By Peter J. Nash
July 10, 2013
“Red” Foley was a fixture at the New York Daily News for decades and was the official scorer for the Mets and Yankees for even longer. A baby-faced, cigar chomping, teetotaler, Foley wrote a column called “Ask Red” that led to his own baseball column at the newspaper and later in life he even had New York City’s best baseball bar (Foley’s) named after him by its owner Shaun Clancy in 2003.
When Foley passed away at the age of seventy-nine in 2008, his colleagues including Bill Gallo and Phil Pepe spoke highly of the man who was remembered as a straight shooter who preferred to call a sacrifice a “sac-fly” in his baseball reporting.
Today, the bar that bears his name features an impressive collection of over two thousand autographed baseballs and photographs from baseball legends ranging from Duke Snider to Derek Jeter and nearly everyone in between. When Red Foley passed Clancy was lucky enough to save a few autographs Red had collected for himself, two Hall of Fame plaque postcards autographed by Casey Stengel and Zach Wheat which are now on display at the bar along with inscribed photos from inductees to Foley’s own “Irish-American Baseball Hall of Fame,” which has honored the likes of John J. McGraw, “King” Kelly and even Yankee GM Brian Cashman. Says Clancy, “Its a shame, but I think most of Red’s souvenirs and autographs were thrown away when his apartment was cleaned out after his death. We’re lucky to have saved these few signed Hall of Fame plaques he collected.”
Little did Red know that Clancy and Foley’s Bar on West 33rd St. near the Empire State Building wouldn’t be his only link to baseball treasures and the autographs of Baseball Hall of Famers. Little did Red know he’d one day help crack a long standing cold-case related to a heist at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, all because a copy of a letter written to him was saved by one of his old pals. Little did he know he’d help start the ball rolling for the recovery of the signatures of some the greatest Irishmen ever to play the game for the New York Giants: “Smilin” Mickey Welch, Roger Connor, “Orator” Jim O’Rourke and “Buck” Ewing.
Tucked away for decades in a thick Hall of Fame library file on the subject of baseball autographs was a copy of a letter written to Red Foley in February of 1970 from his friend Ken Smith, the Director of the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. Before he was top-dog at the Hall, Smith was a beat baseball writer for the New York Mirror and was an old friend of Red Foley and virtually every other baseball scribe in New York City. His letter to Foley was a thank you of sorts for helping the Hall secure what Smith described as an important trove of early relics related to the 19th century game.
The relics Smith spoke of were autographed New York Giant payroll receipts, signed by Hall of Famers Ewing, Connor, O’Rourke and Welch, (as well as by German Hall of Famers Amos Rusie and Jessie Burkett), and were a significant pick-up for the Hall as financial instruments that gave insight into what a star player’s paycheck looked like in the late nineteenth-century.
Financial documents collected by the Hall have been a great resource to scholars and researchers going as far back as Dr. Harold Seymour and Dorothy Seymour Mills’ work studying the NBL’s August Herrmann papers in the early 1960’s and today with University of Wisconsin-LaCrosse Professor Michael Haupert’s ground-breaking research on the economic history of Major League Baseball and player salaries. In regard to the Giant pay receipts Haupert told us, “Primary sources are the gold standard for serious research. Documents such as those housed in libraries and museums are the only way we can get reliable information about how institutions operated. My own research, which is centered on the financial history of the sports industry, relies heavily on primary material I have accessed in the National Baseball Hall of Fame Library.”
Back in 1970, there wasn’t an established market for financial documents or rare baseball autographs, but even back then collectors of Hall of Fame signatures knew that the Giant receipts were rare as rare could be. As a donation to the Hall, however, their value was not too significant at a time when a rare T206 Honus Wagner tobacco card was known to sell for under a thousand bucks. Smith made it clear to Foley that the generosity of the donor, a friend of Foley’s cousin, identified only as “Mrs. McSherry,” was greatly appreciated as he expressed specifically in his letter, ”The museum does not purchase display and library material.” Smith wrote to Foley, “I certainly appreciate yours and your cousin’s kindness in remembering the Hall of Fame as a place where these signatures would be welcome.” Smith appears to have recognized the importance of the documents and their availability for future researchers like Haupert.
Considering Smith’s enthusiasm and the documentation of Red Foley’s assistance in securing the delivery of such a rare cache of signed receipts to Cooperstown, it was an item that appeared in an autograph collector newsletter in 1990 that was the first sign of possible foul-play related to the rare receipts . In the article, collector Dick Patman chronicled sales from an unnamed auction of what appear to be the very documents that Foley sent to Ken Smith back in 1970. Patman described the documents as “scarce, high-quality material(s)” that were then commanding “record prices.”
Based upon the existence of the copy of the letter in the Hall of Fame files and our first inquiry at the National Baseball Library, these documents have been determined missing from the archives at the National Baseball Library. When asked if the accession records could be reviewed to confirm what name the 1970 donation appeared under, Hall spokesman Brad Horn denied access to the records and would not reveal if the Hall was in possession of other similar receipts as the 1970 letter to Foley indicated that there may have been some additional “coupons” that Mrs. McSherry was in possession of.
In his 1990 column, Patman reported the auction sale of the receipt signed by James O’Rourke for $4,500 in 1990 and the sale of the Ewing and Connor receipts at an earlier auction for $3,300 and $3,600. The “Smilin” Mickey Welch receipt appeared in a Richard Wolfers auction along with another O’Rourke item that appears to have been stolen from the Hall of Fame, a 1916 letter written to Reds owner August Herrmann by the “Orator”. The letter sold at Wolfers shows O’Rourke asking Herrmann for tickets to the 1916 World Series at Fenway Park and the corresponding letter, still in the Hall of Fame archive, was dated five days later and sent to Herrmann to thank him for sending those very same tickets he had requested.
The rare Giant pay receipts appeared in elaborate color auction catalogs produced by Richard Wolfers Auctions in San Francisco, California. The Welch and O’Rourke receipts (and O’Rourke letter) appeared for sale in the much-hyped “Treasures of the Game” live auctions hosted by Wolfers founder and successful Democratic fundraiser Duane Garrett. Garrett, a close friend of Al Gore and President Clinton was the fundraising guru of California politicians Barbara Boxer and Diane Feinstein and established his sports auction house after success in the stamp coin and fine-art fields. However, claims of the auction house selling bogus goods and accusations of shill bidding cast a wide shadow over Garrett’s enterprise and in 1996, the political guru and Bay-Area radio talk-show host allegedly committed suicide by jumping off of the Golden Gate Bridge.
Over the decades these rare documents have vanished into the top collections in the country with barely a hint that they were treasures removed from the Cooperstown archives. Perhaps the rarest of them all is the receipt signed by Buck Ewing. The Ewing document was encapsulated and authenticated by PSA/DNA and sold for $35,513 at a Mastro auction in 2007 . Industry experts estimate that the Ewing, Connor and Welch receipts are worth between $35,000 to $50,000 each. The signatures on these documents are some of the only known surviving examples of the autographs of the rarest of Hall of Famers. They are the ultimate prizes for collectors. To put it into perspective, Hunt Auctions once sold a letter written by Buck Ewing for $40,000 and a ledger featuring a signed page with the signatures of Connor, Ewing, O’Rourke and Welch for close to $100,000 in 2004.
An on-going investigation into the Hall of Fame thefts by Haulsofshame.com has traced the secreted documents back to the original auctioneer who offered them in 1989 and 1990, hobby veteran Lew Lipset and his Four Base Hits and Old Judge auctions. Dick Patman was referring specifically to Lipset’s sales of the Ewing, Connor, O’Rourke and Welch documents when his 1990 article was published.
Lew Lipset confirmed for Haulsofshame.com that he did, in fact, sell the rare Giant documents and also revealed that the winning bidder on a few of the lots was auctioneer Duane Garrett from Wolfers Auctions, which explains how some of the autographs made their way into the San Francisco auctioneer’s sales. Lipset confirmed that the Buck Ewing document was the first he offered and sold for $3,625 in September of 1989. Duane Garrett purchased the O’Rourke and Welch receipts for $4,500 and $4,400 respectively early in 1990 and Lipset did not have any information on the sale of the Connor autograph in his November 1990 sale. When the Giant pay receipts were offered for sale it was noted that the ends of the documents were trimmed or clipped. When he sold the Buck Ewing autograph Lipset noted the document was “Partially cut at right, not affecting signature.” It is likely that the documents were cut to remove the National Baseball Library accession information which would have indicated the year of donation and the sequence of the item’s donation during that time period.
