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By Peter J. Nash

February 27, 2018


In October of 2017, Hauls of Shame published the first installment of our 3-part report detailing the auction appearances of internal Brooklyn Dodger documents at public auction. Also detailed were allegations that these artifacts including team correspondence, scouting reports and contracts were wrongfully removed from the Dodger offices in Los Angeles decades ago. At the time of that first report, Goldin Auctions had scheduled the sale of Jackie Robinson’s first two contracts with the Dodger organization which have also been questioned as artifacts believed to be property of the LA Dodgers. After the report was published the auction house cancelled its initial sale dates in November and December but recently rescheduled the sale for tonight. The sales were originally advertised as taking place at the site of the planned Jackie Robinson Museum but that location appears to have been nixed as well.

The auction house headed by Ken Goldin is selling the contracts in a one-lot auction allegedly in association with the Jackie Robinson Foundation with a minimum opening bid of $15 million. The contracts were appraised at $36 million by autograph dealer Seth Kaller and (according to Goldin Auctions) insured for that same figure by CHUBB despite the fact that the current owner of the contracts, Mykalai Kontilai of Collectors Cafe, purchased the contracts for approximately $1.5 million less than a decade ago when the contracts were the subject of a heated litigation in Probate Court as part of the estate of Wall Street financier Martin Zweig. According to the Goldin website the contracts already have an opening bid of $15 million.

Auctioneer Ken Goldin (left) has been promoting the sale of the Jackie Robinson contracts with consignor Mykalai Kontilai (right) who also promoted the contracts with Larry King (center).

For the past year auctioneer Goldin and consignor Kontilai have been promoting the contracts and providing the press and the general public with conflicting stories of the provenance of the Robinson contracts. In 2016, the consignor told Darren Rovell of ESPN that the contracts were originally owned by “a Brooklyn historian” who acquired them “perhaps from Robinson himself.” He also stated the historian had died and that his estate sold the contracts to a collector and that subsequently that collector, who also died, sold the contracts to the consignor’s company, Collectors Cafe. The consignor also told Rovell that “neither of the previous owners wanted to be publicly identified.”

In September of 2017, auctioneer Ken Goldin was interviewed by ESPN and Rovell reported, “The contracts were originally owned by Robinson but eventually became the possession of the Brooklyn Historical Society.”  The BHS, however,  could not confirm this claim and BHS spokesperson, Jean Hodesh told HOS that they “had no recollection or any records documenting that the Robinson contracts were ever in its possession.”

More importantly, Goldin and Kontilai’s claims that the two contracts were owned by Jackie Robinson as his personal copies are contradicted by the actual 1947 contract itself which is clearly the Dodger team copy as evidenced by the National League’s date-stamped approval on the historic document. As illustrated by the sales of several player estates from the late 1940s and 1950’s, the contracts retained by players of that era were not stamped or approved by the league. A previous Goldin sale of Mickey Mantle contracts originating from the Mantle family illustrate this point well as his 1957 contract is signed by only Mantle and the Yankee GM, Lee MacPhail, without any stamp or signature from the American League.

Goldin Auctions previously sold Mickey Mantle's personal copy of his 1957 Yankee contract which originated from the Mantle family. Unlike the 1947 Robinson contract it is not date stamped and signed/approved by the American League.

Other contracts originating from the estates of Robinson’s teammates including Dan Bankhead and Pee Wee Reese are also un-stamped and unsigned by the National League. Bankhead’s historic 1947 contract lacks a league date-stamp and signed approval with only the signatures of Bankhead and Branch Rickey.  This is significant because it is from the same year as the Robinson contract and according to the seller, REA, the contract originated “from the Bankhead family.”

Dan Bankhead's family sold his copy of his 1947 Dodger contract and, unlike the Goldin Robinson contract, it is unsigned by the NL and lacks the League date-stamped approval.

In addition, Pee Wee Reese’s 1948 and 1950 player contracts sold at auction by the Reese estate were also signed only by Reese and Branch Rickey, while the Goldin Robinson contract was stamped and bears a secretarial signature of NL President Ford Frick.

Pee Wee Reese's own 1950 contract (top) is unsigned by the NL while the Goldin Robinson contract is date-stamped, signed and approved by the NL. This contract illustrates that the Robinson copy was part of the Dodger team files and was never owned by Robinson personally.

The most damning proof that the Goldin contract belongs to the Dodgers, however, is one of Robinson’s own contracts which was originally sold by his widow Rachel Robinson at Lelands.  That 1949 contract is unstamped and unsigned by the National League. Many of Robinson’s other contracts ended up at the Library of Congress and the Robinson family does not know what happened to Jackie’s personal copies of his original agreements.

