February 15, 2013
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Once again, Heritage Auction Galleries of Dallas, Texas, is offering a rare document for sale believed to have been stolen from the Baseball Hall of Fame’s famous August Herrmann Papers collection. Selling documents stolen from the Hall of Fame has become a regular occurrence at Heritage as has offering stolen photos as we exposed in an article we wrote for Deadspin last Spring.
The current questioned document is a 1915 check request sent by Babe Ruth and his Red Sox teammates to August Herrmann’s National Commission, the ruling body in Baseball before a Commissioners office was established. Dated October 8, 1915, the letter is addressed to Herrmann’s underling and Commission Secretary, John E. Bruce, and grants the permission from all the undersigned Red Sox that manager Bill Carrigan can accept a check on their behalf representing their players share for the 1915 World Series against the Philadelphia Phillies.
Babe Ruth, Tris Speaker, Harry Hooper, Smoky Joe Wood and the entire Red Sox team signed the document which is now open for bidding on the auction house’s website and scheduled to be sold at Heritage’s live Platinum auction event in New York City on February 23rd. The National Baseball Library in Cooperstown houses the World Series papers of the National Commission, which includes comprehensive correspondence related to everything from ticket sales to awards to the travel expenses of umpires. The files still hold several World Series check request letters, however, the 1915 Red Sox request, among others, is curiously absent. On Heritage’s website the document currently has a bid of $38,837 and is accompanied by an LOA from Jimmy Spence and JSA.
The same letter was also sold in 2001 by Federally indicted ex-hobby kingpin, Bill Mastro, at a MastroNet auction as lot 694 for close to $10,000 and was offered with another World Series check request (lot 698) written by John J. McGraw and his 1917 New York Giants, which sold for close to $3,000. MastroNet did not include any information regarding the provenance of either document other than to mention that the 1915 Red Sox letter included “absolutely remarkable” signatures and was “a unique document of museum quality.” Both letters were authenticated by Mike Gutierrez for MastroNet and James Spence for PSA/DNA.
Gutierrez was at the center of a late 1980s FBI investigation into thefts at the Baseball Hall of Fame after he sold a signed photograph of Babe Ruth to auctioneer Josh Evans that was stolen from the National Baseball Library. The photograph had a Hall of Fame accession number covered with white-out and after Evans reported the incident to Hall officials, Gutierrez became the prime suspect for both the FBI and state prosecutors.
In 1998, an anonymous source told hobby newsletter The Sweet Spot that he had accompanied Mike Gutierrez on a visit to the National Baseball Library and said of Gutierrez: “He would go to the photocopy machine, make copies of some of the documents; he made neat stacks of copies,” the witness said. “For every 10 items he’d take to the machine, however, nine originals would return to the file. One original would be mixed in with the copies and they would go directly into his briefcase. That briefcase would never leave his side.” The eyewitness also indicated that the documents Gutierrez was copying were from the Hall’s Herrmann Papers collection.
Gutierrez is one of Heritage’s current consignment directors and a regular on-air appraiser of sports memorabilia for PBS and Antiques Roadshow. In 2001, Gutierrez’ auction, MGA Auctions offered the 1917 New York Giant check request letter in a Sports Collectors Digest auction just months after it was sold by MastroNet, who was also his employer.
The Hall’s Herrmann Papers archive includes documents related to protested games, the World Series, player contracts, player discipline and virtually ever aspect involved in the business of Major League Baseball. It includes all of the correspondence to Herrmann in relation to the National Commission as well as all of his day to day records as owner of the Cincinnati Reds from 1902 through the 1920s.
While any such team-signed document addressed to Herrmann’s Commission (like the 1915 Red Sox check request), had to have originated from his files, the 1917 Giant check request illustrates best the likelihood that these documents were stolen from the Hall in the 1980s heist of well over $1 million in donated materials. The New York Giant letter offered by Mastro and Gutierrez in 2001 was dated October 9, 1917 and apparently wasn’t addressed or paid promptly by Herrmann and the Commission. On October 15, 1917, the Giants wrote a second demand letter for their World Series money. In the letter addressed to the Commission including Herrmann, Ban Johnson and John Tener, manager John McGraw claims that all of the players who signed both requiest letters “have already made arrangements to use our money from World Series receipts.” Unlike, the letter sold by Gutierrez and Mastro, this letter still resides in the National Baseball Library in the Herrmann archive’s World Series files. In fact, at the top of the letter Herrmann hand wrote in pencil the notation: ”File with World Series Papers.” In addition to that letter request, the NBLs files still contain the check request from the 1917 champion White Sox.
