Breaking News

By Peter J. Nash

February 18, 2015

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“Shoeless” Joe seemed to be everywhere last week blowing up Twitter and making the rounds on the nightly news. As reported by the likes of ABC News, CBS News and FoxSports, Heritage Auction Galleries in Dallas, Texas, is selling what Sports Auction Director Chris Ivy claims is “now known as the only “Shoeless” Joe Jackson signed photograph in existence.” Reporter John Seewer first interviewed Ivy for the Associated Press and his story subsequently hit the wire and was later carried by hundreds of news outlets without mentioning that another alleged Jackson-signed photograph was sold by Sotheby’s for $43,000 in 1999 and was authenticated by Heritage’s current consignment director, Mike Gutierrez. Heritage and Ivy did not disclose any of this information to the Associated Press reporter and despite PSA/DNA President Joe Orlando telling the AP his company’s job is “to be the skeptic, especially if it is too good to be true,” other experts in the field believe that the Jackson signature is not genuine.

Ron Keurajian, the author of Baseball Hall of Fame Autographs: A Reference Guide has a very different opinion about the Heritage offering and told us, “I have maintained that there are no Joe Jackson signed photographs in existence.  After viewing the 1911 Jackson photograph I see no reason to change my opinion.  The Dallas Police Department should be made aware of the pending sale.” Keurajian’s opinion that Jackson signed photos do not exist was published in his book which was released by McFarland in 2012.

In January, Chris Ivy appeared on the TV-show A Piece of the Game and in direct opposition to Keurajian’s published opinion described the Jackson photo as “the only signed Joe Jackson photo in existence” and the work of a photographer named Frank W. Smith. But the other Jackson photograph that was sold at Sotheby’s in 1999 was also taken by the same photographer who was working for the Cleveland Plain Dealer and Leader and had utilized similar images of the Cleveland Naps players to create a composite photograph depicting all of their signatures—including Joe Jackson.  When Heritage Auctions revealed their autographed photo collection to attendees of last year’s National Convention in Cleveland, they sourced the “find” of signed 1911 Cleveland photographs to the family of Frank W. Smith. However, as revealed in the AP report, the consignor is actually a woman named Sharon Bowen who claims her late husband, William Bowen, purchased the photos from a family that was allegedly friends with Smith. Heritage’s current catalog describes the collection as “Named for the Cleveland Plain Dealer photographer who assembled the remarkable collection, The Frank W. Smith Collection is a truly peerless amalgamation of one-of-a-kind vintage photography and the flawless autographs of the subjects captured.” Heritage’s of the collection adds:

“Among the targets of Smith’s lens and autograph requests appear some of the true immortals of the game, most notably the legendary “Shoeless Joe” Jackson, the illiterate superstar whose path to Hall of Fame immortality was derailed by the scandal of the 1919 World Series fix. His labored pencil signature on Smith’s skilled portrait establishes the pristine relic as the only known Joe Jackson signed photo in existence.”

Heritage is offering what they call "The Frank W. Smith Collection" featuring an alleged pencil-signature of Shoeless Joe Jackson on one of his 1911 photographs. The Jackson photo was one of dozens found in a photo album allegedly discovered in a barn outside Cleveland.

Although it’s not specifically noted in the actual lot description, Heritage reveals that its alleged Jackson signature is signed in pencil and, as reported in the past week, several experts have questioned the autograph’s authenticity.  The pencil signature is uncharacteristically over-sized and takes up a good portion of the 8×10 silver gelatin photograph—all red flags that any handwriting expert would take into account before rendering an opinion.  The AP report also states that PSA examined the pen pressure to render its opinion when the actual photograph was signed in pencil and would leave a much different impression than a steel-tipped pen.   In addition, the Heritage signature starkly contrasts the Jackson signatures executed on the Sotheby’s photo shot by Smith and on the 1912 team composite photograph which was also featured as a supplement to the Cleveland Leader newspaper in 1912. The signatures included on Smith’s 1912 composite resemble the actual handwriting of the players depicted including many of the same players appearing in Heritage’s photo album.

Photographer Frank W. Smith created a composite cabinet photo of the 1912 Cleveland team featuring the signatures of each player. The composite was published as a supplement to the "Cleveland Leader" and credited to Smith (right). The composites show facsimile signatures of Joe Jackson, Nap Lajoie and other Cleveland players.

The fact that Heritage did not acknowledge or inform its bidders of a very public sale of another alleged signed Jackson photograph at Sotheby’s is troubling considering its consignment director, Mike Gutierrez, authenticated all of the autographed items for the 1999 Sotheby’s sale of the Barry Halper Collection. That same Jackson photograph was also known by Gutierrez and other authenticators five years earlier when it was sold at Robert Edward Auctions in 1994 a year after this writer purchased it at Lelands as a photograph “signed by his wife.”  It was purchased for $1,200 (which Lelands says was once owned by sportswriter Gene Schoor) with no expectation it had been signed by Jackson, but when world renowned handwriting expert Charles Hamilton examined the photo in person he claimed it was a genuine Jackson signature.

The Jackson signature which appears on Frank W. Smith's 1912 Cleveland team composite (top left) is similar to another ink-signed portrait also taken by Smith and sold at Sotheby's in 1999 (top right). Heritage's alleged Jackson pencil-signature on a 1911 Smith photograph starkly contrasts the signatures on the Smith composites.

Hamilton stated that the signature had been enhanced with what he called “photographer’s ink” used by newspapers to darken signatures for publication. At the time in 1993 I was working with Hamilton and co-writing a reference book on baseball autographs and we had both just examined copies of the first authentic Jackson signatures found on promissory notes sourced back to Jackson relatives and friends. Hamilton told me he believed that underneath the black photographers ink he might find Jackson’s genuine signature and asked if he could use an eraser to lightly remove the covering.  When he was finished the original purple-tinted ink that had been applied to the photo in 1912 was revealed.

After examining the signature closely and comparing it to the signatures on the mortgage notes Hamilton stated his opinion that the signature was executed in Jackson’s hand.  Hamilton also noted the fact that the signature was clearly much more uniform and neat than the other signatures he had compared it to but he still identified the scrawl as the product of Jackson’s hand.  Hamilton was also aware that the Jackson portrait was part of a larger composite that was likely published due to the presence of the photographer’s ink that was most likely applied by the photographer Frank W. Smith or someone in his employ.

The 1912 Jackson photo by Smith was sold at Lelands in 1993 as Mrs. Jackson's signature (top left). Charles Hamilton authenticated the signature as Jackson's own in a certification signed in March of 1994 (top right). The photo was then sold to collector Barry Halper (bottom right) in a REA sale in Sept. of 1994 (bottom left).

In March of 1994, Hamilton wrote a certification stating that the Jackson signature was “an authentic, original signature of Jackson” and “entirely different from the signatures signed for Jackson by his wife.” Hamilton added, “Every single letter is different, and matches very closely the signatures known to be genuine on his orders to pay dated from Savannah, Ga.” Later, in September of 1994, I consigned the photograph to Rob Lifson and Robert Edward Auctions where it was described as “the only unquestionably authentic Joe Jackson autograph in existence” and was sold to Lifson’s top client and New York Yankee minority partner Barry Halper. Lifson further described the Jackson portrait as “the most astounding of all autographed baseball photographs and one of the most incredible “find” stories of all time.”

The surviving 1912 team composite created by Smith featured all of the signatures of the Cleveland team and it is interesting to note that the surviving cabinet photo he created in 1912 has a very similar (almost identical) portrait of Jackson with a similar signature that has clearly been enhanced with the same type of photographer’s ink. It is important to note that the photo Halper purchased in 1994 and the Heritage Jackson photo being sold in 2014 are both sourced to Frank W. Smith and although they were allegedly executed within one year of each other, they look totally different.

The REA-Sotheby's Jackson signature (left) and the current Heritage offering (right) contrast some of the earliest genuine signatures executed by Jackson from 1914 to 1917.

Ron Keurajian, however, disagrees with Hamilton’s opinion and stated such in his 2012 book where he says he has never seen an authentic photograph signed by Jackson.  In our interview with Keurajian last week he confirmed his opinion and extended it to the current photograph of Jackson being offered by Heritage. In offering his dissenting opinion of both photographs he is disputing the authentications of the deceased Hamilton, one of the most prominent handwriting experts of all time, and Steve Grad, the lead authenticator for PSA/DNA a subsidiary of the public company Collectors Universe and the current on-air expert used by the History Channel’s hit Cable-TV show Pawn Stars.

Grad and PSA/DNA, along with Heritage, also appear to be disputing Hamilton’s opinion in that they claim the current auction lot is the only signed Jackson photo in existence. Although former PSA/DNA authenticator and current Heritage consignment director Mike Gutierrez rubber-stamped Hamilton’s opinion for Sotheby’s in 1999 to facilitate a $43,000 sale for Barry Halper—PSA and Grad have made public statements dismissing the existence of the well-documented artifact.

