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By Peter J. Nash
March 29, 2012

This alleged single signed ball by HOFer Walter Johnson was listed for sale on eBay for $80,000. Experts doubt its authenticity.

The eBay listing said that Walter Johnson single signed baseballs “Don’t grow on trees,” but for $80,000 you could have walked away with one accompanied by a fancy letter of authenticity signed by Jimmy Spence of JSA just by clicking the “Buy it Now” icon on the eBay store page of seller Casey Melchionno of Casey at Bat Collectibles of Revere, MA. But that was before eBay stepped in and removed the ball from the auction giant’s website.  Sources indicate that the ball was pulled by eBay’s Fraud Team because of “authenticity issues.”

The Walter Johnson autograph appearing on the alleged 1920s to 1930s baseball that was offered for sale doesn’t resemble the authentic signature of the Hall of Fame pitcher nicknamed “The Big Train.” When shown the image of the ball appeared on the eBay website expert Ron Keurajian told us he was already aware of the ball and noted that the Johnson signature was “apocryphal”.  He added, “In my opinion the signature on that ball is a forgery.”   Hauls of Shame shares that opinion about the signature that lacks the fluidity and feel of Johnson’s handwriting and appears to be labored and executed in a not-so-steady hand.
The signature, originally authenticated by JSA in 2010, was touted by the seller as “The Finest Walter Johnson Single Signed Baseball in the Hobby JSA,” however, it appears that the eBay seller may be another victim of authentication malpractice committed by a third-party authenticator.

These four exemplars depict authentic signatures of Walter Johnson that will be featured in Ron Keurajian's book.

Hauls of Shame was first informed about the sale of the questioned Johnson ball back in January when a thread on Net54, featured a discussion about the ball between the seller and another collector named Rick Gallway, who questioned its authenticity.
After Gallway called out the ball as a counterfeit, he exchanged a pair of direct messages with the owner-seller of the ball who sent personal emails to Gallway asking him to refrain from talking about the challenged Johnson baseball. In the emails Gallway provided to us, Melchionno wrote, ” I really don’t need that type of unwarranted negative criticism. I am sure you understand with all of craziness in today’s market it is hard enough dealing with these types of autographs. And I go way out of my way to have all of items authenticated by supposedly the best in the business to make everybody happy. So I am asking you kindly to please not do that. I would really appreciate it if you could remove or edit your last comment stating the Walter Johnson ball is a fake as it is potentially tarnishing it.”
Melchionno was alluding in his email to the authenticator he endorses on his website, James Spence Authentication (JSA). The third-party authentication company has been recognized as a leader (along with PSA/DNA) by eBay and all of the major auction houses. Despite a myriad of expensive errors, however, JSA still receives strong support from collectors and dealers who rely on their services to buy and sell items.  Recent investigations by Hauls of Shame in regard to high-end Babe Ruth autographs and signed items from the 1939 Baseball Hall of Fame Induction in Cooperstown have opened the eyes of many to the serious deficiencies related to JSA’s work product. Now, the $80,000 Walter Johnson ball removed from eBay has opened the door for a closer examination of other Walter Johnson autographs previously certified by the third party authenticators (TPAs). Looking at less than a dozen big-ticket Walter Johnson autographed baseballs sold at auction with JSA paperwork, it is shocking to see the great disparity from example to example and the visible evidence suggesting that Johnson may have never signed the majority of the baseballs we examined images of.
The first group of eight balls were all sold by major auction houses with JSA authentication (aside from the former eBay listing):

All eight of these baseballs allegedly signed by HOFer Walter Johnson were certified as authentic by JSA. Some experts, however, doubt that any of them are genuine.

We showed these eight JSA-certified Walter Johnson signed baseballs to several experts who each told us that in their opinion, they would not be able to certify them as authentic.  One expert thought that the ball shown in the second row, left, might be genuine.  As for the images of the second set of Johnson balls, the experts thought they were genuine, but there was some disagreement about the example shown on the top row, right,  which would need to be examined in person to render a definitive opinion.

These four balls appear to bear authentic signatures of Walter Johnson.

Similar to our on-going investigation of the Babe Ruth single signed baseballs, this study of Johnson’s signature illuminates further problems with the authentication capabilities of outfits like JSA and PSA. It is the opinion of Hauls of Shame that similar problems exist for nearly every Hall of Famer signature that the TPAs have handled.

Collectors, dealers and auctioneers have, for more than a decade, placed their trust in the hands of PSA and JSA for their authentications, but a closer look at the substance of their work has many in the hobby questioning their credibility. All collectors need to do is open their eyes and take a closer look at these Johnson balls to render their own opinions.
The key question posed by examining these two groups of signed Johnson balls is, “What exemplars did the TPA’s use to determine their authenticity?”

James Spence and JSA did not respond to inquiries for comment on the withdrawal of the eBay listing accompanied by their LOA.  The eBay seller Casey at Bat Collectibles also declined comment.

By Peter J. Nash

March 12, 2012

This Cobb fake was "slabbed" and certed by PSA/DNA.