The Herrmann Papers archive was donated to the Hall in 1960 by Reds owner Powel Crosley Jr. and also includes other requests for World Series monies including team-signed letters from Hermann’s Reds requesting their share of the fixed 1919 Series and the 1917 request made by the Chicago White Sox signed by the “Eight-Men Out” including Eddie Cicotte, Buck Weaver and “Shoeless” Joe Jackson. Considering how many valuable and rare signatures have been documented as stolen from the Herrmann archive it is surprising that the Jackson-signed document is still in Cooperstown, now protected in an archival sleeve.
The 1915 and 1917 letters to the Commission are also addressed to Herrmann’s Commission’s secretary, John E. Bruce, who dealt with financial considerations for Baseball’s governing body. The file for Herrmann’s 1915 World Series documents includes several other letters addressed to Bruce dealing with the travel expenses for umpires Bill Klem and John Rigler who traveled between New York and Chicago for the Series.
Letters suspected to have been stolen from the Hall of Fame’s collection have been appearing at auction since the early 1990s with several having direct links to Heritage’s Mike Gutierrez. Heritage has removed several Herrmann documents from previous sales written by HOFers Fred Clarke, Joe Tinker, Charles Comiskey, Ban Johnson and others. Other Herrmann documents have appeared in sales held by Superior Galleries in Beverly Hills, CA., and at Richard Wolfers Auctions in San Francisco, CA., at times when Gutierrez was employed as a consultant or employee of those two companies.
In December, Huggins & Scott auctions sold two documents that were previously pulled by Heritage in 2010, a letter addressed to Herrmann by Joe Tinker and another regarding a protested game by Fred Clarke. Despite the fact that another legitimate source of Herrmann materials has not been established and that the sellers of the suspect contraband can produce no verifiable provenance for the documents they are selling, the leadership at the Baseball Hall of Fame has not pursued recovery of its property. In fact, when another auction was selling documents addressed to Herrmann, Hall communications director and 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.” Verkman told Haulsofshame.com, “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.”
Babe Ruth’s granddaughter, Linda Ruth Tosetti, is disturbed by the sale of stolen and historic artifacts linked to her grandfather. Tosetti has played a key role in helping recover other stolen documents like Babe Ruth’s will, which vanished from a New York City courthouse. Outspoken in support of the memory of the Babe, her public statements raised awareness and helped the FBI and the NY State Attorney General finally recover the stolen will.
Upon hearing about the 1915 Ruth letter being offered by Heritage Tosseti said, “My grandfather donated his personal awards and artifacts to the Hall of Fame, and the State of New York with a trust that they be kept safe in perpetuity, to enrich baseball history for future generations. The Hall of Fame, and the State of New York have a responsibility to take care of said items.
When collecting brings in so much money, there must be extra care taken to safe guard these baseball treasures. The Major League papers that include my grandfather are now being sold by these auctions houses. Maybe they should be accountable along with the Hall of Fame that is letting them be sold to spare their embarrassment ? It is sad to see items that might have been cherished family heirlooms, which were given for generations to appreciate, being stolen and sold out of greed. I know my grandfather would not approve. They really should be ashamed.”
Chris Ivy, Heritage’s director of Sports Auctions and son of Heritage CEO, Steve Ivy, did not respond to our inquiries about the provenance on the Red Sox letter and the authenticity of the Ruth plaque. Another recent Haulsofshame.com investigation confirmed that Ivy and Heritage had sold another item stolen from the Hall of Fame, a rare photo of the 1886 New York Giants for over $10,000. Ivy has still not indicated if that item has been returned to Cooperstown.
Recently, Haulsofshame.com has published stories revealing that, in addition to the Herrmann archive, other collections at the Hall have been compromised including 19th century photographs, the Ford Frick Correspondence files and the Frederick Long Papers Collection.
