Auction House Boasts of Three Photo Matches For 1938 Gehrig Road Jersey-But Images Don’t Support Claims
(This article originally appeared on March 22, 2011 on the MEARS company website; www.mearsonline.com. It is reproduced here with the permission of the author, Dave Grob, who is a regular contributor toHaulsofshame.com. Look for additional coverage of the Gehrig jersey in the coming weeks. )
By Dave Grob
In response to an e-mail I received that read:
“Dave- I have a client interested in the 38 road Gehrig jersey in the upcoming REA offering. I am confused…..are you stating that the Gehrig is a photo match? When I read the lot description, that is what I got from it. I spoke with Troy this morning and he says those are Robs words and not MEARS. I reread the description and still see no distinction between what is REA opinion and what is MEARS findings. Your clarification would help. Thank you-NAME REDACTED FOR PRINT”
This is the language written (provided below) by REA Auctions as it pertains to the 1938 Lou Gehrig road jersey that I evaluated. REA’s claims about placing this jersey specifically to the images I provided of Lou Gehrig in the 1938 World Series are their comments and theirs alone. Please know that when you see the use of the pronoun “we” by REA, I am not part of that grouping.
“We are quite certain that the photo of Gehrig at bat in the 1938 World Series pictures him wearing this very jersey. The cut of the number “4″ is unique to every Gehrig jersey. The number “4″ on this 1938 jersey is very distinctive. We have taken the time to carefully examine every image of Gehrig showing the number “4″ on his back that we have been able to locate, including images that we knew were from earlier years. The point of the exercise was not just to see if we could find an apparent match; in the alternative, the point was also to see if we could find an image of the number “4″ on Gehrig’s jersey from a different year that could possibly be mistaken for the number “4″ on this 1938 jersey. We could not. The number “4″ on all the other many images was easily identified as cut differently and clearly not a match. The only photo of Gehrig’s number “4″ that was consistent, or even close to our eye (let alone a perfect match) was the photo of Gehrig at bat in the 1938 World Series. This is not a coincidence”.
While I have no doubts about the authenticity of this jersey, it is my opinion that REA’s comments about being able to make a definitive claim based off imagery analysis are not objectively defensible, and as such are largely without merit. Their stated assumption is that and I quote, “The cut of the number “4″ is unique to every Gehrig jersey. The number “4″ on this 1938 jersey is very distinctive”.
I posed my questions and concerns about this claim directly to Mr. Rob Lifson, specifically, I asked “What is so distinctive about the #4 on the back of this jersey? What sets it apart from other jerseys and what images and analysis supports your position that they are in fact one in the same at the definitive exclusion of other possibilities? Mr. Lifson replied “With reference to the #4 on the back of the jersey, below is the logic (actually a cut-and-paste of previous communications) that is the basis for our belief that it is the same jersey (I could not begin to provide all the images reviewed – we looked for and at so many images for many weeks and many hours, reviewing all Gehrig images available to us).”
I found Mr. Lifson’s response interesting on a number of levels. First of all, the only images they show or reference are the ones I provided as part of my work. As a matter of fact, I was asked for them just a week before REA posted their analysis as part of their on line preview. This caused to me to ask myself where are the countless images REA reviewed to come to their stated conclusion that “The cut of the number “4″ is unique to every Gehrig jersey. The number “4″ on this 1938 jersey is very distinctive”. Maybe they have a much more robust reference library than I do. Quite possible, I don’t know. This then prompted me to consider what sort of sampling and supporting photographic evidence should be required to support this claim by REA.
For the Gehrig era, the Yankees featured numbers on the back of the uniforms from 1929-1939. Based on previous research involving Yankee uniforms of this period, I would be very comfortable in saying that the yearly population of new jerseys would be four and the total would be six (one jersey each home/road carried forward from the previous season). In any event, at four new uniforms per year over the period of 1929-1939, that would 44 different Gehrig jerseys. As such, logic dictates per their theory/claim, that if I found images of any of these Gehrig jerseys from this time frame, I should expect to see 44 “unique” and “distinctive” examples of the #4. According to REA, this survey of images should not have produced a single example that was “consistent” or “even close.”
