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By Peter J. Nash

May 27, 2014

Two historic baseballs purported to have broken records as the “world’s fastest pitch” once withdrawn from a 2013 auction because of authenticity issues are now back on the market at Love of The Game Auctions in New Jersey. The auction house states that the balls alleged to have been thrown by Nolan Ryan and Bob Feller originated from the “noted collection of Barry Halper” and that the consignor purchased the pair for $4,312 in the 1999 Halper Collection auction at Sotheby’s.

The auction house currently has four bids on the lot but makes no mention that the balls had previously appeared as lot 127 in Ken Goldin’s 2013 sale and that they had been withdrawn due to their dubious Halper provenance and questions raised by a 1974 wire photo that surfaced showing Ryan holding a different ball marked “100.8.”  LOTG’s Al Crisafulli says his consignor didn’t tell him about the previous withdrawal from the Goldin auction.

The alleged Ryan & Feller record "fast-balls" were removed from a Goldin Auctions sale in 2013 when their authenticity was questioned.

The auction house also failed to mention in its original lot description that the Nolan Ryan ball, even if it were authentic, is identified as being pitched at 100.8 mph on September 7, 1974, when Ryan had actually established the record over two weeks earlier at 100.9 mph on August 20, 1974. In LOTG’s lengthy write-up about the history of the two events they linked to an article published on the website but they failed to include the information that the record was broken on August 20th and that the Guinness World-Record was established on that same date, not on September 7th.

After being contacted by Hauls of Shame, the auction house amended its lot description to indicate that the date and speed indicated on the Ryan ball corresponds with his second fastest pitch and not the recognized World Record by Guinness (although the inscription on the ball states differently).  When asked about the wire photo showing Ryan holding a different ball marked “100.8″ on September 7, 1974, LOTG’s Al Crisafulli responded stating, “I think it’s entirely more likely that the ball Ryan is holding in the wire photo is a prop, as there is nothing I’ve seen to indicate that anyone is stating that said ball is THE ball Ryan threw.  All that photo says, to me, is that Nolan Ryan threw a baseball 100.8 mph.”

Barry Halper's alleged "fastest ball" says Ryan broke the world record on Sept. 7, 1974, while the Guinness book of World Records shows he broke the record on Aug. 20, 1974.

The other offered baseball alleged to have been thrown by Bob Feller in 1946 at 98.6 mph has its own issues considering it features a forged Feller signature that Love of The Game describes as a “clubhouse” autograph signed on an Official American Association baseball.  Feller established the record right before the start of a game against the Washington Senators and the likelihood he would have used a non-Major League ball from a league that included teams unaffiliated with Cleveland and Washington (and located hundreds of miles from Washington D.C. in the Midwest) is highly improbable.  What’s even more improbable is that Bob Feller wouldn’t have signed his own record breaking baseball and that Barry Halper wouldn’t have had him sign the ball at some time after he had acquired it.  Even Bob Feller’s son can’t see how the ball could have been positively authenticated without input from his late father.

When the balls were first offered at Sotheby’s in 1999 Halper and his associate, auctioneer Rob Lifson, never divulged any additional information regarding the provenance for the balls besides the say-so of Halper who claimed that they were the authentic and original record-breaking orbs.  Fifteen years after that $20 million plus landmark sale, the hobby is more well informed and aware of Halper and Lifson’s sales of over two million dollars worth of fakes and fraudulent items via Sotheby’s.  In the 1999 Sotheby’s sale, Richard Russek and Andy Imperato of Grey Flannel authenticated hundreds of thousands of dollars of counterfeit uniforms and jerseys that Halper falsely claimed came from the collection of ex-Brooklyn Dodger Ollie O’Mara as well as others including Stan Musial’s rookie jersey and Mickey Mantle’s 1956 Yankee jersey.  Other fakes included Lou Gehrig’s alleged “last glove“; Ty Cobb’s dentures and Halper’s famous “500 Home Run Club signed sheet,” which Halper falsely claimed was signed in person for him by both Babe Ruth and Jimmie Foxx.

Halper's plaque honoring him and the "Halper Gallery" was removed from the Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum after reports revealed items he sold to MLB were bogus including Joe Jackson's 1919 jersey (center). Halper and current HOF Chairman Jane Forbes Clark cut the ribbon opening the now defunct Halper Gallery in 1999.

Further destroying Halper’s credibility are another million dollars worth of bogus Joe Jackson and Mickey Mantle artifacts he sold MLB and the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1998.  Halper lied and claimed that he acquired Mantle’s rookie jersey from Yankee clubhouse man Pete Sheehy and that he purchased Jackson’s 1919 jersey and “Black Betsy” bat from Jackson’s widow in the 1950s when he was attending the University of Miami and pitching for Jimmie Foxx.  As it turns out, Halper never even played for the Miami nine and Foxx wasn’t even on the staff at the time he attended the school.  The recently well documented exposures of Halper’s large-scale fraud even prompted the Baseball Hall of Fame to remove the Barry Halper Gallery from the Cooperstown museum.

Safe to say, an auction house in 2014 can’t just offer two baseballs they claim to be record-breakers by Nolan Ryan and Bob Feller just because they originated from “noted collector” Barry Halper with only his word supporting their authenticity.  Ironically, it was Bob Feller who described best how shady the hobby can be when he told the New York Daily News, “This memorabilia business is a racket. If people want to throw their money away, they should go to Las Vegas. At least in Las Vegas, you get a good meal.”

The problems with both of the alleged record-breaking balls are significant.  Here’s a break down of the issues regarding the authenticity of both baseballs:

The Alleged Nolan Ryan “Fastest Pitch” Baseball:

Nolan Ryan's world record pitch of 100.9 mph was reported prominently in the national and local press after it was announced before an Angels game on Sept. 7, 1974.

1. Nolan Ryan’s alleged record-breaking ball is dated from a game in which Ryan’s fastest pitch was not delivered–on September 7, 1974.  Before the game that day, scientists from Rockwell International announced that Ryan had already established the record weeks earlier against the Detroit Tigers when he threw a pitch clocked at 100.9 mph.  The September 7th game was intended as a promotional opportunity for the Angels organization to have fans guess how fast Ryan could pitch and if he could break the 100.9 record established on August 20th.  Ryan failed to break the record reaching the highest velocity of 100.8 MPH in the ninth inning versus the Detroit Tigers.  (Despite the announcement before the game of the actual world record the Angels incorrectly identified the 100.8 pitch as a “new record” on the scoreboard.  On September 16th, Sports Illustrated also misidentified the 100.8 mph pitch as the “world record.”)

The article that LOTG links in its lot description clearly states that the Ryan record was broken on August 20, 1974 and Ryan's top speeds per inning were posted on the stadium scoreboard at the end of the game when he failed to break his own record on Sept. 7, 1974.

2. The Halper Collection baseball was described at Sotheby’s as having been inscribed by AL umpire Bill Kunkel who worked the infield during that game.  Kunkel allegedly identified the 100.8 MPH pitch as being a record breaking event, but having been on the field that day how could he make such a claim?  It was announced in the stadium that 100.9 mph was the record and the Angels crowd was aware that Ryan failed to break his own record as the highest speeds were posted on the scoreboard at the end of each inning.  It was also reported prominently after the game in local and national newspapers that the record of 100.9 was set weeks earlier and announced before the game played on September 7th.

But more importantly, could a professional umpire working the infield have had the opportunity to retrieve the actual baseball thrown for the 100.8 mph pitch when the speed wasn’t reported until after the game was over?  The actual 100.8 mph pitch was the third ball thrown to the lead-off hitter, Bee Bee Richard, in the ninth inning.  According to accounts of that game, Richard walked and the following batter hit into a double play.  The next batter, popped out to the catcher to end the game.  A source familiar with MLB’s video archive told us that it was likely there was no surviving video from that Angels-White Sox game in 1974 to check for foul balls hit into the crowd.  It is unlikely that the 100.8 mph ball survived the entire inning but, even if it did, could Kunkel have retrieved it from Ryan’s own catcher?  Wouldn’t Ryan’s catcher keep the ball or give it to Ryan himself?  Could Kunkel have even known to retrieve the 100.8 mph pitch when it wasn’t announced until after the game?

On September 16, 1974 Sports Illustrated reported how “artifacts damaged by Ryan pitches (were) treasured like war souvenirs” by players.  At the time, SI reported that Angels catcher Aurelio Rodriguez, wore “a twisted medallion that a Ryan fastball blasted after a mix up in signals” and that Umpire Jim Evans saved a “face mask disfigured by a deflected Ryan pitch.”  While its clear that Ryan souvenirs were popular, its a logical question to ask why Bill Kunkel would have ended up with the 100.8 mph ball instead of Ryan?

Barry Halper tricked Mickey Mantle into authenticating a bogus jersey he claimed was from his rookie season. Mantle inscribed a card and the jersey itself at Halper's direction (left). Could Ump Bill Kunkel's inaccurate inscription on the alleged Ryan ball have been coached by Halper as well?

3. It also appears that the JSA and SGC-authenticated inscription written by umpire Bill Kunkel was written at a later date than the Nolan Ryan signature which exhibits all of the characteristics of a signature originally signed on the ball in the 1970s.  The Kunkel writing, executed in dark unfaded marker ink, appears to have been signed more recently.  It has been established that Barry Halper often asked players and officials to inscribe artifacts and write LOA’s on index cards and it has also been established that he directed players to write inscriptions for totally bogus and fabricated material.  The best example of this Halper practice was his directing Mickey Mantle to authenticate what Halper claimed was his 1951 Yankee rookie road jersey with the number “6.”  Although Mantle inscribed and signed a card claiming it was his actual jersey from his rookie season, the jersey, which was purchased by MLB in 1998, was uncovered as a fake and later returned to Halper despite Mantle’s Halper-coached letter of authenticity.  How can anyone say definitively that Halper didn’t orchestrate a similar scenario with Kunkel?  It is very possible that Kunkel kept a game-ball from that night as a souvenir, but it is highly improbable that he would have been able to procure the actual 100.8 mph pitched ball.

Nolan Ryan posed with actual game balls and "prop balls" throughout his record-breaking career.

4. Nolan Ryan was photographed on Sept. 7, 1974, holding a baseball marked “100.8″.  Was that the actual baseball that broke the record?  It’s clearly not the baseball offered by Halper or LOTG, but could it have also been a ball marked just for the photo opportunity?  Throughout his career Ryan was photographed holding actual record-breaking balls or balls inscribed to represent the record-breaking event. But considering how the pitches were clocked and reported to the crowd only after each inning, could anyone on the field have even known which ball thrown by Ryan was actually the 100.8 mph ball?  Why would anyone go to the lengths to retrieve the 100.8 mph pitch ball when it failed to break the pre-existing record?  And wouldn’t Nolan Ryan be the most likely candidate to take home the “100.8″ ball if it actually existed?

These genuine baseballs from Nolan Ryan's no-hitters and milestone strikeout games are currently displayed at the Nolan Ryan Museum in Alvin, Texas. The museum does not have a baseball on display representing the Guinness World Record for "fastest pitch." (The Nolan Ryan Museum)

5. Nolan Ryan and his wife Ruth saved most all of the milestone baseballs from his MLB career and several are currently displayed by the Nolan Ryan Foundation at the Nolan Ryan Museum in Alvin, Texas.  The displays do not include a ball that is identified as the one Ryan pitched when he established the Guinness World Record on August 20th or the one he pitched on September 7th.  When presented with images of the Halper/LOTG baseball and the LOTG lot description, a representative from the Ryan Museum responded to the Hauls of Shame inquiry stating, “We are unable to authenticate the validity of this baseball.”  Sources also indicate that Ryan never retained any souvenirs from the record-breaking “fastest pitch” events.

The Alleged Bob Feller Speed Record Baseball Thrown In 1946

Bob Feller established the record for fastest pitched ball in Washington D.C. in 1946.

1. Bob Feller’s alleged record-establishing baseball is an Official American Association ball that dates from the 1945 to 1947 era.  This fact is the most problematic aspect regarding the authenticity of this ball since Bob Feller threw his 98.6 mph pitch at Griffith Stadium in Washington D.C. just before the start of an MLB game between the Cleveland Indians and the Washington Senators.  The apparatus to measure Feller’s pitch was set up just before the game and the pitches were clocked during Feller’s warm-up for the game that day.  Neither the Senators or the Indians had any affiliation with or any minor league clubs in the American Association.  In fact, the teams in the American Association were located in the midwest from Columbus, Ohio all the way west to Kansas City.  Why would an MLB pitcher like Feller have used an American Association ball in a promotion organized by Clark Griffith and the Senator organization in an MLB ballpark, just before an MLB game and during his warm up for that very game?

Halper's alleged Feller ball is an official American Association ball but Feller set his record in an MLB ballpark while he was warming up for a game against the Senators. Neither the Indians or the Senators had minor league clubs in the AA and the teams in that league were all located hundreds of miles away from the Washington D.C. ballpark.

2. The fact that the Bob Feller signature on the ball has been deemed non-genuine by JSA, PSA/DNA and SGC is also a significant sign that the ball may not be genuine.  LOTG describes the signature as a clubhouse signature but it does not resemble Feller’s signature c.1946.  The forged signature shows more characteristics of Feller’s autograph later in life making it difficult to figure out when it was  actually placed on the ball.  What’s even more puzzling is that Feller was easily accessible to sign items during his lifetime and he signed numerous items specially for Halper on numerous occasions including the famous “last bat” Babe Ruth used for “Babe Ruth Day” at Yankee Stadium in 1948.  Feller re-acquired that bat, but not from Halper, and told Baseball Digest in 2005, “That bat is in my museum right now in Van Meter, Iowa. I got that bat back. It took a long time to get it, but I got it back. One of my teammates took it and hid it after Babe signed it, and then I bought it back from a fellow that won it in a contest after (collector) Barry Halper sold all his memorabilia.”

