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By Peter J. Nash

April 17, 2014

After attempting to sell an alleged “Game Used” Shoeless Joe Jackson Black Betsy bat without mentioning specifically that MEARS and PSA/DNA were at odds over whether it was actually game used, REA and Rob Lifson posted an addendum to the premiere auction lot in its current sale stating that, “No game use can be determined.”

REA and Lifson now try to say that they can’t be “100% sure” that the bat was game used by Jackson but they fail to note that there isn’t even 1% of a chance Jackson ever held the bat in his hands.

Lifson and REA have now backtracked from their claims of “Game Use” made on ESPN and appear to now be at odds with the letter opinion provided by PSA/DNA.  The reversal of REA’s original position, however, does not address the fact that PSA/DNA still has no evidence whatsoever to support its claims of game use by Jackson. So, although REA now claims that Jackson game use cannot be determined, they still see fit to keep the bat in the auction.  In addition, by leaving the lot in the sale, REA and Lifson are violating their own auction rules and regulations by selling an item that has two conflicting letters issued by authentication companies.

As presented in the REA catalog as rule number “17″ devoted to “Grading, condition, authenticity and warranty of lots,” REA and Lifson state:

There will always be experts that will have differing opinions. In many cases more than one authentication service has reviewed a given item. As has always been the case at REA, in all cases where the retained authenticators were not in unanimous agreement regarding authenticity, those items were not accepted for auction.

Based upon their own rules, REA should never have allowed the Jackson bat into the auction in the first place.  But not only did they accept the consignment, they also falsely claimed in the lot description that MEARS and Troy Kinunen had agreed with John Taube and Vince Malta of PSA/DNA that the bat was “game used” by Jackson.  That claim by REA was entirely false and appears to have been written in a manner to deceive bidders.  By posting an addendum to the lot REA does not go far enough in addressing the authenticity issues with this bat and REA’s violation of its own rules and regulations.

All of this comes from Lifson and REA who also claim in their auction rules to be interested in “protecting the integrity of the auction process.”

In addition to concealing the true opinion of MEARS in the original lot description, REA also concealed the provenance of the “Black Betsy” style bat which is also accompanied by a third expert letter of opinion issued by SCD Authentic in 2004.  That letter, which REA chose not to include on the auction site, accompanied the bat in 2004 when it was sold by Vintage Authentics which is operated by Steve Jensen, the dealer who was recently convicted in a Federal case that charged him with selling fake “game used” memorabilia.

The Jackson bat currently for sale at REA appeared in a 2004 Vintage Authentics auction graded A10 by SCD and was featured (and illustrated) in an SCD article written by Dave Bushing.

Jensen and Vintage Authentics appeared linked to the same Black Betsy bat in a 2004 article published in Sports Collectors Digest and written by bat and equipment expert Dave Bushing.  In the article Bushing describes the bat (which is also illustrated) and never indicates “game use” by Joe Jackson stating that, “There (was) no player name on the barrel and no provenance aside from photographs of Jackson with the exact style bat.”  The bat was scheduled to be part of Jensen’s Fall 2004 auction which specialized in game used items.  Jensen told Bushing at the time, “Since they (SCD Authentic) started grading all of their game used bats, the amount of game used material in our auction has tripled.”  At the time, Bushing and Troy Kinunen were the bat experts working for SCD Authentic.

Hauls of Shame contacted Jensen at his Vintage Authentics offices in Minnesota and he remembered having the same bat and was surprised that PSA was now claiming “game use” by Jackson.  Jensen said the bat sold in his 2004 auction for “about $20,000.”  Said Jensen, “It would be a big leap of faith to say that.  It (the bat) didn’t have anything written on it, no Jackson name to say it was game used or even his.”  Jensen sold the bat with the SCD Authentic letter that accompanies the bat in the REA sale today. It appears that the dealer who is currently serving three years probation for his recent guilty plea is more on point in his analysis of the bat than REA and the so-called experts John Taube and Vince Malta at PSA/DNA.  Jensen added in disbelief, “So, somehow this bat got another letter and became game used?”

PSA/DNA’s current letter of opinion stating that the bat was game used by Jackson is dated September 23, 2013, and it is unclear if it was submitted by the consignor or REA for its current auction.  Both PSA and PSA/DNA have faced accusations that they give big clients and major auction houses preferential treatment when it comes to issuing high grades and determinations of authenticity and game use.  The letter of opinion issued for this Black Betsy bat is representative of what many identify as PSA/DNA’s questionable business practices.  The fact that there is no clear-cut evidence whatsoever supporting PSA’s claim of game use for Jackson just supports the worst fears of many hobby insiders and collectors who rely on PSA opinions.

PSA President Joe Orlando (left) says that his experts would never "stretch the truth" but that's exactly what John Taube (center) did with the Black Betsy bat consignment to REA.

REA’s submission of the bat to PSA/DNA in itself is problematic when considering all of Rob Lifson’s claims that his auction house is above board and beyond reproach in virtually every category.  In this case, by the time the bat was consigned, Lifson was already aware of the MEARS opinion stating that the bat was nothing more than a professional model H&B bat with a Black Betsy finish.  Knowing this, Lifson did exactly what he said his auction house would never do, shop for a positive opinion on an item.  In REA’s own auction criteria they claim:

REA does not compromise on the quality of authentication for the sake of “getting items in the auction.” We use only the best authenticators, and do not “work the authentication system,” shopping for a positive opinion on items (what we call “the mix ‘n match” approach to authentication). Inferior and deceptive “authentication” practices, which are so common in the industry, can reflect poorly on all items in the auction, including yours. Robert Edward Auctions does not cut corners on authentication. Bidders know this and appreciate this. REA’s approach to authentication on all items reflects positively on all lots in the auction.”