Hot on the heels of their reported authentication of a fake Ty Cobb signature on a Little League ball made fifteen years after the Hall of Famer died (as reported by us on Deadspin last Friday), PSA/DNA has made another monumental authentication error. A Cobb item appearing on eBay for the past few weeks as an alleged cut signature of Cobb that was certified authentic and graded in one of PSAs air tight encapsulated holders was just pulled by eBay’s Fraud Investigation Team.

Collectors refer to these items as “slabbed signatures” and they have become an extremely marketable commodity thanks to PSA who has sold consumers on the belief that such items certified by them are unquestionably authentic.

The eBay seller BigDaddySportsCards of Alexandria, Louisiana, was offering it for almost $1,300.00 until the item was removed from the site earlier today.   The seller was apparently sold on PSAs expertise stating that the, “Gorgeous Green Ink Cut” has been graded a “Mint 9″ by the company that is a subsidiary of Collectors Universe (NASDAQ: CLCT).

Unfortunately for “Big Daddy” and PSA, the nation’s leading authority on Cobb’s signature happened to be browsing the eBay Cobb offerings and immediately determined the offering was a counterfeit.

Ron Keurajian is the man who in 2009 told the Baseball Hall of Fame its Ty Cobb diary, purchased from Barry Halper, in 1998, was a fake.  The FBI agreed with him and the diary, forged by Cobb’s biographer Al Stump and once  displayed in Cooperstown, has been wished away into a cornfield.

When Keurajian saw the slabbed Cobb cut on eBay he noticed something looked familiar about it.  It was familiar because Keurajian actually owns the exact same authentic original signature that Cobb actually signed on a full-size government post card, not on a cut signature.  PSA authenticated what appears to be a laser copied piece of paper (perhaps old) that features a facsimile of Keurajian’s original example.  The PSA holder would have to be opened to determine what process was used to create the forgery.

This is the authentic signed Cobb postcard owned by Cobb expert Ron Keurajian. The signature on the card was copied and used to create the PSA authenticated forgery on eBay.

In 2009, Keurajian wrote an article for Autograph Magazine about Cobb’s handwriting and utilized this same Cobb signature as an exemplar in the article, which is still posted on the magazine’s website.  The forger simply grabbed the screen image of his authentic exemplar and then proceeded to manufacture his fake.  (The signature is also being utilized as an exemplar in Keurajian’s soon to be released book, Baseball Hall of Fame Autographs: A Reference Guide, by McFarland).

That bogus signature was submitted to the experts at PSA/DNA and was subsequently authenticated and graded a “Mint 9.”

This forgery was likely created with the help of a laser printer and some old paper. PSA deemed it authentic and slabbed it in one of its encapsulated holders originally created for graded baseball cards.

PSA/DNA CEO, Joe Orlando, wrote a column in June of 2010, on the company website detailing the success of PSAs system of grading and slabbing cut signatures and also stated that the process created a great marketing tool for the sale of cut signatures, which have long been considered suspect by collectors and dealers.

In his article, “The Hobby of Holders,” Orlando wrote, “There is no doubt that if a collectible can be encapsulated inside of a PSA holder, the collectible tends to become more marketable.”

Orlando added, “Even with autographs, when we decided to utilize the various holders we already had in-house to encapsulate signed items such as trading cards, index cards, postcards and cuts, it changed the entire market so we decided to expand the holder selection. Over the last several years, we have slabbed hundreds of thousands of signed items because the hobby demanded it. Just like with cards and tickets, the PSA holder completely changed the market.”

eBay's fraud investigation team had the bogus Cobb cut signature removed from the site after learning Ron Keurajian owns the original.

But is it a real market?  Is this Cobb fake indicative of other fakes included in the “hundreds of thousands” of autographs PSA has already slabbed?  How many?  Does this problem warrant a recall of all PSA slabbed cuts?  Is this the only time this forger (or others) has fooled PSA in this manner?  Nervous collectors holding PSA products in their own holdings  are asking the same questions.

One collector and vocal critic of PSA, Travis Roste, responded to the news and told us, “How can a laser copy ‘autograph’ have flow? Pen pressure? Or did they mean printerhead pressure? As the auction houses put it, ”Encapsulated by PSA/DNA for unquestioned authenticity.”

Veteran dealer and authenticator Richard Simon was not surprised by the news, “I guess that they don’t look very closely to see if anything they are examining is laser copied as they had apparently made this mistake before.”

Once these cuts are encapsulated there is a barrier placed between the item and any future examination that could determine if its authentic or a laser copied forgery.  One prominent collector told us he has one way to get around that problem.  He said, “I could care less about those slabs, when I buy one of those slabbed items I have them cracked open and put the plastic in the trash.”

Sources close to eBay operations confirmed to that the Cobb cut was removed from the auction site “for authenticity issues.”  The identity of “BigDaddySportsCards” was not available in order to ask who actually submitted the alleged Cobb signature to PSA for certification.

Sources indicate the FBI, who have recently been taking a closer look at the business practices of the third party authenticators, are aware of the situation, which could represent an important lead in cracking down on forgery rings that have been flooding the market with fakes.