The fact that Halper didn’t have Feller inscribe the ball and recount his record breaking feat is also highly suspicious.  It begs the question as to whether Feller would have agreed that it was actually the record-breaking ball?  We contacted Bob Feller’s son, Steven Feller, who sits on the Board of Directors of the Bob Feller Museum in Van Meter, Iowa, and asked whether he knew of the Halper ball or any other 1946 record-baseball.  Feller responded and said, “This is a rather fascinating “signature” ball being auctioned. Sorry I didn’t get back to you sooner, however I wanted to speak to both of my brothers to see if they had any recollection of our Dad ever speaking of or making any reference to this baseball. Both my brothers and I had never heard any mention of it from him ever.  Very interesting question as to how can it be authenticated if not from my Dad?”

The non-genuine Feller signature on the alleged record baseball (top left) is called a "clubhouse" signature by LOTG Auctions. The signature has more in common with Feller's post-2000 autograph (bottom, left) than it does with an authentic example dated in 1945 (right).

3. Barry Halper’s index cards and letters of authenticity from players regarding game used items in his collection were scattered all throughout the Halper sale at Sotheby’s in 1999 and many other Bob Feller items were accompanied with a supporting statement from Bob Feller describing the provenance of the artifact including: Lot 1102-The Bob Feller Family Catcher’s Mitt” which came with a signed card reading:  ”This is the mitt my father used to catch me when I was a kid….It was this mitt he was using when I threw a fastball in 1934 that hit him in the chest and broke three ribs-as described in TIME Magazine April 19, 1937–Bob Feller”;  Lot 1395- a plaster cast of Feller’s hand inscribed, “To Barry from Bob Feller”; Lot 1396- a signed scorecard inscribed, “To Barry Halper, Best to a great pal, Bob Feller”; Lot 1468- Feller’s 1940 Double-Knit Cleveland uniform which was accompanied by a letter from Feller stating:  ”To Barry, To my knowledge, this is the first double knit baseball uniform ever made and was sent to me for testing a few years before World War II….”; and Lot 1469- Feller’s “Late 1940’s Indians Warm-Up Jacket” which came with a a letter of authenticity on an index card executed by Feller.

Barry Halper had easy access to Bob Feller and Feller inscribed numerous historic items to him stating the artifact's provenance. Above is his detailed inscription to Halper on his bat which was used by Babe Ruth at his last Yankee Stadium appearance in 1948. (Bob Feller Museum)

Considering that the alleged “fastest-pitched” ball comes with no supporting documentation from Feller; has a forged Feller signature on the sweet spot; and is a non-MLB ball from the American Association, how could the ball be presented definitively as the ball Feller threw on that day in 1946?  Even Halper would have questions about this ball if he were buying it in an auction based on an interview he gave to the New York Times in 2000:

”Unless you know it came from a certain player, you’re taking a risk on someone saying it came from Bob Feller and it didn’t….Wherever there is profit to be made, it promotes thievery.”

Crisafulli and LOTG don’t have much to offer in terms of additional evidence supporting that the two balls are genuine and responded to our inquiry about the Ryan ball stating, “Bill Kunkel, who passed away in early 1985, signed and inscribed this baseball as the “record-breaking” ball from the September 7 game in Anaheim. The ball was also signed by Nolan Ryan. The signatures and the Kunkel inscription has been authenticated by both Mike Root at SGC, and by Jimmy Spence, independently of one another. I submitted the ball to both of them for authentication myself. I also contacted Brandon Grunbaum, who confirmed that this style of baseball was in use in the American League in late 1974.”

In regard to the issues related to the Feller ball Al Crisafulli told us, “Why would it not be plausible that the team would have unofficial baseballs used during exhibitions and practice? The Senators played plenty of exhibitions, the Homestead Grays played at Griffith Stadium as well, and there are any number of reasons why an unofficial ball would wind up in a practice bucket in 1946.”  As for the bogus Feller autograph on the ball the LOTG auctioneer said, “Not a single letter in that signature looks like it was written by Feller, or even by someone who was attempting to make it look like Feller’s. In an industry where people are making incredible forgeries of six-figure Babe Ruth balls, is it really plausible to think someone would make such a horrible forgery of someone who was still alive, who signed everything he could reach with his pen?”  While Crisafulli is now adamant that the Feller signature was not signed to mimic the Hall of Famers autograph he stated the complete opposite on the LOTG blog in April when he wrote, “The adjacent panel is signed both by Feller (on the sweet spot) and catcher George Susce, both vintage signatures.”  (The third-party authenticators used by LOTG say the signature of Indians coach George Susce on the ball is genuine and that now appears to be enough for LOTG to consider this ball authentic.)

In addition, Crisafulli also claims that Hauls of Shame’s concerns about these two balls are unwarranted adding, “If this ball didn’t originate with Rob Lifson and Barry Halper, this lot wouldn’t even be on your radar. There are probably pieces up for auction right now that are more worthwhile for you to write about.”  Despite the evidence suggesting significant problems with both balls Crisafulli summed up his stance stating, “I’m accepting that they’re real based on the Halper provenance, the appropriate vintage of the balls, the authenticity of the signatures and inscriptions, and how the details of the story jive with those inscriptions.”

Ken Goldin (left) withdrew the suspect Ryan-Feller balls from his sale in 2013 but LOTG's Al Crisafulli (center) doesn't reveal that to his bidders in the addendum to the #1 lot in his current auction (right).

Back in 2013, a Hauls of Shame reader questioned the balls being sold by Goldin and sent us the wire photo of Ryan holding the other ball marked “100.8″  We sent the image to auctioneer Ken Goldin via email and later discussed the Halper provenance and how difficult it would have been to retrieve the 100.8 mph ball on that day in 1974.  Goldin responded to our heads up saying, “If there is any question as to the legitimacy of the items themselves, I just do not sell questionable items, so I killed the item and will return to (the) consignor. There is so much great memorabilia we do not need to deal with anything even remotely questionable.”

In their update for the Feller-Ryan lot, Love of the Game admits they were wrong in identifying the ball as the actual Guinness World-Record breaker but they have chosen not to inform their customers that Ken Goldin removed the balls from his prior sale in 2013.  Al Crisafulli said, “Were they removed because you showed Ken the wire photo and he didn’t want to deal with being on over an item that would have been a minor lot in his auction?  Because if that’s the case, I wouldn’t call that an authenticity issue.”

