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By Peter J. Nash

Dec. 25, 2012

"Enter the Sideshow" was the title of this 1983 book about circus freaks that Bill Mastro co-authored with ex-partner Rob Lifson. The title could also describe the 2012 news coverage of the Mastro FBI probe and indictment.

As the year winds down and we move forward into 2013 its time to look back at the top stories covered by in 2012.

They include the anticipated guilty plea of once hobby-king Bill Mastro and our reports leading up to his indictment as well as the revelation by a prominent source in baseball alleging that deceased collector and New York Yankee owner, Barry Halper, was the mastermind behind the massive heist of baseball artifacts from the NYPLs famous Spalding Collection. Items stolen from the collection continued to appear in sales by Heritage and Legendary while other rare photos and documents stolen from the Baseball Hall of Fame appeared in sales by Heritage, Huggins & Scott and Clean Sweep. The cover-up of the thefts by current Hall of Fame leadership was also exposed and our reporting made waves with additional reports published by Deadspin.

The third-party authentication companies, PSA and JSA, were further exposed for their sub-standard work after it was revealed in our reports they authenticated numerous forgeries of Ty Cobb, Christy Mathewson and other Hall of Famers, which also led to further reports published by Deadspin. All of the authentication malpractice has talk of both companies being scrutinized by the FBI.

The authentications of big-ticket forgeries in 2012 by Jimmy Spence (right) and JSA have attracted the interest of the FBI. (Photo by MEARS)

2012 also saw the most expensive Babe Ruth jersey of all-time sell for $4.4 mil, thanks to analysis by Dave Grob, and the Babe stayed in the headlines with the recovery of his stolen will and more reports of Ruth forgeries and the Bambino’s controversial 1927 World Series ring owned by actor Charlie Sheen. Speaking of rings, multiple 1951 World Series rings attributed to the Yankee Clipper were examined in the NY Post.

Special thanks to our loyal readers who have helped our readership nearly double in 2012.  A Happy and Healthy New Year to all in 2013!

Here are our– Top-10 STORIES OF THE YEAR 2012:

1.  The Mastro Indictment and Guilty Plea- In June, we published part one of our 10-part series about the Bill Mastro FBI probe and its ties to the infamous Gretzky-McNall T206 Wagner: How The NY Daily News And Rob Lifson Took Down Mastro And The Real Story Of The Infamous Honus Wagner “Card”(Part 1 in a 10-Part Series)Update: Mastro Indicted After the indictment in August we followed up with:Source: Mastro Caught on Fed Wiretap About Trimming Honus Wagner; Rob Lifson Knew Card Was A Fraud When He Sold It With Mastro For $1.26 Mil (Part II of a 10-Part Series) and then we added: PSA & CU Targeted By Feds; Fraud On T206 Wagner Just Tip Of Iceberg; Heritage’s $300k Babe Ruth Ball A Forgery? Pres. Truman Drops Single-Signed Bomb; “Clueless Joe” Orlando Silent More to come in 2013.

Rob Lifson (left) outbid Bill Mastro (center) at Christie's and took home the trimmed Wagner card for $651,500 in 1995. Lifson and Mastro sold the card together in 2000 when their company MastroNet auctioned it off for $1.27 million.

2. Source Alleges Barry Halper Was Mastermind Behind NYPL Thefts- In April we published a report about Heritage Auction Galleries sale of an 1879 Boston baseball contract that had been stolen from the NYPL’s collection and sold to collector Seth Swirsky at the 1999 Halper Collection auction at Sotheby’s.  In the article we also revealed allegations made by a source we interviewed with knowledge of Barry Halper orchestrating the thefts at the NYPL because the material was “there for the taking.” : Auction is Selling Stolen Baseball Relic: Source Says Halper Was Mastermind of Million-Dollar Heist at Library (Update) Then, in October, Heritage offered another item stolen from the NYPL’s Henry Chadwick scrapbook collection that was also purchased at the Halper sale in 1999: Heritage Pulls Father of Baseball’s Season-Pass Swiped From NYPL Archive; Traced Back to Sotheby’s Sale and Dead Yankee Partner Barry Halper

Illustrating and confirming how serious the NYPL theft problem is in the hobby a rare 1869 Cincinnati Red Stockings Peck & Snyder trade card was also withdrawn from Legendary’s auction at the National.  The card was expected to sell for $40,000 to $50,000 and was examined by an FBI agent on site who confirmed that the NYPL’s defaced ownership stamp was still on the card and was revealed under ultraviolet light provided by JSA.  But although the FBI and NYPL were assured recovery of the 1869 card they dropped the ball on a stolen cabinet photo of Al Reach that was offered in 2011 on eBay.  After taking possession of the card the FBI returned it to the eBay seller despite overwhelming evidence that suggested it was library property.  The card sold on eBay for close to $2,000 and despite a poor job by the US Attorney’s working the NYPL theft case, the card will end up being returned to its rightful owner, NYPL.  More on this in 2013.