Comparing Grad’s skills as an authenticator to Charles Hamilton, however, is almost impossible to do. In his 1996 New York Times obituary Hamilton was credited with “inventing the term philography” and was said to have authored 17 books on handwriting analysis and autographs.  In the early 1990s several baseball collectors had Hamilton examine their collections and he uncovered scores of forgeries that had been authenticated by current Heritage employees Mike Gutierrez and Mark Jordan.

The late handwriting expert Charles Hamilton (left) advertised in Sports Collectors Digest in 1996. Steve Grad (center) is the lead authenticator at PSA/DNA. In his book "Baseball Hall of Fame Autographs" (right) Ron Keurajian says that Joe Jackson signed photos are non-existent.

Although Hamilton’s experience with baseball material was limited, he was recognized throughout the world as the leading handwriting expert who had uncovered frauds including the “Hitler Diaries” and worked with law enforcement on the “Zodiac Killer” and “Son of Sam” cases. Steve Grad’s claim to fame is his experience chasing celebrities and athletes down for in-person autographs and for being mentored by former hobby kingpin Bill Mastro who recently plead guilty to auction fraud and is awaiting sentencing in March.  In a 2011 deposition Grad admitted he had no formal training in handwriting analysis and credited Mastro with training him as an authenticator and teaching him how to spot fakes and forgeries. In the same deposition Grad confirmed that he had fabricated his professional resume as he lied under oath about his educational background claiming to be a college graduate when, in fact, he is not.

In further contrast to Grad’s background, Ron Keurajian is a well-respected portfolio manager and attorney who does not work professionally as an authenticator but has dedicated several decades of his life to the study and analysis of baseball and historical autographs and handwriting.  In addition to publishing the most comprehensive work dedicated to the handwriting and autographs of Baseball Hall of Famers Keurajian is currently working on his second book dedicated to historical autographs in every major field of interest. Keurajian is also credited with uncovering several major frauds including the exposing a forged Ty Cobb diary that was purchased by MLB and displayed at the Baseball Hall of Fame as well as many other bogus autographs that had been certified genuine by PSA/DNA including laser copy and auto-pen signatures. The most egregious errors and instances of authentication malpractice committed by Grad and PSA have been documented in Hauls of Shame’s 2013 Worst 100 authentication blunders report. In light of these very public blunders by Grad and PSA many collectors of high-end materials seek out Keurajan’s opinion and put little faith in the LOA’s issued by PSA/DNA. One of the top autograph collectors in the country told Hauls of Shame yesterday that he would not be bidding on the Jackson photo based on Keurajian’s opinion.

The authenticity of the Christy Mathewson signature in the Frank Smith Collection has also been challenged by experts. Above the Heritage Matty signature is displayed next to authentic Mathewson signatures ranging from 1908 through the teens.

Keurajian isn’t the only autograph aficionado who has questioned the authenticity of the Jackson photos and the balance of photographs in Heritage’s Frank W. Smith Collection. Several veteran dealers and collectors told us they questioned the authenticity of the photos signed by Hall of Famers Christy Mathewson, John McGraw, Nap Lajoie and Rube Marquard. In particular, the alleged signatures of Mathewson and McGraw exhibit troubling warning signs in relation to spacing and letter formation and contrast genuine examples of their signatures executed during the same time period.

Authentic signatures of John J. McGraw executed between 1900 and 1927 (in red) contrast the alleged McGraw signature being sold by Heritage.

In addition, the signatures of other Cleveland players have also been questioned and have created even more doubt about the veracity of the Heritage and PSA/DNA claims. Questions have been raised regarding the use of pencil on some photos and the pen notations on others do not appear to have faded the way vintage c.1911 ink should have. Others have noted that while most all of the Cleveland player signatures resemble authentic examples, they fall short and in many cases appear to have been signed slowly and deliberately.

Alleged signatures of Cleveland players from Heritage's Smith Collection appear above facsimile signatures that Smith actually used in a team composite he created in 1912.

One prominent dealer we spoke with said he was instructing clients to stay away from the Heritage lots and told us, “Look at the salutations on the lot of non-Hall of Famers  and compare those. It becomes very obvious that something is amiss without even looking at the Jackson, Mathewson or Nap (Lajoie), especially the number of “Yours Truly” and (the) lack of inscriptions.” It is interesting to note that Heritage pictures three other photographs from Smith featuring non-baseball subjects from Cleveland and all three of those photos feature personalized inscriptions by the subjects to Smith.  Not one of the “Smith Collection” baseball player photographs are personalized and it appears that none of the photos removed from the album feature Smith’s stamp on the reverse.  In addition, PSA/DNA and Heritage make an assumption, supported by no evidence, about the additional pencil writing on the Jackson photo stating, “Jackson’s writing abilities began and ended at his signature, and thus it was photographer Frank Smith himself who added the inscription, “Alexandria, Mar. 1911″ below.”  As far as we know, neither PSA or Heritage have any exemplars of Smith’s actual handwriting.

In its catalog Heritage pictures three photos personally inscribed to Frank Smith with his stamp on the reverse (right). None of the baseball photos are inscribed to Smith and the Jackson photo does not have Smith's stamp on its reverse. .

One fascinating aspect of the Heritage photographs is that they are attributed to Frank W. Smith who was credited as the creator of the team composite photograph published in the Cleveland Leader in 1912. Any authenticator examining the 1911 Smith photographs at Heritage would have to compare all of the signatures to the facsimiles on the 1912 Smith composite. After comparing them, any authenticator would come to the conclusion that the alleged 1911 and 1912 Joe Jackson signatures contrast each other significantly. Why?

Frank Smith created this composite cabinet photo of the 1912 Cleveland team which incorporated facsimile signatures of each player including Joe Jackson. It is believed that Smith enhanced each of the signatures for publication.

If all of the other Cleveland player facsimiles were actual signatures that had been enhanced or “gone over” with darker ink is it possible that Jackson did not sign his portrait photo and that Smith (or someone else) executed a signature for him in his absence.  If that was the case, why would Smith have executed a signature that did not look like other signatures signed by Jackson on mortgage documents and his draft card?  And if Jackson had actually signed the 1911 photo for Smith (one year earlier) why wouldn’t Smith have copied that signature example for his 1912 team composite? Lastly, if Smith (or someone working for him) actually signed Joe Jackson’s name, what’s to say that Smith didn’t sign (or copy) all of the Cleveland player signatures himself?

Another clue that could shed some more light on the authenticity of the Cleveland and New York player autographs is the “F. W. Smith Photographer” stamp that Heritage displayed in its video clip via the Associated Press.  That stamp lists Smith’s business address as “1330 East 124th Place, Cleveland, Ohio” and it appears the stamp is featured on the back of one of the three non-baseball photos pictured in the Heritage catalog (but not included for sale). An item published in the Cleveland Leader, however, shows that Smith purchased that same property on October 24, 1913,thus suggesting that any photos bearing this stamp were created in 1913 or later.  If any of the baseball photos Heritage is selling have this stamp, it is likely they were prints created two years after spring training and it would be highly unlikely that they were actually signed in 1911 .

Heritage shows an "F.W. Smith" photographer's stamp (inset) in an AP video clip, but that stamp shows an address of a location that Smith didn't buy until 1913 as evidenced by a report in the Cleveland Plain Dealer in October of 1913 (inset).

Students of handwriting analysis and recognized experts rarely rely on the provenance or the “story” that accompanies a signed item that is submitted for an opinion.  Experts like Charles Hamilton or Ron Keurajian rarely need to hear a story to render an opinion and focus on the actual handwriting.  The same can not be said for PSA/DNA and Steve Grad who have regularly been exposed authenticating fakes because they relied on the source of a signed item rather than the handwriting itself. Grad’s most stunning authentication of a forgery based upon provenance was found in the LOA he wrote for an 1899 letter said to be written by HOFer Ed Delahanty which sold for $35,000 at Hunt Auctions. Although the signature was mispelled “D-e-l-e-h-a-n-t-y” and written in a different hand, Grad authenticated it because it originated from the archives of the H&B Bat Company in Louisville, KY.  The vintage letter had actually been written on behalf of Delahanty by his manager, Billy Shettsline.

