April 19, 2011
Last week a protested game letter written by Boston Braves manager George Stallings in 1916 was withdrawn from Robert Edward Auctions’ 2011 Spring sale under suspicion that it originated from the Baseball Hall of Fame’s famous ”August Herrmann Papers” archive. On their website REA states the letter was, “Withdrawn from auction due to possible title issue.” This week, two more letters suspected stolen from the Hall of Fame have also been identified in REA’s current auction and on EBAY.
Lot 1027 in REA’s 2011 Spring sale is a protested game letter written by Hall of Fame umpire Bill Klem to National League President John Heydler on June 22, 1920. In January, this same letter was identified as item 49 on Haulsofshame.com’s “Halper Hot 100 List,” featuring stolen items which once resided in the collection of deceased New York Yankees partner Barry Halper.
On EBAY, seller “jerryjersey” is offering another protested game letter written by Bill Klem to National League President T. J. Lynch on May 30, 1911. The seller claims that the EBAY Klem letter is the “earliest known” letter written by the Hall of Fame umpire.
The protest letter being offered on EBAY, for an opening bid of $1,250, was written by Klem in regard to a game played between the Pittsburgh Pirates and Chicago Cubs on May 30, 1911. The Hall of Fame’s Herrmann Papers archive includes an entire file dedicated to the protest of that particular game and is found in “Box 44, Folder 13″ of the collection. That file is marked, “Pittsburg-Chicago, May 30, 1911.”
The National Baseball Library file for that game currently includes additional protest letters from the Chicago and Pittsburgh teams including documents executed by parties involved in that protested contest. The “Protested Games” files of the Herrmann archive include the testimony of players, managers, spectators and umpires which were presented by the National League to August Herrmann, the Chairman of Baseball’s National Commission, for rulings on the protested games.
Research of the Hall of Fame’s “Herrmann Papers” archive also reveals that the Klem letter being offered for sale by Robert Edward Auctions was related to a protested game between the Boston Braves and the Chicago Cubs on June 14th, 1920. A letter still in the Hall’s archive written by Boston manager George Stallings on June 15th, 1920, indicates the protest was related to the determination of an umpire named Harrison “disallow(ing) (a) put-out on the grounds that the ball went into the players’ bench.”
In the REA letter, Klem writes, “I informed Capt. Maranville that it was practically the same thing as a ball hit outside of grounds and hit a house (which is in sight) and came back in…”
REA’s lot description also notes that the Klem letter written to NL President John Heydler “offers support for a fellow umpire” and in the letter Klem states, “I learned today Harrison was absolutely correct.” Both the Hall of Fame’s letter and the REA letter indicate that Boston player Rabbit Maranville was involved in the protested play. The Hall of Fame letter written by Stalling’s states, “The decision made by Umpire Harrison and as a result of which Captain Maranville immediately and formally notified Umpire Harrison that his club would play out the game under protest.”
The Hall of Fame’s protested game files in the Herrmann archive also include another letter written by Stallings to Heydler about the protested game on June 14th against the Cubs. In the letter dated June 17th, 1920, Stallings writes, “The ball is in play excepting when it goes INTO the players’ bench.” President Heydler wrote on his original copy of the letter, “Make copy of this and send to Mr. Harrison.”
Not included in the Hall of Fame’s Herrmann files, however, is the current REA auction letter written by Hall of Famer Bill Klem. This letter would likely have been included in the Herrmann archive in ”Box 44, Folder 24,” which is dedicated to “Additional Protested Games.”
Additional letters written by Klem to NL Presidents regarding protested games have appeared for sale at auction over the past few decades. None of the auction offerings have ever identified the origin or provenance of the Klem letters. The most recent appearance was of a 1911 letter from Klem to NL President T.J. Lynch that was offered for sale by Coach’s Corner Auctions last month. The letter was dated May 30, 1911 and pertained to a protested game between the Pirates and Cubs played on that day. The “Herrmann Papers” archive at the National Baseball Library contains a file of documents dedicated to this game located in “Folder 13″ of “Box 44.” Klem’s letter appears to be missing from that file.
