Nov. 30, 2010
Over the past two decades prominent sports auction houses have regularly offered items both stolen and suspected to have been stolen from the collections housed at the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. Rare photographs, correspondence and documents chronicling the history of the National Pastime were long rumored to have been contraband and have recently been confirmed as purloined items as a result of Haulsofshame.com’s investigative reporting over the past year.
In the past six months, Heritage Auction Galleries of Dallas, Texas, has offered and removed several documents believed to have been stolen from the National Baseball Library’s famous “August Herrmann Papers”collection. On several occasions we’ve informed Heritage that letters written by Hall of Famers Joe Tinker, Fred Clarke, Kenesaw Mountain Landis and others written by White Sox owner Charles Comiskey appeared to have originated from the Hall’s Herrmann Papers archive. Heritage’s Director of Sports Auctions, Chris Ivy, was able to view PDF files from the Hall of Fame containing the specific files supporting claims that Heritage auction lots were believed to have originated from the “Herrmann Papers.” In each instance, Ivy removed the letters from the Heritage sales.
Just two weeks ago, Heritage sold another letter written by American League President Ban Johnson to August Herrmann on October 2, 1913. Haulsofshame.com learned about the sale of the Johnson letter after the auction ended and was unable to inform Heritage the letter likely originated from the Hall of Fame’s collection.
The “Herrmann Papers” collection was donated to the Hall of Fame in 1960 by Major League owner Powel Crosley Jr. and included all of the correspondence of the Cincinnati Reds and their owner August “Garry” Herrmann spanning from 1902 to 1927.” The collection is considered by historians as the most important and valuable archive of baseball documents in the world. Historian Dorothy Seymour Mills knows, first hand, how important the archive is. Says Seymour Mills, “The materials in those boxes are priceless for historians, as August Herrmann was also the head of Baseball’s National Commission and presided over business in both leagues.” Her late husband, Dr. Harold Seymour, called the collection, “The most important unpublished material used in (his) research.”
The appearance at public auction of items wrongfully removed from this great collection went relatively unnoticed for decades, but the recent cataloguing and conservation of the archive by the National Baseball Library staff has provided key information in uncovering the long-time mystery of the sales of correspondence addressed to Reds owner August Herrmann, League Presidents and the National Commission.
Now, nearly two decades since the alleged thefts occurred, our exclusive interview with a former Hall of Fame employee confirms that the prime suspect in a late 1980’s FBI investigation of theft at the Cooperstown shrine was Antiques Roadshow appraiser and Heritage Galleries consignment director, Mike Gutierrez. Gutierrez’ employer, Heritage, is also currently auctioning yet another two rare documents that originated from the Hall of Fame’s Herrmann Papers archive. One is a 1914 letter to Herrmann from Hall of Famer Ed Barrow (part of Lot 41100), and the other is a 1914 letter to Herrmann from American League President Ban Johnson (Lot 41101). Both letters were written to thank Herrmann for sending a complimentary season pass for Red’s games for that season. Both letters originate from the Hall of Fame’s Herrmann files located in “Folder 8, Box 3.” That same folder is designated as including letters regarding: ”Season Pass-Thank You (various major League teams) 1914″. The Hall of Fame’s Herrmann archive includes over 25 folders full of hundreds of letters from Johnson to Herrmann spanning from 1902 to 1926. Folder 2 of Box 52 features correspondence from Johnson to Herrmann spanning from 1911 to 1917, which also includes season-pass related correspondence. Click here for: PDF file of, “Folder 2, Box 52, from the Hall of Fame.
The letters addressed to Herrmann first began showing up in public auctions in the early 1990s. One of the first letters to surface was a 1912 letter from Ban Johnson to August Herrmann that appeared in a 1992 sale conducted by Superior Auctions of Beverly Hills, California, an auction house that Mike Gutierrez was affiliated with at that time as a consultant. In that letter, Lot 998, Johnson thanks Herrmann for sending a Reds season pass to a friend named “Frank Teagardin.” Further proof that this letter was stolen from the Hall of Fame files still exists in “Folder 7, Box 3″ of the Herrmann Papers, which still includes the actual letter Johnson sent requesting the pass for just three days earlier. Johnson wrote, “Can you favor me with a pass for Frank Teagardin, to the Cincinnati Ball Park this summer?” In the 1992 Superior Auction letter Johnson writes, “I am in receipt of a pass for Frank Teagardin.” File folder 7 of Box 3 in the Herrmann Papers collection is designated ”Season Pass- Thank You” for 1912.