Responding to our inquiry about the documents Lipset said, “I remember when I got ‘em. It was one of those too good to be true things. I didn’t give a thought to the fact that they could be stolen.” We asked Lipset where he acquired the documents that were stolen from the National Baseball Library in Cooperstown and he responded, “I have no recollection where I got these but I remember I was suspicious not because of the origin but if they were real and I brought them to Mike Gutierrez, who told me they were good. It is also my recollection that they were in my collection for a few years before I sold them, so I would have purchased them a few years before the auctions.” We asked Lipset if he had any records that might show the identity of the seller and he answered, “I have no check records from that far back, so I have no idea.”
Lipset’s mention of taking the stolen documents to Mike Gutierrez is notable for it was Gutierrez who was the prime suspect in the 1980s Hall of Fame heist and it was also Gutierrez who was working as a consignment agent for Wolfers Auctions at the time the stolen receipts and Herrmann letters were offered in the “Treasures of the Game” auction. Gutierrez is currently the consignment director for Heritage Auction Galleries in Dallas, Texas, and an on-air appraiser for PBS’ Antiques Roadshow.
Lipset and Gutierrez have a long history of partnering on memorabilia deals and the purchases of collections over the years. Gutierrez even served as the point-man for Lipset’s autograph survey published in the late 1980s in his hobby newsletter, The Old Judge. In one of the surveys Lipset even went as far to mention that Gutierrez had made several trips to the Hall of Fame to seek out exemplars for the survey and autograph price guide Lipset published.
When we asked Lipset about his links to Gutierrez he even mentioned taking a trip to the National Baseball Library with Gutierrez in the late 1980s. Lipset said, “The one time I went to the Hall with Mike, we weren’t there very long. We were in Tom Heitz’ office discussing Mike’s idea and I don’t believe anywhere else. I don’t think Mike was off by himself, but then I don’t really remember.” The “idea” Lipset mentioned was a proposal Gutierrez was making to Hall officials to give him access to Hall of Famer families and relatives so he could purchase their memorabilia and, in turn, donate portions of the purchases to the Hall since the museum is not permitted to purchase artifacts.
Lipset says it is his recollection that nothing ever transpired with that proposal and couldn’t recall much more. However, auctioneer Josh Evans, of Lelands, also says he had knowledge of Gutierrez’ proposal and said it died in the water after Gutierrez sold him a signed Babe Ruth photograph that had white-out placed over its Hall of Fame accession number on its reverse. Evans reported the incident to Hall officials and an FBI investigation commenced with Gutierrez as the main suspect in thefts that were believed to far exceed just the Ruth photograph. Sources close to Hall officials at the time say that the investigation was thwarted due to concerns of bad publicity that could hinder future donations to the museum. In 1983, the Hall had experienced a slew of bad publicity related to another theft scandal reported in The Sporting News and the New York Post when Joe Reichler, from Commissioner Bowie Kuhn’s office, sold off a cache of World Series programs and other publications that had been loaned to Kuhn by the Hall.
Just last year a CDV photograph of the 1870 Philadelphia Athletics that was verified as stolen from the National Baseball Library was sold at Legendary Auctions in Chicago as Hall of Fame officials did nothing to either claim title to or challenge the sale of the donated artifact. Despite the fact that Haulsofshame.com illustrated how the 1870 CDV was photographed by the Society For American Baseball Research (SABR) in 1983 while it was still part of the collection, the card sold for about $1,600 (about $8,000 less than a legitimate one Legendary sold in 2010).
Interestingly enough, SABR photographed other photos as Hall of Fame property in 1983 that have also ended up being sold in auctions conducted by Lew Lipset. Lipset sold an 1886 and 1894 cabinet photos of the NY Giants team and a Horner portrait of John J. McGraw that appear on contact sheets and in a SABR publication produced as a result of the shoot at the Hall in ‘83. (Next to the 1886 photo on the contact sheet is a photo that was not stolen depicting a team from Ottawa, Canada, recently profiled by Hall curator Tom Shieber on his blog).