Ken Goldin did not respond to our inquiry asking him about Crisafulli’s comments and whether both auctioneers had spoken about the Halper baseballs.  Crisafulli also did not answer us when we asked him if he and Goldin had spoken before we made our initial inquiry.  In his most recent email to us, Crisafulli said, “Ken Goldin reached out to me this afternoon, wondering why I might be speculating on why the Feller/Ryan balls were pulled from his auction.  I do not appreciate you putting words in my mouth.”

It should also be noted that Goldin has not responded to several Hauls of Shame inquiries regarding the misrepresented 1960 Ted Williams glove he sold in his last auction and allegations leveled by several sources who contacted Hauls of Shame accusing his consignor, Dr. David Pressman, of having a history of selling bogus Ted Williams items.

By Peter J. Nash

May 13, 2014

A letter signed by Honus Wagner is a key piece of evidence documenting thefts from the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.

It’s no secret that national treasures have been smuggled out of the archives of the Baseball Hall of Fame in the sleepy little Village of Cooperstown, New York. In 2001, national news outlets reported that the FBI recovered four baseballs signed by US Presidents that had been stolen from a museum display case back in 1972.  The balls were inscribed by the likes of William Howard Taft and Woodrow Wilson and had been donated to the museum in 1968 by the family of Hall of Fame pitcher Walter Johnson.

But Johnson’s family didn’t learn about the theft until a relative named Hank Thomas showed up and requested to see the artifacts on a visit to the Hall five years later in 1977.  According to Thomas, Hall officials told him they failed to report the theft or publicize it because “informing the world of the disappearance of Walter Johnson’s baseballs might only encourage further thievery and discourage donations of the memorabilia on which the Hall depended.”

But that cover-up strategy backfired on Hall officials when the institution fell victim to even greater losses in the 1980’s as a result of a large scale heist of documents and photographs from the National Baseball Library. Despite those considerable losses, however, the Hall continued its long-standing tradition of sweeping its dark secrets under the rug with the hopes that no one would ever dig deeper to uncover the scandal. The institution, now headed by Jane Forbes Clark, has thus established an internal culture of cover-ups in violation of its charter as a 501 (c) not-for-profit educational institution dedicated to preserving  collections for “a global audience.”  The Hall maintains a vast collection of donated materials valued at close to a billion dollars, so, some might say what’s been lost and stolen is a “mere bag o’shells,” to quote Ralph Kramden.

But reminders of the 1980s heist keep resurfacing with great frequency thanks to outfits like Heritage Auction Galleries in Dallas, Texas. As one of the world’s largest auction houses Heritage says it has grossed over $918 million in sales just this year but in baseball circles they are known notoriously for the serial-selling of treasures stolen from the Baseball Hall of Fame. In addition, one of Heritage’s key sports auction consignment directors, Mike Gutierrez, is even more notorious as the prime suspect for thefts from the National Baseball Library dating back to the late 1980s.  Is it just a wild coincidence that so many documents apparently pilfered from the Cooperstown archives are finding their way to Heritage?

Take for instance lot number 81674 in Heritage’s current auction extravaganza which represents a key piece of evidence in documenting the thefts and laying the groundwork for an investigation that has yet to happen.  It’s a 1911 letter written by Honus Wagner to National League President Thomas J. Lynch regarding a protested game between his Pittsburgh Pirates and the Cincinnati Reds.  In the letter Wagner describes a play at third base and what he said at the time to an umpire named Doyle.  Wagner wrote, “I also said to Doyle, “Why did you call that man out?  He wasn’t out.”  According to the great Wagner Doyle responded to him, “Well, he is out according to the rule in the book.”

This 1911 protested game letter written by Honus Wagner appears in the current Heritage auction and is believed to have been stolen from the National Baseball Library.

Heritage describes the letter in its lot description as “easily one of the finest examples extant of an early “John H. Wagner” signature” and they add, ”In this auction a lucky bidder will be able to own an early Wagner signature on a letter with baseball-related content.”  Regarding that baseball content, Heritage also states, “One wonders if Wagner was able to persuade Lynch to overturn the decision.”

If Chris Ivy or Mike Gutierrez of Heritage want to learn more about that protested game and Lynch’s decision all they need to do is head to the National Baseball Library in Cooperstown to view the National League’s protested game files which are part of the Hall’s August Herrmann Papers Collection.  Somehow, those files contain the correspondence sent to Lynch regarding that same protested game from Pittsburgh manager Fred Clarke, Pittsburgh second baseman Bill McKechnie, Cincinnati Red Eddie Grant (the first player killed in action in WWI) and Reds manager Clark Griffith.  Griffith, in his letter dated June 6, 1911, referred to the tagging of Honus Wagner and told Lynch that the Pirate protest was “made later in (the) game on hearsay.”

This letter was sent by Reds manager Clark Griffith to NL President Thomas Lynch regarding the same protested game that is also the subject of Heritage's Honus Wagner protest letter.

The protested game files in the Herrmann archive span from the years 1902 to 1926 and were microfilmed recently thanks to funding the Hall received from the Yawkey Foundation.  The files include letters, telegrams, affidavits and other documents related to games under official protest by one of the National League ball clubs.  Most of the protested games have separate files but there are two miscellaneous game files as well. The correspondence regarding this particular protested game between the Pirates and Reds from May, 1911, is located in the first file and includes another letter written by manager Fred Clarke.  (In 2010, Heritage withdrew from an auction a similar Fred Clarke protest letter because it was identified as a document originating from the Herrmann Papers archive. Clarke wrote the letter in 1909 to NL President Harry Pulliam for a protested game against St. Louis.)

While Wagner's letter is being sold by HA, his manager's letter regarding the same protested game remains in the HOF's August Herrmann Archive.

While the protested game files include letters from team owners and managers like Fred Clarke, they also include the statements and testimony from the players involved in the actual disputed plays on the field.  In Clarke’s letter he details the play and the players involved including Wagner, Bill McKechnie and Eddie Grant of the Reds.

The Herrmann Protested Game files include the statements of Bill McKechnie and Eddie Grant.

The Herrmann protested game file, of course, includes the statements of McKechnie and Grant while the statement of Honus Wagner is curiously absent.  All of the letters in the possession of the National Baseball Library in regard to the Pittsburgh protest are found in “Box 44, Folder 24″ of the August Herrmann papers archive.  It appears that every other letter sent to President Lynch regarding that particular protested game is present in the file except for the statements of Honus Wagner and HOF umpire Bill Klem.  The Klem letter  surfaced and was offered on eBay in 2011 with no mention of its provenance.

The National Baseball Library has created a finding aid for the the correspondence archive of August Herrmann (inset with Ban Johnson) which includes a box devoted to documents related to NL protested games. The Heritage Wagner letter was once found in "Folder 24" which is marked "Additional protested Games 1902-26."

