By Peter J. Nash
Jan. 1, 2012
In 2011, documents originating from the now infamous 1980s heist at the National Baseball Library in Cooperstown, New York, continued to appear for sale in all too many baseball auction catalogs. Authenticators and auctioneers acted as enablers accepting the alleged stolen goods for consignment and sale on Internet auction sites while other collectors tucked away their own contraband treasures in the privacy of their own homes or safety-deposit boxes.
Officials from the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum again declined to publicly state why they have not enlisted the services of the FBI and have informed at least one auctioneer that they can’t prove unequivocally if letters that appear to have been stolen from the famous August Herrmann Papers Collection, actually are property of the institution and the State of New York. (In each case, neither the consignors nor the auctioneers could establish a legitimate provenance for the documents being sold). To date, the Hall of Fame has yet to conduct a sufficient internal investigation to determine what is missing from its collection and to establish when those items were wrongfully removed.
Hearkening back to the 1980s when the Hall actually reached out to the FBI to investigate the thefts from the NBL, but then dropped the case to avoid a PR nightmare and backlash from past and future donors, the Hall seems content to allow the items they were entrusted to preserve to hit the market for sale on eBay and auction house websites.
If the Hall of Fame is not pursuing the recovery of their own items, does that mean collectors in possession of these documents are now in the clear with good title?
Here’s how the saga continued into 2011 and the investigative reports that exposed what some in the baseball research community consider a national disgrace (click on titles):
1. Sale of Letters Stolen from Baseball Hall of Fame Continues; Cooperstown Officials Fail to Pursue Recovery - Jan. 31, 2011
2. Cooperstown Official OK’s Sale of Missing Letter; Hobby Exec Says Baseball Hall of Fame is Complicit in Crimes - Feb. 4, 2011
3. Is EBAY Selling a Cincy-Reds Doc Stolen from Cooperstown? More Questions for Hall of Fame Officials- Feb. 21, 2011
4. Is REA Selling a Stolen Letter from the Baseball Hall of Fame? Will Cooperstown’s Cover-Up Continue? - April 14, 2011
This Feb. 12, 1910 letter from John Ganzel to August Herrmann is part of the HOF's "Herrmann Papers" archive. Another Ganzel letter to Herrmann dated Feb. 9, 1910 was sold twice at auction by Mike Gutierrez in 2003 and 2004.
5. More Letters Suspected Stolen from Hall of Fame Offered by REA and on EBAY; REA’s Bill Klem Letter on “Halper Hot 100 List” - April 19, 2011
6. Chin Music: JSA & PSA Cert $150k in Matty Fakes; SABR Knickerbocker Mystery; HOF Doc at Clean Sweep; Buckner Ball Cursed?(UPDATED) - Oct. 17, 2011
7. HOF Gets Shredded World Series Jersey Donation as Heritage Sells NL Doc Alleged Stolen from Cooperstown; HOF Cover-Up Continues (UPDATE) - Oct. 31, 2011
8. More Evidence of HOF Thefts; NY Attorney General Could Step In; Bill James on HOF Scandal in ‘83 -Nov. 7, 2011
9. CHIN MUSIC: JSA Blunder Sheds Light on NYPL Thefts; More HOF Letters Sold by Gutierrez; Babe Ruth Forgery on EBAY
A group of items stolen from the HOF collection in the last 30 years: (Clockwise from top left) 1916 Hughie Jennings Letter; Jake Beckley cabinet photo;1897 Boston BBC at Baltimore cabinet photo; c.1902 Articles of Incorporation, Cincinnati BBC; Mickey Welch cabinet card; 1908 Joe Tinker signed affidavit; 1911 John McGraw letter; Roger Connor cabinet card; 1902 John T. Brush Promisory Note.
2011 also saw the FBI continue its on-going investigation into the multi-million dollar heist from the New York Public Library’s famous A.G. Spalding Baseball Collection:
This rare cabinet photo stolen from the NYPL appeared for sale on eBay, but ended up in the hands of the FBI.
1. Wanted by the FBI: Al Reach; Sporting News Archive and MEARS Help Solve Crime at NYPL - Jan 26, 2011
2. The Case of the Missing “Base Ball Polka”; Feds Locate NYPL Relic with Assist from SABR - April 26, 2011
3. Hidden Treasure Discovered in NYPL’s Spalding Collection: The Mystery of Baseball’s First Star-Jim Creighton - April 5, 2011
4. The Riddle of the Sphinx: A.G. Spalding’s Scrapbooks and Photos Missing From NYPL – May 6, 2011
5. Wanted by the FBI: “Cap” Anson; Stolen from the NYPL with a Bad Gutierrez LOA - Aug. 22, 2011
This page of Henry Chadwick's original scrapbook at the NYPL shows evidence of paper loss and the removal of an item once pasted to a page next to an image of the 1860 Excelsior team, featuring Jim Creighton. The section cut from the page appears to be the same size as the "Creighton Culver" card.
6. CHIN MUSIC: Did FBI Step in on eBay Sale of Suspect NYPL Photo? More Stolen Spalding Collection Items up for Sale? Feds Say They’re Still on the Hunt - June 24, 2011
7. Stolen NYPL Photo of Baseball Pioneer Al Reach Appears for Sale on eBay; Will the FBI Seize It? - Aug, 30, 2011
8. Kalamazoo Bats Mystery Solved: Rare Cards of Harry Wright’s Phillies Stolen from NYPL’s Spalding Collection - Nov. 17, 2011
The cabinet photo of "Nig" Cuppy sold on EBAY was one of the many photographs stolen from the BPL's McGreevy Collection in the late 1970s.
Also in 2011- With the help of David Maus, a vigilant collector from Iowa, the Boston Public Library recovered one of Nuf-Ced McGreevy’s long-lost gems:
Iowa Collector Recovers Nuf-Ced McGreevy’s Missing Red Sox Gem for Boston Public Library -May 23, 2011
For more see Part 1 of our “2011 in Review”: