April 12, 2008
Robert Edward Auctions has had the privilege of handling many of the hobby’s most valuable and significant items over the years, but even we were excited when we first saw this amazing item: a scrapbook containing letters and telegrams sent by Chicago White Sox owner Charles Comiskey to George Earl Windham Mills, one of his top scouts in New England, from the years 1909 to 1914. A total of 41 signed Comiskey letters are featured in the album, all relating to baseball matters. However, what makes the album truly remarkable and of monumental historical significance is the inclusion of three telegrams that clearly show that the White Sox were given the first opportunity to purchase Babe Ruth from the Baltimore Orioles in 1914. That information has been undocumented and unknown to almost every historian prior to the public emergence of this album, thereby making it one of the most significant discoveries relating to baseball history in recent times.
This album was originally presented to the collecting community as Lot 876 in REA's Spring 2013 auction, where it realized $16,590. It has been consigned directly by the original purchaser from that sale (completely intact). This scrapbook originates directly from George Mills' granddaughter, who was the original consignor in 2013. When she initially contacted us regarding the scrapbook at that time, we were initially struck by the sheer number of Charles Comiskey signed letters contained within its pages, many of which are typed on official Chicago White Sox letterhead. That fact alone made it a substantial find, but we were particularly intrigued when she mentioned that there were also numerous telegrams from Comiskey (54 to be exact), one of which she said mentioned Babe Ruth in 1914. It was only when we received the album that we discovered the enormous importance of those telegrams.
All three messages relating to Ruth are original Western Union Telegrams sent by Comiskey to George Mills, who was staying at the Lexington Hotel in Baltimore. The first of the three, dispatched on June 9, 1914, conveys the following instructions: “Follow Baltimore Club and advise of best players there.” Mills did as told and the next telegram from Comiskey, dated June 17, 1914, reads “Secure best price on men mentioned in your wire and when Dunn will deliver advise me at once.” Fortunately, we know the names of the players Mills recommended because they were recorded in vintage pencil notations along the base of the telegram: “Cree, Daniels, Twombley [sic], Midkiff, Derrick, Ruth.” Years later, Mills’ sister Ethel, realizing the historical importance of this telegram, felt obligated to provide further details of the negotiations taking place at that time. Written along the bottom and right-hand borders of the album page, framing the telegram, is this important information: “Note: Earl told me he could have all six men for $18,000 but Comiskey turned thumbs down. Too much money. Ethel.” The final telegram regarding Ruth’s potential sale to the White Sox is dated June 27, 1914, and reads: “Do not need pitchers bad enough to go that high get prices on other men and stay in Baltimore until further advice.” A vintage pencil notation, written in red on the telegram, puts Comiskey’s final words on the matter in their proper historical context: “Will sell Ruth to Chicago Club for $16,000 cash. Dunn.” Jack Dunn was the owner of the Baltimore Orioles and the man who signed Ruth right out of St. Mary’s Industrial School for Boys just a few months earlier. One of the most interesting elements of this third telegram is the numerical stamp it bears. All of the telegrams feature a three-digit stamp, which was probably clerical in nature, but the one on this telegram is eerily prescient: “714,” which was Ruth’s lifetime home run total. The only other reference in this scrapbook relating to the sale of players from Baltimore is found in a typed-signed letter from Comiskey to Mills, dated June 30, 1914, in which he writes, in part: “After you have secured price on other men of Baltimore club, it is satisfactory to me for you to proceed north to look over the New England League and the others that you mention.” While we do not know for certain, it appears that the only player Comiskey might have purchased from Baltimore at that time was pitcher Dave Danforth, who appeared on Chicago’s roster from 1916 through 1919.
Prior to the discovery of this album, it was known that both the Philadelphia Athletics and Cincinnati Reds passed on purchasing Ruth from the Orioles just before he was sold, along with Ernie Shore and Ben Egan, to the Red Sox for $25,000 on July 9, 1914. Connie Mack was offered the same three players at a price of $10,000 two days earlier but balked at the price. The Reds also passed on Ruth, purchasing George Twombly and Claud Derrick instead, who, interestingly, were two of the players George Mills recommended to Comiskey. That the White Sox were the initial pursuers, nearly a month earlier than the A’s and Reds, has been lost from all historical accounts and probably would have never been known if Mills’ wife had not created this album for her husband.
