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Lot # 869 (of 1866)   < Previous Lot | Next Lot >

1902 Barney Dreyfuss Handwritten Letter with Outstanding Baseball Content!

Starting Bid - $1,000, Sold For - $4,444

One-page handwritten letter, dated October 4, 1902, signed by Pittsburgh Pirates owner Barney Dreyfuss (1865-1932). As most collectors are aware, Barney Dreyfuss's signature is one of the rarest of all Hall of Fame members. The reason for that is twofold. First, as an owner, his signature was not sought after by the few serious autograph collectors during that era. Second, since he died in 1932, but wasn't elected to the Hall of Fame until 2008, few collectors had reason to seek out his autograph. To have a handwritten letter from Dreyfuss, with significant baseball content no less, is certainly the ideal for any advanced collector.

This is a particularly spectacular Dreyfuss letter which would be a prize addition to even the most advanced Hall of Fame signature or letter collection. The letter, which is written to star pitcher Jesse Tannehill, is also accompanied by an ideal and remarkable provenance: it was discovered in Jesse Tannehill's personal scrapbook! The letter, written on "Pittsburgh Athletic Company" letterhead, officially notifies the pitcher of his release from the Pittsburgh Pirates. In full: "Jesse H. Tannehill Esq - Exposition Park, Dear Sir, You are hereby unconditionally released from your contract with this company. I enclose check for $250 in full of your salary to October 15th. Respectfully, Pittsburgh Athletic Co., by Barney Dreyfuss Pres." Both the text and signature have been boldly scripted in black fountain pen and grade "10/10." What is especially intriguing about this letter, over and above its obvious important baseball content, is the fact that Tannehill was one of Pittsburgh's top pitchers and just finished the season with a 20-6 record and 1.95 ERA. The letter is dated the very day of the Pirates' final game that season. All of the history books make note that Tannehill "jumped" to the newly formed American League in 1903. Perhaps the American League's recruitment of Tannehill had already begun prior to the close of the 1902 season. The American League, when declaring itself a "major" league, opted not to recognize the reserve clause, thereby allowing them to sign any National League player that wished to come over. Maybe Dreyfuss was making it clear in this letter that he would not be entering into a bidding war for Tannehill's services. If so, it probably came as a shock to Tannehill, who eventually signed with the New York Highlanders. It would be interesting to know if Jack Chesbro, who won 28 games for the Pirates in 1902 and also "jumped" to New York with Tannehill, received a similar letter from Dreyfuss on October 4th.

Dreyfuss, who had owned Louisville's entry in the National League before the league scaled back and dropped the club in 1900, obtained sole ownership of the Pirates in 1901. During his thirty-two years as head of the Pirates, Dreyfuss was one of the more influential team owners and oversaw the construction of Forbes Field in 1909, which at the time was considered the finest baseball stadium in the Major Leagues. During his tenure the Pirates won four pennants and two World Championships. The letter (5.75 x 6.5 inches), which is affixed to a scrapbook page (10 x 14 inches) featuring news clippings (front and back) regarding Tannehill, is trimmed along the bottom border and displays two horizontal fold lines, both of which appear to have been partially torn prior to the letter having been mounted. There is also a thick, circular cardboard cutout affixed on the opposite side of the scrapbook page which has left a light, circular impression on the top portion of the letter. Very Good to Excellent in appearance. LOA from James Spence/JSA. Reserve $1,000. Estimate (open). SOLD FOR $4,444

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