Super collector Barry Halper was called the "Sultan of Swap" by Sports Illustrated in 1995, but a source alleges he admitted to being the man behind the infamous NYPL heist in the 1970s.

3. PSA Incompetence Exposed With Cobb Forgeries- A series of stunning blunders was made by major authenticator PSA/DNA in relation to numerous alleged Ty Cobb autographed items.  PSA authenticated as genuine several forgeries including: a laser copy signature that they encapsulated in one of its certified holders; several autographed baseballs and bats; forgeries on photographs of a Cobb teammate; a signature signed by Cobb’s wife on a check; and a baseball that was manufactured after the “Georgia Peach” kicked the bucket.  The last instance made big news when our story was published on Deadspin: Why Is The Country’s Largest Auction House Selling A “Ty Cobb Signed” Baseball That Wasn’t Made Until 15 Years After Ty Cobb Died?

The three alleged Cobb cuts were removed from an authentic check and authenticated by PSA/DNA. They were submitted at the same time as evidenced by their successive PSA registry numbers. PSA said the signature to the far left was also signed by Cobb, but it was written by his wife.

4. Stolen Hall of Fame Treasures Sold While Cooperstown Cover-Up Continues- Amid denials and a lack of institutional fortitude rare photos and documents stolen from the National Baseball Hall of Fame continued to appear regularly in national auctions during 2012.  Most notable was a $20,000 Carl Horner cabinet photo of Nap Lajoie that appeared for sale in a Heritage auction and was covered by us for Deadspin: This Rare Photo, Up For Auction, Was Stolen From The Baseball Hall Of Fame

This $20,000 Nap Lajoie cabinet card stolen from the HOF shows a defaced accession number and a defaced Hall public domain designation "PD" on its reverse.

Later reports by illustrated that Heritage also sold a stolen photo of the 1886 NY Giants for close to $11,000 in a 2006 auction. But the most troubling aspect of the HOF thefts is the museum’s failure to claim title and pursue recovery of documents appearing to have been stolen from the NBLs August Herrmann Papers Collection and sold at Clean Sweep and Huggins & Scott Auctions.  In fact, two letters sold by Huggins & Scott in December had been removed from a Heritage sale in 2010 after a report identified them as having been wrongfully removed from Cooperstown.

Auctioneer Steve Verkman sells letters addressed to August Herrmann from the HOFs collection.

5. Babe Ruth’s 1920 Yankee Jersey Sets Record Selling To Leland’s For $4.4 mil- Uniform expert and historian Dave Grob, of MEARS, gave our readers some insight into his authentication of the most valuable garment in baseball history: Babe Ruth’s 1920 Yankee Road Jersey: Authenticating The World’s Most Expensive Baseball Artifact . Media coverage of the sale was significant and after SCP autioneer David Kohler hung up on WFAN and YES Network host, Mike Francesa, after he was challenged on the garments authenticity, Grob was called and lent his expertise to a wide audience of sports fans.

6. Babe Ruth’s Stolen Will Returned to NYC Courthouse- The Babe stayed in the news when New York State’s Attorney General successfully recovered the Babe’s will from hobby veteran Mark Lewis via litigation.  The will had been missing since the 1990s when Boston court officer Joe Schnabel was convicted for stealing the wills of scores of HOFers.  Read more: Safe At Home: Babe Ruth’s Stolen Will Recovered By NY Attorney General; Jackie Robinson’s Will Still Missing

The Bambino's shaky signature (above) is part of his 1948 will that has been recovered by the NY State Attorney General.

7.  The Magically Appearing Honus Wagner Autograph- Authenticator Jimmy Spence was exposed for an incredible double authentication of a 1939 signed first day cover from Cooperstown.  When he authenticated it for Mastro the first time the Wagner signature was rated a 2 out 0f 10, but the second time it improved to an 8 out of 10.  See it to believe it: Honus Pocus: Magical Honus Wagner Autograph Uncovers Authentication Malpractice; Jimmy Spence: “Clueless or Criminal”?

