Forget about stolen bases. Someone has been swiping the wills of baseball Hall of Famers.
The wills of old-timers George Wright, Tommy McCarthy and Hugh Duffy are missing from a courthouse vault, along with the will of a fourth unidentified baseball figure.
McCarthy's stolen will and possibly others were advertised for sale in a collectors' magazine, Suffolk County Register of Probate Richard Iannella said he was told by a reliable source Friday.
The source contacted Iannella after reading an Associated Press account of the thefts that appeared on the Internet.
"We have the name of a dealer now who has been selling this stuff across the country," Iannella said.
Iannella said the source indicated wills may have been stolen from other courthouses around the country, and Iannella said he would refer the matter to the FBI, as well as city and state police.
"I think there's a lot to it. I think this is the tip of the iceberg we were looking for," Iannella said.
Iannella also plans an inventory to see if any other dead celebrities' papers have vanished, and he said he has tightened security.
Earlier this week, Iannella learned that Leland's Auctions, a New York sports memorabilia dealer, had in its catalog a document signed by Wright upon the death of his wife, Abbie, in 1913.
Iannella then learned the couple's wills were missing, along with the wills of McCarthy and Duffy. In fact, McCarthy's entire file appeared to have been stolen.
And the will of a fourth "person affiliated with baseball" was also missing, officials realized Friday. Iannella declined to identify that person.
"My hunch is that more has been stolen," said Iannella, who plans to turn the matter over to the police following his inventory check.
Leland's paid about $2,000 for the Wright document at a sports memorabilia show, but it was unclear who sold it, said Irwin Kishner, the firm's lawyer.
"This is the first time they've ever had anything like this," Kishner said.
Upon learning it was stolen, Leland's agreed without hesitation to return he form.
"They are completely, 100 percent out that money," Kishner said.
He said Leland's would no longer deal in antique legal documents.
Beginning in February 1997, Iannella said people looking at probate records had to show identification and fill out forms with their names and the documents they wished to view.
He said, however, he had no way of knowing when the documents were stolen.
Wright, McCarthy and Duffy were among the earliest stars of organized baseball.
Wright, an infielder, was considered one of the best ballplayers in the country in the 1860s and 1870s. He played with the Boston Red Stockings, the Providence Grays and the Washington Nationals.
He is also credited with introducing golf to Boston, and a municipal course in the Hyde Park district bears his name.
Wright died in 1937 at the age of 90.
Duffy and McCarthy were known as "the Heavenly Twins," in the 1890s, when they played in the outfield with Boston's National League team, alternately known at the time as both the Braves and the Beaneaters.
According to Max Meyer, the manager in charge of memorabilia at J.J. Teaparty Sports Cards in Boston, collectors hoping to obtain autographs from early ballplayers have few resources.
"For old players like that, getting any sort of signature from them is worth the effort, and legal documents are the only thing you're going to get them on," Meyer said.
However, Meyer said stolen wills are easily traced, and the thief or thieves will probably have a difficult time selling the papers.
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