May 25, 2017

Notes From the Shadows of Cooperstown: There’s Gold in Them Thar Documents

June 2, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

This issue will be a preliminary report on my visit to Chicago, where, with the assistance of a SABR-Yoseloff research grant, I just spent parts of three days at the Chicago History Museum.

This story begins in mid-November 2007, when I was contacted by James Janega, a reporter from the Chicago Tribune. A huge collection of documents related to the “Black Sox” scandal had turned up and were going to be sold at auction. Newcomers to Notes are advised at this point to look up #425 in the Notes archive.

Based on an inspection of thirty-some random pages, I had the impression that the documents could be a “treasure trove” of information; my quote wound up in the AP story, and no doubt played a role in driving the price up to nearly $100,000. http://www.blackbetsy.com/joenews07.htm

The winning bidder was the Chicago History Museum, of course. Good news, because the material would be properly preserved and eventually open to the public. That finally happened, several weeks ago. So I had plenty of time to buy a pick and shovel and prepare to make the trek.

IF YOU GO TO SAN FRANCISCO CHICAGO

I doubt that this report will start a gold rush, but here are some tips up front for anyone who wants to go digging. And I do encourage anyone interested to do so. The CHMD (I’ll use that for Chicago History Museum documents) is too much to read in one day or three. More and different eyes will see more and different things. Not all the gold is laying on the surface in big nuggets that are easy to spot, there is a lot of panning to be done, too.

Make an appointment at the CHM Research Center. The RC is on the third floor of the museum, and its staff is very friendly. There is a fee, $5 a day or $15 for a year. The Center is not open every day, so check their schedule at their web site. Summer Hours meant that I could visit only from 1-4:30 PM on a Wednesday, and 10 AM – 4:30 PM on Thursday and Friday. With a few extra morning hours that first day, I roamed the rest of the museum, expecting to spend most of my time at their Black Sox exhibit. But there was none, just a showcase or two on Chicago sports. So there is more info at their web site on the B-Sox than on display at the museum; nothing to hint at that new treasure upstairs. (Actually, there is another collection at the CHM, the papers of Eliot Asinof, related to Eight Men Out, but these are still in the process of being preserved, photocopied and catalogued.)

Backing up just a bit, I stayed at the Hotel Indigo, a ten-minute walk from the CHM. And the hotel is just a $2.50 CTA ride on the train & bus from O’Hare airport. If you get a deal on your flight and hotel (I used Priceline), and stick to public transportation, you’ll have more money to make copies when you hit the Research Center. Copies are fifty cents each, but just a quarter for newspaper microfilm copies. As you ride the train into the city, one of the announcements you hear says “Soliciting and gambling are prohibited on CTA vehicles,” and you wonder if some similar PSA on the trains used in 1919 by the Sox might have made a difference. On my way home, I heard the announcement again less than five minutes after boarding the train. Did the scandal make this city a bit paranoid about gambling? (This reminds me that I read somewhere recently that Virginia still has on their books a law prohibiting “corrupt practices or bribery by any persons other than political candidates” — and remember, the Judge Landis edict applied only to players, not management. And this is somewhat related — has anyone else noticed those ads for HGH in airline magazines? “Choose Life — Grow Young With HGH” goes one headline. Good thing ballplayers don’t read, huh?)

Two more things about the CHM. First, it has a very nice and reasonably-priced cafe, for a late breakfast or lunch, as well as a very nice gift shop — and I do recommend taking some time to stroll around the first and second floors. Thing two: this was a pleasant surprise — the CHM has lots of newspapers on microfilm, perhaps ten or more from 1919-1920, my favorite era. So there is no need to make a separate trip to the public library, at least not for an excursion into old newspapers.

BOX ONE, FOLDER ONE

I think for many people, this folder will be a highlight. It contains twenty-seven different reports from the detectives hired by the White Sox within a few weeks after the 1919 World Series ended. The final report, a summary of their findings, was an exhibit in the 1924 Milwaukee trial, and I had seen that before. But I don’t think I’ve seen anywhere, the actual, very-detailed reports. They range from three- and four-page letters, to brief telegrams (and one handwritten note).

