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  • Notes from the Shadows of Cooperstown: December 6, 2007

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    MORE PUZZLE PIECES FOUND! - Gene Carney on the Black Sox Treasure Trove

    Gene Carney

    In mid-November, a reporter on the Chicago Tribune, James Janega, contacted the Cooperstown library. It seems that someone in Chicago is putting up for auction, a collection of documents. Many of them appear to be related to the "Black Sox," and Janega was looking for some help identifying them. It's not as if the documents were written in Sanskrit or hieroglyphics, requiring a translator. But the more I learned about them, first via e-mail and then in a conversation with Mr Janega, the more it seemed that they did need to be read by someone who had a working knowledge of "the B-Sox puzzle." And I was glad that Cooperstown referred the Trib to me.

    The puzzle image is one that has always seemed to fit best. For decades, the pieces were scattered, ignored, forgotten or maybe intentionally buried, as Baseball tried putting its worst nightmare out of mind. Eliot Asinof, four decades later, brought together as many as he could locate, and gave us a rough sketch of the big picture with Eight Men Out. There is now the same distance between the present and 8MO, as between 8MO and the 1919 Series -- 44 years. But only in the last five years, I think, have more puzzle pieces started turning up, mostly because more people are looking in the right places.

    And now, out of Chicago, come a startling new find. It is too soon to say whether any of the pieces in the collection will cause us to change our minds about anything. But we can hope, and perhaps we will not need to wait too long. The collection will be sold (the current owner is fittingly anonymous), in December; but keep your fingers crossed, there seems to be a good chance that copies of all the material will be forwarded to the National Baseball Library in Cooperstown, AKA my backyard. If this happens, it will be proof that there is a God in B-Sox heaven.

    Meanwhile, I have been privileged to get a sneak preview, of selected, random items. I'm going to run through them below, with just a brief commentary. Maybe I'll have more in the next issue or two of Notes, but if the full collection really is coming soon to a library near me, then I'll hold off, and do the thorough job of reading and thinking and researching and collaborating, that this find deserves.

    An Informal, Partial List of the Documents To Be Auctioned Off Soon in Chicago, Starting Bid: $5,000:

    (Chronological order)

    September 4, 1919. Comiskey, Frazee and Ruppert call a special meeting of the AL Board of Directors to consider the statements by Ban Johnson, that suggest gambling exists to the menace of baseball, and a good purging is needed. Wow!

    November 14, 1919. Report of detective Hunter from Milwaukee, where he is looking for information about Happy Felsch -- to Alfred Austrian. He is also looking for Happy, who is off hunting. The letter is empty -- but look at the date. And he reports to Austrian, not Comiskey, who is telling the public he has confidence in his players.

    September 28, 1920. Synopsis of Eddie Cicotte's grand jury statement. This meshes with the statements read to Cicotte when he was deposed in January 1924 for the Milwaukee trial. Other statements from Eddie are in the collection, in what looks like Austrian's typed notes. Nothing too startling, but in one list of comments, Cicotte says that when he returned to Chicago after Game Two, he went to his sister's at 3909 Grand Boulevard. "Her name is Henrietta D. Kelly" -- the mystery woman. Has anyone ever seen Mrs Kelly identified anywhere as Cicotte's sister? I thought she was his landlady. I also have a couple pages of handwritten notes -- Austrian's? -- from Cicotte's meeting with Austrian, it looks like. "Pitched first game / tried to walk Rath -- hit him / Risberg stumbled / Pitched 2nd game / Would have won anyway if he could [the line is struck out] / Couldn't sleep / Felsch in room / Conf? at Sinton / Risberg Felsch & Cicotte." The jottings line up with the statement Cicotte gave to the grand jury.

    September 29, 1920. Lefty Williams STATEMENT. My take is that Williams was questioned by Austrian, signed the statement (it is in Q & A form), then went with it and probably read it to the grand jury. The eight pages I have contain familiar information. Like Jackson, Lefty said he was promised $20,000 but had to settle for $5,000; he says he delivered $5,000 to Jackson, after the fourth game -- the last time he spoke with Gandil. He didn't know if Game Three was fixed or not but Gandil told him after Game Four that the gamblers had called it off. Lefty appears almost a fuzzy about things as Jackson, even though he was at meetings, while Jackson was not. "You took care of him [Jackson], is that the idea?" Lefty was asked. His reply: "He made the remark whatever he done would be agreeable with him."

