This series, Crooks, tells the forgotten stories behind some of the most outlandish crimes, and criminals, in Philadelphia history. See below for how to access these archives for yourself.
Victor Raschi was pitching, when he should have been catching.
During Game 1 of the 1950 World Series, the New York Yankees ace tossed a shutout against the upstart Phillies in front of 30,746 fans at Shibe Park in North Philadelphia.
But at some point on the Wednesday afternoon of Oct. 4, between Raschi’s angry scowls into the batter’s box and his endless barrage of wobbly fastballs, a prowler slithered unnoticed into the Yankees’ Rittenhouse Square hotel.
Without resistance, the prowler continued up to the ninth floor, and headed for Raschi’s room.
The Warwick hotel staff, naturally, were gathered around the radio, busy hanging on every pitch.
And they weren’t the only ones.
Days earlier, on Sunday, Oct. 1, the Phils had defeated the mighty Dodgers in noisy Brooklyn to win the team’s first pennant in 35 years.
Phillies fans called their beloved team the “Whiz Kids,” a nickname that reflected the players’ average age, 26, the lowest in the National League.
They were also relatable kids: In the era before free agency, players earned an average of $13,000 a year and were bound to their teams like indentured servants. Many Phillies lived in rowhouses and took buses to the ballpark. Many had off-season jobs as bartenders or construction workers, or in the case of Phils catcher Andy Seminick, a clerk at the neighborhood Acme.
During the ’50 season, Phillies teammates shared rooms and lingered in lobbies where fans seldom bothered them for autographs.
But for the World Series, downtown hotels were swarmed with baseball players, executives, and fans. The demand for rooms was so great that several hotels oversold. Not even James Duff, the sitting governor of Pennsylvania, could score a room in Center City.
These circumstances made the players vulnerable to opportunists, or overzealous fans, blending into the circus-like atmosphere. With the hotel staff distracted and the city smitten, the mysterious thief was able to locate, and then ransack, Raschi’s hotel room in relative obscurity.
Hit and run
Victor and Sally Raschi left the hotel room on game day at 10:30 a.m.
Between 1 and 2 p.m., not long after Jim Konstanty delivered the game’s first pitch, the thief is believed to have entered the Raschis’ room and snatched their two suitcases.
Konstanty, that year’s National League MVP, was good. He limited the defending-champion Yankees to four hits and one run over eight innings.
Raschi was better. He allowed only two hits, and no runs, over nine innings. (The Yankees would go on to sweep the Phillies in four games to claim a second straight title.)
Just as Game 1 ended around 4 p.m., a 16-year-old spotted an out-of-place thingamajig on the streets of North Philadelphia.
Otis Mosley, of North 15th Street, told police he happened upon the aluminum suitcase in an alley near 19th and Ingersoll Streets.
He took it home and showed his mother. Without opening it, she called police and instructed Otis to march it to the local station.
Around 5:30 p.m., Raschi and his wife returned to the Warwick, and panicked.
Combined, the two suitcases contained more than 120 World Series tickets and assorted jewelry valued at more than $1,000 (more than $10,000 today).
Pricey and priceless
At the police station at 19th and Oxford Streets, detectives opened the suitcase and found two ties, a pair of pajamas and a white envelope marked “Vic Raschi.” Inside were 80 box-seat tickets for the three Series games scheduled at Yankee Stadium.
After arriving at the station, the pitcher said an additional 20, reserved-seat tickets were missing from the baggage.
And Sally’s black-leather suitcase, which was arguably more valuable, was still unaccounted for. Her suitcase contained 20 more box-seat tickets, a new blouse, jewelry and a priceless diamond-studded wristwatch that featured an intricate inscription: “New York Yankees — World Champions, 1949.”
The 11th-floor room of the Yankees’ traveling secretary, Frank Scott, was also burglarized. Scott claimed $95 worth of his wife’s costume jewelry was stolen. Raschi, however, was the only player who was a victim.
At the time, Raschi was most concerned with the World Series tickets, which he had bought for friends and relatives for $465.
His wife, however, was “heartbroken” over the loss of her World Series watch, which was presented to her by Baseball Commissioner A.B. (Happy) Chandler after Raschi’s inspired performance in the final game of the ’49 series.
Through sobs, Sally Raschi said: “You couldn’t buy that watch from me for love or money.”
Detectives believed the thief entered both rooms with keys. Newspapers reported that two men tripped an interior burglar alarm earlier that day while exiting through a fire escape door that opened into an alley, but a watchman claimed that the two men were empty-handed.
Ultimately, investigators were unable to locate Sally’s missing suitcase — or any suspects.
Some news reports rhetorically wondered whether the thief was a Phillies fan who executed the pro-sports equivalent of stealing a rival school’s mascot before a big game.
The thief developed his own fan base in the wake of the burglary, with one newspaper quipping, “Who knew: the Phillies cleanup hitter was back at the team hotel. He was making a home run when the Phils couldn’t get to first base.”
About this Series:
Using the digital archives of the Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News, Crooks tells the forgotten stories behind some of the most outlandish crimes, and criminals, in Philadelphia history. *Search the archives for yourself and subscribe for full access.*