Breaking News

By Peter J. Nash

Dec. 25, 2012

"Enter the Sideshow" was the title of this 1983 book about circus freaks that Bill Mastro co-authored with ex-partner Rob Lifson. The title could also describe the 2012 news coverage of the Mastro FBI probe and indictment.

As the year winds down and we move forward into 2013 its time to look back at the top stories covered by in 2012.

They include the anticipated guilty plea of once hobby-king Bill Mastro and our reports leading up to his indictment as well as the revelation by a prominent source in baseball alleging that deceased collector and New York Yankee owner, Barry Halper, was the mastermind behind the massive heist of baseball artifacts from the NYPLs famous Spalding Collection. Items stolen from the collection continued to appear in sales by Heritage and Legendary while other rare photos and documents stolen from the Baseball Hall of Fame appeared in sales by Heritage, Huggins & Scott and Clean Sweep. The cover-up of the thefts by current Hall of Fame leadership was also exposed and our reporting made waves with additional reports published by Deadspin.

The third-party authentication companies, PSA and JSA, were further exposed for their sub-standard work after it was revealed in our reports they authenticated numerous forgeries of Ty Cobb, Christy Mathewson and other Hall of Famers, which also led to further reports published by Deadspin. All of the authentication malpractice has talk of both companies being scrutinized by the FBI.

The authentications of big-ticket forgeries in 2012 by Jimmy Spence (right) and JSA have attracted the interest of the FBI. (Photo by MEARS)

2012 also saw the most expensive Babe Ruth jersey of all-time sell for $4.4 mil, thanks to analysis by Dave Grob, and the Babe stayed in the headlines with the recovery of his stolen will and more reports of Ruth forgeries and the Bambino’s controversial 1927 World Series ring owned by actor Charlie Sheen. Speaking of rings, multiple 1951 World Series rings attributed to the Yankee Clipper were examined in the NY Post.

Special thanks to our loyal readers who have helped our readership nearly double in 2012.  A Happy and Healthy New Year to all in 2013!

Here are our– Top-10 STORIES OF THE YEAR 2012:

1.  The Mastro Indictment and Guilty Plea- In June, we published part one of our 10-part series about the Bill Mastro FBI probe and its ties to the infamous Gretzky-McNall T206 Wagner: How The NY Daily News And Rob Lifson Took Down Mastro And The Real Story Of The Infamous Honus Wagner “Card”(Part 1 in a 10-Part Series)Update: Mastro Indicted After the indictment in August we followed up with:Source: Mastro Caught on Fed Wiretap About Trimming Honus Wagner; Rob Lifson Knew Card Was A Fraud When He Sold It With Mastro For $1.26 Mil (Part II of a 10-Part Series) and then we added: PSA & CU Targeted By Feds; Fraud On T206 Wagner Just Tip Of Iceberg; Heritage’s $300k Babe Ruth Ball A Forgery? Pres. Truman Drops Single-Signed Bomb; “Clueless Joe” Orlando Silent More to come in 2013.

Rob Lifson (left) outbid Bill Mastro (center) at Christie's and took home the trimmed Wagner card for $651,500 in 1995. Lifson and Mastro sold the card together in 2000 when their company MastroNet auctioned it off for $1.27 million.

2. Source Alleges Barry Halper Was Mastermind Behind NYPL Thefts- In April we published a report about Heritage Auction Galleries sale of an 1879 Boston baseball contract that had been stolen from the NYPL’s collection and sold to collector Seth Swirsky at the 1999 Halper Collection auction at Sotheby’s.  In the article we also revealed allegations made by a source we interviewed with knowledge of Barry Halper orchestrating the thefts at the NYPL because the material was “there for the taking.” : Auction is Selling Stolen Baseball Relic: Source Says Halper Was Mastermind of Million-Dollar Heist at Library (Update) Then, in October, Heritage offered another item stolen from the NYPL’s Henry Chadwick scrapbook collection that was also purchased at the Halper sale in 1999: Heritage Pulls Father of Baseball’s Season-Pass Swiped From NYPL Archive; Traced Back to Sotheby’s Sale and Dead Yankee Partner Barry Halper