    October 25, 1920. Letter from Albert Lasker -- remember the Lasker Plan? -- to Cubs' president William Veeck. There are quite a few more documents related to the transition from the National Commission, to the one-man-rule of the Commissioner.

    October 26, 1920. Harry G. Redman before the Cook County Grand Jury. Asinof, and hence most sources, have it Redmon, but this legal document has it man. It's definitely the same fellow, and the three pages of this document raises the hope that not all of the grand jury material that went missing in the deep Chicago winter of 1919-20 was forever buried or shredded. The snippet I have has Redmon fingering Pesch, the Levy brothers, Abe Attell, and Nick the Greek. Harry is asked about Game Two: "What Jews were in on that bet?" Redman says he lost $3,500. [PS: Itís Redmon, I checked with Bob Hoie.]

    Joe Jackson on the witness stand, 1921 Trial. I've seen pages 561-564, but these are the first transcript pages I've ever seen from the 1921 trial. In Bleeding Between the Lines, where Asinof describes his search for any trace of the trial, forty years after it happened, he was "laughed at by the clerk" in the courthouse and told that the transcript no longer existed. Eight Men Out drew on accounts that appeared in the newspapers; some, like the NY Times, filled their pages with long columns of Q's and A's. But to think that material from that trial may exist has seemed impossible. Yet I have now read part of Joe Jackson's version of his fateful session with Alfred Austrian, before he went to the grand jury. As he sat with Austrian and Gleason, he was asked if he knew that he was indicted, or was about to be. "I said, No, I didn't know it, though I knew there were some scandal." Gleason then takes an envelope from his pocket, gives it to Jackson and says "I am going to get out of here," and leaves. The envelope contains -- Austrian reads it to him -- his suspension from the Sox and his final paycheck. Austrian tells Jackson that he needs a lawyer "damn bad" and Jackson starts to leave, to find himself a lawyer. But Austrian says, "'Just sit down there a minute,' and he walked between me and the door." Then he calls McDonald. Jackson has nothing to tell him. He wants a lawyer, he wants Austrian to find him one, he says he would pay for a lawyer. Austrian seems to want Jackson to stay put, until he knows what Jackson will say, what he has to say. Jackson (and it seems he refers to Austrian, nit McDonald): "Well, I told him I would tell him what little I had heard about it." The pages I have run out there -- cliffhanger!

    July 5, 1922. Letter from detective J.R. Hunter to Alfred Austrian, four pages, describing a meeting with Eddie Cicotte in Detroit. Comiskey's legal team is recruiting Cicotte for the battle with Ray Cannon, the lawyer trying to win back pay and damages for Swede Risberg, Happy Felsch, and Joe Jackson. Cicotte seems agreeable to give a statement that will be helpful, but he asks that his own lawyer and friend, Daniel Cassidy, be brought in. Cicotte is so strikingly contrite and cooperative, that you would think he owed Comiskey a $10,000 bonus that went unpaid. I will definitely return to this letter, although in the end it is Hunter's words, not Eddie's, and I sense that Hunter may be telling Austrian what he wants to hear -- I base that on the statements Cicotte actually gave, when he was deposed (twice).

    April 9, 1923. Notes on Kate Jackson's deposition. I'm guessing at the date, I got that from the deposition. The document I have is just a page or two of notes, handwritten, and I'm starting to recognize it as the hand of Austrian, but that is not certain. My best guess at the content is below -- the writing is sloppy and shorthand. Nothing new from Kate in the notes.

    But a second page, to the left -- more notes -- is very interesting. It's not clear who is answering the questions -- Kate? Joe? And who are they talking about? Harry Grabiner? Tell me if this is not intriguing: Q: "And did mention Jackson's name?" A: "And he mentioned Jackson's name." Q: What did he say about it, if anything?" A: "Well, he told me that he knew that Gandil got money, and he knew Cicotte got money, and he knew that Williams got money, and he knew that Williams gave Jackson money." (The italics were underlined.) "And I told him that was something new to me, I never knew nothing about it -- and I told him right then and there that I wasn't absolutely in anything to throw a game." Again, that's my best guess at the content. This begs for the pages before and after. But the not ends there, except for one more fragment, under a drawn line: "no letter to or from Club."

