Dec. 16, 2010
In 1960, the Baseball Hall of Fame acquired the personal and business files of Cincinnati Reds owner August Herrmann, who was also the Chairman of Baseball’s National Commission. The National Commission and Herrmann ruled the game before the office of the Commissioner was established with the appointment of Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis in 1920. Reds owner Powel Crosley Jr. donated the massive archive, which he found in a storage room at Crosley Field, contributing what has become known as the greatest research tool available for the study of the Dead-Ball Era. In 1960, The Sporting News estimated the collection included “over 45,000 letters” and they quoted Hall of Fame historian Lee Allen as saying, “This is the most valuable accumulation of baseball lore ever assembled in one place.”
We recently uncovered and reported significant evidence showing how this great archive has been compromised by large-scale thefts from Cooperstown in the 1980’s, however, the majority of the collection is still in tact thanks to the conservation efforts of the current National Baseball Library officials and employees. Half of the collection is now available on microfilm thanks to funding provided by the Yawkey Foundation.
In the course of our research we’ve been able to document the types of materials housed in the famous collection. It features everything from handwritten letters to contracts and sworn affidavits related to some of the most important events in baseball history. The collection includes documents from the Merkle incident of 1908 and correspondence covering gambling issues and the Black Sox scandal in 1919. It also contains mundane notes and telegrams documenting player transactions and original orders for uniforms, equipment and even ballpark peanuts. It’s a veritable treasure-trove of baseball history that we wanted to share with our readers. Here are some of the true “Gems” of the “Herrmann Papers” Collection:
Letters to August Herrmann as Cincinnati Reds Owner:
Many letters sent to Herrmann from American League President Ban Johnson were stolen from the Hall of Fame and have since been sold at public auction. This historic letter eluded theft and shows that if Herrmann had his way, Babe Ruth would have been a Cincinnati Red.
Letters to the Cincinnati Reds Regarding Uniform and Equipment Orders:
Dave Grob’s research on early twentieth-century uniforms benefited from his discoveries in the “Herrmann Papers” archive. His recent article for MEARS shows how important the Hall of Fame’s archive is to his work authenticating uniforms: http://www.mearsonline.com/news/newsDetail.asp?id=770 The documents in the archive related to uniform ordering offers unique insight into the way ballclubs chose manufacturers and how they went about outfitting their players.
Major League Contracts and Player Transfers Reviewed by the National Commission:
Herrmann and the League Presidents oversaw player contract disputes and other labor issues under the reserve clause. In this case Boston hurler ”Smoky Joe” Wood refused to sign his contract with the Red Sox in 1916.
Sworn Affidavits of Players, Umpires and Managers From Protested Games:
The Herrmann archive includes all of the files for protested games reviewed by the National Commission from the turn-of- the- century though the 1920s. In these files are affidavits from some of the most famous (and infamous) contests in the history of the game. The file for the protested ”Merkle Boner” game of 1908 is as thick as a phone book. Here’s what Christy Mathewson said he saw:
And Fred Merkle’s statement:
Rare and Scarce Authentic Autographs From Baseball Hall of Famers:
Recently Ron Keurajian has been researching the Herrmann archive via microfilm provided by the National Baseball Library staff. He’s been scouring the Herrmann documents in the quest for authentic exemplars of handwriting to be featured in his upcoming autograph compendium, Signatures From Cooperstown. Here’s the type of material he’s finding:
Stay tuned in 2011 for Part II of our in-depth examination of the Hall of Fame’s “Herrmann Papers” archive….