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By Peter J. Nash

Dec. 16, 2010

August Herrmann's correspondence files are housed at the National Baseball Library.

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.

AL President Ban Johnson informs August Herrmann that the Red Sox have no interest in letting go of their rookie pitcher Babe Ruth (Courtesy National Baseball Library)

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: 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.

The Herrmann archive includes correspondence from the Spalding Company about uniform orders for the Reds. (Top) Spalding writes Herrmann about the Red order for the 1915 season and also includes Spalding's hand drawn artist renderings of the uniforms for that season (bottom).

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.

The Herrmann archive also features contract and player transfer documents reviewed by the National Commission. One file (above) is dedicated to Joe Wood and his 1916 contract dispute with the Red Sox. (Courtesy of National Baseball Library)

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:

Fred Merkle recalled how he, "took second base and stood there until Mathewson came along..." (Courtesy National Baseball Library)

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:

The Herrmann archive features a who's who of Hall of Fame signatures. This sampling features (from top to bottom), Ned Hanlon, Joe Kelley, A. G. Spalding and Honus Wagner. Although many have been wrongfully removed in the tragic thefts from the National Baseball Library, some of the rarest signatures known to exist are still in the Cooperstown collection.

Stay tuned in 2011 for Part II of our in-depth examination of the Hall of Fame’s “Herrmann Papers” archive….


  1. Glad to hear of this kind of research in the Herrmann Correspondence. I’m sure there’s still a lot to learn from this rich archive.

    Comment by Dorothy Seymour Mills — December 16, 2010 @ 9:49 am

  2. What an incredible collection they have at the NBL and its good to see that researchers are finding useful information. But will we ever know what’s really been lost?

    Comment by Chris A. — December 16, 2010 @ 1:30 pm

  3. [...] bowels of Crosley Field and donated to the HOF by Powell Crosley. These papers became known as the “Herrmann Papers” and represent a treasure trove of correspondence between Reds Chairman Gary Herrmann and numerous [...]

    Pingback by History is a myth that men agree to believe. | Redleg Nation — March 22, 2011 @ 11:35 pm

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