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Priceless 'Black Sox' scandal
book missing from library at Illinois
Lynn, Humanities Editor
photo to enlarge
Eye, published in Chicago, was the “premier
baseball tabloid, and the first one to highlight the
White Sox scandal,” says Karen Schmidt, associate
university librarian for collections at Illinois.
— The Library at the
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign would like to say it ain’t
so, but it is.
Two very rare volumes of U.S. baseball history, one of them dealing
with the Chicago White Sox scandal of 1919, are missing from its shelves.
The two folio-sized bound volumes of Collyer’s Eye and the Baseball
World were last in Illinois’ possession in 2004.
Collyer’s Eye, published in Chicago, was the “premier baseball
tabloid, and the first one to highlight the White Sox scandal,”
says Karen Schmidt, associate university librarian for collections at
Illinois. The missing volumes are 6-9 and 10-11, published in 1920-1921
and 1924-1926, respectively.
In the scandal, arguably the biggest in baseball history, White Sox
players – eight of them, allegedly – bet against their team
in the World Series and threw their games with the Cincinnati Reds.
After the scandal broke, the White Sox were nicknamed the Black Sox.
The missing volumes are irreplaceable, Schmidt said. “I can’t
put a price on them because there don’t appear to be any available
copies out there to purchase.
“These volumes are so valuable we decided a news release was the
way to get the word out,” Schmidt said. “They have so much
Until the two volumes went missing, Illinois had the most complete run
of issues of Collyer’s Eye, lacking only one or two volumes. The
missing volumes are liberally marked with the University of Illinois
Library ownership stamp and display the Dewey classification number
Schmidt said that some private collectors may have volumes identical
to those that are missing, and she speculated that the Baseball Hall
of Fame would have a nearly complete run, but her search of WorldCat,
a comprehensive database, turned up no other publicly accessible copies.
“We’re pretty much ‘it’ as a public resource,”
Schmidt and the Library are seeking the help of the baseball-history
community and of the public in locating and retrieving the two volumes,
The former group is “such a tight community, that we expect it
will help us,” Schmidt said. “We are concerned that the
books could be put on the market and sold.”
In the event that the books are returned, all contact information will
be kept confidential.
“It is our wish to have these volumes safely returned to our collections
for the use of current and future scholars.”
The books are large – 14 inches by 20 inches, Schmidt said.
They had been shelved in the main stacks, which are open only to Library
and some university staff, graduate students, faculty members and Illinois
residents with courtesy cards. Most of the journals in the stacks are
circulating – meaning they can be checked out.
Since the discovery of the missing volumes, the remaining copies of
Collyer’s Eye have been moved to the non-circulating stacks in
the Illinois Historical Survey Library.
The books were discovered missing after the White Sox won the World
Series in October. Since that victory, “People have become very
interested in everything about the White Sox – including their
scandal,” Schmidt said, adding that the Library has received many
reference calls, including calls for material from Collyer’s Eye,
Schmidt is not certain why the 1924-26 volumes of Collyer’s Eye
might be a target for someone to take – if that is what happened
– but the Oct. 2, 1920, issue, which is among those missing, devoted
most of its front page to the scandal.
Eighty-five years later, the scandal still fascinates baseball fans.
In an Oct. 28, 2005, issue of The Wall Street Journal, reporter Stefan
Fatsis discussed “new” information that he said had come
to light concerning the Black Sox scandal, the most remarkable of which,
he wrote, “appeared in a Chicago gambling newspaper called Collyer’s
Eye, issues of which were discovered last year by Black Sox sleuths
in a basement of a library at the University of Illinois.”
This is hardly the first time valuable items have gone missing from
the U. of I. Library, which, with more than 10 million items, is the
largest public university library in the world.
Like other large research libraries, Illinois’ Library “holds
a lot of items that are attractive to people,” Schmidt said. “And
while we don’t know what happened to the volumes of Collyer’s
Eye, we do have instances where books have been stolen.”
In the late 1980s, for example, the Library was hit by an extremely
“successful” rare book thief.
The thief, a native Illinoisan, had scoured libraries all over the country,
looking for rare plates. When he found what he wanted, he cut, sliced
or tore the individual prints – some from the 1800s and handpainted
– out of the books; he also stole entire books – hundreds,
if not thousands, of them. He put the plates in plastic covers in three-ring
notebooks, catalogued his booty “and shopped the plates around,”
Soon after his heist at Illinois, the U. of I. police department received
a tip: a California dealer had seen the university’s ownership
stamps on some plates. The police caught up with the thief in San Francisco,
and when they raided his apartment, they discovered that his living
room was a good-sized library, Schmidt said.
From Illinois alone, the bibliophile had taken “large numbers
of valuable botanical prints and many caricatures from bound volumes
of Vanity Fair,” said Susan Hill, a senior library specialist
at the U. of I. Library who worked with the police on the case at the
time. The Vanity Fair magazines were published in London in the 1870s
and 1880s, she said.
According to Hill, the perpetrator hit Illinois’ Library on April
4, 1988 – that’s the date on his charge card, which, along
with his backpack and other personal items are still in the university’s
possession. The man pleaded guilty to the charge of theft; he was sentenced
to four years in prison, and served less than half that time in Illinois
correctional centers before being paroled in 1990.
Eventually all of the confiscated plates the police found were turned
over to the U. of I. Library whose staff spent hundreds of hours trying
to track down the rightful owners.
“But the bulk of the items were unidentifiable,” Hill said.
The Library decided to take an unusual step with the “homeless”
plates: It sells them at its annual public book sale.
With each sale, a message, titled, “The Story Behind the Print,”
is included, which briefly explains the thief’s methods, the odyssey
of most of the prints, and Illinois’ efforts to find their owners.
The message ends:
“With permission from the police and our University legal counsel,
we are able to sell these to the public. Proceeds from the sales go
directly back into the collections of the University of Illinois Library.
Thank you for your support, which turns an ugly act into a positive
In the past, it has been extremely rare for a university or museum to
announce its losses, Schmidt said.
“But this practice has changed in the last couple of years,”
she said. “Museums especially have started using the media to
get the word out about their missing items.”
Schmidt and her colleagues feel justified in announcing Illinois’
“This is our baseball history, and now it’s gone.”