When Jimmy Spence authenticated the 1939 cover on the right you could barely see evidence of an alleged Honus Wagner signature. But when the same cover appeared at a later date the Wagner signature magically darkened without Spence noticing as he authenticated the piece.

8. JSA and PSA Mathewson Authentication Mess and Mystery- Mistakes made by Jimmy Spence and PSA as far back as 1999 are coming back to haunt JSA and PSA/DNA as Mathewson forgeries proliferate the marketplace.  Our series on the Matty autograph controversy included:Signed Baseballs Of “Big Six” Sell For Six Figures But Are They Real? A History Of Christy Mathewson Authentications (Part 1 of 2) and The Mystery Of The Mathewson Signed Baseballs: The 1921 Polo Grounds Auction (Part 1 of 3) While PSA is currently under scrutiny for its role in the authentication and grading of the trimmed T206 Wagner, the company and its competitor, James Spence Authentication (JSA), have caught the eye of the FBI with their authentications of forgeries.  JSAs credibility came into question again in October when we published: Despite JSA Debacles Auction Stands 100% Behind Spence LOA of “Matty Miracle Ball”; A History of Mathewson Authentications Part II.

Robert Edward Auctions (REA) hit a new low when they advertised that an alleged Mathewson ball they sold was signed by Matty at  a 1923 benefit game at the Polo Grounds.  The New York Times reported that Matty was in a sick bed at Saranac Lake on that day and, although REA was notified of this fact, they failed to correct their fraudulent auction listing and sold the ball for $37,500.

These two alleged Mathewson balls were offered by SCP (left) and REA (right). Both were authenticated by JSA, but what's the chance they are genuine?

9.  Halper Controversy Continues As More Frauds Are Investigated and Exposed- Once considered the gold standard of the industry the “ex-Halper” tag followed several items to auction and with it came controversy and scrutiny.  An alleged 1951 World Series ring attributed to Joe DiMaggio failed to sell at Hunt Auctions; the alleged 1947 World Series last out ball from Bill Bevens sold at Heritage; and a Tiger jersey sold by REA in 2007 was exposed as a former Halper collection forgery attributed to Ty Cobb: Rickey Being Rickey in a Phony Ty Cobb Uni: Halper Set His Own All-Time Record for Steals.  Last but not least, Halper’s 1927 World Series ring attributed to Babe Ruth stirred up some more drama: Is Charlie Sheen’s “Winning Ring” Linked To A Mob-Hit And A Ruthian Unsolved Mystery.

The same jersey Rickey Henderson wore in the 1985 TSN photo shoot appeared in the 2007 REA sale for the Halper Estate.

10.  Expert Ron Keurajian and MacFarland Release Long-Awaited Autograph Handbook- For the past few years expert Ron Keurajian has opined on a number of controversial signatures featured in our investigative reports and has helped expose the flaws of the TPAs that are accepted widely as the industry authorities. In November Keurajian’s acclaimed book,  Baseball Hall of Fame Autographs: A Reference Book, was made available to the public and for the first time provided collectors with a useful tool to understand Hall of Famer signatures and view iron clad exemplars of the enshrined greats.  Readers will see that many of the exemplars have virtually no resemblance to many autographs authenticated by the TPAs and sold by major auction houses.

Keurajian's book includes some seldom seen and quite possibly unique exemplars for rare HOFers like John Clarkson. Clarkson is perhaps the most elusive and valuable HOF autograph known to exist. (MacFarland)

The 2012 “Scam Artifact of the Year”:

These photographs are of the same single-signed Harry Truman baseball. On the left is how it looked when it sold at MastroNet in 2001. On the right is how it appeared at EAC Galleries in 2005 as the "finest example extant" with a provenance from PSA and JSA authenticator John Reznikoff. This discovery courtesy of Steve Koschal and his book about presidential baseball signatures.

By Peter J. Nash
Dec. 14, 2012

This 1886 cabinet photo of Jim Mutrie's NY Giants provides a window into the HOF heist.

For the past few years we’ve been writing about the infamous thefts from the Baseball Hall of Fame on a regular basis as suspect items continue to appear in auctions and online sales. Letters addressed to August Herrmann and MLB officials have appeared and subsequently been withdrawn from sales at Robert Edward Auctions and Heritage Auction Galleries after being identified as having originated from the National Baseball Library’s Herrmann Papers archive. That being said, other Herrmann letters have appeared in Steve Verkman’s Clean Sweep Auctions and, although they’ve been identified as having been part of the same archive, they have been sold without the Hall of Fame claiming title to the documents.

