May 17, 2012
Former Yankee pitcher David Wells once donned a game-used Babe Ruth hat on the mound when he faced the Cleveland Indians on June 27, 1998. Boomer says he paid $35,000 for the hat with “G. Ruth” stitched into the lid and that same hat has a bid of over $200,000 now that Wells has put it up for sale. The auction house selling it notes there is a reserve on the hat which has not yet been met.
Sports Cards Plus’ current auction also features another relic related to Ruth not owned by Wells, his c.1920 Yankee jersey that has already attracted bids exceeding $1.6 million. The retired pitcher, who once pitched a perfect game for the Yanks, appears to have chosen the right time to sell his Ruth cap and could make quite a score if the bidding reaches his secret reserve.
In an industry riddled with fraud and deception, Wells can consider himself lucky to exit the hobby with a nice return on his investment for a hat that expert Dave Grob considers authentic. The only attribute of the hat that ties it to game use by Ruth is the chain-stitched name in the interior leather band. Examination of the stitching by an expert like Grob can make or break such an item that has no clear provenance or photographic documentation as having once been on the Bambino’s head. Grob examined the stitching and told us, “It is really the only thing you have to tie the hat to Ruth as a matter of practicality.” As for the hat Grob says, “I found no issues with it at all. Very nice artifact.”
Wells, however, wasn’t as lucky with another artifact that was presented to him as being the last jersey the Babe ever wore as a major leaguer for the Boston Braves in 1935. This past summer, Wells appeared on FOX Sports’ television show, “Cheap Seats,” to showcase his collection/man-cave in his San Diego home and pointed to one display case with the alleged Ruth jersey. Wells told the audience, “Here’s my jerseys. Babe Ruth’s last year as a Boston Brave.” Wells pointed to the jersey he thought was Ruth’s last, relying on the representations made to him by the sellers and auctioneers who had handled the garment previously.
Unfortunately for Wells, the jersey was actually from 1934, not 1935, and was worn by Wally Berger, not Ruth. Berger also wore number “3″ for the Braves from 1932 to 1934, before Ruth’s arrival. SCP is selling the eight item stash known as “The David Wells Collection,” and Ruth’s alleged “last jersey” is now correctly being sold as a “1933-34 Wally Berger Boston Braves Game Worn Road Jersey.” Based upon Dave Grob’s report, the auction house has also added to the lot title: “With Possible 1935 Attribution to Babe Ruth.” SCP says Grob was unable to “attribute this jersey to Babe Ruth in any exclusive or definitive manner, though does allow for the possibility that Ruth could have worn it in Spring Training of 1935. In addition to their shared uniform number that was transferred to Ruth in 1935, Berger and Ruth were similar in stature.” The jersey currently has a bid of $15,700.
The jersey was once authenticated by Grey Flannel and sold previously at Robert Edward Auctions in 1997 for $56,025. It was advertised as a “1935 Babe Ruth Boston Braves Jersey.” The auction house said the jersey was accompanied by a letter from Wally Berger’s widow stating that the jersey was given to her husband by Ruth after his last game in 1935. She wrote, “Wally, in admiration of the Babe asked if he could have his last shirt. Babe responded, “Sure kid,” and gave Wally the shirt.”
Dave Grob recently examined the Braves jersey for SCP and determined it was Berger’s jersey used in either 1933 or 1934. The alleged Mrs. Berger story about Ruth’s last game appears to be an impossibility. The auction house claims it could have been possible Ruth wore the jersey in spring training of 1935, but there’s no proof he ever did. The alleged LOA from Mrs. Berger was the jersey’s only tie to Ruth and is included with the lot at the SCP auction. It has not definitively been proven that Berger’s widow actually wrote that letter, either.
SCP also does not include in its write-up the fact that when REA sold the jersey in 1997 its source was identified as dealer and collector Tony Cocchi. The letter allegedly written by Mrs. Wally Berger stated, “Wally kept the shirt in his baseball collection until his death (on) November 30, 1988. I decided to part with the shirt and I am now happy it is in the collection of Tony Cocchi.”
Cocchi had supplied the top auctions and dealers with big-ticket items for decades but became a controversial figure in the memorabilia business with his 2006 indictment in Cobb County, Ga., when he was accused of selling collector Dr. Goodman Espy a bogus Ty Cobb jersey in 1991 for $85,000. In 2007, a jury found Cocchi not guilty of charges of theft by deception in relation to the Cobb jersey. Espy vowed to pursue Cocchi in civil litigation and at the time told the New York Daily News, “I may have lost the battle, but I will not lose the war.”
The misrepresentation at auction of the alleged Ruth/Berger jersey and the problems with the letter allegedly written by Wally Berger’s widow are compounded by Cocchi’s being the source of the garment. Cocchi also furnished REA with a photo of Ruth signed to him by Berger’s widow stating, “Tony I am glad that you have this shirt.” When REA sold the jersey in 1997 as Ruth’s own they also tied Cocchi to ownership of Babe Ruth’s alleged “last bat.” REA wrote, “As a 20 year veteran collector Tony Cocchi notes in his accompanying letter detailing the Berger collection, this jersey and ball were originally accompanied by Babe Ruth’s last bat. This bat was long ago traded away by Tony and now rests comfortably in the legendary and incomparable Barry Halper Collection.”
When Barry Halper sold that alleged “last bat” of Ruth at Sotheby’s in 1999 it was accompanied by another similar letter alleged to have been written by Mrs. Wally Berger. The Sotheby’s catalogue published an excerpt: ”Wally asked Babe if he could have his last bat as a keepsake- Babe responded, “Sure kid” to Wally. Wally kept the bat in his collection until his death on November 30, 1998.” Based upon the Berger provenance the bat sold for close to $80,000. (REA sold the bat again in 2001 for $59,662.) Although REA said Cocchi traded the bat to Halper, the Sotheby’s LOA allegedly written by Berger’s widow mentions her transfer of ownership of the bat to Halper, not Cocchi.
With Mrs. Berger’s alleged story of Wally’s acquisition of Ruth’s last jersey being disproved, how can her story about the bat still be believed? The Ruth bat could likely join a host of other fraudulent and misrepresented items from the Halper Collection including: “Shoeless Joe” Jackson’s 1919 jersey; Lou Gehrig’s Last Glove; The shotgun that Killed Ty Cobb’s father; Halper’s signed 500 HR Club sheet; a Lock of Babe Ruth’s hair; and a large group of other bogus jerseys attributed to Baseball Hall of Famers.
Wells’ Other Items in the SCP Auction include:
- An alleged single-signed baseball by Hall of Famer Christy Mathewson. Another alleged Mathewson signed ball sold for over $110,000 at MLB’s All-Star Game auction in 2005. But the ball being offered by Wells has red flags waving in SCP’s own auction description. The auction house says the ball comes with a letter of authenticity from the company JSA (James Spence Authentication), but they also add: ”This ball was submitted to PSA/DNA who rendered an opinion of Not Authentic.” So is it real or fake? Most experts agree with PSA on this one and, as evidenced in one of our recent reports, both JSA and PSA have authenticated hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of bogus Mathewson balls. One other Mathewson item Wells consigned to SCP is genuine. It’s a WW I document actually signed by the “Christian Gentleman.”
-A Negro League baseball from 1942 allegedly signed by Josh Gibson, Satchel Paige and a host of other obscure and rare legends from the Homestead Grays and K.C. Monarchs. SCP states: ”Our research indicates that this ball was most certainly game used from one of those teams classic battles during the 1942 season.” But the ball is clearly not an official Negro League baseball from that time period and several experts we spoke with doubt the authenticity of all the signatures on the ball. The signatures appear to be at odds with exemplars from a period document signed by Homestead Grays players that is part of the Newark Public Library’s “Effa Manley Collection.”
-A Derby Cap alleged to have been signed by Lou Gehrig in Columbus, Ohio, in 1928. The cap was sold by Barry Halper at Sotheby’s in 1999 and is accompanied by a photo alleged to show Gehrig wearing the same hat. An inscription appears on the interior silk lining of the cap: “”To Pops Lunken, The Al Smith of Dayton, Ohio, Most Sincerely from ‘Lou’ Gehrig.”
We couldn’t get any of the experts we asked to opine that this Gehrig signature was a forgery, however, we couldn’t get anyone to commit to an opinion that it was genuine either.
-Rounding out SCP’s “David Wells Collection” are a few other items that appear to be genuine: Thurman Munson’s shin guards and Phil Rizzuto’s glove from his rookie season in 1941. The glove is accompanied by a LOA from Rizzuto to Halper stating: “To Barry – this is the glove I used my rookie year and my first World Series, 1941 – P.S. take good care of it – it took good care of me – your friend – Phil Rizzuto.”
Looks like Wells went at least 4 for 8 with this group of baseball treasures. (5 for 8, if the Gehrig signature in the cap is genuine.)
UPDATE (May 18th): Discovery of Rare Negro-League Autograph and Baseball Expert Cast More Doubt on David Wells Ball- One of our readers sent us a newly discovered document from the Newark Public Library’s “Effa Manley Papers Collection” that casts further doubt on David Wells’ alleged 1942 Negro League signed baseball. The document is a receipt for payments made to players for the 1944 Negro East-West all-star game. All of the players and coaches receiving payments for that game had to sign the document, including “Candy Jim” Taylor.
Wells’ ball also features an alleged signature of ”Candy Jim” Taylor, one of the rarest Negro League autographs in existence. But the exemplar on the authentic team-signed document from the Newark Public Library differs significantly from what appears to be a partially printed signature on the ball being sold at SCP. The Taylor exemplar used in Kevin Keating’s book also appears to be in the same hand as the example from the “Effa Manley Papers.” Several authentic exemplars exist for Josh Gibson and other Negro-League rarities, but not Taylor. The experts we spoke with are of the opinion the Wells ball does not include an authentic Taylor signature. The exemplars PSA/DNA used to authenticate this rare signature are unknown.
In addition, baseball expert Brandon Grunbaum of “HistoryoftheBaseball.com,” confirmed that the Wells baseball was not an official Negro League ball that would have seen game use.
“It’s definitely not an Official Negro League Ball. They were made mainly by Wilson, and an American League by Rawlings. It does look like a Worth ball, or even just an “Official” brand,” Grunbaum said.