Gutierrez also offered another Ban Johnson letter to August Hermann in his own “Mike Gutierrez Auctions” sale in December of 2003. In that April 5, 1905 letter sent to Herrmann, Johnson includes an American League season pass for the Reds owner. Haulsofshame.com has also viewed a copy of a receipt for a direct sale Gutierrez made to a private collector of another Ban Johnson letter addressed to August Herrmann.
Gutierrez’ history at the Baseball Hall of Fame dates back to the mid 1980s. In the summer of 1986 hobby veteran Lew Lipset reported in his newsletter, The Old Judge, that Gutierrez was compiling an “autograph price survey” for items signed by Baseball Hall of Famers. Lipset referenced Gutierrez’ visits to Cooperstown stating, “Mike has spent many hours at the Baseball Hall of Fame documenting autographs.”
According to an ex-Hall of Fame employee, Gutierrez’ last of several trips to Cooperstown appears to have occurred in the Fall of 1987 or 1988. Bill Deane, who held the post as the National Baseball Library’s Senior Research Associate from 1986 to 1994, recalls the week long visit Gutierrez made to the library that year. Deane remembers, “He was there for a week or so with another guy and when he first got there it was clear he had been there before, but not since I started at the Hall in 1986. He was acting like he was everybody’s best friend.” Deane states that Gutierrez had propositioned Hall of Fame officials asking if they would send out inquiries to survivors of deceased players on his behalf to purchase baseball artifacts. Deane recalls Gutierrez’ offer to the Hall was that, in return, he would ”donate a portion of the items he acquired to the Museum.” But that deal never happened.
Deane remembers Gutierrez handling many files of photographs in the library and described the area in which he viewed the materials. “There was a set of tables in the middle of the room where researchers were set up and we’d pull files for them or in some cases, people would pull their own files.” Deane described a very casual environment with virtually no controls in regards to the security of the items researchers were viewing. Deane recalls, “At that time there was no security at the Hall and there were times when there would have been no employees in sight.” That being said, Gutierrez left the library at the end of his stay without much notice.
It wasn’t until months later that the Hall of Fame got a call from New York City dealer and auctioneer Josh Evans who stated that he’d purchased an autographed photo of Babe Ruth from Gutierrez and noticed something whited out on the reverse of the photo. Deane recalls, “He had noticed the Wite-Out and scraped it off and he recognized under it one of our accession numbers which starts with ‘BL.’ Deane says head librarian Tom Heitz asked Evans to send the photo to Cooperstown and then Deane says, “Tom brought it to the attention of the Hall of Fame brass and then they were launching this big investigation.” The big question at that point Deane says was, “How many other photos could have possibly been stolen from the Hall of Fame by Gutierrez or by anyone else?” Looking back Deane thinks it would have been very easy for someone intent on stealing Hall of Fame property to, “Just slide something into their notebook or briefcase.”
After the revelation of the stolen Babe Ruth photo and its sale by Gutierrez, the library assigned two employees to look for all autographed photos listed in the original Hall of Fame accession ledger books (dating back to 1939) and see if any others were missing. Deane confirms that, “They identified a lot of items that they couldn’t locate.” Deane also confirmed that an FBI investigation was commenced in regard to the stolen photo and after Hall of Fame officials learned about Gutierrez’ alleged involvement, Deane added, “They said he wasn’t allowed here, he was blacklisted from the National Baseball Library.”
This past May, another stolen photograph of Hall of Famer “Smilin” Mickey Welch was featured in Robert Edward Auctions’ Spring 2010 sale. The 1891 cabinet card had tell tale Hall of Fame ownership marks and also had the library accession number defaced. The card was removed from the auction and sources indicate that it has been returned to Cooperstown.
Another cabinet photo of Christy Mathewson, also stolen from Cooperstown, was posted in September on collector message board Net54. The photo had HOF ownership marks and was confirmed as stolen from the Hall of Fame. The Mathewson photo, which sold for over $12,000 in a 2008 MastroNet auction, also had its National Baseball Library accession number covered with Wite-Out, just like the Ruth photo from 1988. The Mathewson photo did quite a bit of traveling since its theft from from Cooperstown, as it was purchased from a Chicago-based auction by a collector named David McDonald, who lives in Honolulu, Hawaii. At the time it was exposed as a stolen item this past September, McDonald posted on Net54, “This is a serious matter. It will be dealt with.” Net54 moderator Leon Luckey also commented on the situation stating, “The HOF and lawyers have been notified…(David) is also a very stand up guy and is doing the right thing.” Another board member, Richard Simon, added, “Some people know who the theif is.”
Bill Deane’s recollections of Mike Gutierrez’ 1988 visit to Cooperstown and the ensuing FBI investigation into the theft of the Babe Ruth photo and other items has also been confirmed by another ex-Hall of Fame official who spoke with us under the condition of anonymity. The source confirmed that Gutierrez was, in fact, “banned from entering the National Baseball Library.” Said the ex-Cooperstown official, “The FBI investigated this guy (Gutierrez) pretty thoroughly and nothing was done about it because the federal prosecutor in Syracuse declined to do anything. It’s on the Hall of Fame to re-open it and initiate it.”
The ex-official also indicated that, “Stealing one photograph was all we were talking about at the time.” He continued, “The FBI spoke to the guy who came with Gutierrez and he was ready to turn to implicate Gutierrez,” and, “One of the things he told the FBI was that Gutierrez had threatened him and, so, the FBI was ready to charge him with importuning a witness, and that’s a more serious offense, actually.”
The same ex-Hall of Fame official also confirmed that Gutierrez was one of the few people to ever have access to the “Herrmann Papers” archive in the 1980s. The first persons with such access to the archive appear to be Dr. Harold Seymour and his wife Dorothy Seymour Mills, who utilized the collection as a source for their classic book, Baseball: The Golden Age (Oxford Press, 1971). The source also confirmed that Gutierrez had access to the Herrmann Papers prior to his last trip to the library in 1988.
The ex-Hall official also stated that back when the FBI was investigating the 1988 theft, the Herrmann Papers had not been catalogued or inventoried. “We had no way to know exactly what was missing from the Herrmann boxes back then.” Now that the collection is secure, and half of the files have been microfilmed, thanks to a grant from the YawkeyFoundation, that’s no longer the case. It’s rather easy to match up letters appearing in auctions with the contents of specific files still located at the National Baseball Library.
Cornell University’s Rare and Manuscript Division houses the original research notes that Dr. Seymour and his wife took at Cooperstown in the 1960s. These original documents, which were both hand and type-written, quote directly from thousands of Herrmann documents that the couple utilized on their visit to the National Baseball Library. The Cornell Seymour Papers archive will, no doubt, aid future investigations into the thefts at the Hall of Fame.
Similar research notes taken by the Seymour’s at the New York Public Library have already aided the FBI in their investigation into stolen letters from NYPL’s Harry Wright Correspondence Collection. Many letters addressed to Harry Wright, slated for auction in 2009, were confirmed as stolen thanks to the original Seymour research notes. By comparing Cornell’s Seymour notes to the actual surviving Herrmann files at the National Baseball Library, investigators will be able to identitify more documents missing from the collection.
Dorothy Seymour Mills fondly recalls how Hall of Fame historian Lee Allen first made the Herrmann archive available to her in Cooperstown during the 1960s. “Harold Seymour and I examined thousands of original documents in the 72 boxes on the shelf in the room Lee Allen used as a writing room. There was no security at all, or the need for such protection,” said Seymour Mills.
The only other public mention of the issue of the Hall of Fame thefts, besides a 2000 article in the New York Daily News that mentioned Gutierrez’ sale of the stolen Ruth photo, was in the hobby newsletter, The Sweet Spot, in 1998. The article published by Charles Kaufman and titled, “Baseball HOF closes holes in library; ‘88 theft recalled,” described much of the same detail that was offered to us in our interview with ex-HOF employee, Bill Deane, but never mentioned the name of the suspect in the thefts. The article referred to the suspect as “a dealer (who) remains active in the hobby” and “persona non grata at the Hall of Fame Library.”
But The Sweet Spot claimed to have another eyewitness to the thefts who accompanied the suspect and spoke with The Sweet Spot under the condition of anonymity. This wittness gave detailed testimony, which was reported in the newsletter:
“During the ‘88 visit, the documents were lifted from the file of August Herrmann, owner of the Cincinnati Red Legs in the early 1900’s. Our source remembers the dealer sifting through piles of documents out of the Hall of Fame Library’s orange file boxes. During that day, the dealer perhaps went through 100 such boxes. The contents were remarkable, with letters to Lajoie and Ty Cobb. The dealer had permission to make copies of the documents. “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 1998 article in The Sweet Spot referred to the Hall of Fame thefts as a “secret” for “a small circle of influential hobby members.” One long-time dealer and autograph authenticator from New York City, Richard Simon, has even included information regarding the alleged 1988 thefts on his website. Simon states, “I have talked to an eyewitness to the theft and three other individuals who purchased photos from this very well known dealer.” Simon also adds, “The Hall of Fame covered up the incident because they did not want adverse publicity and the dealer, of course, denies any involvement. But I know of an eyewitness to this theft, and I know of three buyers of these photos who have seen the whiteout on the back of the photo.”
In the 2000 New York Daily News article Mike Gutierrez responded to the allegations about his sale of the stolen Ruth photo saying, “If I got a photo with a Hall of Fame stamp, I got it through sale or trade.”
We contacted Gutierrez at his office at Heritage Galleries in Dallas and asked if he was aware that Chris Ivy had pulled several letters addressed to or relating to August Herrmann from prior Heritage sales and was offering others in their current auction. Said, Gutierrez, “He (Ivy) might have said something, but I don’t know.” When asked about the allegations that he had been banned from the National Baseball Library, Gutierrez declined any further comment.
From 1990 through 2000 Gutierrez was also a partner with collector Doug Averitt and operated the company MVP Autographs of Woodland Hills, CA. Recently Averitt presented a copy of a letter featuring the rare signature of Hall of Famer John M. Ward for inclusion as an exemplar in Ron Keurajian’s upcoming book Signatures From Cooperstown. The letter from February 15, 1905, is addressed to “The National Commission” by Ward who is writing as an attorney on behalf of his client, player Jack Taylor. Taylor was accused in a gambling scandal in 1904 and Ward’s letter regards Taylor making himself available to give testimony to August Herrmann’s National Commission.
The original copy of this letter is believed to originate from the Hall of Fame’s collection, as the Herrmann Papers archive features the “Jack Taylor Gambling Case” in folder 6 of Box 46. This folder specifically includes correspondence written about the case in February of 1905. We called Doug Averitt at MVP Autographs to ask where he acquired his copy of the suspect John Ward letter, but Averitt did not respond to our inquiry. Industry experts estimate that the same 1905 John M.Ward letter would fetch anywhere from $10,000 to $15,000 at public auction.
Over the last two decades, hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of documents that originated from the Hall of Fame’s “Herrmann Papers,” have been bought and sold in private sales and at public auction. Rare signatures of Baseball Hall of Famers featured on letters addressed to Herrmann; League Presidents; and the National Commission (which Herrmann headed) are highly covered by collectors. Rare documents signed by George Davis, James “Orator” O’Rourke, John M. Ward, Henry Chadwick, Hughie Jennings, Christy Mathewson, John J. McGraw, Miller Huggins, Frank Chance, Joe Tinker, Barney Dreyfus and a host of others are missing from the Hall of Fame files. A letter written by O’Rourke to Herrmann in 1916, estimated at a value of $10-15,000, was offered in a 1992 sale at Richard Wolfers Auctions in San Francisco. In the letter O’Rourke thanked Herrmann for sending tickets to the 1916 World Series. Still in the Hall of Fame “Herrmann Papers” files is the letter that preceded it, when O’Rourke first asked Herrmann for the tickets.