What’s even more curious is that Heritage and Chris Ivy won’t say where the Wagner document came from or reveal any information related to its provenance or the consignor.  Adding to the likelihood that the Heritage offering originated in the Herrmann Papers files, the Hall’s protested game files still retain at least one other Wagner protest letter describing a Bill Klem call in June of 1909.  So, how did the other Wagner letter from 1911 make its way to Dallas and into the current Heritage auction?

Bill Klem's letter to the NL President regarding the same game in 1911 was offered on eBay in 2011 (left). The HOF files include another Honus Wagner letter about a Klem call in a 1909 game (center). The Hall has other letters written by Fred Clarke & Barney Dreyfus although many have been removed from the files.

The Wagner letter isn’t the only dubious protest letter in the current Heritage sale as Chris Ivy is also offering a 1924 Barney Dreyfus letter to NL President John Heydler protesting another Pirate game.  In 2011 Heritage removed another Dreyfus letter sent to Heydler on August  26, 1924, regarding a protested game because it was believed to have been stolen from the Cooperstown files.  The Dreyfus letter in the current Heritage sale was sent by Dreyfus on August 27, 1924.  It appears that although Ivy removed the previous Dreyfus letter, the Hall of Fame’s failure to claim title has opened the door for him to actually sell the stolen protest documents.

Heritage is also offering a protest letter sent to the NL President by Barney Dreyfus in 1924 (left). The HOF files retain several Dreyfus protest letters including one written in 1911(right, NBL).

The Wagner and Dreyfus letters are the most recent in a long line of other alleged stolen documents offered by Heritage including examples written by Babe Ruth and the 1915 Red Sox team, Charles Comiskey, Fred ClarkeJoe Tinker, AL President Ban Johnson, and Ed Barrow.  Two other rare documents originating from the Herrmann Papers and signed by Miller Huggins and Hank O’Day were recently consigned to Heritage by veteran autograph dealer Jack Smalling who claims the two letters were given to him in the 1960’s by Baseball Hall of Fame historian Lee Allen in consideration for work he’d assisted Allen with.

While Lee Allen had no authority to give away the documents that had been donated to the Hall by Powel Crosley Jr. in 1961, the two documents that Jack Smalling says he was given are the only two letters that have surfaced with an actual provenance story from its owner.  Most all of the other letters that have surfaced have changed hands several times and some have even been traced back to Heritage consignment director Mike Gutierrez.

Mike Gutierrez of Heritage was the prime suspect in the 1980's HOF thefts; The Clark family, represented by Jane Clark (center) chose not to pursue prosecution or recovery; Bud Selig and MLB have done nothing to recover the missing NL documents.

Heritage’s decision to proceed with selling the stolen documents from the Herrmann archive is a product of the failure of the leadership at the Baseball Hall of Fame to claim title to the letters and pursue recovery of property owned by New York State, not the Hall of Fame.  Since the 1930’s the Hall has never purchased or traded artifacts and has relied solely on the generous donations of baseball fans and players alike. All of the items housed at Cooperstown belong to the people of New York State and fall under the jurisdiction of New York’s Attorney General.  Despite the fact that the protest letters were originally the property of MLB and the National League, neither Bud Selig or MLB Security have done anything to assist or compel the Hall to report the thefts to the FBI and open an official case.  (According to reports in Sunday’s Newsday and on Deadspin, MLB did purchase stolen documents in the A-Rod Biogenesis case.)

Bolstered by the Baseball Hall of Fame’s inaction and negligence, Heritage’s director of sports auctions, Chris Ivy, responded to our inquiry about the Wagner letter stating, “Heritage Auctions has a well-established record of cooperating with law enforcement in the rare but inevitable event that a piece consigned to auction is claimed to be owned by a party other than the consignor.  None of the pieces that you list have been challenged.  This bears repeating: there has been no claim made on any of these items.  Heritage does not own these pieces, and our consignors have signed paperwork attesting to their own legal ownership of the material.”

Although Ivy states that his consignors claim to own the documents for sale he still offers no information whatsoever about the provenance of any of the documents appearing to have originated from the Herrmann Papers archive.  The auction house rationalizes its sale of the questioned documents in a statement to directed at this writer as Ivy says, “In the absence of any challenge to these documents, Heritage has no legal right to offer this material to whatever institution you believe holds title.  It’s as simple as that.  Unless we are contacted by the institution or by law enforcement, there is no legal basis for challenging ownership.  In the past you have falsely characterized this position as “Ivy Says HOF Negligence Justifies Sale,” but a more appropriate headline would have been “Nash Advises Illegal Seizure of Consigned Material.

To the contrary, this writer would only advise Heritage to reject consignments of such material and to refrain from the sale of suspect or stolen items, even if the rightful owner fails to claim title. Ivy’s stance is also patently disingenuous as he surmises that the Hall’s failure to claim the letters as its own gives him the right to sell them and somehow makes the items legitimate.  The evidence strongly suggests that Ivy is still selling stolen property owned by New York State.

A rare 1870 CDV of the Philadelphia A's was photographed at the HOF in 1983 (left) and then appeared in a 2012 Legendary auction (center). The Hall of Fame failed to claim title to the stolen rarity despite the fact the photo appears on SABR contact sheets and shows evidence that the accession number was erased (right).

Ivy and others in the hobby are well aware that the Hall of Fame’s negligence is so pronounced that they even failed to claim title to a rare CDV photograph of the 1870 Philadelphia Athletics team that appeared in a Legandary Auctions sale in 2012.  That same rare photo, valued at $5,000-10,000. was actually photographed inside the Hall of Fame building in 1983 as part of a Society For American Baseball Research (SABR) photo shoot conducted by Mark Rucker and John Thorn, editors of a 19th century photographic publication.  Thorn saved the actual contact sheets from the photo shoot and those sheets placed the Legendary auction lot at the Hall as New York State property.  The rare photo pictured on the contact sheet and on the auction website both had a unique scratch on the albumen photo paper and the reverse of the auction lot had a damaged section where the Hall’s accession number was once written and has been defaced and removed.

While the Hall of Fame has failed to address the theft issue publicly and have also failed to claim title and pursue recovery on numerous donated artifacts that have been stolen from the library, there have been some recoveries which further confirm the reality of the 1980s heist that yielded millions in material for the robber or robbers.  Rare cabinet photographs of Hall of Fame pitchers Christy Mathewson and Mickey Welch were offered by Mastro and Robert Edward Auctions with tell-tale ownership marks on the backs of the cards which were recovered after we published articles on each offering.   Another stolen photo was a rare $20,000 Horner cabinet of Napoleon Lajoie that was offered and withdrawn from a Heritage auction after we published an article at Deadspin.  It’s not clear if that photo was returned to the Hall.

In 2012, Heritage offered a Nap Lajoie cabinet photo stolen from the HOF and the story was reported at Deadspin (left). HA employee Mike Gutierrez has been accused of swiping documents and photos from the HOF library (top right) but his boss Chris Ivy (bottom right) still offers stolen and suspected stolen HOF property because the museum does not pursue recovery.

