By Peter J. Nash
May 27, 2014
Two historic baseballs purported to have broken records as the “world’s fastest pitch” once withdrawn from a 2013 auction because of authenticity issues are now back on the market at Love of The Game Auctions in New Jersey. The auction house states that the balls alleged to have been thrown by Nolan Ryan and Bob Feller originated from the “noted collection of Barry Halper” and that the consignor purchased the pair for $4,312 in the 1999 Halper Collection auction at Sotheby’s.
The auction house currently has four bids on the lot but makes no mention that the balls had previously appeared as lot 127 in Ken Goldin’s 2013 sale and that they had been withdrawn due to their dubious Halper provenance and questions raised by a 1974 wire photo that surfaced showing Ryan holding a different ball marked “100.8.” LOTG’s Al Crisafulli says his consignor didn’t tell him about the previous withdrawal from the Goldin auction.
The alleged Ryan & Feller record "fast-balls" were removed from a Goldin Auctions sale in 2013 when their authenticity was questioned.
The auction house also failed to mention in its original lot description that the Nolan Ryan ball, even if it were authentic, is identified as being pitched at 100.8 mph on September 7, 1974, when Ryan had actually established the record over two weeks earlier at 100.9 mph on August 20, 1974. In LOTG’s lengthy write-up about the history of the two events they linked to an article published on the website efastball.com but they failed to include the information that the record was broken on August 20th and that the Guinness World-Record was established on that same date, not on September 7th.
After being contacted by Hauls of Shame, the auction house amended its lot description to indicate that the date and speed indicated on the Ryan ball corresponds with his second fastest pitch and not the recognized World Record by Guinness (although the inscription on the ball states differently). When asked about the wire photo showing Ryan holding a different ball marked “100.8″ on September 7, 1974, LOTG’s Al Crisafulli responded stating, “I think it’s entirely more likely that the ball Ryan is holding in the wire photo is a prop, as there is nothing I’ve seen to indicate that anyone is stating that said ball is THE ball Ryan threw. All that photo says, to me, is that Nolan Ryan threw a baseball 100.8 mph.”
Barry Halper's alleged "fastest ball" says Ryan broke the world record on Sept. 7, 1974, while the Guinness book of World Records shows he broke the record on Aug. 20, 1974.
The other offered baseball alleged to have been thrown by Bob Feller in 1946 at 98.6 mph has its own issues considering it features a forged Feller signature that Love of The Game describes as a “clubhouse” autograph signed on an Official American Association baseball. Feller established the record right before the start of a game against the Washington Senators and the likelihood he would have used a non-Major League ball from a league that included teams unaffiliated with Cleveland and Washington (and located hundreds of miles from Washington D.C. in the Midwest) is highly improbable. What’s even more improbable is that Bob Feller wouldn’t have signed his own record breaking baseball and that Barry Halper wouldn’t have had him sign the ball at some time after he had acquired it. Even Bob Feller’s son can’t see how the ball could have been positively authenticated without input from his late father.
When the balls were first offered at Sotheby’s in 1999 Halper and his associate, auctioneer Rob Lifson, never divulged any additional information regarding the provenance for the balls besides the say-so of Halper who claimed that they were the authentic and original record-breaking orbs. Fifteen years after that $20 million plus landmark sale, the hobby is more well informed and aware of Halper and Lifson’s sales of over two million dollars worth of fakes and fraudulent items via Sotheby’s. In the 1999 Sotheby’s sale, Richard Russek and Andy Imperato of Grey Flannel authenticated hundreds of thousands of dollars of counterfeit uniforms and jerseys that Halper falsely claimed came from the collection of ex-Brooklyn Dodger Ollie O’Mara as well as others including Stan Musial’s rookie jersey and Mickey Mantle’s 1956 Yankee jersey. Other fakes included Lou Gehrig’s alleged “last glove“; Ty Cobb’s dentures and Halper’s famous “500 Home Run Club signed sheet,” which Halper falsely claimed was signed in person for him by both Babe Ruth and Jimmie Foxx.
Halper's plaque honoring him and the "Halper Gallery" was removed from the Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum after reports revealed items he sold to MLB were bogus including Joe Jackson's 1919 jersey (center). Halper and current HOF Chairman Jane Forbes Clark cut the ribbon opening the now defunct Halper Gallery in 1999.
Further destroying Halper’s credibility are another million dollars worth of bogus Joe Jackson and Mickey Mantle artifacts he sold MLB and the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1998. Halper lied and claimed that he acquired Mantle’s rookie jersey from Yankee clubhouse man Pete Sheehy and that he purchased Jackson’s 1919 jersey and “Black Betsy” bat from Jackson’s widow in the 1950s when he was attending the University of Miami and pitching for Jimmie Foxx. As it turns out, Halper never even played for the Miami nine and Foxx wasn’t even on the staff at the time he attended the school. The recently well documented exposures of Halper’s large-scale fraud even prompted the Baseball Hall of Fame to remove the Barry Halper Gallery from the Cooperstown museum.
Safe to say, an auction house in 2014 can’t just offer two baseballs they claim to be record-breakers by Nolan Ryan and Bob Feller just because they originated from “noted collector” Barry Halper with only his word supporting their authenticity. Ironically, it was Bob Feller who described best how shady the hobby can be when he told the New York Daily News, “This memorabilia business is a racket. If people want to throw their money away, they should go to Las Vegas. At least in Las Vegas, you get a good meal.”
The problems with both of the alleged record-breaking balls are significant. Here’s a break down of the issues regarding the authenticity of both baseballs:
The Alleged Nolan Ryan “Fastest Pitch” Baseball:
Nolan Ryan's world record pitch of 100.9 mph was reported prominently in the national and local press after it was announced before an Angels game on Sept. 7, 1974.
1. Nolan Ryan’s alleged record-breaking ball is dated from a game in which Ryan’s fastest pitch was not delivered–on September 7, 1974. Before the game that day, scientists from Rockwell International announced that Ryan had already established the record weeks earlier against the Detroit Tigers when he threw a pitch clocked at 100.9 mph. The September 7th game was intended as a promotional opportunity for the Angels organization to have fans guess how fast Ryan could pitch and if he could break the 100.9 record established on August 20th. Ryan failed to break the record reaching the highest velocity of 100.8 MPH in the ninth inning versus the Detroit Tigers. (Despite the announcement before the game of the actual world record the Angels incorrectly identified the 100.8 pitch as a “new record” on the scoreboard. On September 16th, Sports Illustrated also misidentified the 100.8 mph pitch as the “world record.”)
The EFastball.com article that LOTG links in its lot description clearly states that the Ryan record was broken on August 20, 1974 and Ryan's top speeds per inning were posted on the stadium scoreboard at the end of the game when he failed to break his own record on Sept. 7, 1974.
