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By Peter J. Nash

Oct. 5, 2017

Back in 2014, Hauls of Shame launched an investigation into allegations that rare letters and documents chronicling the integration of Major League Baseball via Branch Rickey, Walter O’Malley and the Brooklyn Dodgers had wrongfully made their way onto the baseball memorabilia market. What raised a red flag in 2014 was an online auction appearance of a trio of 1946 letters penned by Hall of Famer Roy Campanella which detailed the machinations of the Dodger’s earliest attempts to break baseball’s color barrier.

In each of its lot descriptions, Robert Edward Auctions stated of each Campanella document: “The historical significance of this letter cannot be overstated.” REA also described that the content of each letter consisted of scouting reports for Branch Rickey’s assistant, Robert Finch, concerning other black players including Larry Doby, Junior Gilliam, Joe Black, Ed Romby as well as other Negro League stars. REA added that the letters “concern the potential recruitment of other black ballplayers by the Dodgers prior to Jackie Robinson’s historic Major League debut the following spring.” REA claimed that all of the letters originated from “the same remarkable Dodgers collection” without any further detail. Two of the letters were date stamped “Received” by the “Brooklyn Ball Club” evidencing that the letters were once part of the Dodger team files.

These three letters handwritten by Campanella, however, were not the only such suspicious internal Dodger documents to surface in the marketplace as REA referenced another 1946 Campanella scouting report of Larry Doby addressed to Branch Rickey which sold at Heritage Auctions for $23,900 in 2013. Heritage described the letter as “extraordinary” and “among the most important and desirable Heritage has ever had the privilege to handle.” Heritage also made no mention whatsoever of the provenance of the document.

The (3) 1946 Campanella letters were date stamped "Brooklyn Base Ball Club, Received" documenting that the letters were once property of the team and maintained in the club's business files.

In addition, REA and its partners MastroNet and Mike Gutierrez sold two more letters in 2000 and 2001 which were written in 1947 and 1948 by Roy Campanella to Branch Rickey and Dodger official Al Campanis. The auction house described one of the letters regarding a salary dispute as having “significant historical import to the famed executive who is most responsible for engineering the shattering of the color barrier in organized baseball.” That letter sold for $6,828 despite having no reference to the document’s provenance in the lot description.

In 2000 and 2001, REA and MastroNet sold two Campanella letters addressed to Dodger officials (left and middle) while in 2013 Heritage sold another 1946 Campy letter sent to Branch Rickey (right).

All of these rare Campanella letters, however, were not the only Dodger documents to have surfaced as there have been numerous sales of examples of other internal company documents between Dodger President Branch Rickey and owner Walter O’Malley.  In 2010, REA offered one of these missives on Dodger letterhead detailing a trade of second baseman Eddie Stanky to the NY Giants in order to free up roster space to accommodate young players like Jackie Robinson.  In the lot description REA states, “Given the content and the historical implications of the trade, this is certainly one of the finest Rickey letters we have ever offered.”

REA sold this letter written by Branch Rickey to Walter O'Malley in 1948 detailing a trade of Eddie Stanky to the NY Giants. It appears to be an internal document from the Dodger files as evidenced by the holes punched on the letterhead and the pen notations.

Further research of past auction catalogs reveals that these historic documents have been appearing in sales dating back to at least the early 1990s. In 1996 Lelands sold a similar 1946 Campanella letter to Dodger employee Harold Parrot and in 1992 Richard Wolfers Auctions sold another Campanella letter written to the Dodger farm club in Montreal in 1947. In that letter, Campanella acknowledged receiving a $2,200 salary advance and a $300 loan from the Dodgers.  This lot was accompanied by an unsigned carbon copy file letter written to Campy by Branch Rickey who suggested he use the loan to take care of his divorce settlement.  This file copy is further evidence that these documents once resided in the Dodger team files.

In 1992 Richard Wolfers sold a 1947 Campanella letter to the Montreal Royals accompanied by Branch Rickey's unsigned carbon copy letter, suggesting that the documents originated from the Dodger team files.

So, how did all of these documents make their way into private hands and why wouldn’t the Los Angeles Dodgers have retained these historic records in their organizational files? The papers of Branch Rickey are presently part of the Library of Congress and they do not include the volume of his Brooklyn Dodger correspondence which is believed to have stayed with the Dodgers. The O’Malley family retains some correspondence received by the former Dodger owner but it is believed the bulk of his correspondence remained in the Dodger archive in Los Angeles. Hauls of Shame presented copies of the suspect Dodger documents to one prominent baseball researcher who surmised, “The only reasonable conclusion is that these were pilfered from the Dodgers’ archives.”