Heritage has also fallen victim to similar authentication mishaps with several baseballs they’ve sold as having been “game-used” in famous contests.  In 2013, they claimed to have the last out ball of the 1917 World Series sourced to White Sox pitcher Red Faber with an affidavit from Faber’s family, but  that ball was manufactured in 1926 as evidenced by the Spalding manufacturing stamps. In Heritage’s current auction they have another fraudulent offering with great provenance from the family of Roger Bresnahan which they claim is the “last out ball” from the 1905 World Series. The ball is accompanied by a 1905 news article quoting Bresnahan as saying he put the ball in his pocket after the game’s last strikeout, but the baseball being sold is a Reach American League ball and the last game of that World Series was played in New York at a National League Park.  It would be impossible, under Major League rules at the time, for an AL ball to have been used in a championship game at the New York grounds. In addition, the inscription on the ball is not in Bresnahan’s hand and the last out of that game was a ground out by Lave Cross to short, not a strikeout.

While the provenance of the photo collection cannot turn forged signatures into genuine examples, we were still interested to verify the information Heritage has made public about their “find” in a Cleveland barn. We called the consignor, Sharon Bowen, at her home in Cleveland, Ohio, and spoke to her daughter who scheduled an interview for Monday morning.  Bowen, however, was not available when we called and did not return our call. Bowen’s late husband was a former executive director of the Salvation Army in Cleveland and also the development director at the Cleveland Natural History Museum and it’s likely her acquisition story is legitimate.  Many questions have been raised, however, about the original seller who sold the cache of photos to her husband for only $15,000 just five years ago.

PSA/DNA's Steve Grad and Joe Orlando took to Twitter to promote Heritage's Joe Jackson signed photo and ABC News' coverage of the offering.

We called Chris Ivy of Heritage to ask him why he described the Jackson photo as the only one in existence and why he failed to disclose to the AP reporter the existence of the other Jackson photo previously authenticated by his own employee, but he failed to respond to our inquiry. We also wanted to ask Ivy if the photos of the Cleveland and New York players had any “F.W. Smith” stamps on the backs of the photos and why the three non-baseball photos inscribed to Frank W. Smith and pictured in the catalog were not being sold and who owns them?

We also contacted the Associated Press and reporter John Seewer and informed the news organization of Heritage’s failure to disclose knowledge of the Sotheby’s sale and the controversy regarding the authenticity of the Heritage offering.  AP writer Marilynn Marichione responded to our inquiry and informed us that AP news managers were “looking into it.”

While the AP and other news organizations flooded the news cycle and social media with inaccurate stories giving more credibility to the questioned Jackson photo and creating a platform for an unpaid PSA/DNA advertisement, veteran collectors we spoke with were almost unanimous in their opinions that the Heritage photos are not genuine.  Despite the fact that PSA President Joe Orlando told the AP that “the stars aligned” for Stcve Grad’s authentication of the photo, one collector who owns a genuine Jackson signature on a legal document told us, “I think the PSA folks messed up certing these photos, but that would not be something new.” Most all collectors and dealers we spoke with did not want their names published because of Heritage’s practice of banning individuals from bidding in auctions who are critical of items for sale or the company’s business practices.

One prominent dealer told us that if the current owner of the Sotheby’s Jackson signed photo wanted to consign his item to Heritage it would “Be accepted with open arms by Chris Ivy who would then secure a PSA/DNA LOA from Grad and Orlando; advertise it nationally as “the only known ink autograph of Joe Jackson” and then set the auction estimate at $200,000. Meanwhile, the 1911 Jackson photo in Heritage’s current “Platinum Night Auction” currently has an alleged online bid of $90,000 before live bidding starts Saturday night in New York City.

(UPDATE: Feb. 20, 2015) AP Issues Clarfication On “Shoeless” Joe Story But Makes No Mention Of Dispute Over Authenticity Of Heritage Lot; Source Says FBI Is Investigating Jackson Photo & Balance Of Questioned Frank W. Smith Collection

Late yesterday the Associated Press issued a clarification in regard to their original report about the alleged “Shoeless” Joe Jackson photo being offered for sale tomorrow in New York City at Heritage Auctions’ “Platinum Night Auction.” In the clarification published by ABC News and several other news outlets the AP stated:

“In a story Feb. 9, The Associated Press reported that a century-old image was the first photo signed by Shoeless Joe Jackson to be authenticated by autograph experts, according to Heritage Auctions. The story should have made clear that a Jackson-signed photo, authenticated by a handwriting expert, was sold by Sotheby’s in 1999 and that memorabilia experts have since disputed the validity of the signature on that photo.”

Although the AP addressed the inaccuracy of its original report regarding the existence of another alleged Jackson signed photo at Sotheby’s in 1999, it made no mention of the controversy over its authenticity and the stated opinion that it is not genuine by expert and SABR award-winning author, Ron Keurajian.  Keurajian confirmed that AP reporter John Seewer did not contact him for comment but operator and Joe Jackson historian Mike Nola confirmed that Seewer did contact him seeking information about the 1999 Sotheby’s sale.  Seewer and Heritage Auctions have still not responded to inquiries made by Hauls of Shame.

A source familiar with the controversy over the much-hyped Heritage auction lot confirmed for Hauls of Shame that the Federal Bureau of Investigation is investigating the authenticity of the Jackson photo and other photographs in the Frank Smith Collection.  The source said he spoke directly with an FBI agent about the auction offerings including many other single-signed baseballs also identified as possible forgeries.

By Peter J. Nash
February 9, 2015

Legend had it that “Shoeless” Joe Jackson was an illiterate incapable of signing his own name and filmmaker John Sayles contributed to this perception in his film Eight Men Out when he portrayed Jackson signing a fictional 1920 confession with a shaky and tremulous “X.”

Sayles’ portrayal of the disgraced slugger, however, was based more on folklore than fact, for the real Joseph Jefferson Jackson was capable of signing his own name as evidenced by a wide array of surviving legal documents executed during his lifetime. Mortgage documents, promissory notes, contracts, real estate agreements, court transcripts and identification documents issued by the state of South Carolina have survived and are the best tangible proof that Jackson could actually sign his name. These genuine documents serve as proof that authentic signatures do exist of the legendary player who was banned from the game and has been denied entry into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Fueled by the legend and the folklore, the value of Jackson-signed items has skyrocketed over the past few decades as evidenced by the sale of a signed 1916 promissory note that recently fetched close to $130,000.  But with sales prices of Jackson signatures are setting records, acquiring a Jackson signature still remains a very dangerous proposition for any collector hoping to secure an authentic scrawl of the Greenville native.

It all started back in the late 1980’s when real Jackson signatures were virtually non-existent and highly sought after by major collectors like Barry Halper. Halper believed he had a genuine Jackson signature but it was actually a ghost-signed version penned by his wife. It wasn’t until 1989 that Katie Jackson’s signatures were dismissed as secretarial and a year later autograph auctioneer Herman Darvick offered what he claimed was an authentic signature of Jackson allegedly cut from a legal document.  The signature looked entirely different than any of the signatures that Mrs. Jackson had sent back to collectors who had written to her husband at their home in Greenville, South Carolina.

In 1991 Bill Madden reported on Barry Halper's alleged acquisition of a genuine Joe Jackson signature in a Herman Darvick auction. Halper previously thought a signature executed by Jackson's wife (Katie) was authentic (inset in red). Madden published an image of Jackson's real signature on his drivers license.

Halper’s quest to acquire Jackson’s signature in Darvick’s auction was covered on the pages of The Sporting News by his close friend and personal PR-man, Bill Madden. Halper had already boasted to Madden about owning Jackson’s Black Sox jersey from 1919 and his famous “Black Betsy” bat, both of which he said he acquired from Jackson relatives in the mid 1980’s.  But Halper had come to the realization he didn’t own an authentic Jackson signature and when Darvick’s appeared he was prepared to pursue it aggressively to fill the hole in his collection.

When it was all said and done, however, Halper lost the signature in a fierce bidding war with New York dealer and auctioneer, Josh Evans, of Lelands, who ended up winning it for $23,100.  Halper regretted losing out on the signature and after the sale approached Evans with an offer to trade him game-used jerseys of Yogi Berra, Warren Spahn and Jim Palmer for the Jackson signature. Evans took him up on the offer and Halper subsequently told Madden, “I hated parting with those uniforms, I have others of all three players.  Who knows if I’ll ever have another chance at an authentic “Shoeless”‘ Joe Jackson autograph?”

On the left are authentic Jackson signatures from legal documents spanning from 1915 to 1951. On the right are four highly questionable offerings by Herman Darvick that several experts have deemed Jackson forgeries.

After Halper’s acquisition, Leland’s advertised their purchase at Darvick’s auction as being the “largest sum ever paid for any 19th or 20th century autograph. Darvick claimed that the Jackson cut signature he sold originated from a Jackson relative, but during that same time period a close Jackson family friend sold an authentic cache of Jackson signed legal documents and financial instruments to Dan Knoll, a prominent memorabilia dealer from Chicago.  The first of those documents, a 1916 mortgage promisory note signed by Jackson, made its way into a 1993 Lelands sale where the auctioneer described the document as the “first verifiably authentic Joe Jackson autograph offered.”  When world renowned handwriting expert, Charles Hamilton, examined the genuine Lelands document, he deemed the $23,000 Darvick cut signature a forgery.  The genuine Lelands document was purchased at auction by Barry Halper for over $25,000. Several other authentic Jackson mortgage notes followed the Lelands offering and appeared for sale throughout the 1990’s but during that same time period Herman Darvick sold several other highly questionable Jackson’s including another cut signature, a baseball, a photograph and a signed book.

The three authentic Jackson signatures at the top of this illustration starkly contrast the four Jackson forgeries sold by dealer Herman Darvick. The forgeries were executed on clipped legal documents, a baseball and a book.

When examined and compared closely to the unimpeachable examples of Jackson’s genuine signature on legal documents, all of the alleged Jackson signatures sold by Darvick exhibit tell-tale signs of forgery.  The Darvick examples appear to be slowly executed, almost drawn, with laborious heavy strokes that lack the spontaneity and flow of genuine Jackson signatures.  One of the most telling characteristics of the forgeries is found in the last end stroke of Jackson’s “n” which tapers to a needle-like point in most all of Jackson’s authentic signatures, but stops abruptly with a thick ink build-up in the forged examples.  Although Jackson appears to be very deliberate in what some say is his “drawing” of his own signature, the authentic examples all share a common flow and spontaneity.

We asked several experts to examine the alleged Jackson autographs sold by Darvick and give us their opinions:

-Ron Keurajian, author of Baseball Hall of Fame Autographs: A Reference Guide, said: “Joe Jackson’s autograph is an extreme rarity and limited to signed legal documents or signatures removed therefrom.  The Jackson signed book, featured on the History Channel’s Pawn Stars, is, in my opinion, a forgery, and a poorly executed one at that.” As for Darvick’s signed photo and ball, Keurajian does not believe there are any genuine signatures of Jackson that exist on either baseballs or photographs.

-Josh Evans recalled his purchase of the first Jackson cut from Darvick’s auction in 1990 and told us, “I always regretted that one. I never actually saw it before I bought it if you can believe that (the good old days). I heard about it the day before and bid based on Darvick’s rep. I sold it to Halper and we spoke about it being questionable but he never agreed.” HOS has been unable to determine when Halper disposed of the Jackson forgery and who subsequently acquired it.

-Mike Nola, is not a handwriting or autograph expert but he is a Jackson historian who curates the website, and he told us: “He (Jackson) could not really sign his name. He was simply following a pattern taught to him by (his wife) Katie.  If you look closely at each of his known signatures, they all differ in some way because he was drawing the signature and no two would be exactly alike.”

-Olan Chiles, was a well known collector of autographs on checks and lived in Greenville, SC. as a youth. A veteran autograph collector with over thirty years experience knew Chiles who told him first hand accounts of meeting Jackson in person.  The collector told us:  ”Olan told me he used to visit Jackson and his wife often at their  liquor store and always asked for an autograph. He would be handed a pre-signed item (signed by the wife). In all the time he knew Jackson he was NEVER able to acquire an authentic autograph, which tells me that the signing process for him must have been so laborious that he only did it when he absolutely had to.”

As for Darvick’s examples of Jackson he said, “I did not like any of them” and added, “The point I was trying to make initially (regarding Chiles) is that (if) someone who was positioned so close to Jackson and was unable to secure an autograph, this leads me to believe that the group the family cut loose represents probably the only authentic Joe Jackson signatures in the public domain. His signature is just too easy to replicate.”

Herman Darvick appears on JSA's website as one of the company "experts" and notes his sale of the "first authentic signature of "Shoeless" Joe Jackson.

Herman Darvick has worked as an authenticator for PSA/DNA and is currently listed on the SGC website as a staff member and on the JSA website as one of Jimmy Spence’s experts with his “field of expertise” being “historical” and “political” autographs.  The Darvick bio on the JSA site also references the Joe Jackson forgery stating that Darvick handled “the first authentic signature of “Shoeless Joe” Jackson ever sold.” An embarrassing episode for both Darvick and JSA occurred recently when the History Channel’s hit cable-TV show Pawn Stars featured a Darvick-authenticated Jackson autograph signed on a book (the bottom signature in the above illustration).  Pawn shop owner Rick Harrison allegedly purchased the book for $13,000 with an LOA from Darvick and was then told by PSA/DNA it was their opinion that the signature was not genuine.

When the Pawn Stars episode aired Mike Nola added some additional information about Jackson’s signing habits when he posted on a collector forum: “I interviewed Eugene Estes (and that name means little to history, except that he witnessed Joe signing his will). Mr. Estes told me that Joe struggled to sign his name, that he practiced on the back on an envelope three times before setting pen to paper on the Will. Mr. Estes said Joe stopped several times during the signing, which in my opinion would make it looked “traced”. Now, I am not saying PSA got it wrong, but there is enough reasonable doubt in my mind that if I were Rick Harrison, I’d have it forensically tested for period ink and that the ink had been on the page for a period of between 1947 (when the book was published) and December 5, 1951 (The date Joe Jackson ceased to be a living entity). The signature on the book looks different than the one that appears on his will, but the one on his will appears different that the one that appears on his 1941 mortgage note and that one appears different that the one on his 1949 drivers license. In other words…..all his signatures differ somewhat, since he was just tracing a pattern taught to him by his wife Katie. I sent Rick Harrison an email and told him as much.”

Darvick originally authenticated and sold an alleged Jackson-signed book (left) that ended up in the hands of Pawn Stars star Rick Harrison who sent the book to PSA/DNA and Steve Grad who issued a rejection letter (right). Jackson's genuine signature from 1946 appears at the bottom, right.

Since the time Hauls of Shame reported and identified the book authenticated by Darvick as a forgery, the JSA authenticator posted several comments on this site defending his certification stating, “If anyone was going to forge Joe Jackson’s signature on the book, he/she would have used Mrs. Jackson’s Joe Jackson signature to copy.  Her signing of her husbands name appeared in many collections as an authentic Joe Jackson autograph.  Collectors had never seen a real Joe Jackson signature before I sold this signature which was cut from as building document with a partial date (of) April 1936 typed on the verso.”  Declining to address the signature itself and its rejection by PSA/DNA, Darvick added, “The signed Joe Jackson book was signed by “Shoeless” Joe Jackson as I stated in my April 1994 COA.”  As for Darvick’s sale of the $23,100 Jackson forgery in 1990 he said, “At the time of my 1990 auction, no one, no baseball autograph dealer, no sports auction house, NO ONE questioned the authenticity of the Joe Jackson I sold.”

Contrary to Herman Darvick's claim, genuine Jackson signatures on his 1949 drivers license (left) and his 1920 White Sox contract (right) were known and publicly displayed before his sale in 1990.

But Darvick’s claim that “collectors had never seen a real Joe Jackson signature before (his)” is entirely false.  Before Darvick sold his cut to Lelands in December of 1990 there was already an authentic Jackson-signed 1920 contract on public display at the Chicago Historical Society in the fall of 1989.  Darvick already knew this as evidenced in Bill Madden’s 1991 article about the Darvick sale which quotes autograph aficionado Clarence Jerabek as having seen Jackson’s authentic signature on that contract and on several legal documents.  Jaribeck told Madden, “Through Shoeless Joe’s relatives, I got to see what an actual signature looked like.  It’s on a copy of a drivers licence that is signed by both Joe and his wife.”  In addition, Jerabek had already published an article about Jackson’s ability to sign his name in Pen and Quill.

By 1990, several hobbyists had also seen genuine signed documents owned by Jackson family members and friends including Lester Irwin and Joe Anders.  Darvick actually contacted Jerabek before he sold his cut in 1990 as documented in The Sporting News which quoted Jerebek as saying, “Darvick asked me what I thought it was worth and I told him at least $1,500 to $2,000.  When he went back to the owner, however, the guy told him to put it up for auction.”  Madden said in his article that Darvick’s Jackson cut was “obtained by a collector from a relative of Jackson” but Hauls of Shame’s interviews with Jackson family members and Joe Anders, a family friend who was given the signed cache of legal and financial documents from the family, show otherwise. No Jackson family member we could locate ever sold a cut signature to a collector. Interestingly enough, Darvick never mentioned anything about the provenance of his alleged Jackson cut in his auction catalog and when we sent Darvick emails asking him to reveal the source of his Jackson cut signature he did not respond.

Jackson signed this letter along with the 1917 White Sox requesting their World Series money from August Herrmann and Ban Johnson. The unquestionably authentic document was discovered in the HOF's August Herrmann Papers Collection. Jackson's signature (inset in red) shows less spacing between letters when compared to most of the financial documents he signed during the same era.

