Aug. 15, 2011
Heritage Auction Galleries just sold what they claim is “Shoeless” Joe Jackson’s storied “Black Betsy” bat for $537,750. The same bat sold at auction several years ago for just as much and has an impressive pedigree that Heritage claims traces back to the last will and testament of Katie Jackson, “Shoeless” Joe’s widow.
However, controversy over the bat has been brewing in the hobby for years as veteran collectors and authenticators have questioned whether the Heritage “Betsy” could have been used by Jackson during his major league career, as Heritage and PSA/DNA have claimed.
A collector named Jim Johnson doesn’t believe the bat is the original “Betsy” and has started his own blog called “White Betsy” to state his case. Johnson’s opinion is that the Heritage bat could not have been used by Jackson in MLB games and that, “ the Erwin Bat is a Spalding store model used while Jackson was barnstorming in the 1930s, when he was older and needed a shorter and lighter bat with a thin handle.”
Heritage cataloger and consignment director, Jonathan Scheier, responded to Johnson saying, “We all know that PSA/DNA doesn’t throw around GU 10 grades without good reason. Any smart collector knows that a little skepticism is a good thing, but this is evidence even the OJ and Casey Anthony jurors couldn’t ignore.”
While the bat sold by Heritage once passed into the possession of Jackson relative, Lester Irwin, and is accompanied by evidence suggesting that Jackson used the same bat during his barnstorming days, the claims that it was used in Jackson’s days playing for Cleveland and Chicago will have to be examined more closely as the result of a report written by Carter ”Scoop” Latimer for the cover-story of The Sporting News in 1942. In his report, Latimer describes how a small group of local kids appeared at Jackson’s home to present him with a gift:
“The treasured gift, which the kiddies bought with pennies saved was a replica of “Black Betsy,” the ebony-colored, hand-turned hickory stick which Joe used for 13 years. The original bat reposes in the treasure chest of one of South Carolina’s first families. It was given to the late Mayor John McHardy Mauldin of Greenville when “Shoeless” Joe and baseball parted company.”
The published statement writen by Latimer, a Jackson friend and sports editor of the Greenville News, no doubt, adds to the intrigue and mystery surrounding the controversial “Black Betsy” bat.
Mike Nola, of BlackBetsy.com, told us: The one thing we DO know….that is…he had it in 1923….used it in 1924 and 1925…..it surfaces again in photos in July of 1932 (2 known shots of him holding it), it shows up again in the summer of 1949 when Furman Bisher was in Greenville interviewing Joe for the Sport Magazine article. Furman even held it and Joe is photographed swinging it. Furman told me he remembered it being “crooked” back then. The one thing we know for sure….the bat was special to him for some reason….it was the only bat in his possession (except for the store model Black Betsy decal bat the kids gave him on his birthday) when he died. It must have been special to Katie as well…for she kept it another 8 years until she died….she could have easily given it to Lester or any other family member before that time. The fact is, we’ll probably never know for sure if it was the original Black Betsy, I tend to believe it was….at least the one made by Charlie Ferguson.
What we can say for sure is that the Baseball Hall of Fame’s “Black Betsy,” which was acquired from Barry Halper in the multi-million dollar purchase of select items from his now infamous collection, is NOT the genuine article. Halper tells Billy Martin all about “Betsy” in this video clip from the movie Halper created to promote his collection in 1989:
While Halper’s alleged “Black Betsy” was displayed in the Hall of Fame’s former ”Halper Gallery“, the Albany Times-Union reported:
“The Hall’s Halper mother lode includes….”Black Betsy” the one and only bat “Shoeless” Joe Jackson used during his 13 year Major League career.”
Experts and knowledgeable collectors agree that Halper’s entry in the ”Black Betsy” sweepstakes is nothing more than a Spalding store model bat. It’s likely an expensive fraud that was coupled with the counterfeit 1919 White Sox jersey that Halper sold to MLB for donation to the Hall of Fame in 1999. Those items, as well as Halper’s alleged Jackson fielders mitt and a gold pocket-watch allegedly presented to Jackson for winning the AL Pennant in 1919, have a problematic provenance. Halper said he purchased all of the items from Katie Jackson in Greenville, South Carolina, in the 1950s, but the evidence showing that the 1919 jersey was bogus has cast enormous doubt on Halper’s other Jackson items. In addition, Halper told The Sporting News in 1985 that he purchased the 1919 jersey in the 1980s from Jackson relatives through the mail.
After reports were published in 2010 by Haulsofshame.com, officials at the Hall of Fame removed Jackson’s alleged glove from their “Black Sox” themed exhibit case on the museum’s second floor. Halper’s phony 1919 jersey and his dubious “Black Betsy” was displayed in the Hall’s Halper Gallery from 1999 through 2002. The Halper Gallery is no longer located in the museum and the plaque honoring Halper and his collection have been removed.