The reports deserve a long treatment, and eventually I will give them that. For now, I just want to give you an overview. The detective agency, Hunter’s Secret Service, headed by J. R. Hunter, met with the Sox — Alfred Austrian, their lawyer, hired them and gave Hunter the initial instructions. Hunter then sent “operatives” — we get to know them as EWM and #11, and then EWM changes his name to S-1 — to Milwaukee (#11) to spy on Happy Felsch; and to St Louis (EWM) to see what can be wrung out of the gamblers there (remember, the Sox had visited Harry Redmon right after the Series, so they knew that he knew a lot; EWM focuses on Joe Pesch, but snoops around for Carl Zork and Redmon, and tries to look up Abe Attell in the City Directory).

California is a nice place to work in the winter, and Hunter takes that assignment himself (wouldn’t your boss?), taking along his wife. In Los Angeles he tracks down Fred McMullin and then Chick Gandil, and eventually finds Buck Weaver, too, who is working in Venice, CA. He speaks directly with all three, and includes in his reports, their own views on the Fix rumors.

EWM gives up in St Louis and focuses on two Chicago ladies who are friends with Swede Risberg; one is more than a friend. The reports from EWM (later S-1) — he files five — are among the most detailed, and the most frustrating. None of the detectives really find anything substantive, which must have ticked off Austrian, who received most of the reports, as well as Comiskey, who paid over $3,800 for Hunter’s services. But maybe not, because their lack of findings may have been precisely what Comiskey was hoping for. It meant that he could sign these players up with a slightly clearer conscience.

It is striking that nary an operative was sent to Savannah, where Joe Jackson was wintering, or to look up Eddie Cicotte or Lefty Williams, the two players most likely to have been fixed (that was the consensus of both the gamblers and the ballplayers contacted). Jackson, it ought to be noted, had written to Comiskey, offering to come to Chicago to tell what he knew; he was brushed off, and even when Harry Grabiner visited Savannah to talk contract, Jackson’s information was ignored. That no detectives — no Hunter Agency detectives, anyway — were sent after the two pitchers, makes me wonder if Cicotte and perhaps Williams had informed the team (via manager Kid Gleason) that they had accepted some bribe money — but had pitched to win. I think that is possible, but it is also possible that the Sox simply hired different detectives to visit Detroit (Cicotte’s home) and the south. Jackson testified later that when Grabiner visited him in Savannah, Harry told him that the team “had the goods” on Cicotte, Williams and Gandil; so it is also possible that they were ignored by the Hunter men for that reason.

On one hand, the detective reports may seem like a terrific invasion of privacy; what employee would not resent his boss sending out spies to con them into saying something incriminating? But I think the circumstances made Austrian recommend this espionage, to protect the team from later charges that they had “guilty knowledge” about the Fix, but still went ahead and signed up the suspected players. (See Notes #483 for a look at the salaries of the 8MO, 1918-1920.)

ALL-STAR LINEUP

In no special order, here are some of the other things in the CHMD that I look forward to expanding on in future issues of NOTES; in a special edition of the Black Sox Research Committee newsletter; in an article for the next SABR Baseball Research Journal; and probably in other places as well.

Transcripts from the 1921 trial. Just a fraction, but as far as I know, no one alive has seen any transcripts from 1921, and when Asinof went looking in 1960, they were thought to be long gone. The CHMD documents have Jackson, Cicotte, Williams, and Judge McDonald all testifying — away from the jury, so this never made the newspapers — about their 1920 grand jury appearances, in more detail than you can imagine.

A nine-page letter from Comiskey to John E. (Ed) Wray of the St Louis Post-Dispatch, protesting the newspaper’s biography of Ban Johnson. We knew Commy protested when the Cleveland Plain Dealer ran a similar series on Johnson (and then halted their series, by Earl Obenshain; other, smaller papers continued to run it) — but this longer protest of the Stockton-Wray series is news to me. Commy’s letter to Cleveland is in the CHMD, too — and for the record, it appears that he did not threaten a lawsuit, to stop the series.

Gambler Carl Zork, St Louis Browns’ 2B Joe Gedeon, and reporter Sid Keener were all deposed in St Louis in October 1920 (while the grand jury was still up and running); their statements are intact, and very interesting.

So is the much longer (eighteen pages) transcript of Harry Redmon, before the grand jury October 26, 1920. Harry gives the grand jury lots of gambler’s names, including some that Redmon thought innocent (for example, Stacey, from Pittsburgh).