In the recently published McFarland book, Baseball Hall of Fame Autographs: A Reference Guide, author and expert Ron Keurajian weighs in on the thefts from the Hall. ”Today, any letter or document addressed to Herrmann, the National Commission, Tom Lynch, Ban Johnson……should be considered suspect and its origins must be investigated carefully as it may be stolen,” says Keurajian. He adds, “Any letter that involves payment of salary, salary disputes, suspensions and games that were protested should also be scrutinized.” Keurajian advises collectors to avoid these items and calls them “toxic.”
Haulsofshame.com contacted Hall of Fame Chairman Jane Forbes Clark for comment at her Clark Estates office at Rockefeller Center in New York City, but Clark did not respond or issue a statement regarding the Heritage offering or the issue of theft from the Hall. Upcoming Haulsofshame.com reports will also show that the papers of Clark’s grandfather (and Hall of Fame founder), Stephen C. Clark, have also been looted by library thieves. Clark refused to comment on that issue as well. Clark is the sole heir to the Singer Sewing Machine fortune and one of the richest women in America.
UPDATE (Feb. 24): Sports Illustrated reports that a Texas man and his son named “Seven” won the 1915 Red Sox letter believed to have been stolen from the Baseball Hall of Fame:
“A boy wearing a black No. 5 David Wright Mets jersey won the stick for $262,900 and the jersey for $286,800 at a sports memorabilia auction Saturday night. Eruzione’s Miracle on Ice jersey, not the one he wore in the gold-medal game against Finland that Seven won, fetched the highest amount, $657,250, of every lot in a three-hour, $5 million, 134-item session at Fletcher-Sinclair mansion.
Seven, who is not named after Mickey Mantle, watched the movie “Miracle” for the first time this week.
“It was all he talked about for three days,” his father said.
He and his father, John, an avid baseball memorabilia collector, were already flying from Texas to win autographed Mel Ott and Mickey Mantle baseballs and a 1915 Boston Red Sox team signed sheet, including Babe Ruth. The most notable non-Eruzione item was one of Curt Schilling’s two blood-stained socks from the 2004 playoffs that went for a lower-than-hoped $92,613.”
EXPERT KEURAJIAN SAYS THERE IS ONLY ONE KNOWN AUTHENTIC HALL OF FAME PLAQUE SIGNED BY BABE RUTH; HERITAGE OFFERING IS NOT IT:
Also being offered in Heritage’s live auction extravaganza is another item with ties to Baseball’s Hall of Fame, a black and white souvenir postcard depicting the Bambino’s bronze plaque which was allegedly signed by Ruth. The item was authenticated by JSA’s Jimmy Spence and the auction house estimates the value of the signed postcard as exceeding $50,000. The current bid stands at $16,000.
Black and white HOF plaques produced by the Albertype company are rarely found bearing the authentic signature of Ruth and an authentic example was sold at Philip Weiss Auctions in Long Island in 2009 for $62,150. In contrast to that authentic example, the Heritage offering, authenticated by Spence, does not appear to be a favorite of expert Ron Keurajian, author of the book, Baseball Hall of Fame Autographs: A Reference Guide. Keurajian references the authentic plaque sold by Philip Weiss in a section in his book devoted to signed Hall of Fame postcard plaques. According to Keurajian it is the only authentic Ruth autographed HOF plaque-postcard known to exist.
Back in 2008, Robert Edward Auctions sold an alleged Ruth signature on a HOF “Sepia Plaque” that pre-dated the Albertype plaques and were produced between 1939 and 1943. However, according to assertions made by Keurajian in his book, this autograph, authenticated and slabbed by PSA, is also not genuine.
Keurajian says that the keys to determining what an authentic Ruth signature looks like are found on the plaque sold by Weiss in 2009. Says Keurajian, “Even though this plaque was signed by Ruth late in life it shows a strong and steady hand with evidence of good flow.” In Keurajian’s study on Ruth in his book he writes, “A genuine signature will evidence no shakiness of hand and one that does should be considered suspect and avoided.”
The Heritage signed plaque exhibits signs of hesitation, uneven flow of ink and unusual letter construction. To the average eye the signature appears to be authentic, but forgers of Ruth’s signature are so skilled that the expertise of Keurajian is needed to point out the danger signs. In his book Keurajian adds, “Because the (Ruth) forgeries are signed in a methodic way, the signature lacks the up and down bouncy strokes of a genuine Ruth. ”
For more coverage on controversial Babe Ruth memorabilia up for auction and the Bill Mastro Hearings click: here.