For several decades rumors and unverified stories have circulated throughout the hobby stating that the Los Angeles Dodger organization retained an archive of the Brooklyn Dodger team files ever since the club moved west in 1958.  Last month, Hauls of Shame contacted Dodger team historian, Mark Langill, to ask for the scope and contents of the team document archive.  Langill responded, “We do not have a comment on the archives at this time. It is currently being processed by Heritage Werks.”

Langill also forwarded to us a recent Street & Smith’s article about Heritage Werks with some details related to the Dodger archives.  The article began stating, “For years, the Los Angeles Dodgers’ considerable heritage lay aging inside rusting file cabinets in forgotten rooms at Dodger Stadium, or gathering dust in cardboard boxes at off-site storage warehouses…” In the article, Dodger executive vice president and chief marketing officer, Lon Rosen, stated, “We had what I called ’stuff’ but a lot of other people called ‘junk’.”

The LA Dodgers recently retained Heritage Werks to preserve and digitize its archives. It is believed owner Walter O'Malley moved the Brooklyn archive into his new stadium, however, many documents from his files have mysteriously appeared at auction (bottom).

Three years ago Rosen and the Dodgers hired Heritage Werks to cart off “two moving vans stuffed with Dodger artifacts and documents” to its headquarters in Atlanta to be digitally documented and preserved.  The article revealed how Rosen and the company discovered “forgotten treasures” including Sandy Koufax’s original scouting report and a wheelchair used by Roy Campanella. The result of the three year project appears to be an impressive data base and the report adds, “the Dodgers have the contents of all those musty boxes and rusty file cabinets digitized and accessible.” Heritage Werks has since done similar work for the Atlanta Braves and the St. Louis Cardinals.

In the course of our investigation we interviewed several hobby executives and dealers who shed light on how they believe these rare Dodger documents entered the marketplace and we will report our findings in the next installment (Part 2) of this special report. In addition we will address the speculation and allegations that the historic 1945 and 1947 Jackie Robinson contracts being offered for sale by Goldin Auctions in November originated from the Dodger team archive and were not Robinson’s own personal copies of the documents as alleged by the consignor and the auction house. In 2016, the consignor told Darren Rovell of ESPN that the contracts were originally owned by “a Brooklyn historian” who acquired them “perhaps from Robinson himself.” He also stated the historian had died and that his estate sold the contracts to a collector and that subsequently that collector, who also died, sold the contracts to the consignor’s company, Collectors Cafe. The consignor also told Rovell that “neither of the previous owners wanted to be publicly identified” despite the fact that they are now both deceased. Sources tell HOS that the collector was the late finance whiz Martin E. Zweig who predicted the 1987 stock market crash.

Back in September auctioneer Ken Goldin was interviewed by ESPN and Rovell who reported, “The contracts were originally owned by Robinson but eventually became the possession of the Brooklyn Historical Society.”  HOS contacted the BHS to confirm this claim, however, BHS spokesperson, Jean Hodesh stated that the Brooklyn institution “had no recollection or any records documenting that the Robinson contracts were ever in its possession.”

The two Jackie Robinson contracts appraised at $36 million are being sold by Goldin Auctions but questions regarding their provenance have led to allegations that the documents were pilfered from the Dodger files in Los Angeles.

The consignor of the documents, Mykalai Kontilai, claims the contracts are worth $36 million based upon a questionable appraisal rendered by autograph dealer Seth Kaller of Seth Kaller Inc. Although the Robinson contracts are important and historic documents the $36 million appraised value is almost $14 million more than the sale price of the Magna Carta which sold at a Sotheby’s auction in 2007 for $21.3 million.  Auctioneer Josh Evans recently criticized Kaller’s appraisal in the Sweet Spot Newsletter stating, “Although it is undoubtedly a great piece and something anyone would love to own, regardless, this is still grossly irresponsible.  It is simply a ludicrous figure with no foreseeable rationale behind it.”  Supporting Evans’ statement is the fact that sources indicate the two most recent sales of the Robinson contracts ranged from figures below $1 million and well under $2 million.  Adding the controversy over the actual provenance of the documents, the appraisal figures might be the least of the consignor’s and the auction house’s problems. Stay tuned for Part 2 and Part 3 of this special investigative report.

If any readers have information regarding the thefts of documents and photographs from Dodger Stadium and the Dodger team files in the 1980s please email us at: tips@haulsofshame.com


2 Comments »

  1. With all that you bring to the table with your wonderful articles I was surprised by the fact that the name of John Reznikoff is not mentioned here.

    Will we discover that John Reznikoff is somehow — someway involved with these Robinson documents???

    Can’t wait for parts 2 and 3…

    Keep up the great work my friend!

    Comment by Charlie Daniels — October 6, 2017 @ 11:07 am

  2. Robinson selling stuff like that? The only free thing I received from Robinson was his autograph at a card show in 1972 at a private school located by Greenwich hospital.

    Comment by Mastronaut — October 31, 2017 @ 8:18 pm

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