Illustrating and confirming how serious the NYPL theft problem is in the hobby a rare 1869 Cincinnati Red Stockings Peck & Snyder trade card was also withdrawn from Legendary’s auction at the National.  The card was expected to sell for $40,000 to $50,000 and was examined by an FBI agent on site who confirmed that the NYPL’s defaced ownership stamp was still on the card and was revealed under ultraviolet light provided by JSA.  But although the FBI and NYPL were assured recovery of the 1869 card they dropped the ball on a stolen cabinet photo of Al Reach that was offered in 2011 on eBay.  After taking possession of the card the FBI returned it to the eBay seller despite overwhelming evidence that suggested it was library property.  The card sold on eBay for close to $2,000 and despite a poor job by the US Attorney’s working the NYPL theft case, the card will end up being returned to its rightful owner, NYPL.  More on this in 2013.

Super collector Barry Halper was called the "Sultan of Swap" by Sports Illustrated in 1995, but a source alleges he admitted to being the man behind the infamous NYPL heist in the 1970s.

3. PSA Incompetence Exposed With Cobb Forgeries- A series of stunning blunders was made by major authenticator PSA/DNA in relation to numerous alleged Ty Cobb autographed items.  PSA authenticated as genuine several forgeries including: a laser copy signature that they encapsulated in one of its certified holders; several autographed baseballs and bats; forgeries on photographs of a Cobb teammate; a signature signed by Cobb’s wife on a check; and a baseball that was manufactured after the “Georgia Peach” kicked the bucket.  The last instance made big news when our story was published on Deadspin: Why Is The Country’s Largest Auction House Selling A “Ty Cobb Signed” Baseball That Wasn’t Made Until 15 Years After Ty Cobb Died?

The three alleged Cobb cuts were removed from an authentic check and authenticated by PSA/DNA. They were submitted at the same time as evidenced by their successive PSA registry numbers. PSA said the signature to the far left was also signed by Cobb, but it was written by his wife.

4. Stolen Hall of Fame Treasures Sold While Cooperstown Cover-Up Continues- Amid denials and a lack of institutional fortitude rare photos and documents stolen from the National Baseball Hall of Fame continued to appear regularly in national auctions during 2012.  Most notable was a $20,000 Carl Horner cabinet photo of Nap Lajoie that appeared for sale in a Heritage auction and was covered by us for Deadspin: This Rare Photo, Up For Auction, Was Stolen From The Baseball Hall Of Fame

This $20,000 Nap Lajoie cabinet card stolen from the HOF shows a defaced accession number and a defaced Hall public domain designation "PD" on its reverse.

Later reports by illustrated that Heritage also sold a stolen photo of the 1886 NY Giants for close to $11,000 in a 2006 auction. But the most troubling aspect of the HOF thefts is the museum’s failure to claim title and pursue recovery of documents appearing to have been stolen from the NBLs August Herrmann Papers Collection and sold at Clean Sweep and Huggins & Scott Auctions.  In fact, two letters sold by Huggins & Scott in December had been removed from a Heritage sale in 2010 after a report identified them as having been wrongfully removed from Cooperstown.

Auctioneer Steve Verkman sells letters addressed to August Herrmann from the HOFs collection.

5. Babe Ruth’s 1920 Yankee Jersey Sets Record Selling To Leland’s For $4.4 mil- Uniform expert and historian Dave Grob, of MEARS, gave our readers some insight into his authentication of the most valuable garment in baseball history: Babe Ruth’s 1920 Yankee Road Jersey: Authenticating The World’s Most Expensive Baseball Artifact . Media coverage of the sale was significant and after SCP autioneer David Kohler hung up on WFAN and YES Network host, Mike Francesa, after he was challenged on the garments authenticity, Grob was called and lent his expertise to a wide audience of sports fans.

6. Babe Ruth’s Stolen Will Returned to NYC Courthouse- The Babe stayed in the news when New York State’s Attorney General successfully recovered the Babe’s will from hobby veteran Mark Lewis via litigation.  The will had been missing since the 1990s when Boston court officer Joe Schnabel was convicted for stealing the wills of scores of HOFers.  Read more: Safe At Home: Babe Ruth’s Stolen Will Recovered By NY Attorney General; Jackie Robinson’s Will Still Missing

The Bambino's shaky signature (above) is part of his 1948 will that has been recovered by the NY State Attorney General.