“Shoeless” Joe appears to have had difficulty signing his name regularly during his lifetime and its well-documented he avoided putting pen to paper whenever he could, thus delegating signing duties to his wife Katie. The verifiable authentic signatures attributed to Jackson on legal documents and contracts (illustrated in this article) are the only examples we can be confident are authentic.  We’ll never be as sure about the other alleged signatures on baseballs and other mediums like photographs, even if they come with a PSA or JSA certificate of authenticity.  At best, even with strong provenance, some experts will always consider these Jackson signatures “unauthenticatible.”  One signed item, however, that is unquestionably authentic and signed by Jackson in the presence of his White Sox teammates is a 1917 team-signed letter to American League President Ban Johnson.  The letter was signed by Jackson and every player requesting their share of the World Series receipts for their victory over John J. McGraw’s Giants.  The document had remained hidden in the files of the National Baseball Library’s August Herrmann Papers Collection until Hauls of Shame uncovered it a few years ago while researching stolen documents from the same collection.  The document is the most clear and convincing evidence that Jackson could and did sign his name along with his teammates on items that did not required a signature in conjunction with a financial transaction.

Alleged partial and full samples of Jackson's signature were found on an envelope said to have originated from the Jackson family. Those samples were sliced into three different examples which were encapsulated in graded holders by PSA/DNA. Another fragment signed just "Joe" was offered in SCD in 1999 (bottom).

Aside from the iron-clad signatures on the legal and financial documents originating from Jackson’s family and friends, other more dubious examples have surfaced for sale in the auction marketplace. When the authentic- signed Jackson documents surfaced in the early 1990s there were several other signatures and fragments of signatures that were alleged to have Jackson family provenance as well. Three such signatures were found on the back of an envelope and another just signed “Joe” was said to have originated from a small note pad that once belonged to Jackson. The three examples of writing included on the envelope were originally sold in 1997 by Mastro & Steinbach Auctions as originating “directly from the Joe Jackson estate” and years later the envelope was cut into three pieces which were ultimately encapsulated and authenticated in three separate PSA/DNA holders. The “Jo” example was paired with a partial Pete Rose signature (“Pete”) in a PSA holder.  The “Joe” partial notebook signature was offered in SCD by Frank Foremny in 1999.

In addition to the cut signatures manufactured from the one envelope (which are considered by most experts as genuine) both PSA/DNA and JSA authenticated another alleged Jackson cut that was purchased by the Leaf Trading Card Company and inserted into a 2010 Joe Jackson relic card. The card ended up selling at Heritage Auction Galleries in 2011 for $26,290 with LOA’s from b0th JSA and PSA/DNA.  In their promotional materials, Leaf estimated that the value of the alleged autograph was between $70,000 and $100,000. This alleged Jackson signature has been identified as a forgery by several experts we interviewed.

Another alleged Jackson signature was sold publicly for $72,000 at Legendary Auctions in August of 2010 with an LOA (and Grade of 9) from PSA/DNA and Steve Grad.  The alleged Jackson pencil signature was signed on a page from an autograph album that Legendary stated, “Has changed ownership a couple of times since its origin in the ’40’s” allthough it was originally acquired by a young girl from Greenville, SC., in that era.  The woman, Sarah Taft, allegedly had Jackson sign the album but none of the other pages in the volume are signed except for one by her father Eddie Taft.

Alleged cut signatures of Jackson were included in a 2010 Leaf relic card and a 2013 Legendary Auction with LOA's from JSA and PSA/DNA. Experts who examined both of these signatures, however, are of the opinion they are forgeries when compared to genuine examples of Jackson's signature from his 1915 Draft Card (bottom left) and a 1946 mortgage note (bottom right).

All of the experts we spoke with are of the opinion that the alleged Jackson signed page sold at Legendary is a forgery.  In fact, one expert believes that the forger used the authentic signature on Jackson’s last will and testament as his template. When we asked Ron Keurajian about the signature, he referred us to his book which states that the only authentic Jackson signatures he’s seen are found on legal documents. One long-time dealer added, “PSA and JSA have no clue on Jackson’s signature outside of the obvious legitimate legal documents.”

The AP featured an alleged Jackson photo authenticated by PSA/DNA and currently for sale at Heritage. Another Jackson photo sold at Sotheby's in 1999 for $43,000 (right).

In our next report on Jackson’s handwriting we’ll examine the photographs alleged to have been signed by Jackson. In particular, we will focus on the PSA/DNA authenticated photo appearing in Heritage’s Platinum Night Auction later this month and compare it with another Jackson signed photograph sold at Sotheby’s in 1999 for $43,000.

By Peter J. Nash

February 5, 2015

Last week, Allan H. “Bud” Selig officially stepped down as Baseball’s czar and passed the reins to his hand-picked successor, Rob Manfred. Selig served as MLB’s ninth Commissioner since the office was created in 1920 by Garry Herrmann’s National Commission and in stepping down he gives up an annual salary of over $22 million–that’s about 440 times greater than Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis’ $50,000 salary to clean up the 1919 Black Sox scandal. To put it in perspective, Selig’s compensation as MLB’s head honcho for just one season about equaled the record-breaking $29 million fine Landis leveled as a Federal Judge against Standard Oil and John D. Rockefeller in 1907 .  Baseball has been very, very good to Bud Selig. So good, in fact, that some sources list his current net worth at $400,000,000.  Not bad for a guy once ridiculed as a disheveled used car salesman from Milwaukee and not bad for baseball owners who have seen their annual revenues rise from $2 billion to $9 billion under his watch.

Although he’s retiring from his MLB post, Selig isn’t leaving the game for good and will still rake in $6 million a year as a special adviser to Manfred as “Commissioner Emeritus.”  A good portion of the 80-year old Selig’s new duties will likely revolve around legacy building, a process which the former Milwaukee Brewers owner had already kick-started as his days as Commissioner were dwindling. As Rob Neyer writes at FoxSports, Selig isn’t fond of criticism and in the past has phoned writers who have called him out on a variety of issues. He’s also been known to apply pressure on other writers who Neyer says were “told by their bosses to take it easy on the poor old Commissioner.” Now that he’s relinquished his power, Selig wants to make sure that he’s remembered as one of the game’s immortal executives.

Back in 2011, Selig announced he’d be establishing a sports history department at his alma-mater, the University of Wisconsin, and that he’d also spend time on campus to write his memoirs. More recently he’s enlisted the services of his good friend, Doris Kearns Goodwin, to insure that his life-story is in capable hands but Selig’s legend won’t be complete without one last lifetime honor that has eluded even Marvin Miller. Unlike Baseball’s pioneering labor reformer, however, Bud Selig is actually on the fast-track for enshrinement at Cooperstown despite his failures. As he leaves his MLB post only a few writers have been critical of his reign and have said “good riddance” to him like Rolling Stone’s Dan Epstein. On the contrary, Selig is for the most part being hailed as baseball’s “great reformer” by the likes of Jon Heyman at CBS Sports and the “greatest Commissioner of all-time” by Bill Madden.

With all of the accolades being heaped upon Selig recently we thought it would be interesting to gauge his legacy and career as Commissioner by examining the artifacts and memorabilia issues that were generated during his tenure. Can the memorabilia tell us more about Selig and his legacy than some of the card-carrying members of the BBWAA can?

The most obvious artifact linked to Selig’s legacy is the trophy he most recently presented to now-retired Yankees Mariano Rivera and Derek Jeter. When Selig appeared with the hardware at the 2013 World Series he gazed into the gleaming silver and gold Tiffany & Co. trophy bearing his name and then presented Rivera with the “Commissioners Historic Achievement Award.” As Selig glanced away from the trophy he looked to Rivera and said, “Whether they like it or not, players are role models–they are.  And can you imagine for this generation, this is our role model.”

The trophy represented what Selig described as a special recognition of Rivera’s “major impact on the sport” and his “contributions of historical significance in Major League Baseball.”  For Selig, the award meant even more as he was turning his attention to defining his place in baseball history and his presentation of his own award reinforced his preoccupation with curating his own legacy as he told reporters, “In the life of a Commissioner you have a lot of good days, bad days, whatever, and I can tell you how much this has meant to me and this is for me a very special day.” When Selig presented Mariano Rivera with the trophy he told the closer, “Thanks for all the class and all the dignity.”

Some of Selig’s detractors have argued it is both class and dignity that have eluded both MLB and the Commissioner during his tenure and considering the past recipients of Selig’s “historic” trophy include Steroid-Era cheats like Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, its hard to make a case for Selig’s integrity being fully in tact. His choices of Rivera and Jeter as the last players to receive the award he created are indicative of Selig’s desire to distance himself from his past decisions and associate himself with players who had never been questioned as PED-cheaters.