Hall of Fame spokesperson Brad Horn declined comment on the Gutierrez banishment from the NBL, and he also declined comment as to why the 1988 FBI investigation was halted. Since our first reports earlier this year about the thefts from the National Baseball Library, Hall of Fame officials have declined to make any public statement.
Recently, the Hall of Fame has also been dealing with controversies involving their display of fake artifacts. In August Haulsofshame.com published a report that claimed an alleged 1919 jersey of “Shoeless Joe” Jackson was not authentic. In October, the Hall of Fame confirmed that report admitting to the New York Post and Chicago Sun Times that the jersey, purchased from collector Barry Halper, was a fake. Many other items purchased from Halper are believed to be fakes as well, including Joe Jackson’s “Black Betsy” bat and a 1951 Mickey Mantle rookie jersey.
Many in the baseball research community feel that the scandals involving the thefts from the Hall of Fame collections and the display of fakes are not being handled properly by Hall of Fame officials, but were unwilling to make public statements. One unnamed individual even stated that the Society for American Baseball Research was reluctant to criticize the Hall’s leadership.
PBS’ Antiques Roadshow website features a profile of Gutierrez as one of their featured “guest appraisers” and “one of the foremost sports autograph authenticators in the sports memorabilia business.” PBS gives high praise to Gutierrez for his work in an “industry (that) has been plagued by FBI investigations of fraud.” Antiques Roadshow’s website also states: “Mike is one of the most respected repositories of trust in the business.” PBS also claims that Gutierrez, “authenticated all the autograph material from the Barry Halper Collection sold at Sotheby’s in 1999.” The Halper sale at Sotheby’s featured many suspect letters written to August Herrmann by Hall of Famers like Christy Mathewson and Hughie Jennings.
Gutierrez is also considered one of the major authenticators in the baseball collectibles field having worked for PSA/DNA and other outfits. He is also currently listed as an authenticator for James Spence Authentication (JSA). For years, James Spence and Mike Gutierrez have been authenticating suspect letters addressed to August Herrmann, without ever noting the controversy over the provenance of the documents. Sources indicate Spence has been well aware of the controversy over the Herrmann letters, but has accepted payment for his authentications of the contraband materials nonetheless. Both letters addressed to Herrmann in the current December 5th Heritage Galleries sale are accompanied by letters of authenticity from James Spence Authentication (JSA). James Spence made no attempt to report the appearences of the suspect letters to the auctioneer or the proper authorities.
Another authenticator for PSA/DNA, Kevin Keating, is currently offering yet another Ban Johnson letter addressed to August Herrmann on his “Quality Autographs” website. Keating’s offering is a January 10, 1922 letter informing Herrmann that his Reds open the 1922 season in Chicago. The letter, originating from the Hall of Fame’s Herrmann Papers archive, can be had for $750. In the past Keating has also offered other letters addressed to Herrmann from Baseball Hall of Famers including Miller Huggins and Clark Griffith. The Huggins letter appeared in a March, 2000, issue of Sports Collectors Digest for a price of $9,950.
In Boston, at the headquarters of PBS and WGBH, Antiques Roadshow spokesperson, Judy Matthews, said that the network had no knowledge of Gutierrez’ banishment from the National Baseball Library in the 1980s. “We’ve never heard of anything of that nature,” stated Matthews. PBS declined to make any further comment. In addition to PBS’ website listing Gutierrez as one of their guest appraisers, the network also features him prominently in television commercials for the show.
When informed of the allegations against Gutierrez and his banishment from the Hall of Fame’s library his employer, Heritage Auctions, declined comment. Calls to Heritage’s Director of Sports Auctions, Chris Ivy, were not returned. Heritage also declined to respond to an inquiry about their continued sale of suspect Herrmann correspondence.
Having been one of the first historians to benefit from the wealth of information found in the Herrmann Papers archive, Dorothy Seymour Mills has strong opinions about Herrmann’s correspondence showing up in auctions for public sale. Says Mills, “Stealing from this archive, especially to make money, is reprehensible and should be punished.”