7.  The Magically Appearing Honus Wagner Autograph- Authenticator Jimmy Spence was exposed for an incredible double authentication of a 1939 signed first day cover from Cooperstown.  When he authenticated it for Mastro the first time the Wagner signature was rated a 2 out 0f 10, but the second time it improved to an 8 out of 10.  See it to believe it: Honus Pocus: Magical Honus Wagner Autograph Uncovers Authentication Malpractice; Jimmy Spence: “Clueless or Criminal”?

When Jimmy Spence authenticated the 1939 cover on the right you could barely see evidence of an alleged Honus Wagner signature. But when the same cover appeared at a later date the Wagner signature magically darkened without Spence noticing as he authenticated the piece.

8. JSA and PSA Mathewson Authentication Mess and Mystery- Mistakes made by Jimmy Spence and PSA as far back as 1999 are coming back to haunt JSA and PSA/DNA as Mathewson forgeries proliferate the marketplace.  Our series on the Matty autograph controversy included:Signed Baseballs Of “Big Six” Sell For Six Figures But Are They Real? A History Of Christy Mathewson Authentications (Part 1 of 2) and The Mystery Of The Mathewson Signed Baseballs: The 1921 Polo Grounds Auction (Part 1 of 3) While PSA is currently under scrutiny for its role in the authentication and grading of the trimmed T206 Wagner, the company and its competitor, James Spence Authentication (JSA), have caught the eye of the FBI with their authentications of forgeries.  JSAs credibility came into question again in October when we published: Despite JSA Debacles Auction Stands 100% Behind Spence LOA of “Matty Miracle Ball”; A History of Mathewson Authentications Part II.

Robert Edward Auctions (REA) hit a new low when they advertised that an alleged Mathewson ball they sold was signed by Matty at  a 1923 benefit game at the Polo Grounds.  The New York Times reported that Matty was in a sick bed at Saranac Lake on that day and, although REA was notified of this fact, they failed to correct their fraudulent auction listing and sold the ball for $37,500.

These two alleged Mathewson balls were offered by SCP (left) and REA (right). Both were authenticated by JSA, but what's the chance they are genuine?

9.  Halper Controversy Continues As More Frauds Are Investigated and Exposed- Once considered the gold standard of the industry the “ex-Halper” tag followed several items to auction and with it came controversy and scrutiny.  An alleged 1951 World Series ring attributed to Joe DiMaggio failed to sell at Hunt Auctions; the alleged 1947 World Series last out ball from Bill Bevens sold at Heritage; and a Tiger jersey sold by REA in 2007 was exposed as a former Halper collection forgery attributed to Ty Cobb: Rickey Being Rickey in a Phony Ty Cobb Uni: Halper Set His Own All-Time Record for Steals.  Last but not least, Halper’s 1927 World Series ring attributed to Babe Ruth stirred up some more drama: Is Charlie Sheen’s “Winning Ring” Linked To A Mob-Hit And A Ruthian Unsolved Mystery.

The same jersey Rickey Henderson wore in the 1985 TSN photo shoot appeared in the 2007 REA sale for the Halper Estate.

10.  Expert Ron Keurajian and MacFarland Release Long-Awaited Autograph Handbook- For the past few years expert Ron Keurajian has opined on a number of controversial signatures featured in our investigative reports and has helped expose the flaws of the TPAs that are accepted widely as the industry authorities. In November Keurajian’s acclaimed book,  Baseball Hall of Fame Autographs: A Reference Book, was made available to the public and for the first time provided collectors with a useful tool to understand Hall of Famer signatures and view iron clad exemplars of the enshrined greats.  Readers will see that many of the exemplars have virtually no resemblance to many autographs authenticated by the TPAs and sold by major auction houses.

Keurajian's book includes some seldom seen and quite possibly unique exemplars for rare HOFers like John Clarkson. Clarkson is perhaps the most elusive and valuable HOF autograph known to exist. (MacFarland)

The 2012 “Scam Artifact of the Year”:

These photographs are of the same single-signed Harry Truman baseball. On the left is how it looked when it sold at MastroNet in 2001. On the right is how it appeared at EAC Galleries in 2005 as the "finest example extant" with a provenance from PSA and JSA authenticator John Reznikoff. This discovery courtesy of Steve Koschal and his book about presidential baseball signatures.


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