If Comiskey had purchased Ruth in 1914, one can only image the ramifications. The Yankees’ 1920s dynasty almost certainly would never have arisen, forever altering the history of baseball’s most successful franchise. What would have become of the Red Sox between the years 1915 and 1918? Without Ruth on the mound would the club have won three World Championships during that span? Also, and perhaps most important, would Ruth’s presence on the White Sox have prevented the 1919 Black Sox scandal? If so, the White Sox, not the Yankees would have been baseball’s greatest team for much of the early 1920s, and possibly well beyond. Obviously, as with any pivotal chain of events in history, alternate courses of action have always given rise to speculation, but considering Ruth’s prodigious accomplishments and his status as a cultural icon, the consequences here would have been monumental.
Even without considering the Ruth telegrams, this remains an extraordinary scrapbook, not only for the large number of Comiskey signed letters contained therein, but for the valuable historical information it provides with regard to player recruitment in the early 1900s. Unlike today, Major League teams did not have organized scouting departments back then and all of the minor-league teams were independent, i.e., they had no formal affiliation with any “parent club” (Branch Rickey first developed the modern-day “farm system” in the early 1920s). Therefore, Major League teams had two options when acquiring players: sign a player directly off the sandlots, or purchase a player’s contract from a minor-league club. For most minor-league clubs at the time, the sale of players was an important source of income. When Dunn sold Ruth and most of his other star players in 1914 he did so out of financial necessity. The Baltimore Terrapins, of the newly formed Federal League, were greatly outdrawing Dunn’s Orioles, almost to the point of bankruptcy. If he hadn’t sold his players he would have lost the franchise (luckily for Dunn, the Federal League folded after two years, leaving the Orioles as the town’s main baseball attraction for years to come).
As shown by the correspondence in this scrapbook, Comiskey and his front-office staff acquired players largely on the basis of recommendations made to them by local-area scouts and baseball people, all of whom were part-time employees, paid per diem. George Mills was one of the scouts hired by Comiskey to recruit players for his club between the years 1909 and 1915. According to his granddaughter Mills’ entire life was spent in baseball. She even told us that Mills died peacefully in his chair in while listening to a baseball game in 1947. During his tenure as a scout for Comiskey, Mills received numerous letters and telegrams from the “Old Roman,” nearly all of which were saved by his wife and placed in the offered scrapbook.
Interspersed among the 41 letters signed by Comiskey in this album are 54 telegrams (mostly from Comiskey or a White Sox executive), as well as a few additional baseball-related letters and telegrams from other individuals. (All of the pages can be viewed in their entirety online.) It must be noted that of the 41 signed Comiskey letters, only 28 are actually signed by Comiskey. The other 13 bear the signature of either general manager Harry Grabiner or an unidentified secretary. (It has been learned in recent years that many of the letters, document, photos, etc., formerly thought to have been signed by Comiskey, were in fact signed by Grabiner, thereby making the discovery of the 28 authentic Comiskey signatures in this album all the more extraordinary.) Additionally, the album contains a rare invitation to the grand opening of White Sox Park (more commonly known as Comiskey Park) on July 1, 1910, and a few period newspaper clippings of Comiskey and various Chicago White Sox ballplayers. The 41 Comiskey letters vary in size from approximately 7.5 x 3.5 inches to 7 x 9 inches, with 26 examples representing the largest size. All of the letters (as well as some of the telegrams) were trimmed so that they could better fit on the album page (8 x 10 inches), but each of the larger examples displays either the full or partial official White Sox letterhead in the upper left-hand corner (most the of the smaller trimmed letters were also written on White Sox letterhead, but only the “Chicago” header remains). Two of the 41 Comiskey signed letters are handwritten (neither are in Comiskey’s hand); the remainder are typewritten. All of the letters, telegrams, and other correspondence have been affixed to their respective album pages by means of adhesive. Aside from the trimming and normal fold lines, a number of letters display minor toning (mainly those on pages opposite telegrams); otherwise all of the correspondence is in Very Good to Excellent condition overall. The album (8.25 x 10.5 inches) has brown cloth boards and is lettered “Round House/Register/M. C. R. R.” on the cover. General wear is evident, including staining to the covers, separation along the spine, and numerous detached interior pages. It should be noted that the current SMR value for a Charles Comiskey signed letter is $1,500; however, the scrapbook’s historical value, especially with regard to the Ruth telegrams, cannot be quantified. This is one of the most substantial and historically important finds we have seen in recent times and Robert Edward Auctions is as proud today as we were in 2013 to once again offer this album to the collecting community. Auction LOA from James Spence/JSA.