Last night auctioneer Huggins & Scott sold two more documents believed to have been stolen from the Herrmann archive written by HOFers Joe Tinker and Fred Clarke.  Both of those letters were previously offered and withdrawn from a Heritage auction in April of 2010.  The Hall of Fame’s Herrmann/Tinker file found in folder 40 of box 28 includes over 20 letters written by Tinker to Herrmann from 1920 to 1926. The Huggins & Scott Tinker letter is dated Sept. 3, 1924 and, like the letters still at the Hall, contains content related to the Reds spring training facility.   As for Clarke’s letter to president Harry Pulliam regarding the protested game, Box 44 of the Hall’s Herrmann archive includes an entire file dedicated to this specific game.  It appears that despite the withdrawal of the letters from Heritage, the Hall of Fame never recovered the documents or claimed title despite the overwhelming evidence that the documents appeared to originate from its Herrmann treasure trove.

Despite the fact that Verkman and the consignors cannot present verifiable provenance for the offered documents, the auctioneer feels justified in selling off the suspected contraband since the Hall of Fame did not pursue recovery or attempt to thwart the sale. To the contrary, Verkman has said that Hall spokesperson, Brad Horn, told him the museum could not definitively say that the documents he was selling were stolen from Cooperstown.  Horn has never publicly confirmed that he made that statement to Verkman.  This week Verkman sold off another letter to Herrmann from Boston Braves owner Emil Fuchs. The letter sold for $138 and Verkman’s commission was roughly $50 bucks. The letters Verkman has sold have not been very valuable, a few hundred dollars each, but other items sold by his competitors have.

Huggins & Scott sold the Clarke letter for only $475 and the Tinker letter for $1,100.  In 1999, another suspect Clarke protest letter sold for $3,162 at Sotheby’s and in 2008 a 1948 Joe Tinker letter (also suspected stolen from the Hall) sold for $4,800 at Legendary.  The poor showing for the two letters in the H&S sale suggest that savvy and informed collectors are avoiding purchasing documents believed to have been stolen from institutions. learned about the sale of the Huggins & Scott letters last night and on short notice auction VP, Josh Wulkan, said he was unaware the letters were withdrawn from Heritage due to title issues.  Said Wulkan, “This is the first I’m hearing of this.  I can say we would not have offered these if we knew they were withdrawn from another auction with title issues.”  Wulkan said he was unaware of the consignor ever informing the auction house of the previous withdrawal from Heritage.

The Hall has had a tougher time denying that thefts occurred when it comes to rare photographs considering several examples of images that have been sold bore marks and identifications that clearly identified the items as Hall of Fame property and were stolen from the institution. A Horner cabinet photo of Nap Lajoie that once sold for over $17,000 at Mastro Auctions had a defaced library accession number and a “PD” mark on the reverse placed there originally by librarians. A Falk cabinet photo of Christy Mathewson also sold at Mastro for over $10,000 and featured the library accession number covered with white-out and the same “PD” mark as well. An ultra rare Joseph Hall cabinet photo of “Smilin” Mickey Welch, a Hall of Fame hurler for Jim Mutrie’s champion New York Giants of the 1880s, was withdrawn from a Robert Edward Auctions sale because it had the same Hall of Fame ownership marks on its reverse. Sources indicate that all three of these gems have since returned to Cooperstown. Mickey is finally “Smilin’”.

This SGC-graded 1891 Jos. Hall cabinet photo of Smilin'Mickey Welch offered by REA in 2010 was stolen from the Hall of Fame as evidenced by the defaced accession number and "PD" mark that was altered to read "BOB."

But it is another photograph also featuring the portrait of Smilin’ Mickey Welch and Jim Mutrie’s Giants that illustrates the lengths someone has gone to swipe history and the true magnitude of the Cooperstown heist that estimates has totaled well over $1 million in losses of donated artifacts for the Hall.

Back in 1984 SABR published a review of nineteenth-century baseball photography called The National Pastime and on page 52 featured an image of Jim Mutrie’s 1886 New York Giants Base Ball Club. The photograph was a composite of portraits of the Giants surrounding Mutrie and was created by the New York photographic studio of J. Wood. The image was clearly credited to the Hall of Fame with the designation “NBL” accompanying the image which was housed at the National Baseball Library.

