After withdrawing an alleged single-signed Lou Gehrig baseball from its Platinum Live NYC Auction in February after Haulsofshame.com published a report alleging that the ball was believed to be a forgery, Chris Ivy and Heritage Auction Galleries have returned the questioned sphere to the auction scene. Ivy and Heritage are hanging their hat solely on the fact that they believe, based upon their own research, that Gehrig could have signed an American League Official William Harridge baseball featuring “two stars” incorporated into the sweet-spot graphics.
Heritage is now calling the ball, “One of his (Gehrig’s) very last autographs” and the auction house claims the ball has a current bid of $26,000 on the controversial ball.
Ivy claims that he’s found several 1939 All Star Game balls that prove Gehrig could have signed such a ball and that those balls were released publicly before Gehrig lost the use of his hands due to ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease). Ivy also stresses that both of his authenticators, PSA/DNA and JSA, stand behind their original determination that the Gehrig autograph is genuine. In February, a New York Post article reported how the authenticity of the Gehrig ball and another, alleged to be the actual last out ball from the 1917 World Series, were being challenged.
The alleged 1917 ball was actually an official National League baseball manufactured in 1926, thus making it impossible for Heritage’s stated claim to be true. Baseball expert Brandon Grunbaum, of HistoryoftheBaseball.com, concurred with Haulsofshame.com’s determination that the 1917 ball was created in 1926 based upon period stamping on the ball and the number of actual stitches found on the ball, which differed from authentic 1917 baseballs.
Grunbaum also furnished original images from the Spalding baseball factory in Chicopee, Massachusetts, which revealed that baseballs being manufactured in early 1939 for that upcoming season did not feature the “two-star” graphics on the sweet spots of the finished baseballs. Grunbaum’s discovery suggested that the probability of Lou Gehrig signing one of the “two-star” versions of an “Official American League” baseball, was very unlikely if not impossible. The Heritage Gehrig ball was signed on one of the “two-star” versions.
Additional research conducted by Haulsofshame.com, however, also suggests that it is possible for a “two-star” American League ball to have appeared before the outset of the 1940 season. A 1939 All-Star game signed baseball originating from the estate of Leo Durocher, sold by Hunt Auctions, was the strongest evidence we could find to show that the “two-star” version could have been released in late 1939. Ball expert Brandon Grunbaum recently told us, “I think it was possible to have early two star baseballs show up in mid to late 1939. I’m finding that this is the case with most of the baseballs that date after the previous year, occasionally some are showing up on late in the previous season.”
Our report, however, did not rely solely upon the “two-star” issue to determine that the Gehrig signature on the baseball was not genuine. Although it was important to illustrate Grunbaum’s discovery suggesting that Gehrig would not have signed such a ball at that time, it was the suspect signature itself that led Haulsofshame.com to first dispute the ball’s authenticity. (When Chris Ivy first stated that our report was incorrect because he had found two baseballs with the “two-star” design that were dated from 1939, further research conducted by Haulsofshame.com and collector David Maus found that those baseballs identified by Ivy were actually from Yankee Spring Training in 1940.)
The Heritage Gehrig ball bears almost the exact same signature style which appeared on another baseball sold by Bill Mastro in an auction in 2006. Both alleged Gehrig signature’s exhibit tell-tale signs of forgery as illustrated in the side by side study above.
When examining genuine Gehrig signed baseballs from the same time period between 1936 and 1939 it is clear that certain shared characteristics from these examples are lacking on the Heritage and Mastro examples. Gehrig’s “L” and “G” meet and intersect, unlike the awkward space between the same letters in the forgery. The genuine examples also incorporate a single line and not a fully formed “u” in “Lou” that extends into the capital “G.”
A close inspection of the Heritage Gehrig baseball reveals that a forger likely realized he’d made the mistake of writing a fully formed “u” and thus attempted to rub or erase the upstroke of the “u.” Heritage and Ivy’s determination that its Gehrig ball is authentic simply because of unverified information regarding the alleged appearance of Official American League” balls prior to the 1940 season and the LOA’s from its experts speaks volumes on how rampant fraud is in the autograph and auction marketplace. The fact that Ivy could return such a questioned Gehrig to the current Heritage sale is remarkable considering the history of flawed Gehrig opinions of both James Spence and Steve Grad.
The saga of the shady Gehrig ball is perhaps summed up best by New York dealer and authenticator, Richard Simon, who has actually been banned by Heritage for questioning prior auction offerings. Simon told us, “Personally I would not bid on this ball. I see too many problems with it.”