The current REA Bill Klem letter offering was previously sold in 1999 by Sotheby’s on Amazon.com as part of the Internet portion of the sale of the Barry Halper Collection. The 1999 Halper sale featured several other letters that originated from the Herrmann archive including examples written by Hall of Famers Christy Mathewson, Hughie Jennings, John McGraw and Fred Clarke. REA’s president, Rob Lifson, was Sotheby’s head consultant for the live and Internet auctions of Halper’s collection and this is the second time he’s handled the suspect Klem letter.
Another Klem protest letter was offered by Mastro Auctions in 2006. Dated July 22, 1912, the letter describes a protested game between the Brooklyn Dodgers and St. Louis Cardinals played on July 17, 1912. The Hall of Fame’s Herrmann protest files do not include a separate file for this game, but if the Klem letter from July 22, 1912 were still in the collection it would likely be found in “Folder 24,” under the heading: “Additional Protested Games 1902-1926.” (This same Klem letter also appeared in Lelands’ December, 2004, auction as lot 926.)
In 1998, Mastro Fine Sports sold another Bill Klem protest letter related to a game played between the New York Giants and Boston Braves on July 7, 1910. This Klem letter should be included in the “Herrmann Papers” archive files for protested games. The letter is missing from “Box 44, Folder12,” which is dedicated to that particular protested game.
So, how could there be so many Bill Klem protest letters being offered at public auction, while there are so many more still found in the Baseball Hall of Fame’s Herrmann files dedicated to “Protested Games?”
Despite the confirmations that many items have been stolen from the National Baseball Library and their awareness of the missing protested game letters, the Baseball Hall of Fame has neither investigated nor established a legitimate source for these protest documents which have been offered for public sale.
The Hall of Fame is still in possession of many of Bill Klem’s protested game letters in the Herrmann Papers archive. This example (below) addressed to NL President Harry Pulliam is from July 11, 1909, and is found in the Herrmann Papers archive, “Box44, Folders 8 & 9,” which are dedicated to a game between the Dodgers and Reds on July 8, 1909. The Hall of Fame’s Guide to the Herrmann Papers notes that the file includes, “Umpire Klem’s decision.”
Another Klem protest letter currently in the Hall of Fame’s collection is addressed to NL President John Heydler and dated April 26, 1909. The letter deals with a protested game played on April 23rd between the Pirates and Reds and is currently found in “Folder 6, Box 44″ of the Herrmann Papers archive.
Another Klem letter (below) from May 1, 1909, is currently found at the National Baseball Library in “Box 44, Folder 6,” in a file dedicated to a protested game between Pittsburgh and Cincinnati on April 23, 1909.
In September of 2009, the Baseball Hall of Fame was presented with a lengthy report prepared by this writer illustrating how documents likely removed from their Herrmann archive were being sold in the collecting marketplace.
To date, Hall of Fame officials have not issued a public statement regarding the thefts and the sales of suspect documents. They have also not issued a formal statement as to what action they are taking to investigate and recover items offered for sale.
If the Bill Klem letters currently being offered for sale are withdrawn from the REA and EBAY auctions, they will be the latest two of thirteen items to have been identified and pulled from auctions in the past year. Heritage Auction Galleries of Dallas, Texas, withdrew letters written by Hall of Famers Fred Clarke, Joe Tinker, Charles Comiskey, Ban Johnson and Ed Barrow, while REA withdrew sworn affidavits related to a protested game in 1908 played by the Chicago Cubs.
Although these documents were withdrawn from auction, sources indicate that none of them have actually been returned to the Baseball Hall of Fame. Hall officials have declined to comment on the withdrawals and have not responded to questions as to whether a late 1980s FBI investigation into the Cooperstown thefts has been re-opened.
One owner of a consigned lot suspected to have originated from Cooperstown’s collection told us his lot was returned to him but he’s never been contacted by the Hall of Fame or law enforcement. “These kinds of items have a black mark attached to them now and if you own them, you’re stuck with them. I can’t believe the Hall wouldn’t do all they could to get these items back.”
The Baseball Hall of Fame declined comment for this article.
UPDATE: On April 19th, REA removed the 1920 Bill Klem Letter from their current sale stating, “Withdrawn from auction due to possible title issue. As of that time the 1911 Klem letter appearing on EBAY was still available for sale.”
UPDATE: The 1911 Bill Klem letter offered on EBAY failed to sell and has now been relisted at a discounted price.