Goldin Auctions does not address the primary issue regarding the contract’s execution by the National League, which is what some consider smoking-gun proof that the contract originated from the Dodger archives.  It appears that sometime in the early 1960s both Leagues required both contract copies to be approved by the respective offices of the Presidents, but in 1947 and throughout the 1950s the evidence shows this was not the case.  Hauls of Shame reached out to MLBs Official Historian, John Thorn, and business of baseball writer, Maury Brown, to see if they knew the year that MLB required approval of both contracts, but neither was aware of the League protocol.

The earliest contract retained by Robinson and his widow is his 1949 contract which was sold by Rachel Robinson at Lelands. Unlike the Goldin contract, it is unsigned and un-stamped by the National League

The  Goldin auction website currently gives a flowery description of Robinson’s career and the historical importance of the contracts as civil-rights artifacts, however, under the heading of provenance Goldin now includes no information regarding the actual “provenance” of the documents. Why?

In our last report we asked HOS readers to contact us with any information they might have related to the alleged thefts from the Dodgers franchise and several did.  One reader reiterated a long-standing hobby rumor and stated, “The Dodger items were taken from the archives that were inside the stadium. Wes Parker was the person most responsible for their theft.”  The reader also said they would be willing to elaborate with more information providing that the discussion was confidential.

Wes Parker appears on an episode of The Brady Bunch while he was playing first base for the Dodgers.

The reader did not follow up with additional information but the accusation echoed the sentiments of other hobby figures including one prominent autograph dealer who told us, “I heard he (Parker) emptied the Dodger offices.” Another veteran hobby executive, however, went a step further when he disclosed that he had interactions with the former Dodger first-baseman and had even unknowingly offered items for sale in the 1990s which are now believed to have been stolen from the Dodger storage.  The source told us, “I only know that he (Parker) got into the storage area of Dodger Stadium and took a huge amount of stuff.”  He detailed that Parker had allegedly removed “lots of documents and photos” and when we asked specifically if he had knowledge of the former MLB player possessing and selling Dodger contracts the source told us he had “tons” of contracts. The source confirmed that he offered for sale several contracts that allegedly trace back to Parker including; Don Newcombe’s 1949 Montreal Royals/Dodgers contract and his Dodger assignment; Carl Erskine’s 1946 Danville Dodgers contract; Sparky Anderson’s 1956 Montreal contract; and Charley Neal’s 1955 contract. The veteran hobby source also claimed that the Dodgers were aware of the thefts and that the owner at the time, Peter O’Malley, was very upset about the situation. The source also added that Parker was “very close” with Heritage Auctions consignment director Mike Gutierrez who is the prime suspect related to similar massive thefts from the National Baseball Library in Cooperstown during the 1980s.

Examples of documents suspected to have been stolen from the Dodger team archive and sold at public auction. Included are a rare letter from Roy Campanella and several player contracts for Brooklyn and Montreal.

Wes Parker denies the accusations made against him and told us, “I’m not the guy.” Parker says that he’s been a collector and dealer of memorabilia since the days he set up a table at the National Convention in the early 1980s but states further, “I could see how people would say I got stuff from the Dodgers because I worked for the Dodgers as a roving instructor in the early 1980s and I would buy some memorabilia from a guy by the name of Campbell who was the Dodger souvenir guy.  I got some pictures and original paintings of me that were used for memorabilia sold at the Union 76 gas stations.”  Parker added that he never owned or sold any of the questioned documents that have appeared at auction including the early scouting reports and correspondence to the Dodgers from Roy Campanella. He did, however, tell us, “I did buy some old Brooklyn Dodger correspondence from Campbell too.” Parker added,  “I’ve also consigned things to Lelands, Heritage and Mastro over the years and I did buy some other Dodger correspondence from Buzzy Bavasi but that’s it.”  When asked if he had owned or sold Dodger contracts he said, “I did buy a bunch of old blank contracts from Campbell and then I had Erskine and Snider and others sign them along with Buzzy (Bavasi) when I saw him in San Diego.” Parker denied that those contracts were ever sold by him as vintage original Dodger team contracts.

The claims of thefts from Dodger Stadium and the accusations leveled by our sources against Parker, in addition to the unverified provenance and evidence of Dodger ownership, make the current sale tonight of the historic Robinson contracts by Goldin even more problematic. Regardless of how the Dodger documents were removed from the team facility, the evidence still shows that the Robinson contracts appear to be Dodger property.  In addition, whoever did remove the documents would likely never be prosecuted based on the statute of limitations. There is, however, precedent for MLB to intercede and stop the sale of its official documents as sources indicate lawyers for Baseball stopped the sale of the manuscript of the National League Constitution at SCP Auctions last year. MLBs public relations , Matt Bourne, did not respond to our inquiry as to MLBs stance regarding the historic Robinson contracts.

