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FBI files in Cooperstown

By Bill Francis

You never know what you’ll run across when doing baseball research.

While looking through the National Baseball Hall of Fame Library’s clipping file for famed pitcher Johnny Vander Meer, what soon appeared was a copy of a 1938 typed letter sent by longtime Federal Bureau of Investigation Director J. Edgar Hoover congratulating the Cincinnati Reds southpaw on his two consecutive no-hitters.

Hoover has been in the news of late thanks to the recently released movie, J. Edgar, starring Leonardo DiCaprio in the title role and directed by Hollywood legend Clint Eastwood. Hoover was the FBI’s chief from its beginnings in 1935 until his death in 1972 at the age of 77.

In the letter, typed on the chief G-Man’s letterhead and dated June 17, 1938, Hoover writes, “I did have time to glance at the sports page of one of the Miami papers and read the account of the thrilling no-hit game which you pitched against the Boston Bees, and then when I read of your second no-hit game in five days I simply could not resist dropping you this note to extend you my congratulations on this remarkable feat.”

Hoover begins the letter by telling Vander Meer that he’s been “engaged in the investigation of the Cash kidnapping case,” referring to the kidnapping of 5-year-old James B. Cash Jr., known as “Skeegie,” who had been kidnapped from his bed in Princeton, Fla. on May 28, 1938.

Later in the letter Hoover admits that baseball has always been one of his favorite sports and that he attends many games, “although I do not attend as many games as I would like, due to the pressure of my official duties.”

In fact, years later, Hoover would be considered for the job of big league baseball’s commissioner. After a 1945 speech in which he extolled the virtues of wartime baseball, Hoover’s name shot to the top as a possible successor when big league baseball’s first commissioner, Kenesaw Mountain Landis, passed away in 1944. The job eventually went to Happy Chandler. When Chandler resigned his post in 1951, Hoover’s name again was bandied about.

Ellis Ryan, the principal owner of the Cleveland Indians and a member of baseball’s screening committee in search of a replacement for Chandler, said in a 1951 interview, “For instance, if J. Edgar Hoover decided to run, I’m sure he would get every vote. But that is out of the question. It would be improper for baseball to attempt to take so valuable a man away from the government.”

After sharing with Vander Meer the recent success of the FBI’s baseball team in Washington, D.C., Hoover ends the letter by wishing the hurler luck in the future, adding, “I really would be thrilled to see you pitch a third no-hit game this season.”

Hoover, once on the Little League board of directors, said that baseball would be the greatest deterrent to crime that America had ever seen. “Keep kids in sports,” his motto went, “and out of courts.”

Bill Francis is a library associate at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.

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