Selig presented his first trophy to Mark McGwire for reviving the game in 1998 and his last to Derek Jeter in 2014. Selig colluded with his fellow owners in the 1980's and Commissioner Fay Vincent was critical of his theft from MLB players.

That being said, Selig can only hope that his record as Commissioner in the Steroid-Era will be whitewashed the same way his involvement as a complicit team owner in the collusion conspiracy of the 1980s was.  Selig and his fellow owners, under the watch of Commissioner Peter Ueberroth, were found guilty of colluding with each other to keep player salaries down and their wrongdoing prompted an arbitrator to award $280 million in damages to the free-agent players.  The collusion saga prompted the next Commissioner, Fay Vincent, to read Selig and his fellow owners the riot act.  In an interview with Hauls of Shame last week Vincent recalled, “I laid it out to them and told them they stole $280 million from the players and got caught and that the Union got stronger because of it. But not one of them to this day, including Selig, ever admitted what they did. So it’s no surprise that today collusion is basically forgotten.”  In the aftermath of collusion and after Vincent introduced a memorandum setting forth MLB’s drug policy, including illegal steroids, Selig conspired again with his fellow owners in true Machiavellian fashion spearheading the ousting of Vincent and the appointment of himself as “interim Commissioner” in 1992.

Ironically, Selig today uses the excuse that he couldn’t fight or expose PED-cheaters because the Marvin Miller influenced Players Union fought testing so vehemently, but very few writers today (besides blogger Murray Chass) follow up that claim and point out that Selig and his owner-partners were responsible for that circumstance as a result of their greed and unfair treatment of their employee-players. Undoubtedly it was Selig and his fellow owners who set the table for the Steroid-Era.  Fay Vincent recalls, “Most people forget that back then the owners controlled all labor negotiations and that Committee was headed by Bud Selig, even before he became Commissioner.” Today, Vincent still recalls how hard it was to push drug testing after collusion. “I couldn’t even get Steve Howe removed after eight drug violations because the Union had became even stronger,” said Vincent.  As for the Union finally conceding to testing in the aftermath of the Steroid-Era Vincent added,  ”It wasn’t until after steroids were out of control that Don Fehr gave into testing because he saw that Congress was going to step in.”

When looking at Selig’s place in history an argument can be made that he has much more in common with the notoriously cheap and devious owner of the Chicago White Sox, Charles Comiskey, than he does with Fay Vincent, Bart Giamatti or even Judge Landis.  Interestingly enough, it was another White Sox owner, and Selig’s closest ally, Jerry Reinsdorf, who provided the arbitrator with the smoking gun to facilitate the $280 million collusion award to the players—a memo he sent to owner Bill Giles showing in detail how he colluded in a proposed deal for player Lance Parrish. Today, Fay Vincent views Selig’s legacy differently but feels he will soon join the “Old Roman” Comiskey in Cooperstown. Vincent told us, “It will happen soon, Bud will get into the Hall of Fame right away. But what people should be questioning is this. What is the standard for the induction of a Commissioner?  With Bowie Kuhn in the Hall it looks more like a popularity contest.”

Marvin Miller told Vincent as much just before he passed away. The ex-Commissioner recalled, “It was very sad. Marvin told me, ‘Fay, don’t feel sorry for me. I don’t really care.  I’m never going to get 3/4 of the vote.  Baseball is vindictive and the players will end up forgetting what I did.’ Marvin knew he wasn’t popular enough to get in. Bud’s got the support of the voters.”  Selig also has the support of Hall of Fame operatives like Bill Madden who have even suggested that Miller lacked “character” and “integrity” and that he “all but sabotaged his Hall of Fame-worthy career by refusing to help baseball get rid of steroids.”

As Selig exits the MLB stage, numerous baseball writers and sympathetic MLB mouthpieces are remembering everything positive he’s done for the game but have largely ignored his role in collusion and given him a pass on PED’s focusing solely on the game’s record financial growth. It’s difficult to argue with their observations as ballpark attendance, which dipped by 20 million fans after the strike in 1994, has jumped back up to and surpassed the 73 million mark in 2014. But in terms of real growth in attendance figures, Selig has merely restored attendance figures to what they were the year before the Player’s Strike in 1994. In 1993, MLB saw 70,256,459 fans pass through turnstiles and twenty-two years later 73,739,622 fans went to the ballpark in 2014.

Bud Selig’s legacy, however, is much more difficult to define than by just calculating MLB Advanced Media revenues and ticket sales. Oddly enough, baseball historians can take a close look at Selig’s relationship with the baseball artifacts and memorabilia during his tenure to get a different perspective on his reign as Commissioner. Some might even say that the Tiffany and Co. silver trophy he created is a tangible symbol of Selig’s own complicity in compromising the integrity of the game itself.

Bud Selig presented the trophy he created to Mariano Rivera during the 2013 World Series. The Hall of Fame's collection includes the trophy presented to Lou Gehrig by his teammates on "Gehrig Day" in 1940

Players and Commissioners fade away and die, but the trophies and trinkets associated with their carreers survive and sometimes end up in Cooperstown. There’s Lou Gehrig’s trophy presented by his teammates on “Gehrig Day” in 1941 at one end of the spectrum and Eddie Cicotte’s 1917 World Series uniform emblem and pocket watch on the other.  The artifacts themselves sometimes reveal more about the historical subjects than the contemporary accounts published in newspapers. If the “Commissioner’s Trophy” presented to Mark McGwire is ever put on display at Cooperstown it will no doubt say more about Selig’s legacy than writers could ever express in print.

Although Selig won’t be able to spin-doctor his long-term legacy from the grave and will be critically exposed by future historians like Judge Landis has, it appears that while Selig is still living his legacy is largely secure and he is already said to be a shoe-in for the Hall of Fame. All indications point to Selig being honored in Cooperstown with a bronze plaque hanging right next to Bowie Kuhn’s while Marvin Miller will continue to be shut out. And speaking of the legacies of Miller and Selig, a source close to the Player’s Union speculates that another chapter in Selig’s story may one day emerge showing how his operatives pressured HOF Veterans Committee voters in private not to cast their ballot for Miller while supporting his induction publicly.

Back in 2011, SBNation’s Grant Brisbee noted that the trophy Selig created resembled a “big ol’ you-know-what” and that players receiving it were, in fact, getting the shaft, literally.  He asked, “Is the award emblematic of how out of touch Selig is, or somehow poignant in its irrelevancy?” Or is the award a symbol in the Post-Steroid Era of what Brisbee called, “A reminder of just how naive most of us were” as McGwire and Sosa juiced up and saved the game, just like Babe Ruth had after the Black Sox scandal in 1919?  Selig’s supporters note that the game has experienced unprecedented financial growth and record revenues under his tenure, but wasn’t most of that record growth the direct product of McGwire and Sosa saving the game during the “March on Maris” in 1998?

Mark McGwire memorabilia arrived at the HOF with much fanfare in 1998 (left). Todd McFarlane paid $3 million for McGwire's 70th HR Ball (center). Barry Bonds' record breaking ball was donated to the HOF with an asterisk added to it (right).

Selig, in fact, hatched the scheme to commission his trophy at Tiffany & Co. in 1998 with Big Mac and Sosa slated as the first honorees after both were widely credited with reviving baseball after the devastating strike in 1994.  For Selig and his fellow MLB owners, the hitting exploits of McGwire and Sosa got the turnstiles at MLB ballparks humming again and filled up MLB’s cash coffers at a record clip.  The Home-Run mania also shifted the focus away from fans vilifying Selig for the part he played in the game’s labor woes.  How could Selig not honor the two living legends who were already being honored in the “Great Home Run Chase” exhibits installed at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown?  It also wasn’t lost on Selig that he’d been booed at every Hall of Fame Induction ceremony since the strike. Caught up in the home run hysteria, Selig was McGwire and Sosa’s biggest cheerleader and he exploited their accomplishments accordingly.

When McGwire’s 70th home-run ball went up for auction in 1999, comic-book icon Todd McFarlane bought it for over $3 million as the most prized baseball artifact of all-time but in just fourteen years the value of the ball has plummeted drastically. Memorabilia experts say the ball isn’t even worth $100,000 today. In 2010, even McFarlane acknowledged the depreciated value of the McGwire ball when he told the Chicago Tribune, “It’s like a car that loses its value the minute you drive it out of the lot — well, I just crashed the car. But people are still going to want the car James Dean was driving in when he got killed. So it’s still cool. It’s infamous.”  In its infamy, the McGwire ball might just be the single artifact that defines Selig’s legacy moving into the future.