2. The Halper Collection baseball was described at Sotheby’s as having been inscribed by AL umpire Bill Kunkel who worked the infield during that game. Kunkel allegedly identified the 100.8 MPH pitch as being a record breaking event, but having been on the field that day how could he make such a claim? It was announced in the stadium that 100.9 mph was the record and the Angels crowd was aware that Ryan failed to break his own record as the highest speeds were posted on the scoreboard at the end of each inning. It was also reported prominently after the game in local and national newspapers that the record of 100.9 was set weeks earlier and announced before the game played on September 7th.
But more importantly, could a professional umpire working the infield have had the opportunity to retrieve the actual baseball thrown for the 100.8 mph pitch when the speed wasn’t reported until after the game was over? The actual 100.8 mph pitch was the third ball thrown to the lead-off hitter, Bee Bee Richard, in the ninth inning. According to accounts of that game, Richard walked and the following batter hit into a double play. The next batter, popped out to the catcher to end the game. A source familiar with MLB’s video archive told us that it was likely there was no surviving video from that Angels-White Sox game in 1974 to check for foul balls hit into the crowd. It is unlikely that the 100.8 mph ball survived the entire inning but, even if it did, could Kunkel have retrieved it from Ryan’s own catcher? Wouldn’t Ryan’s catcher keep the ball or give it to Ryan himself? Could Kunkel have even known to retrieve the 100.8 mph pitch when it wasn’t announced until after the game?
On September 16, 1974 Sports Illustrated reported how “artifacts damaged by Ryan pitches (were) treasured like war souvenirs” by players. At the time, SI reported that Angels catcher Aurelio Rodriguez, wore “a twisted medallion that a Ryan fastball blasted after a mix up in signals” and that Umpire Jim Evans saved a “face mask disfigured by a deflected Ryan pitch.” While its clear that Ryan souvenirs were popular, its a logical question to ask why Bill Kunkel would have ended up with the 100.8 mph ball instead of Ryan?
Barry Halper tricked Mickey Mantle into authenticating a bogus jersey he claimed was from his rookie season. Mantle inscribed a card and the jersey itself at Halper's direction (left). Could Ump Bill Kunkel's inaccurate inscription on the alleged Ryan ball have been coached by Halper as well?
3. It also appears that the JSA and SGC-authenticated inscription written by umpire Bill Kunkel was written at a later date than the Nolan Ryan signature which exhibits all of the characteristics of a signature originally signed on the ball in the 1970s. The Kunkel writing, executed in dark unfaded marker ink, appears to have been signed more recently. It has been established that Barry Halper often asked players and officials to inscribe artifacts and write LOA’s on index cards and it has also been established that he directed players to write inscriptions for totally bogus and fabricated material. The best example of this Halper practice was his directing Mickey Mantle to authenticate what Halper claimed was his 1951 Yankee rookie road jersey with the number “6.” Although Mantle inscribed and signed a card claiming it was his actual jersey from his rookie season, the jersey, which was purchased by MLB in 1998, was uncovered as a fake and later returned to Halper despite Mantle’s Halper-coached letter of authenticity. How can anyone say definitively that Halper didn’t orchestrate a similar scenario with Kunkel? It is very possible that Kunkel kept a game-ball from that night as a souvenir, but it is highly improbable that he would have been able to procure the actual 100.8 mph pitched ball.
Nolan Ryan posed with actual game balls and "prop balls" throughout his record-breaking career.
4. Nolan Ryan was photographed on Sept. 7, 1974, holding a baseball marked “100.8″. Was that the actual baseball that broke the record? It’s clearly not the baseball offered by Halper or LOTG, but could it have also been a ball marked just for the photo opportunity? Throughout his career Ryan was photographed holding actual record-breaking balls or balls inscribed to represent the record-breaking event. But considering how the pitches were clocked and reported to the crowd only after each inning, could anyone on the field have even known which ball thrown by Ryan was actually the 100.8 mph ball? Why would anyone go to the lengths to retrieve the 100.8 mph pitch ball when it failed to break the pre-existing record? And wouldn’t Nolan Ryan be the most likely candidate to take home the “100.8″ ball if it actually existed?
These genuine baseballs from Nolan Ryan's no-hitters and milestone strikeout games are currently displayed at the Nolan Ryan Museum in Alvin, Texas. The museum does not have a baseball on display representing the Guinness World Record for "fastest pitch." (The Nolan Ryan Museum)
5. Nolan Ryan and his wife Ruth saved most all of the milestone baseballs from his MLB career and several are currently displayed by the Nolan Ryan Foundation at the Nolan Ryan Museum in Alvin, Texas. The displays do not include a ball that is identified as the one Ryan pitched when he established the Guinness World Record on August 20th or the one he pitched on September 7th. When presented with images of the Halper/LOTG baseball and the LOTG lot description, a representative from the Ryan Museum responded to the Hauls of Shame inquiry stating, “We are unable to authenticate the validity of this baseball.” Sources also indicate that Ryan never retained any souvenirs from the record-breaking “fastest pitch” events.
The Alleged Bob Feller Speed Record Baseball Thrown In 1946
Bob Feller established the record for fastest pitched ball in Washington D.C. in 1946.
1. Bob Feller’s alleged record-establishing baseball is an Official American Association ball that dates from the 1945 to 1947 era. This fact is the most problematic aspect regarding the authenticity of this ball since Bob Feller threw his 98.6 mph pitch at Griffith Stadium in Washington D.C. just before the start of an MLB game between the Cleveland Indians and the Washington Senators. The apparatus to measure Feller’s pitch was set up just before the game and the pitches were clocked during Feller’s warm-up for the game that day. Neither the Senators or the Indians had any affiliation with or any minor league clubs in the American Association. In fact, the teams in the American Association were located in the midwest from Columbus, Ohio all the way west to Kansas City. Why would an MLB pitcher like Feller have used an American Association ball in a promotion organized by Clark Griffith and the Senator organization in an MLB ballpark, just before an MLB game and during his warm up for that very game?
Halper's alleged Feller ball is an official American Association ball but Feller set his record in an MLB ballpark while he was warming up for a game against the Senators. Neither the Indians or the Senators had minor league clubs in the AA and the teams in that league were all located hundreds of miles away from the Washington D.C. ballpark.
2. The fact that the Bob Feller signature on the ball has been deemed non-genuine by JSA, PSA/DNA and SGC is also a significant sign that the ball may not be genuine. LOTG describes the signature as a clubhouse signature but it does not resemble Feller’s signature c.1946. The forged signature shows more characteristics of Feller’s autograph later in life making it difficult to figure out when it was actually placed on the ball. What’s even more puzzling is that Feller was easily accessible to sign items during his lifetime and he signed numerous items specially for Halper on numerous occasions including the famous “last bat” Babe Ruth used for “Babe Ruth Day” at Yankee Stadium in 1948. Feller re-acquired that bat, but not from Halper, and told Baseball Digest in 2005, “That bat is in my museum right now in Van Meter, Iowa. I got that bat back. It took a long time to get it, but I got it back. One of my teammates took it and hid it after Babe signed it, and then I bought it back from a fellow that won it in a contest after (collector) Barry Halper sold all his memorabilia.”
The fact that Halper didn’t have Feller inscribe the ball and recount his record breaking feat is also highly suspicious. It begs the question as to whether Feller would have agreed that it was actually the record-breaking ball? We contacted Bob Feller’s son, Steven Feller, who sits on the Board of Directors of the Bob Feller Museum in Van Meter, Iowa, and asked whether he knew of the Halper ball or any other 1946 record-baseball. Feller responded and said, “This is a rather fascinating “signature” ball being auctioned. Sorry I didn’t get back to you sooner, however I wanted to speak to both of my brothers to see if they had any recollection of our Dad ever speaking of or making any reference to this baseball. Both my brothers and I had never heard any mention of it from him ever. Very interesting question as to how can it be authenticated if not from my Dad?”
The non-genuine Feller signature on the alleged record baseball (top left) is called a "clubhouse" signature by LOTG Auctions. The signature has more in common with Feller's post-2000 autograph (bottom, left) than it does with an authentic example dated in 1945 (right).
3. Barry Halper’s index cards and letters of authenticity from players regarding game used items in his collection were scattered all throughout the Halper sale at Sotheby’s in 1999 and many other Bob Feller items were accompanied with a supporting statement from Bob Feller describing the provenance of the artifact including: Lot 1102- “The Bob Feller Family Catcher’s Mitt” which came with a signed card reading: ”This is the mitt my father used to catch me when I was a kid….It was this mitt he was using when I threw a fastball in 1934 that hit him in the chest and broke three ribs-as described in TIME Magazine April 19, 1937–Bob Feller”; Lot 1395- a plaster cast of Feller’s hand inscribed, “To Barry from Bob Feller”; Lot 1396- a signed scorecard inscribed, “To Barry Halper, Best to a great pal, Bob Feller”; Lot 1468- Feller’s 1940 Double-Knit Cleveland uniform which was accompanied by a letter from Feller stating: ”To Barry, To my knowledge, this is the first double knit baseball uniform ever made and was sent to me for testing a few years before World War II….”; and Lot 1469- Feller’s “Late 1940’s Indians Warm-Up Jacket” which came with a a letter of authenticity on an index card executed by Feller.
Barry Halper had easy access to Bob Feller and Feller inscribed numerous historic items to him stating the artifact's provenance. Above is his detailed inscription to Halper on his bat which was used by Babe Ruth at his last Yankee Stadium appearance in 1948. (Bob Feller Museum)
Considering that the alleged “fastest-pitched” ball comes with no supporting documentation from Feller; has a forged Feller signature on the sweet spot; and is a non-MLB ball from the American Association, how could the ball be presented definitively as the ball Feller threw on that day in 1946? Even Halper would have questions about this ball if he were buying it in an auction based on an interview he gave to the New York Times in 2000:
”Unless you know it came from a certain player, you’re taking a risk on someone saying it came from Bob Feller and it didn’t….Wherever there is profit to be made, it promotes thievery.”
Crisafulli and LOTG don’t have much to offer in terms of additional evidence supporting that the two balls are genuine and responded to our inquiry about the Ryan ball stating, “Bill Kunkel, who passed away in early 1985, signed and inscribed this baseball as the “record-breaking” ball from the September 7 game in Anaheim. The ball was also signed by Nolan Ryan. The signatures and the Kunkel inscription has been authenticated by both Mike Root at SGC, and by Jimmy Spence, independently of one another. I submitted the ball to both of them for authentication myself. I also contacted Brandon Grunbaum, who confirmed that this style of baseball was in use in the American League in late 1974.”
In regard to the issues related to the Feller ball Al Crisafulli told us, “Why would it not be plausible that the team would have unofficial baseballs used during exhibitions and practice? The Senators played plenty of exhibitions, the Homestead Grays played at Griffith Stadium as well, and there are any number of reasons why an unofficial ball would wind up in a practice bucket in 1946.” As for the bogus Feller autograph on the ball the LOTG auctioneer said, “Not a single letter in that signature looks like it was written by Feller, or even by someone who was attempting to make it look like Feller’s. In an industry where people are making incredible forgeries of six-figure Babe Ruth balls, is it really plausible to think someone would make such a horrible forgery of someone who was still alive, who signed everything he could reach with his pen?” While Crisafulli is now adamant that the Feller signature was not signed to mimic the Hall of Famers autograph he stated the complete opposite on the LOTG blog in April when he wrote, “The adjacent panel is signed both by Feller (on the sweet spot) and catcher George Susce, both vintage signatures.” (The third-party authenticators used by LOTG say the signature of Indians coach George Susce on the ball is genuine and that now appears to be enough for LOTG to consider this ball authentic.)
In addition, Crisafulli also claims that Hauls of Shame’s concerns about these two balls are unwarranted adding, “If this ball didn’t originate with Rob Lifson and Barry Halper, this lot wouldn’t even be on your radar. There are probably pieces up for auction right now that are more worthwhile for you to write about.” Despite the evidence suggesting significant problems with both balls Crisafulli summed up his stance stating, “I’m accepting that they’re real based on the Halper provenance, the appropriate vintage of the balls, the authenticity of the signatures and inscriptions, and how the details of the story jive with those inscriptions.”
Ken Goldin (left) withdrew the suspect Ryan-Feller balls from his sale in 2013 but LOTG's Al Crisafulli (center) doesn't reveal that to his bidders in the addendum to the #1 lot in his current auction (right).
Back in 2013, a Hauls of Shame reader questioned the balls being sold by Goldin and sent us the wire photo of Ryan holding the other ball marked “100.8″ We sent the image to auctioneer Ken Goldin via email and later discussed the Halper provenance and how difficult it would have been to retrieve the 100.8 mph ball on that day in 1974. Goldin responded to our heads up saying, “If there is any question as to the legitimacy of the items themselves, I just do not sell questionable items, so I killed the item and will return to (the) consignor. There is so much great memorabilia we do not need to deal with anything even remotely questionable.”
In their update for the Feller-Ryan lot, Love of the Game admits they were wrong in identifying the ball as the actual Guinness World-Record breaker but they have chosen not to inform their customers that Ken Goldin removed the balls from his prior sale in 2013. Al Crisafulli said, “Were they removed because you showed Ken the wire photo and he didn’t want to deal with being on Haulsofshame.com over an item that would have been a minor lot in his auction? Because if that’s the case, I wouldn’t call that an authenticity issue.”