Ironically, it was another stolen photograph of Babe Ruth that led Hall officials to suspect that current Heritage Auctions consignment director Mike Gutierrez was the culprit responsible for the 1980s thefts from the NBL.  Gutierrez sold New York auctioneer Josh Evans a signed Ruth photo that had the Hall’s accession number covered with white-out on its reverse.  When Evans realized the photo was Hall of Fame property he informed museum officials and an investigation was opened with Gutierrez as the prime suspect.  Evans says a Hall official told him, “The Ruth photo came from the Waite Hoyt file and (that) Gutierrez had recently checked out that file.”

Further scrutiny directed at Gutierrez followed during FBI and State investigations when a friend who had accompanied him on a trip to the National Baseball Library told investigators that he saw Gutierrez stealing documents from the Herrmann Papers archive while he was using the library’s copy machine.  The witness told Hall officials and law enforcement that Gutierrez would make copies of library items and then slip original documents in between the photo copies he was making.  The stacks of documents were then deposited in Gutierrez’ briefcase and the witness told hobby newsletter the Sweet Spot, “He never let that briefcase leave his side.”  Another New York dealer, Richard Simon, also confirmed the existence of the eyewitness to the thefts on his website stating, “The Hall of Fame covered up the incident because they did not want adverse publicity and the dealer (Gutierrez), of course, denies any involvement.  But I know of an eyewitness to this theft, and I know of three buyers of these photos who have seen the white-out on the back of the photo.”

Two years ago, ex-Hall library employee, Bill Deane, told Hauls of Shame he witnessed Gutierrez researching at the NBL on numerous occasions in the late 1980s and also said that Gutierrez was unsupervised with total access to the library collections.  Deane said the library had no security and also confirmed that Gutierrez was the “prime suspect” in the Hall of Fame heist when Hall officials decided not to pursue prosecution because of fears of negative press and a backlash from past and future donors.  Deane also confirmed that Gutierrez was barred from entry to the Hall after the Ruth incident and added, “They said he wasn’t allowed here, he was blacklisted from the National Baseball Library.”  Another ex-Hall official confirmed Gutierrez’ ban from the library and also said that a list of banned library thieves was passed along to Jim Gates when he assumed the position as the Hall’s head librarian.

Hauls of Shame contacted the Hall of Fame’s President, Jeff Idelson, and his Director of Communications, Brad Horn, for comment but neither responded to our inquiry.  Jane Forbes Clark did not return calls made to her Clark Estates office in Rockefeller Center in New York City and the Wagner letter has been reported to the local Cooperstown Police Department that has filed official reports previously on other items offered by Heritage.  Cooperstown Police Chief Mike Covert was unavailable for comment.

With all of the circumstantial evidence stacked against Gutierrez, his boss, Chris Ivy, still offers no answers related to the provenance of any of the suspect items in his sales like the Wagner and Dreyfus protest letters.  He offers no explanation as to why the Hall of Fame’s Herrmann protest file has virtually every other letter and statement related to that game against the Reds and Pirates in 1911 except for lot 81674, the Honus Wagner letter.  According to Ivy, a signed statement from the owner of that item simply stating he has clear title to the stolen letter is all that he and his father Steve Ivy require.  Heritage is no stranger to getting caught selling stolen materials ranging from a Green Jacket from the Masters to an actual Tyrannosaurus Bataan dinosaur skeleton.

As evidenced in our last report, Ivy and Heritage also have no problem offering fake and fraudulent items like the 1912 John Ward letter that is still currently for sale despite being identified as non-genuine in a hobby reference guide written by Ron Keurajian.  When offering fakes, Ivy and Heritage simply stand behind the fraudulent LOA’s issued by JSA and PSA/DNA, the authentication companies infamous for certifying forgeries like Heritage’s $149,000 1927 Yankees signed ball signed in green ink and a 1939 Lou Gehrig single signed baseball advertised as one of the last he ever signed.

As for the genuine but stolen Honus Wagner letter, the bid currently stands at $1,400.  Where it ends up only Chris Ivy and the winning bidder will know.  A return to Cooperstown seems unlikely.

By Peter J. Nash
May 6, 2014

UPDATE (May 16th): Heritage is still selling the bogus John M. Ward letter despite the fact that it has been identified as non-genuine in our report and in Ron Keurajian’s book, Baseball Hall of Fame Autographs:  A Reference Guide.  The letter featuring a secretarial signature of Ward has a current bid of $6,500 ($7,767.50 w/buyers premium) and the auction house claims there are “10 internet/phone bidders” competing for the fraudulent lot authenticated by Steve Grad and PSA/DNA. (The auction ends this evening).

Heritage Auction Galleries in Dallas, Texas, is at it again. While former hobby big shot Bill Mastro is waiting to be sentenced in June, Chris Ivy and Co. appear to have catapulted fraud in the collectibles industry to the next level with some help from embattled and alleged expert Steve Grad and his employer PSA/DNA.

Case in point is Heritage’s current lot number 81675, an alleged rare autographed letter signed by 19th-century Hall of Famer John Montgomery Ward. Ward was a pitcher and shortstop for the champion Providence Grays and New York Giants and was instrumental as a player-lawyer who helped establish the Players League in 1890.  After he retired, he became part-owner and President of the Boston Braves and executed scores of documents on behalf of the ball club.  Here’s how the auction house describes one of those documents which, if genuine, should easily command a sale price of over $25,000:

“It is here that we find Ward, directing a brief typed letter to National League president T. J. Lynch that once accompanied the contract of player Otto Hess. Despite Ward’s long and distinguished service to our National Pastime, his autograph remains maddeningly elusive to collectors a half-century after his 1964 Hall of Fame induction. The offered specimen rates a solid 9/10 in black fountain pen ink, and the standard-sized page of “Boston National League Baseball Company” letterhead presents perfectly with only typical mailing folds and a filing hole at upper left corner to report as condition caveats. Full LOA from PSA/DNA. Guide Value or Estimate: $4,000 – up.”

What Ivy and Heritage fail to mention in the lot description is that this same letter once appeared in one of Bill Mastro’s sales back in 2004, but was pulled off the auction block. Mastro, after being informed that the letter featured a secretarial signature of Ward, withdrew the document from his auction.  Several collectors at that time pointed out how ridiculous it was for the letter to be considered genuine although it had been authenticated by Jimmy Spence and Steve Grad, the two so-called experts who Mastro had mentored and helped get positions at PSA and Collectors Universe.

Steve Grad (pictured with Bill Mastro) authenticated the Ward secretarial signature that was pulled from a 2004 Mastro auction as lot 548. Lew Lipset sold a similar bogus Ward letter as genuine in the late 1980's (right).