    Agonizingly -- that's all, folks. All I've seen so far. In a perfect world, I would be whisked away to Chicago, to join other B-Sox addicts or scholars (take your pick), like Bob Hoie. We would be chained to tables until we have deciphered all we can, then forced to write about it. Suddenly, the opening asking price for the collection is $5,000,000 instead of $5,000, and we are forced to accept a small stipend for our work. Shucks, OK, I say in my best Joe Jackson drawl. JUST KIDDING! Anyway, there you have it for now.


    November 27. The phrase is from Through the Looking Glass, but it came up as a fitting image soon after I found myself not down a rabbit hole with Alice, but wandering in a different Wonderland ruled by Lewis Carroll logic, which I like to call "the B-Sox Trail."

    My trailhead was, perhaps fittingly, a fiction -- Brendan Boyd's Blue Ruin. Usually we are grateful when books give us answers, but I shall be grateful a long time to Boyd for giving me a question or two. Who deserves the credit for bringing "the Black Sox scandal" to light, and how exactly did they do it?

    So as I stepped onto the trail in September 2002, the first person to greet me was Hugh Fullerton, whom most people give credit for being the key player in uncovering the B-Sox scandal, because no one tried to blow the whistle louder than Hughie, in the months that followed the 1919 Series. Except -- he didn't do it. When the lid finally was blown off the cover-up, he wasn't even in Chicago.

    The lid came off September 28, 1920 -- almost everyone now says that was "after almost a year." But it seems that it was actually a bit over a year. The Series started October 1, and while the Fix was a sloppy, last-minute affair, it wasn't all that impulsive, it was talked about for weeks, maybe a month. The cover-up lasted over a year -- and almost succeeded.

    That was just the first thing I learned that jarred my impressions of "the Black Sox scandal" -- a name that I decided was as ill-fitting as Eight Men Out and for the same reason, it neglected to mention as guilty, anyone other than the eight White Sox players who were banned. Those names seemed to perpetuate "the myth of baseball's single sin" (Voigt), to cover up all the problems that baseball had with gambling before 1919 -- and after. Gambling, it turned out, was the real national pastime, it had been with us forever, and would survive baseball if a scandal ruined the sport. Much gambling was harmless, but as professionals discovered baseball, the ties became strangling. No owner wanted to rock the boat that was making them millionaires. No player, either, lest they end up back in the mine or factory. Nor did the press do what we expect the press to do today, serve as a kind of conscience, reporting tampering, bribery, unjust treatment of players, and more. The press was practically on the payroll of the magnates, helping boost baseball to new heights, filling the new parks, and selling papers. But they were also part of the problem.

    Over the last five years, with Fullerton as a guide, as well as an inspiration (thou shalt not quit, Hughie commanded), there have been few months that have passed without some new discovery.

    Discovery has become so routine that I am surprised when I mention it to others, and they are startled. But of course they are, they thought "the Black Sox scandal" was an event that had gone down in history many decades ago. I'm sure I was not the first to discover that it was, instead of a closed case, a cold case. One which could be reopened at any moment. Perhaps not to solve in a final way, but to understand better, differently, thanks to new evidence, new findings. New puzzle pieces.

    Last issue, I announced the latest in that long line of discoveries. A box of documents, most likely from the law office of the firm working for Charles Comiskey in 1919 and the years following. The collection might include material from the 1920 grand jury, gone missing just months after that grand jury ended its term; or from the 1921 trial, material that Eliot Asinof was told was also long gone, when he asked in 1961; new material from the 1924 trial, Joe jackson suing the Sox for back pay and forcing them to prove he did anything to deserve suspension.

    That box is now up for auction. Bidding started at $5,000 on Monday, November 26, 10 AM. Within a few hours, seven bids had pushed the bidding to just under $9,000. After another three bids, it was over $11,000. The bidding will conclude December 13, and we can watch it on the internet. That site also displays some of the documents -- tempting, tantalizing, but probably not the most significant in the batch.

    Thanx to Dan Nathan for this link, to a Mastro Auctions video about the documents for sale:


    As I said last issue, if there is a God in B-Sox heaven, the documents will not be lost again. Copies will be made for the National Baseball Library in Cooperstown, and maybe for the Chicago Historical Society. Maybe those pertaining to Joe Jackson will be copied for his new museum, on deck to open in Greenville. The worst-case scenario would be for the high bidder to remove them from access, shutting out researchers.