Ken Goldin did not respond to our inquiry asking him about Crisafulli’s comments and whether both auctioneers had spoken about the Halper baseballs. Crisafulli also did not answer us when we asked him if he and Goldin had spoken before we made our initial inquiry. In his most recent email to us, Crisafulli said, “Ken Goldin reached out to me this afternoon, wondering why I might be speculating on why the Feller/Ryan balls were pulled from his auction. I do not appreciate you putting words in my mouth.”
It should also be noted that Goldin has not responded to several Hauls of Shame inquiries regarding the misrepresented 1960 Ted Williams glove he sold in his last auction and allegations leveled by several sources who contacted Hauls of Shame accusing his consignor, Dr. David Pressman, of having a history of selling bogus Ted Williams items.
By Peter J. Nash
May 13, 2014
A letter signed by Honus Wagner is a key piece of evidence documenting thefts from the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.
It’s no secret that national treasures have been smuggled out of the archives of the Baseball Hall of Fame in the sleepy little Village of Cooperstown, New York. In 2001, national news outlets reported that the FBI recovered four baseballs signed by US Presidents that had been stolen from a museum display case back in 1972. The balls were inscribed by the likes of William Howard Taft and Woodrow Wilson and had been donated to the museum in 1968 by the family of Hall of Fame pitcher Walter Johnson.
But Johnson’s family didn’t learn about the theft until a relative named Hank Thomas showed up and requested to see the artifacts on a visit to the Hall five years later in 1977. According to Thomas, Hall officials told him they failed to report the theft or publicize it because “informing the world of the disappearance of Walter Johnson’s baseballs might only encourage further thievery and discourage donations of the memorabilia on which the Hall depended.”
But that cover-up strategy backfired on Hall officials when the institution fell victim to even greater losses in the 1980’s as a result of a large scale heist of documents and photographs from the National Baseball Library. Despite those considerable losses, however, the Hall continued its long-standing tradition of sweeping its dark secrets under the rug with the hopes that no one would ever dig deeper to uncover the scandal. The institution, now headed by Jane Forbes Clark, has thus established an internal culture of cover-ups in violation of its charter as a 501 (c) not-for-profit educational institution dedicated to preserving collections for “a global audience.” The Hall maintains a vast collection of donated materials valued at close to a billion dollars, so, some might say what’s been lost and stolen is a “mere bag o’shells,” to quote Ralph Kramden.
But reminders of the 1980s heist keep resurfacing with great frequency thanks to outfits like Heritage Auction Galleries in Dallas, Texas. As one of the world’s largest auction houses Heritage says it has grossed over $918 million in sales just this year but in baseball circles they are known notoriously for the serial-selling of treasures stolen from the Baseball Hall of Fame. In addition, one of Heritage’s key sports auction consignment directors, Mike Gutierrez, is even more notorious as the prime suspect for thefts from the National Baseball Library dating back to the late 1980s. Is it just a wild coincidence that so many documents apparently pilfered from the Cooperstown archives are finding their way to Heritage?
Take for instance lot number 81674 in Heritage’s current auction extravaganza which represents a key piece of evidence in documenting the thefts and laying the groundwork for an investigation that has yet to happen. It’s a 1911 letter written by Honus Wagner to National League President Thomas J. Lynch regarding a protested game between his Pittsburgh Pirates and the Cincinnati Reds. In the letter Wagner describes a play at third base and what he said at the time to an umpire named Doyle. Wagner wrote, “I also said to Doyle, “Why did you call that man out? He wasn’t out.” According to the great Wagner Doyle responded to him, “Well, he is out according to the rule in the book.”
This 1911 protested game letter written by Honus Wagner appears in the current Heritage auction and is believed to have been stolen from the National Baseball Library.
Heritage describes the letter in its lot description as “easily one of the finest examples extant of an early “John H. Wagner” signature” and they add, ”In this auction a lucky bidder will be able to own an early Wagner signature on a letter with baseball-related content.” Regarding that baseball content, Heritage also states, “One wonders if Wagner was able to persuade Lynch to overturn the decision.”
If Chris Ivy or Mike Gutierrez of Heritage want to learn more about that protested game and Lynch’s decision all they need to do is head to the National Baseball Library in Cooperstown to view the National League’s protested game files which are part of the Hall’s August Herrmann Papers Collection. Somehow, those files contain the correspondence sent to Lynch regarding that same protested game from Pittsburgh manager Fred Clarke, Pittsburgh second baseman Bill McKechnie, Cincinnati Red Eddie Grant (the first player killed in action in WWI) and Reds manager Clark Griffith. Griffith, in his letter dated June 6, 1911, referred to the tagging of Honus Wagner and told Lynch that the Pirate protest was “made later in (the) game on hearsay.”
This letter was sent by Reds manager Clark Griffith to NL President Thomas Lynch regarding the same protested game that is also the subject of Heritage's Honus Wagner protest letter.
The protested game files in the Herrmann archive span from the years 1902 to 1926 and were microfilmed recently thanks to funding the Hall received from the Yawkey Foundation. The files include letters, telegrams, affidavits and other documents related to games under official protest by one of the National League ball clubs. Most of the protested games have separate files but there are two miscellaneous game files as well. The correspondence regarding this particular protested game between the Pirates and Reds from May, 1911, is located in the first file and includes another letter written by manager Fred Clarke. (In 2010, Heritage withdrew from an auction a similar Fred Clarke protest letter because it was identified as a document originating from the Herrmann Papers archive. Clarke wrote the letter in 1909 to NL President Harry Pulliam for a protested game against St. Louis.)
While Wagner's letter is being sold by HA, his manager's letter regarding the same protested game remains in the HOF's August Herrmann Archive.
While the protested game files include letters from team owners and managers like Fred Clarke, they also include the statements and testimony from the players involved in the actual disputed plays on the field. In Clarke’s letter he details the play and the players involved including Wagner, Bill McKechnie and Eddie Grant of the Reds.
The Herrmann Protested Game files include the statements of Bill McKechnie and Eddie Grant.
The Herrmann protested game file, of course, includes the statements of McKechnie and Grant while the statement of Honus Wagner is curiously absent. All of the letters in the possession of the National Baseball Library in regard to the Pittsburgh protest are found in “Box 44, Folder 24″ of the August Herrmann papers archive. It appears that every other letter sent to President Lynch regarding that particular protested game is present in the file except for the statements of Honus Wagner and HOF umpire Bill Klem. The Klem letter surfaced and was offered on eBay in 2011 with no mention of its provenance.