Alfred Austrian preserved, bless him, his own testimony from the 1924 trial, which is fairly lengthy. I am guessing that he knew the value of having one’s statements handy — in case he had to take the stand again, at a future trial.

Probably the “juiciest” tidbit in the CHMD — and there’s a book coming out soon, based on it — is the suggestion by Eddie Cicotte, before he goes to the grand jury, that the players came up with the Fix idea because they heard rumors that the 1918 Series had been the target of bribery, and some Cub or Cubs had received $10,000. That’s in Austrian’s notes, it is not in the synopsis of his GJ testimony, nor is it in the testimony itself, at least what we know of it, from Cicotte’s 1924 deposition, and from what appeared in newspaper accounts of the 1921 trial, when parts of his statement were read into the record. Cicotte’s comments about 1918 are not convincing proof of fixing, but they are brand new, so they will get the media’s attention.

There are lots of intriguing scraps in the CHMD, tantalizing items that stand alone, and beg for corroboration or amplification or clarification. For example, a Special Report from “N.Y. Operative B-55,” written Wednesday, August 20, 1919; well before the fixed Series. The subject being reported on is BBJ — Ban Johnson — who meets with Milwaukee lawyer Killilea; later with J.C. Dunn of Cleveland; and others. Operatives X-70 and R-62 get into the act, too. The reports are addressed to no one; we can guess that Comiskey is having Johnson tailed. This would be like discovering that Reinsdorf or Steinbrenner had spied on Fay Vincent or Bud Selig. Say, you don’t suppose — ?

There are also lots of handwritten — check that, handscrawled — notes, jotted down by lawyers working on the tripleheader case that culminated in the 1924 Jackson trial. These notes are doubly baffling, because readers can spend hours just deciphering what is written. There are many words that are not easy to read, let alone interpret.

ALL FOR NOW

I hope that this preliminary report, as helter-skelter as it is, gives readers a feel for what treasures the CHMD holds. The image of MORE PUZZLE PIECES FOUND! that I used as my headline back in Notes #425 is very appropriate. (See #426, too.) We have a little more flesh on the B-Sox skeleton. If you like the B-Sox trail image, we now have a brand new avenue to explore, complete with its own nooks and crannies.

For folks coming into the CHMD cold, some may be shocked, shocked, to learn that a World Series was fixed. Yes, Virginia, it happened in 1919, and maybe that was not the only time. For others, who know about the Fix only from Eight Men Out, they may be shocked to learn about the year-long cover-up. Most will be surprised, I’m pretty sure, to learn that the ballplayers who were banned by Judge Landis in 1921 said that they played to win. That includes the three who testified to the 1920 grand jury, as well as those who did not. Those who knew that, will be surprised to learn how that trio came to testify, and why others did not; we will not have “the truth,” but we will hear both sides, that of the players and that of the folks who got to write the history.

I think it is fair to say that there is plenty for everybody in the CHMD. It’s a Disneyworld for B-Sox researchers, and I cannot imagine anyone coming away disappointed, or empty-handed. I do hope to hear from other prospectors. There needs to be not only a lot of note-taking, but a lot of comparing of our notes.

NEXT TIME

This might be one of those times — like back in summer 2007, when I devoted six issues of Notes (406-411, then 416), all within less than three weeks to Collyer’s Eye — where you may see a couple more issues of Notes pretty soon. The next one might focus on what I dug out of the 1920 Chicago newspapers. When I was researching Burying the Black Sox, I always wanted to read more of the Chicago coverage, but never got to Chicago, because I was able to borrow several papers via inter-library loan (ILL is still the way to go, if your library can make the connection and the papers you want can be borrowed that way). But remember, most big cities had six or eight or ten or more newspapers, pumping out issues early and late, in those days. And they were very competitive, so they all looked for new angles, new folks to interview, new stuff that the big guys missed.

The fact remains, anyone can do research on the B-Sox story wherever they are — your local library may have nuggets. But if you go to Chicago, do some homework and then hit the Chicago History Museum. More puzzle pieces, that is certain.

The above is an excerpt from Issue #489 of Gene’s Notes From the Shadows of Cooperstown. To read the rest of the issue (or past issues), click here.

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