Over the years, we’ve certainly had the great opportunity to offer some incredible, historically significant items. We think that, over our five-year history, our ability to properly present such items at auction has made this our “niche” – LOTG sells items you just don’t see every day. But this item truly takes the cake.
Next week, our Summer auction will open for bidding – and for the first time ever at an auction house, we’ll be offering some 2,000+ incredible pages of original entries into the business, and sometimes personal accounts of the fabled Philadelphia Athletics franchse, owned and managed by Connie Mack. These ledgers span some 40+ years from 1915-1953. The records were used exclusively by heralded author Norman Macht, for his three-book trilogy of the Athletics’ rise and fall under Mack, drew from the historially accurate and irrefutable evidence of the team’s business dealings and player salaries. The discovery of this long-missing treasure has been highlighted in several newspaper articles, including a 2011 piece in the Philadelphia Inquirer.
First, the amazing story of how the ledgers themselves made the incredible journey, spanning the country for more than a century: Most historians assumed these entries were lost to the ages, never to be seen again. For the better part of 50 years, they seemed to be correct.
Historians such as Macht were aware of the existence of these ledgers, because not long after the A’s were sold to Kansas City businessman Arnold Johnson in 1954, Philadelphia newspapers included several mentions of them. The ledgers were moved with the franchise to Kansas City, and then Oakland, where they seemed to vanish. Over the years, sportswriters and historials had often inquired about the records, and a new generation of club executives assumed they had vanished. Until 2011, no one had any reason to doubt them.
Macht couldn’t uncover them in either Kansas City or Oakland. “I found a former secretary who remembered seeing the files in a closet gathering dust,” Macht was quoted in the 2011 article, “She thought she recalled that during an office remodeling in the 1970s they had been thrown in a dumpster behind the Coliseum.”
Her recollection was accurate. A stadium worker discovered them there, and rescued them from the trash. They remained in his possession until 2009, when he sold them for the paltry sum of $200 at an Oakland flea market. The dealer listed the ledgers, along with some other materials, on eBay, where they were purchased by an advanced collector for $5,000. Two years later, that collector sold them privately to our consignor.
The historical importance of the records cannot be overstated. They are a complete and accurate chronicle of all the business dealings of one of the game’s most important ballclubs, including every penny of income and expense over a pariod of half a century. More than a thousand pages of financial transactions are entered, neatly handwritten in the penmanship of several different people. The financial ledgers include data on gate receipts, concessions, even revenues from non-baseball activities like football games and advertising. Expenses include a detailed record of every payment made to Connie Mack, used by Macht to chronicle Mack’s income for a 2015 SABR article in the Baseball Research Journal. From these ledgers, one could reconstruct the entire business operation of the Athletics, following its financial successes straight through to the team’s early 1930s financial struggles that prompted the sale of key players.
Housed in a second volume, the player transactional records are even more fascinating. A near-complete, page-by-page and player-by-player account of virtually every player who donned an A’s uniform between 1909 and 1954 (a few players, among them Ty Cobb and Mickey Cochrane, have been removed at some point). Each player has his own page in the journal, which includes his name and position, and often his home address. Underneath is a season-by-season account of the player’s performance, how the team acquired them, and their annual salary. The pages also address contract negotiations and specific details.
For example, the page for Hall of Famer Jimmy Foxx describes his 1929 contract as follows: “Jan 18th sent him contract calling for $7,500.00. Told him he could bring his wife to training camp as wedding present. Signed same Feb. 3rd.” The page for Lefty Grove includes this entry: “1930: Jan 14th sent him contract calling for $12,000.00. Returned unsigned Jan 18th asking for $20,000.00. Signed at $12,000.00 Feb 21st. We promised him something in the event of our having a good season. Gave him $3,000.00 at end of season.” Each sentence is written in a different ink or pencil, added as events transpired.
Other entries are more personal, describing players’ entries into the military during WWII (thus voiding their contracts), and occasionally explaining more compelling details of the club’s salary negotiations with its players, such as the 1927 entry for pitcher Sam Gray that explains “On Dec. 7th, 1926 sent him contract for $4,000.00 telling him if he behaved well during the season he would receive $3,500.00 extra.” Gray would go 9-6 that season with a 4.59 ERA, and was traded at the end of the season.
The player records literally tell thousands of stories and answer thousands of questions that have evaded researchers over the years. Specific details about long-forgotten players are extensively catalogued in the pages. Combined with the financial ledgers, this is easily the most historically significant artifact we have ever handled.
The books themselves are in outstanding condition, particularly given that they were regularly used for half a century. Each of the two bound volumes are well-worn but completely sturdy, each entry legible and neatly entered in pencil or ink. Both books do have some loose pages, and the bolt from the bottom of the financial record has gone missing, a minor detail mentioned here solely for accuracy in description.
For more than half a century, five decades of the history of one of the game’s most storied franchises has been missing critical details. Long thought to be lost to history, we are pleased to present the most historically important records from the Philadelphia Athletics, never before offered at public auction. A museum-level artifact, one of the finest and most significant items we have ever offered.