The National Baseball Library has created a finding aid for the the correspondence archive of August Herrmann (inset with Ban Johnson) which includes a box devoted to documents related to NL protested games. The Heritage Wagner letter was once found in "Folder 24" which is marked "Additional protested Games 1902-26."
What’s even more curious is that Heritage and Chris Ivy won’t say where the Wagner document came from or reveal any information related to its provenance or the consignor. Adding to the likelihood that the Heritage offering originated in the Herrmann Papers files, the Hall’s protested game files still retain at least one other Wagner protest letter describing a Bill Klem call in June of 1909. So, how did the other Wagner letter from 1911 make its way to Dallas and into the current Heritage auction?
Bill Klem's letter to the NL President regarding the same game in 1911 was offered on eBay in 2011 (left). The HOF files include another Honus Wagner letter about a Klem call in a 1909 game (center). The Hall has other letters written by Fred Clarke & Barney Dreyfus although many have been removed from the files.
The Wagner letter isn’t the only dubious protest letter in the current Heritage sale as Chris Ivy is also offering a 1924 Barney Dreyfus letter to NL President John Heydler protesting another Pirate game. In 2011 Heritage removed another Dreyfus letter sent to Heydler on August 26, 1924, regarding a protested game because it was believed to have been stolen from the Cooperstown files. The Dreyfus letter in the current Heritage sale was sent by Dreyfus on August 27, 1924. It appears that although Ivy removed the previous Dreyfus letter, the Hall of Fame’s failure to claim title has opened the door for him to actually sell the stolen protest documents.
Heritage is also offering a protest letter sent to the NL President by Barney Dreyfus in 1924 (left). The HOF files retain several Dreyfus protest letters including one written in 1911(right, NBL).
The Wagner and Dreyfus letters are the most recent in a long line of other alleged stolen documents offered by Heritage including examples written by Babe Ruth and the 1915 Red Sox team, Charles Comiskey, Fred Clarke, Joe Tinker, AL President Ban Johnson, and Ed Barrow. Two other rare documents originating from the Herrmann Papers and signed by Miller Huggins and Hank O’Day were recently consigned to Heritage by veteran autograph dealer Jack Smalling who claims the two letters were given to him in the 1960’s by Baseball Hall of Fame historian Lee Allen in consideration for work he’d assisted Allen with.
While Lee Allen had no authority to give away the documents that had been donated to the Hall by Powel Crosley Jr. in 1961, the two documents that Jack Smalling says he was given are the only two letters that have surfaced with an actual provenance story from its owner. Most all of the other letters that have surfaced have changed hands several times and some have even been traced back to Heritage consignment director Mike Gutierrez.
Mike Gutierrez of Heritage was the prime suspect in the 1980's HOF thefts; The Clark family, represented by Jane Clark (center) chose not to pursue prosecution or recovery; Bud Selig and MLB have done nothing to recover the missing NL documents.
Heritage’s decision to proceed with selling the stolen documents from the Herrmann archive is a product of the failure of the leadership at the Baseball Hall of Fame to claim title to the letters and pursue recovery of property owned by New York State, not the Hall of Fame. Since the 1930’s the Hall has never purchased or traded artifacts and has relied solely on the generous donations of baseball fans and players alike. All of the items housed at Cooperstown belong to the people of New York State and fall under the jurisdiction of New York’s Attorney General. Despite the fact that the protest letters were originally the property of MLB and the National League, neither Bud Selig or MLB Security have done anything to assist or compel the Hall to report the thefts to the FBI and open an official case. (According to reports in Sunday’s Newsday and on Deadspin, MLB did purchase stolen documents in the A-Rod Biogenesis case.)
Bolstered by the Baseball Hall of Fame’s inaction and negligence, Heritage’s director of sports auctions, Chris Ivy, responded to our inquiry about the Wagner letter stating, “Heritage Auctions has a well-established record of cooperating with law enforcement in the rare but inevitable event that a piece consigned to auction is claimed to be owned by a party other than the consignor. None of the pieces that you list have been challenged. This bears repeating: there has been no claim made on any of these items. Heritage does not own these pieces, and our consignors have signed paperwork attesting to their own legal ownership of the material.”
Although Ivy states that his consignors claim to own the documents for sale he still offers no information whatsoever about the provenance of any of the documents appearing to have originated from the Herrmann Papers archive. The auction house rationalizes its sale of the questioned documents in a statement to directed at this writer as Ivy says, “In the absence of any challenge to these documents, Heritage has no legal right to offer this material to whatever institution you believe holds title. It’s as simple as that. Unless we are contacted by the institution or by law enforcement, there is no legal basis for challenging ownership. In the past you have falsely characterized this position as “Ivy Says HOF Negligence Justifies Sale,” but a more appropriate headline would have been “Nash Advises Illegal Seizure of Consigned Material.”
To the contrary, this writer would only advise Heritage to reject consignments of such material and to refrain from the sale of suspect or stolen items, even if the rightful owner fails to claim title. Ivy’s stance is also patently disingenuous as he surmises that the Hall’s failure to claim the letters as its own gives him the right to sell them and somehow makes the items legitimate. The evidence strongly suggests that Ivy is still selling stolen property owned by New York State.
A rare 1870 CDV of the Philadelphia A's was photographed at the HOF in 1983 (left) and then appeared in a 2012 Legendary auction (center). The Hall of Fame failed to claim title to the stolen rarity despite the fact the photo appears on SABR contact sheets and shows evidence that the accession number was erased (right).
Ivy and others in the hobby are well aware that the Hall of Fame’s negligence is so pronounced that they even failed to claim title to a rare CDV photograph of the 1870 Philadelphia Athletics team that appeared in a Legandary Auctions sale in 2012. That same rare photo, valued at $5,000-10,000. was actually photographed inside the Hall of Fame building in 1983 as part of a Society For American Baseball Research (SABR) photo shoot conducted by Mark Rucker and John Thorn, editors of a 19th century photographic publication. Thorn saved the actual contact sheets from the photo shoot and those sheets placed the Legendary auction lot at the Hall as New York State property. The rare photo pictured on the contact sheet and on the auction website both had a unique scratch on the albumen photo paper and the reverse of the auction lot had a damaged section where the Hall’s accession number was once written and has been defaced and removed.
While the Hall of Fame has failed to address the theft issue publicly and have also failed to claim title and pursue recovery on numerous donated artifacts that have been stolen from the library, there have been some recoveries which further confirm the reality of the 1980s heist that yielded millions in material for the robber or robbers. Rare cabinet photographs of Hall of Fame pitchers Christy Mathewson and Mickey Welch were offered by Mastro and Robert Edward Auctions with tell-tale ownership marks on the backs of the cards which were recovered after we published articles on each offering. Another stolen photo was a rare $20,000 Horner cabinet of Napoleon Lajoie that was offered and withdrawn from a Heritage auction after we published an article at Deadspin. It’s not clear if that photo was returned to the Hall.