    Wait a minute -- a new discovery every month? I was wondering when you'd ask about that. But I think it is true, and the proof is here in NOTES. Start with issue #268, September 2002, and if you can read a whole month without learning some new fact or opinion or something about the B-Sox, I'll give you a $10,000 reward. Just kidding! But I think Comiskey was kidding, too, when he made that offer after the 1919 Series. What is sort of amazing, is that everybody remembered the offer. Only one publication took Comiskey to task for not coughing up the $10 G when the evidence appeared. Boxes full (metaphorically speaking). Yes, Collyer's Eye hounded Commy for years after the scandal, nagging him to donate the $10,000 to charity. What is my point? Only this -- you may remember my offer, but no one is likely to remember that I never paid a penny.

    Since last time, James Janega's article on the CAC (my abbreviation ... on the B-Sox trail, CAC usually stands for Charles A. Comiskey ... here, the Chicago Auction Collection) appeared on Sunday, November 25. The next day, it was picked up by the Associated Press, and (I'm told) appeared in the NY Times, Washington Post, NY Daily News, Chicago Sun-Times and probably lots of other papers. This burst of publicity meant, for me, an interview on XM Radio, another interview with the Greenville, SC, paper, and yet another with a high school student from NY City. Also, my editor at Potomac has shown a little more interest in my next book. The new material could mean a new chapter -- maybe the first chapter.


    See last issue for my comments on just a few of the documents that were faxed to me, from the CAC.

    November 14, 1919. Report of detective Hunter from Milwaukee, where he is looking for information about Happy Felsch -- to Alfred Austrian. Last issue I wrote: "He is also looking for Happy, who is off hunting. The letter is empty -- but look at the date. And he reports to Austrian, not Comiskey, who is telling the public he has confidence in his players." On further review, the author of the letter -- not Hunter, but Operative #11, Hunter is just passing it on -- has scouted Felsch's home, for over a week, and reports:

    There is a wooden garage in the rear where Felsch keeps his hupmobile, and the family is also crowded for sleeping quarters. This later fact will prevent me from obtaining a furnished room in their house. [Emphasis mine]

    Yes, it looks like Hunter's Secret Service was going to plant a spy, Operative #11, right in Felsch's house! Can you imagine the reaction if Steinbrenner was accused of doing something like that to A-Rod or Jeter or Dave Winfield?

    September 28, 1920. Eddie Cicotte is deposed by Austrian, before he goes to the grand jury. Regarding the origin of the Fix, Cicotte's statement to Austrian matches what he told the grand jury -- the plot started with himself and Gandil and another player or two. But Eddie does not, as far as I know, tell the grand jury this, which he tells Austrian:

    The way it started, we were going east on a train. The ball players were talking about somebody trying to fix the National League ball players or something like that in the World's Series of 1918. Well, anyway there was some talk about them offering $10,000 or something to throw the Cubs in the Boston Series. There was talk that somebody offered this player $10,000 or anyway the bunch of players were offered $10,000 to throw this series. This was on the train going over. Somebody made a crack about getting money, if we got into the series, to throw the series. The boys on the club got talking over there in New York about the fellows getting too much money and stuff as that and said that they would go ahead and go through with it if they got this money.

    We never held any secret meeting but we would meet one or two at a time and we all agreed that for a piece of the money we would throw the World Series. I was supposed to get $10,000. Some man came to the Warner and left this money in my room. $10,000. That was supposed to be mine. There was no agreement with anybody but just simply an agreement like anyone else would make. I never knew if the others got any money.

    Eddie then names the other seven names now familiar to us. The statement is unsigned and undated. Beneath the empty line at the bottom where a Notary Public would sign (it's empty, too) is this: "Notes by ASA [Alfred Austrian]. Sept.28 in presence of Comiskey and ASA. Joe Jackson got $5,000, from Williams, promised $20,000 - spoke to Gandil, etc."

    And that's IT. a curious document. Was Eddie advised to skip the part about 1918, or was that scrubbed out later by someone who wanted to control the spin, keep the focus on 1919, to start "the myth of baseball's single sin" (Voigt)? My goodness, what if 1919 was NOT the first World Series to be tossed? What if it was the third, or fourth, or fifth? If that was the case, tossing eight White Sox players out just might not seem like the fair thing to do, or the most effective way to clean up the sport.