Sixteen years later a similar image of the club appeared for sale in a Sports Collectors Digest auction conducted by hobby veteran Lew Lipset in 2000. It appeared to be the same type of composite that was featured in the SABR publication. Upon closer inspection, however, it appeared that both photographs may have been the same example based upon the lot description which said the card featured “A light stain in the lower left and a small scrape at the top near the image of Gerhardt, which has been skillfully redrawn.”

John Thorn and Mark Rucker edited the 1984 SABR photographic revue and conducted photo shoots at the Hall of Fame, New York Public Library and also at the homes of several collectors who were willing to contribute to the project, including Lew Lipset. The original black & white contact sheets for those photo shoots have survived and an examination of one particular Kodak sheet marked “HOF-9″ reveals the 1886 photograph used on page 52 of the SABR review.

This is the 1886 cabinet as it appeared on the B&W Kodak contact sheet for the 1983 SABR photo shoot at the HOF. This image was cropped and appeared on page 52 of "The National Pastime."

In April of 2005, the same 1886 J. Wood cabinet photo of Mutrie’s Giants appeared for sale once again in a Lew Lipset “Old Judge” auction with this lot description:

Lot 25. 1886 New York Giant Cabinet. Beautiful cabinet of a great team. Roger Connor, John Ward, Tim Keefe, Buck Ewing, Mickey Welch and James O’Rourke are among the 14 players. (……) The photo of Welch is the same one used in his Four base Hit. The photos can also be seen on other 19th Century cards including G & B’s and Yum-Yums. The only fault in the card’s condition is a scrape at the upper right of the picture of Gerhardt. This has been hand drawn in to try and give its original appearance. Otherwise a couple of 1/4” wrinkles. Still excellent.
Minimum Bid $750.

Then, in 2006, Heritage Auction Galleries, of Dallas, Texas, sold the exact same cabinet card again for over $10,000 and this time included a higher resolution image of the albumen print and mount and the reverse of the card.

The Heritage lot description said: 1886 New York Giants Cabinet Photograph by J. Wood, Type 1.No other cabinet photograph on earth could possibly offer more nineteenth century Hall of Famers than does this remarkable artifact from the studio of noted lensman J. Wood. Fourteen stunning portraits, many used in the monumentally scarce and valuable 1888 E223 G&B Chewing Gum issue, are utilized in the design paying tribute to the New York Giants in their fourth year of existence. Enshrined at Cooperstown, and present upon this cabinet, are Roger Connor, John Montgomery Ward, Mickey Welch, Tim Keefe, Jim O’Rourke and William “Buck” Ewing. Some scattered staining at lower left and a bit of wear at the top border just right of center must be noted, but our catalog imagery should accurately express just how minor those considerations are, and how little they affect the dramatic visual appeal. You’ll very seldom find cabinet photographs that celebrate twelve decades of life in such fine shape, and fewer than ten examples of this particular piece are known to exist in the hobby. Mount is blank and very clean, and likely dates from a later period than the original image. Size is 4.25×6.5″.

It appears that the albumen print affixed to the grey board with the Mickey Welch identification that was photographed at the Hall in 1983 is, in fact, the same Heritage albumen image that appears on a different generic cabinet card mount with a blank back. The staining in the lower left corner and the evidence of the original tear above player Gerhardt’s head are seemingly identical (as are numerous other blemishes and imperfections on the portraits of players Connor, Ward and O’Rourke.) Someone removed the albumen print from the original grey mount with a larger border and reapplied it to a generic mount. Heritage even notes that the board the photo is mounted on “likely dates from a later period than the original image.” Other surviving cabinets similar to this one produced by Wood have the photographer identified on the front with the pre-printed and gilded graphics “J. Wood Photo 208 Bowery, NY”.

This J. Wood cabinet on a period mount produced by the photographer appeared in a 2007 REA auction. The "J. Wood" identification appears in gold on the front of the cabinet. The reverse of the card is blank.

When we contacted Lew Lipset to inform him that the 1886 cabinet he sold appeared to have been credited to the Hall of Fame and that it also appeared to have been transferred to a new mount by the time it reached his auction in 2000 he told us, “I don’t dispute anything you said in the first two paragraphs. I know I had the 1886 in my collection for years before I put it in the auction. Its the same one as in the SABR publication. I have no record or recollection where I got it from.” When asked specifically if he had ever transferred the albumen print while in his possession Lipset said, “Not by me. I always remembered as being a bland damaged back. Never thought of it having the original back removed. It was that way when I sold it in 2001.”

The mystery that remains unanswered is who sold the cabinet to Lipset (or anyone else) after the 1983 SABR photo shoot at the Hall of Fame?

Perhaps the greatest irony of this situation is that the original mount that the photo was affixed to at the Hall photo shoot appears to bear the original and rare signature of Mickey Welch. The photograph was likely donated by Welch’s family and the Hall of Famer likely wrote his name on the mount to identify that his portrait was featured on the composite photo. A signed photograph of Welch, to date unknown to exist, could be worth as much as $50,000.

Compared to this newly discovered example from the Hall of Fame’s Ford Frick Correspondence files:

The inscription on the bottom portion of the mounted cabinet photographed at the Hall in 1983 appears to be executed in the same hand.

Although the identification appears extremely light and is obscured by the dark cardboard mount, Welch’s distinctive letter construction and formation is evident in the handwritten inscription.

So, where is the original mount featuring the scribbling of “Smilin’ Mickey”? Did the thief save it or destroy it? Yet more mysteries that may never be solved.

It is not a mystery now, however, that the National Baseball Library was actually robbed of its 1886 cabinet of Jim Mutrie’s Giants. We informed Hall of Fame spokesperson, Brad Horn, of the evidence of the theft and sent him the contact sheet image of the photograph before it was stolen and asked him for a statement from the institution. We also asked if the Hall would report the theft to the Cooperstown Police Department or the New York State Police. Horn did not respond to our inquiry.

Chris Ivy, Director of Sports Auctions for Heritage, was contacted to inform the auction house of the stolen item but he was out of the office and unavailable for comment. Ivy’s director of consignments, Mike Gutierrez, was the prime suspect in an FBI investigation into the Hall of Fame thefts in the late 1980s. However, the Hall of Fame, the US Attorney’s office and New York State prosecutors never charged anyone in connection with the heist that has cost the museum and library more than a million dollars in lost baseball treasures.

By Peter J. Nash

Dec. 4, 2012

Ford Frick helped found the Hall of Fame and was inducted in 1970. His donated archive of correspondence appears to have been stolen from Cooperstown.

Ford C. Frick was a former sportswriter and broadcaster who served as the National League’s President from 1934 to 1951 and as Baseball’s Commissioner from 1951 to 1965, but his greatest contribution to the game may have been his brainstorm to honor baseball’s greats in a “Hall of Fame.”

It all started back in 1935 when Frick was approached by Alexander Cleland and Stephen C. Clark with an idea to establish a baseball museum in Cooperstown, New York. Clark, an heir to the Singer Sewing Machine fortune, and his employee, Cleland, were soliciting the endorsement of organized baseball to ensure that their concept would become a reality. Frick saw the potential in their planned venture and not only did he endorse the concept, he expanded on Alexander Cleland’s ideas and contributed his own—to honor baseball’s “immortals” in a similar fashion as the Hall of Fame For Great Americans at New York University’s campus on the Hudson River.  Frick’s vision dictated that players would be honored with bronze plaques hung in a “Hall of Fame” that would work in conjunction with a newly constructed baseball museum which would house important relics of the National Pastime.

Hearing that Clark and Cleland had recently discovered what was alleged to have been the “Doubleday Baseball,” a sphere that was said to have been used in play in the first game in Cooperstown in 1839, Frick immediately made his own contribution to the fledgling museum on behalf of the National League–a magnificent Victorian sterling silver trophy known as the “Hall Cup,” which had been presented to the New York Giants for the championship of 1888. From that day forward there was always a special place in Ford Frick’s heart for Cooperstown and that feeling endured all the way up until 1970 when Frick was honored as a Hall of Famer with his own plaque hanging in the Hall’s gallery alongside Ruth, Gehrig and the other greats of the game.

Frick also realized the importance of establishing a National Baseball Library and as early as 1960 worked with Hall historian Lee Allen to contribute the National League papers and files (including his own) to the Cooperstown institution. Considering Frick’s key role in the establishment of the museum and the library it was understood that the Hall would benefit from his generosity and his awareness that baseball’s history needed to be preserved in an official repository like the National Baseball Library.  In 1968, Frick stated in an interview for his autobiography, “At last a Baseball Library has been added, the first library ever established by any sport as a private enterprise anywhere, anytime.  The Library appeals to me particularly because it is essentially a tribute to the writers whose contribution has been immeasurable…”