In 2012, Heritage offered a Nap Lajoie cabinet photo stolen from the HOF and the story was reported at Deadspin (left). HA employee Mike Gutierrez has been accused of swiping documents and photos from the HOF library (top right) but his boss Chris Ivy (bottom right) still offers stolen and suspected stolen HOF property because the museum does not pursue recovery.
Ironically, it was another stolen photograph of Babe Ruth that led Hall officials to suspect that current Heritage Auctions consignment director Mike Gutierrez was the culprit responsible for the 1980s thefts from the NBL. Gutierrez sold New York auctioneer Josh Evans a signed Ruth photo that had the Hall’s accession number covered with white-out on its reverse. When Evans realized the photo was Hall of Fame property he informed museum officials and an investigation was opened with Gutierrez as the prime suspect. Evans says a Hall official told him, “The Ruth photo came from the Waite Hoyt file and (that) Gutierrez had recently checked out that file.”
Further scrutiny directed at Gutierrez followed during FBI and State investigations when a friend who had accompanied him on a trip to the National Baseball Library told investigators that he saw Gutierrez stealing documents from the Herrmann Papers archive while he was using the library’s copy machine. The witness told Hall officials and law enforcement that Gutierrez would make copies of library items and then slip original documents in between the photo copies he was making. The stacks of documents were then deposited in Gutierrez’ briefcase and the witness told hobby newsletter the Sweet Spot, “He never let that briefcase leave his side.” Another New York dealer, Richard Simon, also confirmed the existence of the eyewitness to the thefts on his website stating, “The Hall of Fame covered up the incident because they did not want adverse publicity and the dealer (Gutierrez), of course, denies any involvement. But I know of an eyewitness to this theft, and I know of three buyers of these photos who have seen the white-out on the back of the photo.”
Two years ago, ex-Hall library employee, Bill Deane, told Hauls of Shame he witnessed Gutierrez researching at the NBL on numerous occasions in the late 1980s and also said that Gutierrez was unsupervised with total access to the library collections. Deane said the library had no security and also confirmed that Gutierrez was the “prime suspect” in the Hall of Fame heist when Hall officials decided not to pursue prosecution because of fears of negative press and a backlash from past and future donors. Deane also confirmed that Gutierrez was barred from entry to the Hall after the Ruth incident and added, “They said he wasn’t allowed here, he was blacklisted from the National Baseball Library.” Another ex-Hall official confirmed Gutierrez’ ban from the library and also said that a list of banned library thieves was passed along to Jim Gates when he assumed the position as the Hall’s head librarian.
Hauls of Shame contacted the Hall of Fame’s President, Jeff Idelson, and his Director of Communications, Brad Horn, for comment but neither responded to our inquiry. Jane Forbes Clark did not return calls made to her Clark Estates office in Rockefeller Center in New York City and the Wagner letter has been reported to the local Cooperstown Police Department that has filed official reports previously on other items offered by Heritage. Cooperstown Police Chief Mike Covert was unavailable for comment.
With all of the circumstantial evidence stacked against Gutierrez, his boss, Chris Ivy, still offers no answers related to the provenance of any of the suspect items in his sales like the Wagner and Dreyfus protest letters. He offers no explanation as to why the Hall of Fame’s Herrmann protest file has virtually every other letter and statement related to that game against the Reds and Pirates in 1911 except for lot 81674, the Honus Wagner letter. According to Ivy, a signed statement from the owner of that item simply stating he has clear title to the stolen letter is all that he and his father Steve Ivy require. Heritage is no stranger to getting caught selling stolen materials ranging from a Green Jacket from the Masters to an actual Tyrannosaurus Bataan dinosaur skeleton.
As evidenced in our last report, Ivy and Heritage also have no problem offering fake and fraudulent items like the 1912 John Ward letter that is still currently for sale despite being identified as non-genuine in a hobby reference guide written by Ron Keurajian. When offering fakes, Ivy and Heritage simply stand behind the fraudulent LOA’s issued by JSA and PSA/DNA, the authentication companies infamous for certifying forgeries like Heritage’s $149,000 1927 Yankees signed ball signed in green ink and a 1939 Lou Gehrig single signed baseball advertised as one of the last he ever signed.
As for the genuine but stolen Honus Wagner letter, the bid currently stands at $1,400. Where it ends up only Chris Ivy and the winning bidder will know. A return to Cooperstown seems unlikely.
By Peter J. Nash
May 6, 2014
UPDATE (May 16th): Heritage is still selling the bogus John M. Ward letter despite the fact that it has been identified as non-genuine in our report and in Ron Keurajian’s book, Baseball Hall of Fame Autographs: A Reference Guide. The letter featuring a secretarial signature of Ward has a current bid of $6,500 ($7,767.50 w/buyers premium) and the auction house claims there are “10 internet/phone bidders” competing for the fraudulent lot authenticated by Steve Grad and PSA/DNA. (The auction ends this evening).
Heritage Auction Galleries in Dallas, Texas, is at it again. While former hobby big shot Bill Mastro is waiting to be sentenced in June, Chris Ivy and Co. appear to have catapulted fraud in the collectibles industry to the next level with some help from embattled and alleged expert Steve Grad and his employer PSA/DNA.
Case in point is Heritage’s current lot number 81675, an alleged rare autographed letter signed by 19th-century Hall of Famer John Montgomery Ward. Ward was a pitcher and shortstop for the champion Providence Grays and New York Giants and was instrumental as a player-lawyer who helped establish the Players League in 1890. After he retired, he became part-owner and President of the Boston Braves and executed scores of documents on behalf of the ball club. Here’s how the auction house describes one of those documents which, if genuine, should easily command a sale price of over $25,000:
“It is here that we find Ward, directing a brief typed letter to National League president T. J. Lynch that once accompanied the contract of player Otto Hess. Despite Ward’s long and distinguished service to our National Pastime, his autograph remains maddeningly elusive to collectors a half-century after his 1964 Hall of Fame induction. The offered specimen rates a solid 9/10 in black fountain pen ink, and the standard-sized page of “Boston National League Baseball Company” letterhead presents perfectly with only typical mailing folds and a filing hole at upper left corner to report as condition caveats. Full LOA from PSA/DNA. Guide Value or Estimate: $4,000 – up.”
What Ivy and Heritage fail to mention in the lot description is that this same letter once appeared in one of Bill Mastro’s sales back in 2004, but was pulled off the auction block. Mastro, after being informed that the letter featured a secretarial signature of Ward, withdrew the document from his auction. Several collectors at that time pointed out how ridiculous it was for the letter to be considered genuine although it had been authenticated by Jimmy Spence and Steve Grad, the two so-called experts who Mastro had mentored and helped get positions at PSA and Collectors Universe.