Allow me to share some of the images I came across and then you can decide for yourself if in fact the “The cut of the number “4″ is unique to every Gehrig jersey. The number “4″ on this 1938 jersey is very distinctive.” REA’s WORDS, NOT MINE. While I have included images from easily accessible on-line sources, I have also included both print and film references from my library. I have no idea of the size, nature, and scope of the REA search, only that Rob Lifson conveyed to me that their search and research consumed “many weeks and many hours”. For this exercise, my time on the clock was just over seven hours and that included making the PLATES and writing this article.
What I came away with is that the cut of the numeral 4 is fairly consistent and far from “unique” and “distinctive” for “every Gehrig jersey”. You may notice I also looked at and included images of home jerseys as well since what the REA theory purports is that there should be no qualifiers with respect to either home or road by way of their claim “The cut of the number “4″ is unique to every Gehrig jersey”.
Now that I have addressed the back of the jersey, let’s take a look at what REA had to say about the front (once again, I am not part of their “we”). They have once again claimed a “photo match”, specifically “we not only have a photo match of Gehrig wearing this jersey in team picture early in the 1938 season, as well as in the dugout during the 1938 season…” Here are the issues I have wit this statement. First of all, I never claimed or even implied this in my evaluation as my letter on this jersey reads:
“The fonts and sizing both appear to be year appropriate as confirmed by images of Gehrig from 1938. While images of Gehrig dated to 1938 show some variation in the alignment of the lettering with respect to the button line, this alignment of the lettering is consistent with the jersey Gehrig is wearing in the 1938 Yankee team photograph (PLATE III) as opposed to the one shown in PLATE II.”
Secondly, since I clearly identified them as different jerseys, then how could REA use both photographs to claim a “photo match.” Maybe it’s just me, but how can REA definitively say a shirt is the same one in both pictures when the pictures show two different jerseys? Once again, you will have to ask Mr. Lifson and REA as those are their words and not mine.
My message in all of this is that if you are serious buyer then take this jersey very seriously. Although there are some condition issues, it is one of only a handful of legitimate Lou Gehrig jerseys out there and the likely population of good Gehrig jerseys can only get smaller. This population has been cut down significantly as I have evaluated three others that were found to be problematic for any number of reasons. If you are in the market, then buy the jersey for what it is based on what you can objectively see and know. I think you’ll be thrilled and lucky to have it as the display appeal is incredible and the conservation work in the sleeves is museum quality. With that said, I for one am not a “buyer” of the theory that “The cut of the number “4″ is unique to every Gehrig jersey. The number “4″ on this 1938 jersey is very distinctive” any more than I subscribe that you have a “photo match” to images of two different jerseys. What do I base my opinion of the REA theory off of? The same methodology that REA purports to have used by examining the #4 on the back of Lou Gehrig jerseys and other associated images. I guess another difference is that I have provided the body of work to the collecting public so you can reach your own informed opinion. This too is something I feel is a more than reasonable expectation from any responsible auctioneer, MEARS Auctions not excluded from this requirement.
If you have questions or concerns about REAs claim, supporting evidence or research methods associated with this 1938 Lou Gehrig New York Yankees road jersey, then you’ll have to take them up with Mr. Rob Lifson and REA. Mr. Lifson has conveyed to me that “We have always made the authentication process a priority.” As such, since REA has authenticated this jersey themselves with their “unique” and “distinctive” theory and imagery analysis expertise to being the jersey Gehrig is wearing in the 1938 World Series, then it reasonable to expect this definitive claim is supported by more than an auction description. At the end of the day, it’s up to the collector to decide who and what they want to believe and why based on what they can see and evaluate for themselves…In my book, that’s the way it ought to be.
As always, collect what you enjoy and enjoy what you collect.
For questions or comments on this article, please feel free to drop me a line at DaveGrob1@aol.com.
(To view Grob’s article in its entirety, with accompanying illustrations, go to: http://www.mearsonline.com/news/newsDetail.asp?id=790 . To view the REA preview and lot description of the Gehrig jersey click here: http://www.robertedwardauctions.com/auction/2011_preview/3.html )
UPDATE: Saturday, March 26. You can follow the discussion between Dave Grob and Rob Lifson on the REA site:
..and on the MEARS site: