Breaking News

By Peter J. Nash

Nov. 7, 2011

HOF President, Jeff Idelson, and Chairman, Jane Forbes Clark, are silent on the NBL heist.

 

With news of yet another public offering of a rare document suspected to have been stolen from the famous August Herrmann Papers archive at the National Baseball Library, officials at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum continue to decline comment on what appears to be the tip of the iceberg on a long-neglected scandal.

Last week, Heritage Auction Galleries in Dallas, Texas, withdrew a letter written by Pirate owner Barney Dreyfus to National League President John Heydler about a protested game in 1924. The letter appears to have originated from the Hall of Fame’s voluminous files of Major League Baseball’s former ruling body, the National Commission. The Hall maintains a collection of National League protested game files from 1902 to 1926 and over the past few decades numerous letters that appear to have been wrongfully removed from those files, with no mention of their provenance or origin, have been sold at public auction by the nation’s largest sports collectibles companies.

Despite strong evidence suggesting that these documents originated from the HOF files and a 1980s FBI investigation into thefts at the National Baseball Library, the non-profit educational institution has seen fit to allow these items to sell unfettered with apparently little due diligence done on their part.  Earlier this year when another suspect document was sold Hall spokesperson, Brad Horn, told Clean Sweep Auctions president Steve Verkman,  “There is insufficient information for us to unequivocally state that these were stolen from the Hall of Fame.”

The reality, however, is that the evidence supporting the existence of the thefts continues to mount and the Hall of Fame’s failure to recover materials stolen from the game’s shrine in Cooperstown threaten the institution’s credibility. 

In 2009, Haulsofshame.compresented officials at the Hall with a 300-page report detailing items that appear to have been stolen from the August Herrmann Papers archive and the sales of such items both at public auction and on the black market for baseball artifacts.

Here are two prime examples illustrating how the Hall of Fame and their leadership have failed to pursue other “protested game” documents and have apparently neglected to engage law enforcement to investigate and aid in recovery efforts:

1.  This “protested game” letter written by Hall of Famer John J. McGraw on May 16, 1911 and addressed to NL President Thomas J. Lynch  has appeared for sale at several auctions over the past two decades including Sports Heroes in 1994 and Sports Card Plus/Sotheby’s in 2009, where it sold for over $5,000:

This 1911 Protested Game letter written by HOFer John J. McGraw has sold several times at auction since 1994. The latest sale was at Sports Cards Plus/Sotheby's in 2009.

-This “protested game” letter is the companion to the John McGraw letter that was last sold by Sports Card Plus in 2009.  It is also addressed to NL President Thomas J. Lynch on May 16, 1911, and was typed on what appears to be the same typewriter as the McGraw letter.  However, this letter is still part of the Herrmann Papers archive at Cooperstown and resides in Box 44, Folder 24, at the National Baseball Library.  Folder 24 includes “Additional Protested Games 1902-26.”

This 1911 protest letter was written by the New York Giants' owner and several of John McGraw's players. It is dated on the same day as the McGraw protest letter sold at SCP/Sotheby's in 2009.

2.  Just like the lot recently removed from Heritage’s current sale, this letter is another example written to NL President John Heydler by Hall of Famer Barney Dreyfus.  But unlike the auction offering, this Dreyfus letter is still part of the HOFs Herrmann Papers archive.  Dreyfus was addressing a protested game played against the Chicago Cubs on Sept. 4, 1908 and his letter is found in Folder 24 of the “Additional Protested Games 1902-26″ section of the HOFs Herrmann archive. 

This letter was written by Pirate owner Barney Dreyfus in 1908 regarding a protested game with the Chicago Cubs. The letter still resides in the HOFs Herrmann papers archive.

-This document was offered for sale at Sotheby’s in 1999 by collector Barry Halper.  It is the sworn affidavit of Cub Hall of Famer, Joe Tinker, regarding a play in a protested game played on Sept. 4, 1908, against the Pirates  (The same protested game that Barney Dreyfus refers to in his letter still at the HOF).  It is believed that this document, and several others executed by Cub players, were wrongfully removed from the Herrmann Papers archive.  It appears that the Herrmann files were targeted for removals of valuable documents executed or signed by Hall of Famers while documents featuring the signatures of less notable baseball figures appear to have been left behind.  (The Tinker document was also sold at MastroNet in 2003 for over $10,000.)

This 1908 affidavit executed by Hall of Famer Joe Tinker was once part of a National Commission file regarding a protested game played on Sept. 4, 1908. The play in question was a precursor to the famous "Merkle Incident" that occured later that same month in 1908. This document was sold by Barry Halper at Sotheby's in 1999.

This is not the first theft-related scandal for the Cooperstown shrine.  In 1983 The Sporting News uncovered the public sale of assorted World Series programs and other publications loaned by the Hall to Commissioner Bowie Kuhn’s office.  At the time, the New York Post ran an article with a headline, “SCANDAL HITS BASEBALL HALL OF FAME,” and the wrong-doing was pegged on J.G. Taylor Spink award winner, Joe Reichler, who at the time worked for Kuhn. 