When we asked Lipset back in December where he acquired the 1886 Giant team cabinet photo he said, “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.” After Lipset sold the photo in his own sale, Heritage Auction Galleries in Dallas, Texas, auctioned the same cabinet card for over $10,000.
Haulsofshame.com filed police reports recently with the Cooperstown Police reporting the thefts of the 1870 Philadelphia Athletics CDV as well as the 1886 Giants cabinet card and a 1915 letter sent by the Boston Red Sox and Babe Ruth to August Herrmann and the National Commission requesting their World Series money. Officials at the Hall of Fame have tried their best to bury their heads in the sand hoping this scandal would somehow vanish just like all of the relics and documents that were victimized in the 1980s heist at the Hall. Most recently the Hall has even denied Haulsofshame.com access to viewing museum accession records to verify the names of donors of the confirmed stolen artifacts, including the payroll receipts sent by Red Foley.
Coincidentally, Red Foley’s old paper and employer, The New York Daily News, was actually the first news outlet to report on the Hall of Fame thefts in 2000 when writers Bill Madden and Michael O’Keeffe published, “Cooperstown Haul of Fame: Thieves Steal Millions in Baseball Treasures”, and confirmed that current Heritage Auctions consignment rep, Mike Gutierrez, was the prime suspect in the 1980’s thefts. But since Bill Madden was honored with the Hall’s J. G. Taylor Spink Award in 2010 and received accolades from the Hall hailing him as a “watchdog on the burgeoning sports memorabilia industry” and pointed to his “1994 exclusive for the Daily News exposing corrupt and fraudulent practices prompted an FBI investigation that resulted in shutting down two prominent auction houses,” Madden has never reported further on the new and voluminous evidence that has surfaced confirming the magnitude of the 1980s heist.
Madden also gave a pass to his close friend and memorabilia fraudster Barry Halper who defrauded the Hall and MLB by selling them several million dollars in bogus artifacts including the alleged jersey, “Black Betsy” bat, glove and pocket watch of “Shoeless Joe” Jackson. Madden wrote glowing reports in his column about the Halper purchase and the bogus Jackson materials. But since the time Madden was awarded the Spink honor and was also appointed to the BBWAA’s Hall of Fame Historical Overview Committee, the museum’s “Barry Halper Gallery” has vanished from the museum and its floor plans.
If Madden or his newspaper opened up old wounds and reported further on the thefts it would likely upset Hall Chairman, Jane Forbes Clark, who, despite smoking guns firing repeatedly at the Hall with new confirmations of thefts, continues to oversee a large-scale cover-up of the brewing scandal. None of them, however, ever anticipated Madden’s old Daily News colleague “Red” Foley firing another shot from the grave confirming the thefts of the most valuable baseball autographs in the world.
Red’s timing couldn’t be better as Madden was just recently inducted into Foley’s “Irish Baseball Hall of Fame.” Considering Madden’s failure to follow up on his original report about the Hall of Fame heist, former Hall of Fame employee and researcher Gabe Schechter takes Madden’s issues with the Hall a step further. Says Schechter, “That’s the only Hall of Fame Madden belongs to, despite the common misconception that as a winner of the Spink Award he was inducted into the Hall. He was not. He’s part of a museum exhibit showing the winners of the Frick and Spink Awards. Madden helped perpetuate this myth by declaring, in a 2010 promotional tape for the Daily News, ‘when I was elected last December. . .’ thus elevating the misconception into either self-delusion and deliberate deception.”
Meanwhile, the Baseball Hall of Fame continues to ignore the overwhelming evidence of theft and deception and Bill Madden prefers to devote his columns to the A-Rod Biogenesis documents that were offered in what he calls the “seedy world of baseball memorabilia.” Of those controversial documents one of Madden’s unnamed sources, a memorabilia dealer, told him, “This stuff should go in the Hall of Fame.”
Neither the Hall nor Madden seem too interested in what’s got out.
SABR member and author Michael Haupert has a contrary viewpoint. He adds, “When these documents disappear or fall into private hands, whether by design or skulduggery, it removes them from the public domain, thus robbing scholars of the opportunity to conduct valuable research. The loss of primary material leaves a hole in the story that is often impossible to fill.”