Frick viewed the establishment of the Hall of Fame and its library as one of his greatest accomplishments in the game and in 1978 the Hall decided to honor Frick again by naming the award presented for lifetime achievements in broadcasting–The Ford Frick Award.  Later today, from Baseball’s Winter meetings in Nashville, the Hall will release the name of the 36th Ford Frick Award winner who will join past honorees including legends Red Barber, Vin Scully, Mel Allen, Curt Gowdy, Ernie Harwell and Joe Garagiola.  Last years recipient was Tim McCarver.  Unfortunately, today is also the day that releases its findings in an on-going investigation into the multi-million dollar thefts of baseball artifacts and documents from the National Baseball Library.  It appears that many documents originating from the files Frick donated to the National Baseball Library have been stolen and sold on Baseball’s “black market.” (Correction: The Frick Award winner will be announced tommorrow, Dec. 5th)

After a three-year investigation into the Ford Frick-related documents that have surfaced in the hobby and have been sold at public auction since the early 1990s, it has been determined that the Frick papers housed at the NBL have been compromised to the tune of close to $500,000 including valuable autographs representing some of the greatest rarities in the game.  Most all of the stolen documents are thank you notes written to Frick and the National League office from old-time players who had received ”lifetime- passes” from Frick for free admission to Major League games.

The "Kid" Nichols thank you letter to Ford Frick on the right was sold by Barry Halper at Sotheby's in 1999. The Nichols letter to Frick's office pictured to the left is currently housed in the Frick correspondence file at the National Baseball Library.

The first substantial cache of these letters appeared in the 1999 Barry Halper Collection auction at Sotheby’s in New York City.  In that auction, correspondence  addressed to Frick thanking him for lifetime passes from rare Hall of Famers like George Wright, Joe Kelley, Jesse Burkett, Sliding Billy Hamilton, Jimmy Collins, Nap Lajoie, Kid Nichols, Bill Klem and others were sold for tens of thousands of dollars.

In 2009, this writer presented to Hall of Fame officials a detailed 200+ page report identifying scores of stolen and suspected stolen documents and  photographs that had appeared in public auctions and private collections since the 1980s.  In that report was information illustrating how the NBL’s August Herrmann Papers collection had been compromised and there was a separate section devoted to the Ford Frick Papers and the documents sold by Halper at Sotheby’s.  The report stated: “Considering the numerous documents suspected to have been removed from the Herrmann Papers, this group of correspondence warrants further investigation.”  Since receiving the report in 2009 the Hall has not investigated the Frick letters and, in addition, has still not inventoried or cataloged its contents.  Visitors to the NBL are able to handle the original documents in the Frick file despite the fact that they remain the target of theft.

The Nap Lajoie thank you letter to Frick on the left is currently part of a private collection. The Lajoie thank you letter to Frick on the right is currently part of the NBL's Frick Correspondence file at Cooperstown.

Currently the National Baseball Library designates the uncatalogued and un-inventoried Frick Papers  on its ABNER database as, “1933-1944 Ford Frick- Thank You Letters For Lifetime Pass.”  The existing file is as thick as a phone book and features hundreds of thank you notes to Frick and Bill Brandt for sending lifetime passes to old-time ballplayers whose careers dated back to the nineteenth century.  Examining this file, we were able to identify scores of letters written by marginal and star ballplayers like Stuffy McInnis, Jack Barry, Bill Wambsganss, Smoky Joe Wood, Larry Gardner, Bill Dineen, Bobby Veach, Deacon Phillippe, Buck Freeman, Joe Gunson, Tommy Bond, Jack Glasscock and Dan Casey.  These letters would have a current value ranging between $100- $1,000 depending on the individual player.  In addition, the file also had a smaller group of letters written to Frick by Hall of Famers like Jimmy Foxx, Tris Speaker, Ty Cobb, Nap Lajoie, Eppa Rixey and others.  These letters would have values ranging from $500 to $1,500, again, depending upon the player.  In some cases there are multiple letters from players sent for the receipt of multiple lifetime or season passes.  All of the correspondence is written between 1933 and 1937.

Deacon Phillipe was a great Pittsburgh Pirate pitcher who pitched in the 1st World Series in 1903, but he never made the Hall of Fame. His thank you letter to Frick (above, left) is worth $500-$1,000 and is still part of the HOFs Frick correspondence file. Vic Willis was a Pirate ace pitcher who did make the Hall of Fame. His thank you letter to Frick could be worth $40,000 and is currently missing from the Hall's Frick file.