Another similar Ward letter also featuring a bogus secretarial signature of the rare Hall of Famer was sold as a genuine example by dealer Lew Lipset back in the late 1980’s.  But besides the Lipset and Mastro offerings, public sales of similar documents have been few and far between.  It wasn’t until 2012 when author Ron Keurajian published, Baseball Hall of Fame Autographs: A Reference Guide, that collectors and auctioneers were provided with a detailed case study of Ward’s handwriting and how it contrasted with the secretarial examples that have surfaced over the decades.  In the book Keurajian illustrates three genuine examples of Ward’s signature against one secretarial, all of which he found in the collection at the National Baseball Library in Cooperstown, New York.  Keurajian writes, “Just about 100 percent of Ward signatures in the market are forgeries.  Many period letters are signed by Ward’s secretary.  Secretarial signatures, as seen in Ward 4, deviate greatly from the genuine signature.”

Author Ron Keurajian illustrates genuine John M. Ward signatures with one of the known secretarial examples in his book "Baseball Hall of Fame Autographs: A Reference Guide" (McFarland, 2012).

To arrive at his conclusion Keurajian didn’t have to do much in-depth analysis on the genuine and secretarial examples of Ward’s signature.  Keurajian declined to comment on the Ward letter saying the Ward section of his book speaks for itself.  The illustrated differences between both versions are so pronounced that even a novice autograph collector can easily see that they were done in different hands.  Despite that fact, the Heritage letter was first authenticated by Steve Grad and Jimmy Spence of PSA/DNA when it was offered at the Mastro sale in 2004.

Steve Grad's authentication of the bogus Ward letter made #47 on the HOS "Worst 100 Authentications" list. It was reported that PSA's Kevin Keating was selling the exact same document in 2012, but it was actually another similar Ward document he was offering.

Reminiscent of his now infamous authentication of the $35,000 misspelled Ed Delahanty letter, Grad’s PSA certiftication of the bogus Ward signature was considered so egregious by many autograph aficionados that his gaff made it as #47 on the Hauls of Shame list of the “Worst 100 Authentications of All-Time by PSA/DNA and JSA.”  By the time Chris Ivy of Heritage received the bogus document as a consignment he was already aware of the Hauls of Shame report and the previous withdrawal of the letter from the 2004 Mastro sale.  Despite that fact, Ivy went ahead and included the letter in the Heritage catalog because it comes with a “Full LOA” from the third-party authentication company.

HOS compared the Heritage secretarial Ward signature against other secretarial and genuine examples.

Then, after posting the Ward letter on the auction house’s online preview, Ivy also became aware of the recent Hauls of Shame report which included a much more detailed comparison of both authentic and secretarial Ward signatures including the signature from Heritage lot.  But since Heritage has the PSA/DNA LOA in hand, they apparently feel there’s no reason not to sell the letter.  Even though it’s been identified as a forgery in a published hobby reference guide by a recognized expert, Chris and Steve Ivy see no problem with selling the item.

The PSA "Autograph Facts" page featuring John Ward exemplars shows three handwriting samples that illustrate how the Heritage signature is a bogus secretarial. Despite having this information posted on its own website, PSA still issued an LOA.

Even PSA/DNA can’t support its own authentication based on the Ward exemplars it has posted on the “PSA Autograph Facts” page on the company website.  The three exemplars PSA presents to the public bear no resemblance whatsoever to the current Ward secretarial signature being sold by Heritage.  PSA illustrates one contract signed by Ward in 1912 and two other signatures penned by him in the 1890’s.

Ward’s signature is exceedingly scarce in the marketplace and most of the unimpeachable exemplars of his signature appear on correspondence housed in the Hall of Fame collection and on affidavits filed in a New York City court house.  The PSA “Autograph Facts” page only offers a small cross section of Ward’s handwriting and does not even address the secretarial signatures.  It is interesting to note that PSA/DNA does not include the secretarial example in Heritage as an authentic example despite the fact it may have been certified by the company twice in the last ten years.  We know of only one authentic Ward letter in private hands and that example is believed to have been stolen from the files at the Baseball Hall of Fame (along with the current HA lot).

These 19th century examples of Ward's signature are all genuine (clockwise): 1885 Tim Keefe ledger; 1890's book inscribed to Henry Chadwick; 1893 Ward contract (NBL); 1890 court affidavit; 1890 court affidavit.

In examining the authentic handwriting of Ward there is a clear contrast between his signature in the late 19th century and the signatures executed when he was an executive with the Boston Braves.  Although you can see the same hand in all of those examples, the earlier versions are more elaborate with larger letter construction.  The later versions appear more angular and the signature appears to have been signed with greater speed with an end stroke of the final “d” that almost flies off the page.

Authentic Ward signatures originating from the HOF's Herrmann Papers appear to the left while bogus secretarial examples of the baseball pioneer's signature appear to the right with the Heritage example at the bottom.

The individuals who executed the secretarial versions of Ward’s signature in some cases were not even trying to mimic his real signature, while the example in Heritage shows that there was at least a minimal attempt by a secretary to reproduce what his signature actually looked like.  But when displayed side by side next to the authentic documents Ward signed from the August Herrmann Papers Collection, there is no comparison.  Ward’s genuine signature is so distinctive and consistent that it is absolutely impossible for a trained eye to mistake one of the secretary signatures for a genuine one.  One big Heritage customer we spoke with said, “It’s a joke that Ivy and Heritage have that letter in the auction.”

An authentic 1911 letter actually signed by John Ward appears to the left (courtesy NBL) while the Heritage letter (right) bears no resemblance to the authentic Ward.

That, of course, didn’t stop Ivy and Heritage from offering it for public sale in what may be one of the most blatant examples of an auction house knowingly selling a fake autograph.  What may be even more troubling is that the alleged experts at PSA and Heritage had access to entire handwritten letters drafted by Ward as well.

This letter was handwritten by John M. Ward (right) and bears his authentic signature. The letter originates from the August Herrmann Papers archive and is believed to have been stolen from the NBL.

In particular, one handwritten letter sent by Ward to August Herrmann and the National Commission in 1905 dealt with his legal representation of the player Jack Taylor who had been accused of  gambling on baseball games (the NBL Herrmann archive includes the actual case file for that incident).  That letter along with several authentic and secretarial signatures that exist in the archives at Cooperstown should have served as the basis for PSA/DNA to definitively determine that the current Heritage letter was bogus.  With the evidence so clearly defined and the Ward signature on the auction letter so starkly contrasting the real ones, how could Steve Grad and PSA still issue a letter of authenticity?  How does Grad explain his authentication with Jimmy Spence in 2004 when Bill Mastro withdrew the letter from his sale because even he knew it was a fake?  Why would PSA knowingly allow the current sale a bogus item that had already been pulled from a previous auction?

Jimmy Spence and Pawn Stars authenticator Steve Grad (center) certified the bogus Ward letter genuine in 2004 but even Bill Mastro (right) knew it was a fake and pulled it from his sale.