Recipients of MLB's Commisioner's Trophy for Historic Achievement have included (clockwise): Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa; Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds. A-Rod was on his was to winning one but MLB's probe into his relationship with PED dealer Tony Bosch stood in the way.

The McGwire ball and the presentation of Selig’s trophy to “Big Mac” also serve as a link to another recipient of the award, Barry Bonds. Bonds was honored in 2002 after breaking the single-season MLB Home-Run record set by McGwire in 1998 and, at the time, was well on his way to breaking the all-time Home-Run mark held by Selig’s close friend and former employee Hank Aaron.

McFarlane also purchased the ball hit for Bonds’ 73rd record-breaking home run for $450,000. Oddly enough, Selig didn’t present a “Historic Achievement Award” to Bonds for breaking Aaron’s milestone.  Selig and Aaron are close friends and sources indicate his relationship with Aaron greatly influenced his unprecedented investigation into Alex Rodriguez. A healthy Rodriguez could have made a run at Aaron’s and Bonds’ all-time home run marks but his 211-game suspension last season has made that an impossibility.

There’s no shot that Rodriguez will ever take home a Selig trophy for his career achievements the way Roger Clemens did before he was implicated in the Mitchell Report.  A-Rod will never get his hands on the trophy that Selig has also presented to Vin ScullyIchiro Suzuki, Roberto Clemente (posthumously), Rachel Robinson and Ken Griffey Jr.  All things considered, after Griffey received the award from Selig at the 2011 World Series Craig Calcaterra of NBC Sports called the award “baseball’s version of a gold watch to notable players.”

MLB's history with Tiffany & Co. dates back to the creation of the "Hall Cup" in 1888 and extends to the re-design of the current World Series Trophy by Tiffany in 1999 (center). Selig's "Historic Achievement Award" was created by Tiffany in 1998 for Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa.

Baseball’s historic awards and trophies have run the gamut of everything from Gold Gloves to Silver Slugger bats and represent greatness for players who take home the Cy Young awards and League MVPs in the course of their careers. The ultimate prizes in the game, however, have always been awarded to teams winning the World Championship dating back to times before a World Series even existed.  Baseball’s history with Tiffany and Co. dates back to 1888 when the company was commissioned to create the “Hall Cup” awarded to Jim Mutrie’s New York Giants as the winners of the National League Championship.  It wasn’t until Selig got the idea to create his own Commissioner’s “Historic Achievement” trophy that MLB also re-connected with Tiffany to re-design the Commissioner’s World Series Trophy as well. The Hall Cup is currently on display at the Baseball Hall of Fame in the World Series exhibition room.

Just as the Hall Cup has made its way to Cooperstown,  so will Selig’s silver-shafted trophies as future generations of fans will be able to decide for themselves whether Selig was an enabler or a crusader in both the Steroid and Post-Steroid-Eras. Of course, the memorabilia that made its way to Cooperstown during Selig’s tenure is tainted and in retrospect it’s an embarrassment that the Hall of Fame dedicated its plaque gallery to a special exhibition including McGwire and Sosa’s bats, balls and uniforms in 1998. It’s even more of an embarrassment for Selig and MLB that Barry Bonds’ record breaking baseball arrived in Cooperstown with a big asterisk carved into the cowhide–compliments of designer Mark Ecko.  And it was Selig who orchestrated the $8 million purchase of artifacts from Yankee partner Barry Halper’s collection in 1998 only to find out nearly a decade later that several of the big-ticket items he purchased, including “Shoeless” Joe Jackson’s 1919 road jersey, Jackson’s “Black Betsy” bat and Mickey Mantle’s 1951 Yankee rookie jersey were poorly executed forgeries that were fraudulently displayed for millions of fans.

Bud Selig helped orchestrate MLB's purchase of $8 million in memorabilia from Barry Halper including a fake 1919 Joe Jackson jersey (left) and a fake 1951 Mickey Mantle jersey (right).

Neither Selig’s office nor the Hall of Fame conducted any suitable due diligence to ensure that the items they were purchasing from Halper were genuine. Halper lied to them saying he purchased his Jackson items from his widow in the 1950s but Selig & Co. could have read The Sporting News at the National Baseball Library to learn that Halper told Bill Madden he’d acquired the jersey from Jackson relatives as a “recent purchase” in 1985. Madden, however, never mentioned that information when he reported MLB’s purchase of Halper’s trove in 1998 for the New York Daily News. After Hauls of Shame published a report in 2010 illustrating the Jackson jersey was a fake and attributed to the wrong White Sox uniform manufacturer, the Hall revealed they had sent the same garment out for testing and found that the jersey was constructed with materials that didn’t exist during Jackson’s MLB career.  While Bud Selig had continued MLB’s “lifetime ban” of Joe Jackson into the afterlife, he also succeeded in facilitating the entry of his fake jersey into the hallowed Halls of Cooperstown.

In 1998 Selig and MLB purchased several million dollars in fakes from Yankee partner Barry Halper and donated them to the HOF. The fakes were heralded by Bill Madden in the Daily News and in an MLB press release Selig said Halper's items would be in Cooperstown "for all time."

When Selig and MLB purchased Halper’s alleged treasures in 1998, the Commissioner’s Office issued a press release in which Selig stated, “This important baseball collection belongs in the Hall of Fame and that is where it will be for all time.”  In line with Selig’s sentiments, Halper was also honored by Hall Chairman Jane Forbes Clark with a permanent museum exhibition space named after him and a plaque honoring him for his “dedication to preserving baseball history.”  After Halper’s fakes were exposed in numerous published reports the man who Selig and his fellow owners helped oust from the Commissioner’s Office years earlier weighed in on the scandal.  Fay Vincent, MLB’s former commissioner and an honorary director of the Baseball Hall of Fame, said, “Given the evidence that has come to light in the past several years, the Hall of Fame should immediately reconsider the naming of that gallery to honor Barry Halper. I do not think he deserves the honor.”   By the time Vincent’s statement was published by Deadspin in July 0f 2011, the “Halper Gallery” and the plaque honoring the now deceased Yankee partner had been removed from the Hall’s floor plan.

Jane Forbes Clark (left) dedicated a research center at the HOF to Bud Selig (center) but neither Selig, MLB or the HOF have taken any action to recover documents stolen from the August Herrmann Papers collection (right).

Just as the Halper Gallery vanished, Selig was working with the Hall  of Fame to establish a “Commissioner’s Research Center” at the Bart Giamatti Research Center in the National Baseball Library.  When the ribbons were cut for the alleged “center”, however, former Hall of Fame employee Gabe Schechter published a piece exposing that the dedication of the space was just “for show” and only a symbolic gesture from Hall Chairman Jane Forbes Clark for “her Commissioner” who had chosen to hold the “‘Winter Owners’ Meetings” in Cooperstown.  As Schechter noted on his blog, the ceremony gave “each party a chance to suck up to the other” and added, “The Hall of Fame, having finally shed the Doubleday Myth, managed to create another one with the dedication of an empty, inaccessible space in honor of Selig.”

Of the “Research Center” Clark said: “The Selig Center for the Archives of Major League Baseball Commissioners” will ensure a permanent home for the documentation and preservation of the Office of the Commissioner’s contributions to baseball history. This archive will provide a central location for the study and research of the importance of the Office of the Commissioner, and its role in shaping and advancing the National Pastime for nearly a century.”  The great irony, here, is that while both Clark and Selig were talking preservation and history they sat back and did nothing to investigate the massive thefts at the National Baseball Library from archives including the papers of former Commissioner Ford Frick and the August Herrmann Papers collection which constitutes the first and most important archive generated by Major League Baseball before the Commissioner’s office was established in 1920. Although there is overwhelming evidence of the thefts and donated materials are being sold at public auctions regularly, neither Selig, MLB Security or the Hall of Fame has taken any substantial action to recover or claim title to the stolen materials. In fact, one source familiar with Hall operations told Hauls of Shame that library employees have been instructed to look for evidence suggesting that items may not have been stolen from the library, rather than pursuing recovery.

In 2009 the New York Times reported that letters stolen from the NYPL's Harry Wright archive were being sold in MLB's All-Star Game auction. The letters, including a famous letter written by Jim Devlin to Wright in 1877 (right), were pulled from the auction after the FBI opened an investigation.

In addition to standing idle as MLB’s own baseball history was looted from the Hall and peddled off at auction, another memorabilia-themed travesty occurred during Selig’s reign when MLB’s 2009 All-Star Game auction featured over fifty rare documents that had originally been bequeathed to the National League in 1895 by baseball pioneer Harry Wright.  The letters were once part of Wright’s personal baseball library and archive which he intended to be a nucleus for a collection devoted to the game’s history, but thousand’s of Wright’s letters were stolen from the New York Public Library after they were donated in 1921 by the widow of ex-National League President A. G. Spalding.

