Photo of Al Capone, his son and his attorney Roland Libonati speaking to Gabby Hartnett at Wrigley Field. The exact date was September 9, 1931, which at that time was the very end of the baseball season, like it is now.
We are so excited to have Arthur Nash (above with Frank Cammarata's .38 Colt) contribute this story today! Artie is perhaps the US expert on the Mafia. Artie works with the Mob Museum in Las Vegas and owns The Mob Scene Gallery in NYC
. We met via the internet last year when we did a piece on Crazy Joey Gallo
. Arthur emailed me about his fab Gallery and I loved it...
Today we are running an article Artie wrote about Al Capone getting an autographed baseball which caused a huge outrage back in the day...
Observing a proud Chicagoland tradition, the National League Cubs and their cross-town rival White Sox – the latter still dogged by discredit for having rigged the Fall Classic on behalf of New York City gamblers more than a decade earlier—suited up to participate in an exhibition game before the impending finish of their nineteen thirty-one season.
As players from both ball clubs mingled, glad-handing local dignitaries and one another or penning autographs for fanatically bulb-eyed schoolboys, a cluster of photographers stood near the third base bag. Their press credentials and camera rigs at the ready, they awaited the inaugural slap of leather and crack of the bat in a time-honored competition that to the winner, at least, conveyed year-long, citywide bragging rights.
While the same reporters idled or chatted, straining to hear their own voices over the stadium‘s mounting dissonance—some of it, at least, fueled by the wares of Prohibition booze barons— a rookie among the flock permitted his gaze to pass casually over the buoyant faces of the main grandstand, then back and forth, sweeping down through each dugout until his eyes fixed on one face in particular that stopped him cold.
Scott Brick volunteered his time to make the recording/video and is a hugely sought-after guy in the publishing world.
My God”, Frank Zak shuddered, faintly gesturing toward the first base side. “That’s Al Capone over there!” Immediately, though, Zak‘s band of colleagues responded with skepticisms. The notorious bootlegger was the last person they‘d expect to spot within the confines of Comiskey Park in the middle of the afternoon.
You’re nuts, Frank!‖ said one of them, a little too sharply, perhaps, while allowing the tools of his trade, locked and loaded, to fall limply by his side for effect. Capone wouldn‘t be here. I mean, the cops are looking for him. He‘s Wanted!‖ To Zak‘s ear, their comments were needlessly rebuffing.
Well, if you don’t believe me that’s alright,‖ he replied, confident his God-given gift of eyesight hadn‘t failed him. ―But I’m going to find out.Zak worked his way around the newly-clipped sea of infield green until he reached the on-deck area, a few yards from his intended target, and confirmed again that it was, in point of fact, Capone — perched along the front row with his son and several watchful bodyguards sporting dark, obligatory pinstriped suits, each crowned by an off-white fedora. Zak recognized a similarly clad and especially attentive gentleman in the front row as Capone‘s private attorney.
The solicitor‘s baleful eyes remained firmly on Zak and his cumbersome gear as they made their final approach but, as an eighteen year old stringer in the heart of the Great Depression, Zak couldn‘t afford to be intimidated. And not after he‘d been spurned by veteran newshounds who still stood dawdling around the third base line. Now it was more than mere business. Capturing Capone‘s portrait was a matter of professional satisfaction and come-uppance. He continued his beeline toward the luxury box.
―Al, my name is Frank,” Zak addressed Capone as unassumingly as he could manage while fumbling with his camera‘s stubborn manifold. “I’m with the Chicago Daily Times and I’d like to get a picture of you with your son.‖ There was no immediate response, but in the millisecond it took Zak‘s shutter to snap closed he sensed a bristle go through Capone‘s lieutenants as they trained themselves on the spot where he stood.
It was then the solution came to him all at once, as if by divine intervention: When Al Capone rooted, he rooted for Wrigley Field.
I could get Hartnett over here,‖ Zak shrewdly volunteered, referring to his unassuming new friend Gabby, the Cubs‘ heavy-hitting catcher. ―Maybe he could autograph a ball for your son.
Capone‘s plumped features lit up, and he swiveled to cast a look down the handsome youngster seated beside him. ―Oh boy,‖ Capone beamed as he turned to face Zak. ―Could you fix it?
Sure I can, Zak countered, just as the bigger man leaned forward, reaching a smoothly manicured hand in his direction. Zak felt frozen in place. Wait a minute,‖ Capone said, slipping something neatly between Zak‘s anxious fingers which he soon enough discovered was a crisply-minted twenty dollar bill, amounting to appreciably more than the eleven bucks a week Zak was paid by the Daily Times.
Not wasting breath, Zak rushed to find the batting hero who‘d been warming up near the visitor‘s clubhouse and, as he‘d hoped, Hartnett was eager to make the gang boss‘s acquaintance. The slugger smiled broadly as he sauntered toward the junior Capone, known as ‗Sonny‘, who wore a light colored double-breasted that closely resembled his father‘s, his hair neatly greased and sharply parted on one side. Hartnett leaned in toward the Capone party and produced a brilliant white baseball, then a fountain pen – the prearranged signal.
Zak took note of a peanut vendor brushing precariously close to Capone as he sized up his shot, and bodyguards reaching abruptly inside their coats. It was at about this time, naturally, that the swarm of shutterbugs Zak left stranded at third began to get wise and within seconds every last one of them was jockeying for best position. Not, though, before Frank Zak had staked his rightful claim.
Zak couldn‘t say precisely when, but at a point in all the confusion he handed Capone a caption sheet bearing the logo of the Daily Times – and Capone handed it back with his signature. Then, pleased with himself and the fruit of his labors, Zak backed slowly away and reloaded for the melee about to begin. At the end of nine innings he‘d be ready to celebrate, but now he had more work to do. Even still, by the end of seven he‘d caught himself improvising on a familiar old jingle:
Take me out to the ball-game
Take me out to the crowd
Buy me some Sloe Gin and crack mark-smen
If you can’t bribe those Cop-pers we’ll do five-to-ten
STOP! Don't shoot, shoot, shoot! We ain’t Gaaang-sters…
But Zak‘s elation was short-lived, and when his handiwork appeared in print next morning, shortly before its syndication in papers throughout the country, it carried with it some unexpected consequences. Through the sportswriters‘ grapevine, Zak learned the fiercely omnipotent Commissioner of baseball, Kenesaw Mountain Landis— the same man who‘d banished eight players for life in the wake of the Black Sox scandal— blew his stack upon seeing Zak‘s portrait of Capone smiling and receiving favors from one of the game‘s premier talents.
Judging by Landis‘s reaction one might have believed Frank Zak was the scofflaw, not Al Capone – that he‘d committed grave felonies by introducing two of the Windy City‘s most ink-worthy citizens, playing a game of matchmaker all too familiar in a town where handshake deals were endemic and far greater offenses were consummated before breakfast. Had Landis known the portrait was as staged as the 1919 World Series had been, things might have been worse.
But he didn‘t, and went on to ensure Zak‘s proudest accomplishment would never be replicated. It was yet another bruise on our national pastime, Landis persisted in private meetings with club owners – one they didn‘t need in a period when both the game and nation were struggling for economic, if not spiritual survival.
From now on we don’t do that,‖ Landis commanded, laying down the law in that blissfully ignorant age before the corked bat, the treachery of pine tar, or the human grown hormone.
No ballplayer is to mingle with a spectator – and especially that kind!”
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