The answer just might lie in the identity of the Heritage consignor or a former owner of the letter.  It might also be because one of the PSA/DNA authenticators was recently peddling another bogus Ward letter addressed to Thomas Lynch in 1912.  Sources indicate that PSA/DNA authenticator Kevin Keating of Alexandria, Virginia, offered the other bogus Ward document to a collector for $50,000.  The signature on Keating’s document is the same style secretary signature as the Heritage lot.

PSA authenticator Kevin Keating (right) offered a collector another bogus Ward letter (left) written to the NL president. The secretary's signature matches the Heritage letter.

Keating has been listed as a member of PSA’s “autograph authentication team” on the company’s LOA’s since he joined Joe Orlando and Co. back in 2009 and in an article published in PSA’s Sports Market Report (SMR), Keating expressed his pride in working for PSA saying, “The proliferation of auction houses would absolutely not be possible if it weren’t for a company like PSA.  They have enabled then to be in business.  They can lean on a company like PSA so they can filter out the bad items.” But filtering out a bad item is not what’s happened at Heritage with the bogus Ward letter.  What appears to have happened is that a counterfeit item may have received the blessing of PSA because an authenticator of the company owns a similar forgery, in this case Keating.  The offering of the other bogus Ward letter and its ties to Keating, who tried to dupe a fellow collector in a private transaction, make a mockery of other statements made by Keating on the PSA website.  Said Keating, “PSA has undoubtedly made it much more difficult for forgers to operate successfully.  PSA is a filter system that keeps the bad stuff out of the hobby.”

The PSA letters of authenticity include the facsimile signature of alleged experts Steve Grad and Kevin Keating (right).

But it appears that Keating and Grad won’t keep out the bad stuff that PSA insiders have (or had) a financial interest in.  In offering the other Ward letter last year and in writing an LOA for the letter in Heritage’s current sale both Keating and Grad have exposed themselves as incompetent authenticators who either cannot catch a common secretarial signature of one of the rarest Hall of Famer autographs, or are committing an outright fraud upon the hobby by knowingly authenticating a fake item.  It appears that Chris Ivy and Heritage could care less if the item is genuine or bogus—all they require is the PSA letter.

The government’s plea agreement with Bill Mastro in the United States v. Mastro stipulates that Mastro cooperate with prosecutors and offer whatever information he has that will assist their cases against his co-defendants Doug Allen, Mark Theotikos and other parties in the memorabilia industry.  Sources indicate that the government has also been investigating PSA and its principals including David Hall and Joe Orlando and if Mastro were to sing to the Feds and rat-out former colleagues including Steve Grad, Jimmy Spence, Kevin Keating and John Reznikoff, in relation to incidents similar to the Ward LOA, the authentication giant could face further scrutiny.

Mastro withdrew the bogus Ward letter from a 2004 sale (left) but Chris & Steve Ivy of Heritage are selling it anyway.

When Bill Mastro offered the same Ward letter in 2004 he described it as being “indisputably authenticated by its presence on a piece of official team correspondence dated April 30, 1912.”  But when executed by a secretary, a rarity that could command $25,000 (or $50k per Keating) suddenly plummets in value.  Mastro started out the letter at $900 and the Legendary-Mastro website lists the last bid on the letter in 2004 at $1,139, roughly 1/25 of the value of a genuine Ward letter.  The Heritage Ward letter opened at $1,000 and has received 6 bids to reach only $1,700 for its current high bid.

When Mastro published his auction results in 2004, the Ward letter appeared as lot 543 and was identified as “Withdrawn.”  Now, a decade later, the bogus rarity has resurfaced with its PSA/DNA letter at an auction house like Heritage functioning as an accomplice in the distribution of yet another fake into the hobby.  One collector we spoke with who requested anonymity told us, “This letter in the Heritage auction just exposes what these companies like PSA do, they cert bogus and questionable autographs for their friends and auction house buddies.”  PSA’s so-called experts also offer $50,000 fakes for sale to unsuspecting collectors.  So much for that filter system to keep bad stuff out of the hobby.

Heritage was put on notice by Hauls of Shame since late April about the bogus Ward sig via Twitter.

We asked Chris Ivy why his auction house is selling the fake Ward letter despite the public information indicating it is a forgery and he disputed our claim that the letter was withdrawn from the Mastro sale.  Ivy said, “The letter in question sold for $1,139 in the MastroNet Winter 2004 auction, at which time it was authenticated by James Spence and Steve Grad.  I am not certain what happened to that letter of authenticity, but the one that currently accompanies it was issued by PSA/DNA on April 10, 2014, certification number V02859.  That being said, no human is infallible and if this letter was issued in error the lot will be removed from auction.  We will undertake an investigation of your claims.”  Ivy did not offer any information regarding the provenance of the Ward letter but despite his company’s checkered past regarding authenticity issues he added, “Heritage would never sell an item which we do not believe to be genuine.”

We also contacted the offices of Quality Autographs to ask Kevin Keating why he was peddling the other bogus Ward for $50,000 and why he would put his name on a PSA LOA that falsely claims the Heritage letter is genuine?  A representative said Keating was traveling and he did not respond to our inquiry.

Joe Orlando's PSA/DNA crew headed by Steve Grad (right) certified the Ward fake as genuine with its own cert code "V02859". The fake also got by HA employee Mike Gutierrez (center) who is a past PSA and current JSA "expert."

While its difficult to get collectors or dealers to criticize Ivy and Heritage publicly for fear they will be banned from bidding in future HA sales one collector summed up of the feelings of most when he told us, “Is he (Ivy) a criminal mastermind or does he lack the mental acuity required for such a nefarious title?  The time tested adage of “Fool me once, shame on you – fool me twice shame on me, would normally apply in this case, but never before has there been a need to figure out who to blame when the count reaches ‘fool me 20 times’?”

Although collectors and hobbyists regularly accuse auctioneers like Ivy of knowingly selling questionable items and outright fakes, the auctioneers can always fall back and lay the blame on the authentication company issuing the LOA.  That’s an auctioneer move taken right out of the Bill Mastro playbook.

The offering of the PSA-certified Ward letter at Heritage is a perfect case study to illustrate what the third-party authentication company has been banking on all along since Bill Mastro helped put the system into place over fifteen years ago: Have the LOA not guarantee anything and let everything else boil down to a matter of opinion, even when the evidence is overwhelming that an item is a forgery. As long as the PSA/DNA LOA has all of the facsimile signatures of the alleged experts, that’s all that matters.  What the third-party giant has illustrated with the Ward letter is how effective their formula is in facilitating the execution of the perfect hobby crime.

Or maybe it’s just the next best perfect crime in line after someone successfully smuggled all of these Ward letters out of the National Baseball Library in Cooperstown.  Heritage and PSA are all too familiar with that, too.