Steve Grad (pictured with Bill Mastro) authenticated the Ward secretarial signature that was pulled from a 2004 Mastro auction as lot 548. Lew Lipset sold a similar bogus Ward letter as genuine in the late 1980's (right).
Another similar Ward letter also featuring a bogus secretarial signature of the rare Hall of Famer was sold as a genuine example by dealer Lew Lipset back in the late 1980’s. But besides the Lipset and Mastro offerings, public sales of similar documents have been few and far between. It wasn’t until 2012 when author Ron Keurajian published, Baseball Hall of Fame Autographs: A Reference Guide, that collectors and auctioneers were provided with a detailed case study of Ward’s handwriting and how it contrasted with the secretarial examples that have surfaced over the decades. In the book Keurajian illustrates three genuine examples of Ward’s signature against one secretarial, all of which he found in the collection at the National Baseball Library in Cooperstown, New York. Keurajian writes, “Just about 100 percent of Ward signatures in the market are forgeries. Many period letters are signed by Ward’s secretary. Secretarial signatures, as seen in Ward 4, deviate greatly from the genuine signature.”
Author Ron Keurajian illustrates genuine John M. Ward signatures with one of the known secretarial examples in his book "Baseball Hall of Fame Autographs: A Reference Guide" (McFarland, 2012).
To arrive at his conclusion Keurajian didn’t have to do much in-depth analysis on the genuine and secretarial examples of Ward’s signature. Keurajian declined to comment on the Ward letter saying the Ward section of his book speaks for itself. The illustrated differences between both versions are so pronounced that even a novice autograph collector can easily see that they were done in different hands. Despite that fact, the Heritage letter was first authenticated by Steve Grad and Jimmy Spence of PSA/DNA when it was offered at the Mastro sale in 2004.
Steve Grad's authentication of the bogus Ward letter made #47 on the HOS "Worst 100 Authentications" list. It was reported that PSA's Kevin Keating was selling the exact same document in 2012, but it was actually another similar Ward document he was offering.
Reminiscent of his now infamous authentication of the $35,000 misspelled Ed Delahanty letter, Grad’s PSA certiftication of the bogus Ward signature was considered so egregious by many autograph aficionados that his gaff made it as #47 on the Hauls of Shame list of the “Worst 100 Authentications of All-Time by PSA/DNA and JSA.” By the time Chris Ivy of Heritage received the bogus document as a consignment he was already aware of the Hauls of Shame report and the previous withdrawal of the letter from the 2004 Mastro sale. Despite that fact, Ivy went ahead and included the letter in the Heritage catalog because it comes with a “Full LOA” from the third-party authentication company.
HOS compared the Heritage secretarial Ward signature against other secretarial and genuine examples.
Then, after posting the Ward letter on the auction house’s online preview, Ivy also became aware of the recent Hauls of Shame report which included a much more detailed comparison of both authentic and secretarial Ward signatures including the signature from Heritage lot. But since Heritage has the PSA/DNA LOA in hand, they apparently feel there’s no reason not to sell the letter. Even though it’s been identified as a forgery in a published hobby reference guide by a recognized expert, Chris and Steve Ivy see no problem with selling the item.
The PSA "Autograph Facts" page featuring John Ward exemplars shows three handwriting samples that illustrate how the Heritage signature is a bogus secretarial. Despite having this information posted on its own website, PSA still issued an LOA.
Even PSA/DNA can’t support its own authentication based on the Ward exemplars it has posted on the “PSA Autograph Facts” page on the company website. The three exemplars PSA presents to the public bear no resemblance whatsoever to the current Ward secretarial signature being sold by Heritage. PSA illustrates one contract signed by Ward in 1912 and two other signatures penned by him in the 1890’s.
Ward’s signature is exceedingly scarce in the marketplace and most of the unimpeachable exemplars of his signature appear on correspondence housed in the Hall of Fame collection and on affidavits filed in a New York City court house. The PSA “Autograph Facts” page only offers a small cross section of Ward’s handwriting and does not even address the secretarial signatures. It is interesting to note that PSA/DNA does not include the secretarial example in Heritage as an authentic example despite the fact it may have been certified by the company twice in the last ten years. We know of only one authentic Ward letter in private hands and that example is believed to have been stolen from the files at the Baseball Hall of Fame (along with the current HA lot).
These 19th century examples of Ward's signature are all genuine (clockwise): 1885 Tim Keefe ledger; 1890's book inscribed to Henry Chadwick; 1893 Ward contract (NBL); 1890 court affidavit; 1890 court affidavit.
In examining the authentic handwriting of Ward there is a clear contrast between his signature in the late 19th century and the signatures executed when he was an executive with the Boston Braves. Although you can see the same hand in all of those examples, the earlier versions are more elaborate with larger letter construction. The later versions appear more angular and the signature appears to have been signed with greater speed with an end stroke of the final “d” that almost flies off the page.
Authentic Ward signatures originating from the HOF's Herrmann Papers appear to the left while bogus secretarial examples of the baseball pioneer's signature appear to the right with the Heritage example at the bottom.
The individuals who executed the secretarial versions of Ward’s signature in some cases were not even trying to mimic his real signature, while the example in Heritage shows that there was at least a minimal attempt by a secretary to reproduce what his signature actually looked like. But when displayed side by side next to the authentic documents Ward signed from the August Herrmann Papers Collection, there is no comparison. Ward’s genuine signature is so distinctive and consistent that it is absolutely impossible for a trained eye to mistake one of the secretary signatures for a genuine one. One big Heritage customer we spoke with said, “It’s a joke that Ivy and Heritage have that letter in the auction.”
An authentic 1911 letter actually signed by John Ward appears to the left (courtesy NBL) while the Heritage letter (right) bears no resemblance to the authentic Ward.
That, of course, didn’t stop Ivy and Heritage from offering it for public sale in what may be one of the most blatant examples of an auction house knowingly selling a fake autograph. What may be even more troubling is that the alleged experts at PSA and Heritage had access to entire handwritten letters drafted by Ward as well.
This letter was handwritten by John M. Ward (right) and bears his authentic signature. The letter originates from the August Herrmann Papers archive and is believed to have been stolen from the NBL.