Hauls of Shame reached out to Ken Goldin for comment but the auctioneer did not respond to our inquiry. Goldin also did not respond to our recent inquiries regarding his sale of documents stolen from the Baseball Hall of Fame and the New York Public Library which appeared in his last online auction. Goldin did appear on Fox and Friends this past Saturday promoting the Robinson sale.

Hauls of Shame has also communicated with representatives of Peter O’Malley and we are currently waiting for a response to our inquiry from the former Dodger owner.  When we called the offices of the Los Angeles Dodgers for comment media representatives claimed that all staff with the ability to issue a statement were currently at Spring Training.

The Jackie Robinson Foundation had no comment regarding the claims that the Robinson contracts appear to be Dodger property or confirm whether the Foundation was agreeing to receive 100% of the buyers premium as indicated in the Goldin auction description.  Media representative Gary Mendez told us he was checking with the Foundation’s President for authorization to issue a statement.

Please check in for continuing coverage of the “Dodger Document Dilemma” in our next and final installment of this special report.

UPDATE: The live Auction at Goldin ended without a sale although Goldin reported a $15 million opening bid and made no reference to the contracts failing to reach a hidden reserve price after the auctioneer was unable to attract a bid topping the alleged $15 million bid.

After the auction, however, Goldin responded on Twitter to ESPN reporter Darren Rovell and stated, “Reserve was in excess of $16 million and cannot be publicly disclosed.” Sources tell HOS that the $15 million was not legitimate.  One long-time hobbyist told us, “If the reserve was set higher than $16 million then your cat could have bid $15 million.”

By Peter J. Nash
Feb. 15, 2018

When Steve Grad was the senior authenticator at PSA/DNA he was responsible for numerous authentications of bogus materials which were featured in our Worst 100 Authentications report in 2012. Since that report was published, Grad has moved on to become the senior authenticator at Beckett Authentication Services, however, his certification of fakes has continued.

Back in 2014 we also published a report detailing how Grad and PSA/DNA had certified numerous forgeries of the rare and valuable signature of the Baseball Hall of Famer Jesse Burkett on baseballs, B&W Hall of Fame plaques and other mediums.  In the report entitled, Bit by the Crab, we highlighted Grad’s ineptitude and his fraudulent authentications of items which were known to be, in fact, bogus.  This fraudulent activity has apparently followed Grad to Beckett as he has authenticated yet another Burkett forgery which, oddly enough, was also stolen from the collection of the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.

The letter dated in 1935 is from Burkett to National League President Ford Frick thanking him for the gift of an MLB Lifetime Pass.  The letter was originally part of the Baseball Hall of Fame’s Ford Frick file which contains scores of similar letters thanking Frick for these passes. In 2012, HOS published an in-depth report regarding the thefts of dozens of these documents signed by Hall of Famers from the National Baseball Library.  Oddly enough, the majority of the Frick letters that remain in the HOFs Library collection were penned by non-Hall of Famers which are far less valuable.  The collection once had two thank you letters to Frick from Jesse Burkett and they both somehow ended up in the collection of the late collector Barry Halper.  Halper was the owner of scores of items stolen from the Baseball Hall of Fame, New York Public Library and Boston Public Library which all appeared in the 1999 Sotheby’s sale of his collection. In the catalog for that sale is also the ultimate proof demonstrating that the letter currently being sold by Ken Goldin of Goldin Auctions (authenticated by Steve Grad and Beckett) is not genuine and merely a secretarial signature of the baseball legend who hailed from Worcester, MA.

Lots 1069 and 1220 in the Halper sale were both sold as genuine Jesse Burkett signed letters. One was a handwritten authentic example and the second was the letter currently being sold by Goldin Auctions and authenticated by Steve Grad and Beckett as authentic.  The contrast between the two Burkett signatures is striking and should have raised red flags for even an amateur authenticator.  Burkett was known to utilize secretarial signatures throughout his career and it appears that the Goldin Auctions example is nothing more than a secretarial example of the baseball legends scrawl. Any alleged expert could have determined this simply by examining the 1999 Sotheby’s catalog. When we showed both Burkett letters to author Ron Keurajian he said of the Goldin letter, “It appears to be just a secratarial signature.”  The Burkett letters in the Halper sale were authenticated by Mike Gutierrez (currently of Heritage Auctions) who is the prime suspect in the thefts of documents from the National Baseball Library in Cooperstown. The secretarial Burkett letter Gutierrez certified authentic was just one of scores of fakes and frauds sold at Sotheby’s by Halper and his auction consultant Rob Lifson.

