Dreyfus has been removed from their current November sale. No further information was available in regard to the provenance of the document. The Baseball Hall of Fame has yet to issue a statement or comment on the withdrawal.)