Thank goodness George Earl Mills' wife Ethel liked baseball.
When you're married to a scout, it helps.
Baseball historians and collectors will be even more grateful to know Ethel Mills felt her husband's work as a Chicago White Sox scout was important enough to preserve dozens of letters and telegrams sent to him by his boss, Charles Comiskey from 1909-1914. The scrapbook she pieced together in later years reveals a 98-year-old baseball secret.
Kept in the family for decades, the scrapbook contains 41 letters from the notoriously tight owner of Chicago's American League baseball team as well as 54 telegrams. It has now been consigned to Robert Edward Auctions, which will offer it in its annual auction of baseball memorabilia next spring. Letters with authentic Comiskey signatures are rare, but the correspondence itself may be more important. Sports Collectors Daily has obtained an exclusive preview of the contents.
George Earl Windham Mills spent his life in baseball including many years working for Comiskey as a scout based in the northeast. In June of 1914, Comiskey dispatched him to Baltimore where the owner of the International League Orioles, Jack Dunn, was facing stiff competition from the new Federal League franchise, the Terrapins. Dunn had begun contacting Major League teams, inquiring whether they'd have an interest in any of his players. Selling them seemed to be the only way he could keep his own team solvent. Even after winning 13 straight games, no more than 150 people paid to watch the Orioles play one afternoon. The early O's were considered 'minor league' even though their talent compared favorably with the upstart Federal League, which would fold after just two seasons.
Writers and historians who have researched the Orioles' plight in years past have known that Connie Mack's A's and the Cincinnati Reds had their shot at Dunn's players including Ruth weeks before he was eventually shipped to Boston. Dunn is believed to have contacted other teams as well. The telegrams Mills received in June of 1914 reveal Comiskey's interest. 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 he was instructed 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.” The names of the six players are written in vintage pencil notations along the base of the telegram: “Cree, Daniels, Twombley [sic], Midkiff, Derrick, Ruth.”
An unknown number of years later, Mills’ wife, Ethel, perhaps realizing the historical importance of this particular telegram, felt obligated to provide further details of the negotiations taking place at that time. Writing along the bottom and right-hand borders of the album page, framing the telegram, she added: “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, reads: “Will sell Ruth to Chicago Club for $16,000 cash. Dunn.”
It's believed to be the first evidence that the White Sox could have had Ruth.
On July 9, Ruth along with teammates Ernie Shore and Ben Egan, were sold to the Red Sox for approximately $25,000. Dunn had gotten a better deal even after being rebuffed by Comiskey. He wound up selling the heart of his team and moved it to Richmond for a couple of years before returning to Baltimore where they won seven straight International League pennants.
Comiskey is believed to have purchased but one player from the Orioles, pitcher Dave Danforth.
The faint three-digit identification stamp from Western Union on the telegram noting Dunn's offer to Comiskey is eerily prescient: “714,” which fans know turned out to be Ruth’s lifetime home run total.
Had Comiskey been willing to open his checkbook a little more for the recent refugee from St. Mary's Industrial School, baseball history would have been forever altered. The White Sox may have become the dominant team in baseball during the 1920s. The Black Sox scandal may never have happened--or Ruth could have been caught up in it. The Yankees may have never been built into the decades-long dynasty they became with a succession of stars that began with Ruth and ended with Mickey Mantle.
Many of Comiskey's letters to Mills are on White Sox stationery. A total of 28 bear authentic signatures while others bear the autograph of a secretary as was a common practice for the Sox owner. Comiskey letters are worth around $1,500 when offered individually. All of the letters, telegrams, and other correspondence saved by the Mills have been neatly mounted to their respective album pages. Also included is a rare invitation to the opening of what would become Comiskey Park on July 1, 1910. The scrapbook is being sold as a whole with a $10,000 reserve.
George Earl Mills' granddaughter, who has consigned the scrapbook, says her grandfather passed away in 1947 while listening to a baseball game.