Not only have REA and Lifson violated their own regulations regarding conflicting opinions but they also have, in essence, done what they said they would never do, shopped for an opinion that would turn a generic pro-model H&B bat into one of the hobby’s holy grails— a “Shoeless” Joe Jackson game used  bat.  PSA/DNA appear to have been only too happy to oblige in providing a fraudulent letter of opinion alleging game use by Jackson.

Perhaps experts Taube and Malta should read their boss Joe Orlando’s blog post from 2009 entitled Stretching the Truth.  On the subject of misrepresenting artifacts, Orlando wrote:

“Keep in mind that there are great items that are wonderful on their own merit AND they come with great provenance or significance. They do exist but, since they are rare, the greed factor is pushing some sellers into misrepresentation. They want to make a great item even better and more appealing than it already is. Sometimes, when things get tough, people get desperate. Is the tough economy possibly playing a role? It certainly isn’t helping matters but I am sure there may be a lot of factors at work. As a lifelong hobbyist, it is frustrating to see this occur. It not only helps devalue the truly great items in the marketplace but it also may scare off new people from collecting altogether. The reality is that there are plenty of incredible and completely authentic items to buy if you are interested in starting a collection. Sure, some items are incredibly scarce but that is no excuse for sellers to stretch the truth and ruin a good thing.”

Orlando signed off on his post saying, “Never get cheated.”  That’s fitting, because his own expert employees Taube and Malta are the culprits who have stretched the truth here and, in turn, have cheated the current high-bidder on the Black-Eye Betsy bat still for sale at REA.

Any way you slice it, it’s $50,000 down the drain.


  1. Glad to see that they nailed one crooked dealer and more should follow, as there sure are lot more out there,who should go down also and hope they do, to help clean up the market somewhat and save John Q from getting bilked by the crooks.

    Comment by Herbie Buck — April 17, 2014 @ 10:27 am

  2. typical….auction house hides behind authenticator who states that its their “opinion”….smoke and mirrors

    Comment by peter — April 17, 2014 @ 10:41 am

  3. It’s the very reason I got out of the bat collecting business. There are more slime balls in that industry than you can shake a stick or “game used” bat at. Unless you’re getting this stuff directly from the player or his family (and in some cases, that ain’t even a safe bet), you deserve what you get……if that’s $50,000.00 of your money down the drain…..hate it for you….Halls of Shame has warned us enough times now….shame on you if you get taken!!!

    Comment by Mike — April 17, 2014 @ 11:00 am

  4. vintage scam-thentics are in the business of scamming, how sad that psa/dna is helping them, robert edwards auctions does not care it is fake, as long as it has a coa, so they can point the finger at someone else, for shame on ALL of them! p.s. yeah, jailbirds helping jailbirds, birds of a feather, stick together! never buy ANYTHING they sell or try to auction, so you do not get burned!!

    Comment by joemlm — April 17, 2014 @ 11:27 am

  5. Did Bill Mastro ever get sentenced? I may have missed that. All of a sudden, the news of him stopped. Or maybe I was that tuned out. Thanks

    Comment by Jim McCormick — April 17, 2014 @ 11:31 am

  6. The fears of the collecting public is that the winner of the bat will simply discard the mears and scd authentic loa’s, and keep the psa loa, and now will have an ‘unencumbered’ game used joe jackson bat and walk off into the sunset with no more ‘conflicts of dueling authenticators’.

    The next auction you see this bat will be in an auction with only the game used psa loa. flip for a nice profit.

    That’s the underbelly of the hobby. Do the right thing and dump this PSA cert now.

    Comment by TRAVIS R0STE — April 17, 2014 @ 12:58 pm

  7. Looks like Mastro’s sentencing got postponed to sometime in June.

    Comment by admin — April 17, 2014 @ 4:51 pm

  8. You have to understand the incestuous nature of the “hobby”…the blatant conflicts of interest. The “experts” have to protect not only their big ticket clients, but the other so-called “experts.” One so called “expert” often claims he “buries” a bat(sometimes with a suspect story)in someone’s collection hoping it never resurfaces anytime soon, but when it does they have to make sure it gets promoted(even with tortured logic) and sold hopefully at least what the previous “whale” paid for it. It keeps the train running smoothly and the money in the hobby. Just follow the money trail on the Jackson bat that recently sold. Check out who own it prior to 2004 and who benefitted…dealer, auctioneers(28-30% commission) and client who gets payment and moves on to buy something else from the same people. Continuous transactions makes money. A lot of product gets moved though a small group of people. I could go on & on…but I digress for now.

    Comment by Oliver von Pulsner — May 5, 2014 @ 10:40 pm

  9. I’ll add to Oliver’s post; someday everyone will agree what a disgrace Sports Collectors Digest (SCD) has been to the hobby, starting with Lemke, continuing with O’Connell, who evidently never met a perp he couldn’t make excuses for, and continuing with the kid they have now. I recently got a sample issue in the mail, trying to entice me to subscribe. Sorry, Iola Losers, but I’m not interested.

    Comment by Marc Rettus — June 20, 2014 @ 9:49 am

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