    And what are the notes about Jackson doing on Cicotte's paperwork? Remember, last issue I shared this snippet from Jackson's testimony in 1921 -- he's on the witness stand, talking about his meeting with Austrian, which followed Cicotte's, that same day -- September 28, 1920.

    Gleason then takes an envelope from his pocket, gives it to Jackson and says "I am going to get out of here," and leaves. The envelope contains -- Austrian reads it to him -- his suspension from the Sox and his final paycheck.

    So Jackson is suspended by his team before he says anything to Austrian, or to the grand jury. The team has taken the eight names from Cicotte, and made a pre-emptive strike, suspending them all before arch-enemy Ban Johnson gets the pleasure. It looks like the letters of suspension were actually ready-to-go sooner, but now Cicotte will tell the grand jury that the fix was in, and they will indict. Austrian had good ties to the grand jury hearings, and the letters are signed by Comiskey -- if they weren't already -- dated the 28th (it looks like an earlier date is crossed out), and delivered "ASAP." That Jackson was suspended before he talks to Austrian and the grand jury is new to me.

    August 18, 1923. A letter to Alfred Austrian's firm -- remember, they were defendants in the 1924 Milwaukee trial, along with Comiskey and the Sox, so another firm represented them: Bottum, Hudnall, Lecher and McNamara -- this letter is from BHL&M. The Jackson case is coming up, could go to trial that Fall (actually it was put off till January 1924). BHL&M write that Jackson's contract for 1920-21-22 has been submitted to a handwriting expert, Mr Tyrrell (he went on the stand at the trial). His opinion "would tend to corroborate Joe Jackson's testimony and disproves Mr Grabiner's recollection that the contract was drafted in Jackson's house with a steel pen." Interesting, but BHL&M ask for more samples of Jackson's writing, giving Tyrrell more ammo for a different conclusion, that Jackson didn't sign the contract on the steering wheel of his car "in a cramped position." BHL&M also request a copy of Lefty Williams' 1920 contract, "which was drafted by Grabiner shortly after" Jackson's, and "probably with the same pen" -- suggesting that Grabiner went from Savannah & the Jackson residence, directly to Williams (Missouri?)

    Why is this interesting? Because of what was said by Grabiner at the 1924 trial. This is from my book:

    Finally, the jury had to weigh the testimony of handwriting experts. Did Jackson sign the 1920 contract in his car, alone with Grabiner? Or was he sitting in his house, with his wife Kate handy to read it to him and to spot that ten days' clause? Just as later trials made their followers experts overnight on chains of evidence, DNA testing, or hanging chads, the Milwaukee twelve were educated about depths of furrows, nibs, line quality, steel versus fountain pens, blotting, heavier upstrokes, and did you know logwood ink is blacker?

    Grabiner had testified that he had "never owned a fountain pen." Yet his job was signing players. Had he counted on Jackson, who could not write, to supply the pen?

    If he never owned a fountain pen then how could he sign both players with the same pen? Well, you can bet that this letter was not in evidence at the 1924 Milwaukee trial!

    ALL FOR NOW. These tiny puzzle pieces fascinate me, even if they prove nothing by themselves. Most of all, they raise the possibility that the CAC contains much more, perhaps information that will illuminate as never before, what happened in the events before the 1919 Series, and in the year after. Or maybe the years after, as Baseball moves swiftly to minimize the damage to its image, as Comiskey and his legal team move swiftly to make sure the franchise is not lost.

    Those were the days. And how interesting that this material is coming to light as The Mitchell Report kneels on deck! Could someone be trying to distract us from that? Not likely -- if anything, looking back at the B-Sox story only disposes us more to be suspicious about cover-ups, on the part of Baseball. One big difference is that today's media is not yesterday's press. Or is it? What was in the Associated Press account about the Chicago auction? Not what you're reading here in Notes, but rather, a letter quoting Charles A. Comiskey, the Old Roman -- it's a form letter, dated October 6, 1920 -- in the wake of the scandal. And it is pure public relations, for anyone who knows the depth of Commy's role in the cover-up. "Words utterly fail to express my appreciation of the kind things you and my other friends have taken every opportunity to express. They are indeed compensation for much that I have recently endured." Endured? Give me a break! Things were slip-slidin' away for Commy, he was rallying his troops, circling the wagons. The cat was out of the bag and had sharp claws ... in fact, it was a tiger, and Commy knew it could do a lot of damage if it wasn't caged quickly.

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