Here is the authentic Burkett letter from the Halper sale:

Lot 1220 from the 1999 Sotheby's Halper Sale- an authentic signed letter by Jesse Burkett

Here is the secretarial signed letter in the current Goldin Auction:

Lot 1069 in the 1999 Sotheby's Halper Sale- a letter with a secreterial signature of Jesse Burkett

In our previous Burkett report we went into great detail illustrating the history of the flawed and fraudulent authentications of Burkett material by both Steve Grad and Jimmy Spence of JSA. For the purposes of this report in illustrating Grad’s current flub, it was only necessary for us to refer to Ron Keurajian’s book, Baseball Hall of Fame Autographs: A Reference Guide (McFarland 2012), which clearly identifies what a genuine Burkett signature would have looked like later in his life between 1917 and 1935.  One of the exemplars utilized by Keurajian in the book is a 1917 employment contract between Burkett and the College of the Holy Cross.  The signature on this document is clearly in the same hand as the Burkett letter sold as lot 1220 in the 1999 Halper sale and bears no resemblance to the signature featured on the letter authenticated by Grad and Beckett.

Here is the 1917 Burkett signature found in the Holy Cross Archives:

This is an authentic Jesse Burkett signature on his 1917 employment contract with Holy Cross. (Courtesy of the Archives of the College of the Holy Cross)

Beckett and Grad could have avoided this authentication error by purchasing a copy of Ron Keurajian’s book which provides iron clad exemplars of the Burkett signature.  It is suspected, however, that with the evidence so overwhelming that the Goldin example is bogus, that Grad and Beckett may have fraudulently authenticated an item which they know is a fake in order to aid a friendly consignor and auction house in completing a sale. The authentication of this item also illustrates the problem of collusion between auctioneers and authenticators. Many of Goldin’s authenticators have also ignored iron-clad evidence of forgery in the past, one good example being the sales of a bogus letters of boxer Rocky Marciano. The Goldin auction also includes another Grad authenticated baseball that appears to be non-genuine- an alleged Lefty Grove signed ball.  There is also what appears to be a forgery of a Cy Young signature on a ball with an LOA signed by Grad’s old boss at PSA/DNA, Joe Orlando.

Authentic Jesse Burkett letters are extremely rare and the majority of genuine examples are housed in the HOFs August Hermann Papers Collection.  Several other secretarial examples of Burkett’s signature are found in the Herrmann Papers and some of those examples have also been stolen and made there way into the market via dealers like Mark Jordan who is also a consignment director at Heritage Auctions.

Ron Keurajian's book includes verified examples of Jesse Burkett's signature that expose Steve Grad's flawed and perhaps fraudulent authentication of the letter being sold by Ken Goldin.

When asked for further comment Keurajian directed us to passages regarding secretarial Burkett signatures in his book which states, “Burkett made liberal use of secretaries to sign his name. They look nothing like the illustrated specimens.” Keurajian confirmed that this is specifically the case with the example being sold at Goldin Auctions.

Top: Secreterial Burkett Signature Middle: Genuine Burkett signature on 1935 letter. Bottom: Genuine Burkett signature on 1917 contract.

Goldin Auctions did not respond to our inquiry for comment regarding Beckett’s authentication of the bogus Burkett signature.

Grad has long been a controversial figure in the hobby having claimed that his mentor was Bill Mastro the disgraced auctioneer who was recently released from prison after doing time for engaging massive auction fraud.  As chronicled in our previous reports on Grad he is also infamous for fabricating his own resume and for lying under oath in hobby related court-ordered depositions. Beckett Authentication Services did not respond to our request for comment. The Beckett LOA accompanying the bogus Burkett letter also lists Brian Sobrero as a Beckett authenticator.

The stolen 1875 letter being sold as lot 11 at Goldin Auctions (left). The research notes of historians Dr. Harold Seymour and Dorothy Mills (right) proved the letter was once property of the NYPL.

STAY TUNED for another report regarding Lot 11 in the current Goldin sale which was stolen from the New York Public Library’s famed Spalding Collection. The letter was torn from one of the missing volumes of Harry Wright Scrapbooks and is documented as NYPL property by the original research notes written by Dr. Harold Seymour and Dorothy Mills when they held this same letter in their hands at the NYPL in the 1950s, before it was stolen.  The 1875 letter has been featured on our “10 Most Wanted Missing Baseball Treasures List” since 2010.

UPDATE: A report published at by Stephen Koschal chronicles some recent authentication blunders made by Steve Grad at a show in California.