Infamous News Photo of Al Capone and Gabby Hartnett (Sept. 9, 1931)

Sold For: $1,080

Auction Year: 2016 fall

Lot: 1653

Item Year: 1931

Category: Post-1900 Baseball Memorabilia

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On September 9, 1931, prior to a charity game against in-town rivals, the Chicago White Sox at Comiskey Park, Chicago Cubs catcher Gabby Hartnett received a request he could not refuse: to autograph a ball for "Scarface" Al Capone and his son, who were seated in the first row adjacent to the dugout. Hartnett dutifully signed he ball for Capone, with the scene captured by a local photographer. Offered here is a vintage news photo documenting that moment in time. Hartnett has the ball in hand with a pen, as he happily talks with Capone. Capone's son is to his right, while "Machine Gun Jack" McGurn is seen sitting behind the two (turning his head). Interestingly, this photo captures Capone with his left profile visible to the camera, showing his scar. Capone normally went to great lengths to make sure that when he was photographed, it was always from his right, so that the scar could not be seen. Capone was still the undisputed underworld boss of Chicago at the time of this photo, but he was under indictment for tax evasion, a charge that would ultimately land him in federal prison. When this photo was published baseball commissioner Kenesaw Landis was furious and made it clear to Hartnett that he should have no more pictures taken with Capone or his associates. According to one story, Hartnett replied to Landis with a telegram that said “OK, but if you don’t want me having my picture taken with Al Capone, you tell him.” Another version has Hartnett replying "I go to his place of business, why shouldn’t he come to mine?” A portion of the original paper news caption appears on the reverse, as does the stamped notation "Man In Dark Suit Was Identified As Roland Libonati." That notation refers to the gentleman sitting next to Capone's son. Roland Libonati served was a member of the Illinois House of Representative at the time of the photo (he was later elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1957), but more important, he was also Capone's attorney. The photo (10 x 8 inches) displays a number of moderate creases along the border areas, as well as some light emulsions near the bottom half of the image. In Very Good condition overall. Reserve $500. Estimate $1,000/$2,000+.


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