As revealed first in a Sporting News article published in 1977 by Bill Madden, the owner of the stolen archive of Wright’s correspondence was none other than New York Yankees minority owner Barry Halper. Halper brazenly showed off the documents to Madden who identified the treasure trove as once belonging to Harry Wright and in the years that followed Halper sold off the archive for big money at Sotheby’s in 1999, including the sale of a letter presenting Wright and his Boston Red Stockings the 1875 Pennant.  That same letter was cited in the works of Dr. Harold Seymour and Dorothy Seymour Mills who later confirmed the document was donated to the NYPL and had been stolen.

The Harry Wright correspondence appearing in the 2009 MLB auction was also believed to have originated with Halper and when the New York Times reported that the stolen letters were pulled from the MLB auction Selig declined comment.  Times reporter Jack Curry wrote, “Major League Baseball is in an awkward position of having to explain why it coordinated an auction in which it was selling potentially stolen letters.” Bob DuPuy, MLB’s president and chief operating officer at the time issued a statement saying, “Since 2001, Major League Baseball has run an internally-operated authentication program to protect against the illegal sale of baseball merchandise to our fans. We are pleased that reputable companies like Hunt Auctions use sound judgment in deciding to withdraw merchandise that is not properly documented.”

But after a five-year investigation was conducted by the FBI, the NYPL recovered none of the stolen Wright documents. In fact, the investigators and the NYPL actually allowed the sale of the stolen documents from the Hunt Auctions consignor to a dealer for over $35,000. Two of the historic handwritten letters sold were written by disgraced player Jim Devlin, who was banned from the game by President William Hulbert for his part in one of the game’s earliest gambling scandals.  Both of those missives were specifically cited in published works by Seymour and also specifically documented as NYPL property in original research notes now housed at Cornell University.

Historian and author, Dorothy Seymour Mills (who originally helped the FBI identify the letters as stolen property in the 2009 MLB auction) still feels that the NYPL should be held accountable. Mills told us, “If the Harry Wright letters belonging to the NYPL, a great research library, are available, the NYPL should purchase them. Instead, the management has spent the library’s money on the opposite goal: working out a plan to dismantle a large part of its research function. I blame the NYPL for not protecting these valuable documents for posterity.”

MLB purchased $125k worth of stolen documents in its A-Rod investigation (left). A dealer recently purchased stolen documents originally willed to the National League by Harry Wright in 1895 (center). Deceased Yankees minority owner Barry Halper owned and sold the stolen Wright documents and has been linked to a 1970s heist at the NYPL.Although they were fully aware of the facts and what was transpiring during the FBI investigation, MLB and Selig did nothing to protect or recover the documents that Harry Wright had originally donated to the National League in 1895. With all of the billions in revenue MLB has been raking in, Selig & Co. couldn't afford the $40,000 to reimburse the current owner of the stolen property and facilitate the return of the archive to its rightful owner, the NYPL. In essence, Harry Wright, one of the pioneers of the game and the "Father of Professional Baseball" entrusted the National League with his archive and the current MLB leadership turned their backs on the commitment that their predecessors had made in good faith.

There’s no doubt that Selig and MLB security have the resources to investigate, pressure and rectify such wrongdoing as was evidenced in the Alex Rodriguez investigation. In their pursuit of obtaining evidence against Rodriguez, MLB operatives knowingly purchased stolen documents sourced to the BioGenesis company that supplied Rodriguez with performance enhancing drugs. As reported in the Sun-Sentinel in may of 2014, MLB’s executive vice president of labor relations, Dan Halem, confirmed that MLB “had bought a ‘batch of documents’ on four flash drives” for $100,000.  The Sentinel also noted that police reports in Boca Raton, Florida, showed that MLB purchased an additional $25,000 in stolen documents at the Cosmos Diner in Pompano Beach in 2013.

While Selig and MLB can’t be held accountable for the inaction and negligence of NYPL officials like Victoria Steele and Tony Marx, they could have taken the initiative to do everything in their power to restore Harry Wright’s archive to the NYPL.  The first step in that process would have been to reimburse the memorabilia dealer who purchased the stolen documents in 2013. But for MLB and Selig, that small investment appears to have been too steep a price to pay. Or was it?

Sources indicate that Selig and MLB are miffed that reports over the past few years have exposed one of their own, Barry Halper, as the biggest fraudster in the history of the memorabilia industry.  Selig and other MLB and HOF officials like Jane Forbes Clark have been embarrassed by the revelations that Halper categorically swindled them out of millions and caused millions of baseball fans to pay for admission to Hall of Fame exhibitions touting fake relics like the jerseys of Mickey Mantle, Cy Young and Joe Jackson.

Former MLB Commissioner Bowie Kuhn already has a HOF plaque (left) while Marvin Miller (center) has been shut out. All signs point to Bud Selig being inducted to the Hall in the near future.

The Commissioner’s office was previously embarassed when Bowie Kuhn’s right-hand man, Joe Reichler, was caught selling off Hall of Fame property loaned to MLB in 1983.  Reichler’s sale of many vintage World Series programs to Long Island dealer Bob Sevchuk was exposed by The Sporting News and Kuhn ended up facing the scrutiny of New York Attorney General Robert Abrams. The Reichler incident was described as a major scandal by The New York Post, but that situation pales in comparison to the multi-million dollar thefts from the Hall’s Frick and Herrmann collections and the NYPL’s Harry Wright archive. Barry Halper’s ownership of large caches of stolen documents was never scrutinized because of his reputation as an MLB insider and minority partner of George Steinbrenner.

Considering the magnitude of the thefts and the failure of the recovery efforts—and the fact that an MLB team minority owner was actually linked to the thefts and sales of donated and bogus artifacts, no Commissioner has ever had a more sordid relationship with baseball artifacts and memorabilia than Bud Selig has.

A 2011 New York Post story by this writer detailed the memorabilia fraud of deceased MLB owner Barry Halper (left); Bud Selig said Abner Doubleday "invented" baseball in a 2010 letter to author Ron Keurajian (right).

How history will remember Bud Selig remains largely in the hands of baseball writers and SABR researchers like Dan Epstein.  While Selig has fashioned himself as a baseball historian with a soft spot for Abner Doubleday, Epstein and others will likely remind future generations of baseball fans of his entire record in Baseball even if there isn’t much revealing information in his “research center” in Cooperstown. As for Selig’s legacy Epstein told us, “I do believe that Bud Selig was a terrible (and terribly corrupt) commissioner; but this is America, where corporate profits are used as justification (and/or motivation) for everything.” Epstein chalks up the current Selig love-fest to a form of baseball writer Stockholm syndrome and added, “It doesn’t surprise me at all that, given the game’s current rude financial health, Selig would be widely praised as being ‘good for baseball’. And really, he couldn’t have timed his exit better; had Selig left office shortly after the ‘94-’95 strike, the contraction idiocy of ‘01-’02, the move of the Expos to DC or the 2005 steroids hearings, he would be widely considered a failure today.”

As Selig exits the MLB stage, Pam Guzzi, the great-great-granddaughter of the “Father of Professional Baseball” has her own parting shot for the Commissioner.  Guzzi, who has been waiting since 2009 to have Harry Wright’s stolen papers returned to the New York Public Library, told us, “With the money MLB pulls in, I find it incredulous that the members are not more willing and active in trying to protect its history and honor the wishes of its forefathers.”

Guzzi is aware that the current owner of the stolen documents is willing to play ball with MLB or the NYPL to facilitate the return of Wright’s letters.  The owner, who requested anonymity, told us, “I would accept $35,000 and gladly allow these to be returned to the NYPL via MLB or some other third party.  I feel that is honestly about 20%-25% of their “value” since there are two (James) Devlin letters and Harry Wright’s acceptance letter into the Cincinnati Red Stockings.”  It is estimated that the fair market value of the cache of letters would be about $250,000 if the items had clear title.

If Harry Wright had not bequeathed his archive the National League in 1895, and his treasure-trove remained in his descendants possession, the Wright family would be sitting on a small fortune worth millions of dollars. Pam Guzzi is frustrated with the NYPL’s failures and Selig’s inaction especially considering the concern MLB expressed in the 2009 New York Times reports.  Said Guzzi, “It would have spoken volumes to Selig’s legacy, if he had, although no legal obligation seemed apparent, felt a moral obligation to push MLB to buy the Wright letters and then donate them back to the NYPL. I implore Selig’s successor and MLB to do the right (Wright) thing and get these documents back! If I had the money. I would pay the  collector myself.”

Now that Bud Selig’s legacy is being scrutinized, let’s hope that baseball historians in the future remember that when the Commissioner had the opportunity to help recover, preserve and protect the most important baseball archive in existence—he did absolutely nothing.