What is striking about the current NBL file is the absence of the letters written by the most valuable players and Hall of Famers who had also written thank you letters to Frick.  Somehow, it is those extremely rare and valuable letters that are now missing from the Hall’s current file and have surfaced at auction over the years selling for tens of thousands of dollars.  Case in point is one of the rarest Hall of Fame signatures in existence–Vic Willis.  A thank you letter written to Frick by Willis was sold in a Mastro Auction in 1999 and today would be estimated with a value in the range of $30,000 to $40,000.  That letter features a pencil notation with the players last name in the upper left-hand corner of the document, just like many of the letters still housed in the NBL’s Frick file.  One similar letter still at the Hall is a thank you letter from another Pirate pitching legend who never made the Hall–Deacon Phillippe.  Phillippe’s name is also written in the same hand on the document in pencil, just like the Willis document.

A rare letter written by Hall of Famer Bid McPhee survives in the HOF's current Frick Correspondence file as does a thank you letter written to Frick by non-HOFer Fred Tenney. estimates that the value of the letters wrongfully removed from the Frick correspondence collection could exceed $500,000. Multiple letters from some players like George Wright have been sold at public auction but it is believed many others are buried in private collections including letters from the likes of Ned Hanlon, Amos Rusie, George Davis and the newly elected Deacon White.  As it stands, the hundreds of letters that remain in the Frick file at the National Baseball Library could easily be appraised at a half-a-million dollars.

One of the few surviving letters at the Hall with exceptional value is a thank you letter written to the National League by Hall of Famer Bid McPhee.  A legitimate letter written by McPhee sold at public auction a few years ago for close to $75,000.  It is likely the McPhee letter survived in the NBL files because he was elected to the Hall in 2000, many years after the original heist is suspected to have occurred.  One other extreme rarity that has survived in the NBL’s Frick files is a 1933 thank you to Frick penned by “Smilin” Mickey Welch.  Industry experts estimate the value of that letter at over $50,000.

Ford Frick presided over the dedication of the National Baseball Library on July 22, 1968.

When confronted with the findings of our investigation, the leadership at the Hall of Fame was, as usual, silent.  In fact, another letter believed to have been stolen from the NBLs famous August Herrmann Papers Collection is currently being sold by Steve Verkman and Clean Sweep Auctions in Carle, Place, New York, and last week Hall spokesperson Brad Horn failed to respond to similar inquiries for comment.  Clean Sweep sold another letter stolen from the Hall’s Herrmann archive last year as Horn and the Hall allowed the document to be sold without claiming it as library property. Auctioneer Josh Evans, who first helped uncover the HOF thefts in the late 1980s, was critical of the institution’s negligence.  At the time, Evans said,  ”Now they are complicit in their own degredation.”

This plaque honors Bud Selig and identifies the "Center For The Archives of Major League Commissioners."

Just last year, Hall of Fame Chairman, Jane Forbes Clarkdedicated a space honoring Bud Selig and the office of the Commissioner located in the National Baseball Library atrium in the former offices of the Hall’s Education Department.  At the dedication Clark said, “The Selig Center for the Archives of Major League Baseball Commissioners will ensure a permanent home for the documentation and preservation of the Office of the Commissioner’s contributions to baseball history. This archive will provide a central location for the study and research of the importance of the Office of the Commissioner, and its role in shaping and advancing the National Pastime for nearly a century.”

We contacted Matt Bourne, MLB’s Vice President of Business Public Relations, at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel in Nashville, where Bud Selig is attending MLBs Winter Meetings and asked for a reaction from Selig to a former Commissioner’s archives having been looted.  Bourne told us, “We aren’t going to provide any comment.”

Bourne and MLB are all too familiar with the issue of stolen MLB-related documents ever since the 2009 All-Star Game Auction was conducted by Hunt Auctions. Included in that sale were a “rare cache” of stolen letters that had originally been bequeathed to the National League in 1895 by Hall of Famer Harry Wright.  Those documents are currently the subject of a three year FBI investigation into hundreds of documents and photographs  stolen from the New York Public Library.

Hall of Fame spokesperson, Brad Horn, failed to respond to inquiries about the thefts from the Frick collection and did not return calls to his hotel room at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel in Nashville.

This rare letter written to Frick by HOFer "Smilin" Mickey Welch is still in the files of the Frick correspondence at the NBL. Experts say the value of the letter exceeds $50,000 and it is possible that others from Welch to Frick were also removed from library files. (National Baseball Library, Cooperstown, NY)