Since the Major League Baseball season starts for most teams this week, we thought it would be the perfect time to chat with Jeffrey Lichtman, a New York criminal defense attorney whose clients have included John A. Gotti and AIG executives named in the New York Attorney General’s probe of the insurance industry.
Mr. Lichtman is also an avid baseball-card collector and baseball fan who sponsors the pages of Sandy Koufax, Hank Greenberg, Jim Bouton and others on baseball-reference.com, the premiere baseball stats site. This is part one of a two-part interview.
How did your sponsorship of Sandy Koufax’s page on baseball-reference.com come about?
I’ve got a few people that I sponsor. Besides Sandy Koufax, there’s Hank Greenberg, Hal Chase, Jim Bouton, Mike Donlin and Mordecai “Three Finger” Brown. I am an avid, vintage baseball card collector: guys like Ty Cobb, Mike Donlin, Mordecai Brown. It’s a pretty serious collection.
This is back when cards were sold with cigars?
Some of them are cigarette/tobacco cards, some of them are candy cards, some of them were in loaves of bread–they’re all kinds. Ninety-five percent of my collection is from 1908 to 1920.
With regard to Hal Chase, he was probably the first or second great New York Yankee. The Yankees weren’t even called the Yankees then, they were called the Highlanders; and Hal Chase was well-known for being a gambler and a crook. He fixed games. All sorts of issues. He was really the first legitimate [baseball] criminal.
He needed a good lawyer.
And I’m a criminal lawyer so I became fascinated with him. My Hal Chase baseball card collection is probably the number one in the world. If you asked 100 people on the street who he was, you might get one who knew, but he was very famous 100 years ago. When Babe Ruth was asked, “Who was the greatest first baseman you ever saw?” he chose Hal Chase. That’s how big and famous he was.
With regard to Koufax and Greenberg…
In the early ’70s, growing up as a Jewish kid–typical story–there were no great Jewish sports heroes, really.
You don’t count Ron Blomberg?
Yeah, Ron Blomberg, the first DH. But he was certainly not anybody fantastic. But Koufax: He was arguably the greatest left-handed pitcher of all time. So I became fascinated with him; and that’s how he became a big deal to me–as did Hank Greenberg. When Jackie Robinson came up almost every white player hated his guts; and there was a famous story where they were on first base together–Jackie had just gotten a single, Hank was playing first base–and Hank said some encouraging words because of what he had gone through as a high-profile Jew.
So those two for that reason.
Tomorrow: Atticus who? How Jim Bouton inspired Jeffrey Lichtman.