Bill James covered the scandal in his 1994 book The Politics of Glory and described how Hall of Fame President Ed Stack contacted Bowie Kuhn to inform him that Reichler was selling the Hall’s property to memorabilia dealers.  James wrote that Kuhn, “refused to take the matter seriously for several months.”  James also stated that Kuhn told the Hall of Fame, “Don’t bother old Joe.  He’s got a bad heart.  He’s got financial problems.  Don’t mess with him.  I need him.”

James described the scandal in more detail: 

“With the collectors market burgeoning, the Hall of Fame was already finding it more difficult to get people to donate items of historic significance.  The scandal increased those difficulties sevenfold.  The officials at the Hall of Fame were desperate to put the whole thing behind them; the Commissioner, after the public revelations promised a vigorous in-house investigation.”

James reported that in February, 1983, Hall officials “were able to prevail upon the office of Robert Abrams, Attorney General of the State of New York, to write a letter to the Commissioner’s office.”  James revealed that the letter said, “it has come to our attention that certain property belonging to the State of New York may have been converted….”  James made the point that being a public institution, the Hall of Fame and Kuhn were in Abrams’ cross-hairs because it was his office’s responsibility to “safeguard” such artifacts in museum collections. 

TSN broke the HOF document scandal story in 1983 when Ed Stack was HOF President.

Unlike the current scandal, the Hall recovered all of the materials that were loaned to Kuhn’s office.  In comparison, the estimated total value of all the items sold in 1983 would equal about $10,000.  That equals just the low-end estimated value of only the two suspected documents featured in this article.  It is believed that hundreds of rare photos and documents were stolen from the National Baseball Library and that the value of those documents far exceeds $1 million.  In the past year reports published by Haulsofshame.com have led to the return of several other artifacts stolen from the Hall including cabinet photographs of Hall of Famers Christy Mathewson and “Smilin’” Mickey Welch with estimated values exceeding $10,000 each.

A former employee of New York State’s Office of the Attorney General suggested to us that the Hall of Fame’s alleged negligence in safeguarding and recovering artifacts donated to the institution should warrant an investigation by current Attorney General Eric Schneiderman.

The Baseball Hall of Fame is a  501(c)(3) non-profit educational museum and does not own the artifacts in its collection. The massive collection of donated materials is owned by the people of New York State and the losses incurred as a result of the 1980s heist as well as the Hall’s actions could end up being investigated by the state’s Attorney General’s office.

A Hall of Fame donor we spoke with, who requested anonymity, told us, “It would go a long way for the Hall to address this head-on and involve the authorities now to recover these items.  If they don’t, they could end up being investigated themselves.  It looks like the crooks who ripped them off are still benefiting from this mess.”


7 Comments

  1. I’m disappointed that the Hall of Fame can’t think of anything to do about this situation.

    Comment by Dorothy Mills — November 7, 2011 @ 8:38 am

  2. +1

    Comment by Harry — November 7, 2011 @ 8:52 am

  3. Until there are legal repercussions – substantial financial penalties as well as jail time – for the thefts of the Hall of Fame’s artifacts, unscrupulous collectors and dealers will continue to operate with relative impunity, their activities unabated by any fear of punishment. Peter Nash and Hauls of Shame do a great service to the baseball community by continually shining a light on the Hall’s inertia and seeming ambivalence about recovering its stolen property, by tracking the stolen items as they comes up for sale through various auction houses and memorabilia websites, and informing us and the public at large when these stolen items appear on the open market.

    I was also greatly amused to read in the Sporting News account of the Joe Reichler scandal that the New York Post was regarded as a “purveyor of lurid stories” and “skimpy, misleading articles[s].” How little has changed in the intervening twenty-eight years!

    Comment by Perry Barber — November 7, 2011 @ 9:39 am

  4. The saga just goes on and on with the Hall,maybe one of these days someone in the Hall will have the brains, when the light comes on, that maybe we sould do something about all of this stolen stuff, that people have entrusted to us to display and find out where it went.This can be done without any expense to them and at the rate it is going, they might find the whole building gone some morning, wake up,it is past the waiting hour.

    Comment by Herbie Buck — November 7, 2011 @ 6:03 pm

  5. It occurs to me that anyone outside of the HOF or a public repository (library, museum, etc) who handles these documents without notifying law enforcement is taking part in the theft of these items. It is worth noting that NOT ONE of these business, i.e., the auction houses, authentication firms or collectors would tolerate the theft or public exposure of their private business documents, emails, electronic files, etc. without taking (or threatening) legal action to those who took or diverted those records.

    Anyone handling an official, historical business document from MLB or its clubs without first checking INDEPENDENTLY of any firm who purports the “authenticity” of such items, is complicit in an illegal act. It is incumbent upon collectors to do their own research on the origins of any historic business documents as to their provenance and, if it is questionable, to not deal in such documents and contact the police — it is not enough for them to play “dumb.”

    Comment by Gene Zonarich — November 11, 2011 @ 11:34 am

  6. That is why I would never dream of leaving anything of mine to the Hall. Too many sticky fingers!

    Comment by Jay Gauthreaux — November 11, 2011 @ 9:11 pm

  7. Anyone find it scary that everything in the Hall of Fame belongs to the People of New York State??

    Comment by Marc Rettus — December 1, 2011 @ 9:21 am

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