Heritage’s new lot description which advertises the ball as one of the last Gehrig ever signed states:
The triple stars on the Official American League (Harridge) stamping is the key ingredient here, the tell-tale sign that establishes this exceedingly rare single as one of the very last ever autographed by the dying Iron Horse. For years, the hobby had been misinformed about the debut of this stamping format, with most jumping to the reasonable but incorrect conclusion that the change was made in 1940, when this stamping style became standard format for Junior Circuit horsehide. But our authenticators, and our own research, confirm that the first examples surfaced no later than July 11, 1939, when a number of All-Star Game balls were signed on the very field where Gehrig had given his tearful Yankee Stadium farewell a week earlier. The legendary first baseman was likewise on hand for the Midsummer Classic, as honorary captain of the American League, and appears in genuine format on some of those team balls signed that day.
Experts we spoke with are of the opinion that the balls Heritage is referring to are forgeries as well, including lot 81293 in HA’s current sale, a 1939 Yankee team ball allegedly signed by Gehrig. When the current Heritage Gehrig is compared to authentic exemplars of Gehrig’s signature executed on baseballs between 1936 and 1939 the contrast between the genuine and non-genuine is striking.
How can Heritage continue to blindly stand by their alleged experts when their track-record authenticating Lou Gehrig autographs is so remarkably flawed?
To illustrate that point, here are some of the most blatant instances of Gehrig authentication malpractice and quite possibly outright fraud committed by JSA or PSA/DNA:
1. Lou Gehrig April 26, 1940 letter: Alleged to have been written and signed by Lou Gehrig and certified authentic by Jimmy Spence for PSA/DNA. The letter sold for $9,500 at Hunt Auctions February, 2001, sale despite the fact that by April 1940 Gehrig could not sign his own name and was using a rubber stamp to sign letters written on the letterhead of the City of New York Parole Commission. Spence, despite having an expensive “spectrograph” machine capable of high magnification, could not tell the difference between an authentic signature and a rubber stamp. Six years later a similar rubber-stamped Gehrig letter dated Oct. 24, 1940 appeared in a Mastro Auction with this disclaimer regarding the Gehrig signature: ”…by October 1940, his incapacitating disease had reduced him (Gehrig) to stamping his signature.”
2. Lou Gehrig Signed Photograph: Jimmy Spence and PSA certified as authentic an alleged Lou Gehrig autographed photograph offered in a Robert Edward Auctions sale.
We’ll let this one speak for itself as it barely even resembles an authentic signature of the “Iron Horse.”
3. The Gehrig-Cuyler Single-Signed Baseball: One of the most infamous Spence-Gehrig blunders was on the alleged single-signed Gehrig ball personalized to Hall of Famer Kiki Cuyler. The work of this forger fooled Spence and was even utilized on PSA literature and business cards according to a source we spoke with.
4. Lou Gehrig Cut Signature: slabbed and authenticated by Steve Grad and PSA/DNA. This item is currently for sale as lot 82406 in Heritage’s May 2nd auction. Every expert we consulted with was of the opinion that this plastic tomb was devoid of an authentic Gehrig.
5. Lou Gehrig on Forged 1937 AL All Star Baseball: This almost too-well-executed forgery has the tell tale signs of the work of a popular 1990s forger who turned out lots of product that had the appearance of what experts described as looking “too beautiful.”
6. Lou Gehrig Cut Signature: sold for over $3,000 in a Mastro auction with an LOA from Spence and Grad despite the fact it is a slowly executed, almost drawn forgery of Gehrig’s signature at the outset of his career.
7. Lou Gehrig signature on alleged 1939 NY Yankee team ball: Currently being offered as lot 81293 in Heritage’s current auction. Experts, however, consider this ball non-genuine despite its JSA and PSA LOA’s.
8. Lou Gehrig signed Yankee team ball allegedly from Spring Training 1939: The Gehrig signature on this ball is considered by every expert we consulted with as “non-genuine.”
9. Lou Gehrig Signed Notebook Page: Currently being offered as lot 81362 in Heritage’s Spring 2013 auction, this signed album page is also considered a forgery by several experts we consulted with.
10. Lou Gehrig alleged signature on a 1939 All Star team signed baseball: Offered by Memory Lane Auctions, this baseball is alleged to have been signed by Gehrig when he served as the honorary AL All-Star team captain, however, several experts we consulted with are of the opinion that the signatures featured on this baseball are not authentic. According to the experts the signature lacks the proper slant, size and spacing of an authentic Gehrig, just like the current single-signed ball being offered by Heritage.