In particular, one handwritten letter sent by Ward to August Herrmann and the National Commission in 1905 dealt with his legal representation of the player Jack Taylor who had been accused of gambling on baseball games (the NBL Herrmann archive includes the actual case file for that incident). That letter along with several authentic and secretarial signatures that exist in the archives at Cooperstown should have served as the basis for PSA/DNA to definitively determine that the current Heritage letter was bogus. With the evidence so clearly defined and the Ward signature on the auction letter so starkly contrasting the real ones, how could Steve Grad and PSA still issue a letter of authenticity? How does Grad explain his authentication with Jimmy Spence in 2004 when Bill Mastro withdrew the letter from his sale because even he knew it was a fake? Why would PSA knowingly allow the current sale a bogus item that had already been pulled from a previous auction?
Jimmy Spence and Pawn Stars authenticator Steve Grad (center) certified the bogus Ward letter genuine in 2004 but even Bill Mastro (right) knew it was a fake and pulled it from his sale.
The answer just might lie in the identity of the Heritage consignor or a former owner of the letter. It might also be because one of the PSA/DNA authenticators was recently peddling another bogus Ward letter addressed to Thomas Lynch in 1912. Sources indicate that PSA/DNA authenticator Kevin Keating of Alexandria, Virginia, offered the other bogus Ward document to a collector for $50,000. The signature on Keating’s document is the same style secretary signature as the Heritage lot.
PSA authenticator Kevin Keating (right) offered a collector another bogus Ward letter (left) written to the NL president. The secretary's signature matches the Heritage letter.
Keating has been listed as a member of PSA’s “autograph authentication team” on the company’s LOA’s since he joined Joe Orlando and Co. back in 2009 and in an article published in PSA’s Sports Market Report (SMR), Keating expressed his pride in working for PSA saying, “The proliferation of auction houses would absolutely not be possible if it weren’t for a company like PSA. They have enabled then to be in business. They can lean on a company like PSA so they can filter out the bad items.” But filtering out a bad item is not what’s happened at Heritage with the bogus Ward letter. What appears to have happened is that a counterfeit item may have received the blessing of PSA because an authenticator of the company owns a similar forgery, in this case Keating. The offering of the other bogus Ward letter and its ties to Keating, who tried to dupe a fellow collector in a private transaction, make a mockery of other statements made by Keating on the PSA website. Said Keating, “PSA has undoubtedly made it much more difficult for forgers to operate successfully. PSA is a filter system that keeps the bad stuff out of the hobby.”
The PSA letters of authenticity include the facsimile signature of alleged experts Steve Grad and Kevin Keating (right).
But it appears that Keating and Grad won’t keep out the bad stuff that PSA insiders have (or had) a financial interest in. In offering the other Ward letter last year and in writing an LOA for the letter in Heritage’s current sale both Keating and Grad have exposed themselves as incompetent authenticators who either cannot catch a common secretarial signature of one of the rarest Hall of Famer autographs, or are committing an outright fraud upon the hobby by knowingly authenticating a fake item. It appears that Chris Ivy and Heritage could care less if the item is genuine or bogus—all they require is the PSA letter.
The government’s plea agreement with Bill Mastro in the United States v. Mastro stipulates that Mastro cooperate with prosecutors and offer whatever information he has that will assist their cases against his co-defendants Doug Allen, Mark Theotikos and other parties in the memorabilia industry. Sources indicate that the government has also been investigating PSA and its principals including David Hall and Joe Orlando and if Mastro were to sing to the Feds and rat-out former colleagues including Steve Grad, Jimmy Spence, Kevin Keating and John Reznikoff, in relation to incidents similar to the Ward LOA, the authentication giant could face further scrutiny.
Mastro withdrew the bogus Ward letter from a 2004 sale (left) but Chris & Steve Ivy of Heritage are selling it anyway.
When Bill Mastro offered the same Ward letter in 2004 he described it as being “indisputably authenticated by its presence on a piece of official team correspondence dated April 30, 1912.” But when executed by a secretary, a rarity that could command $25,000 (or $50k per Keating) suddenly plummets in value. Mastro started out the letter at $900 and the Legendary-Mastro website lists the last bid on the letter in 2004 at $1,139, roughly 1/25 of the value of a genuine Ward letter. The Heritage Ward letter opened at $1,000 and has received 6 bids to reach only $1,700 for its current high bid.
When Mastro published his auction results in 2004, the Ward letter appeared as lot 543 and was identified as “Withdrawn.” Now, a decade later, the bogus rarity has resurfaced with its PSA/DNA letter at an auction house like Heritage functioning as an accomplice in the distribution of yet another fake into the hobby. One collector we spoke with who requested anonymity told us, “This letter in the Heritage auction just exposes what these companies like PSA do, they cert bogus and questionable autographs for their friends and auction house buddies.” PSA’s so-called experts also offer $50,000 fakes for sale to unsuspecting collectors. So much for that filter system to keep bad stuff out of the hobby.
Heritage was put on notice by Hauls of Shame since late April about the bogus Ward sig via Twitter.
We asked Chris Ivy why his auction house is selling the fake Ward letter despite the public information indicating it is a forgery and he disputed our claim that the letter was withdrawn from the Mastro sale. Ivy said, “The letter in question sold for $1,139 in the MastroNet Winter 2004 auction, at which time it was authenticated by James Spence and Steve Grad. I am not certain what happened to that letter of authenticity, but the one that currently accompanies it was issued by PSA/DNA on April 10, 2014, certification number V02859. That being said, no human is infallible and if this letter was issued in error the lot will be removed from auction. We will undertake an investigation of your claims.” Ivy did not offer any information regarding the provenance of the Ward letter but despite his company’s checkered past regarding authenticity issues he added, “Heritage would never sell an item which we do not believe to be genuine.”
We also contacted the offices of Quality Autographs to ask Kevin Keating why he was peddling the other bogus Ward for $50,000 and why he would put his name on a PSA LOA that falsely claims the Heritage letter is genuine? A representative said Keating was traveling and he did not respond to our inquiry.
Joe Orlando's PSA/DNA crew headed by Steve Grad (right) certified the Ward fake as genuine with its own cert code "V02859". The fake also got by HA employee Mike Gutierrez (center) who is a past PSA and current JSA "expert."
While its difficult to get collectors or dealers to criticize Ivy and Heritage publicly for fear they will be banned from bidding in future HA sales one collector summed up of the feelings of most when he told us, “Is he (Ivy) a criminal mastermind or does he lack the mental acuity required for such a nefarious title? The time tested adage of “Fool me once, shame on you – fool me twice shame on me, would normally apply in this case, but never before has there been a need to figure out who to blame when the count reaches ‘fool me 20 times’?”
Although collectors and hobbyists regularly accuse auctioneers like Ivy of knowingly selling questionable items and outright fakes, the auctioneers can always fall back and lay the blame on the authentication company issuing the LOA. That’s an auctioneer move taken right out of the Bill Mastro playbook.
The offering of the PSA-certified Ward letter at Heritage is a perfect case study to illustrate what the third-party authentication company has been banking on all along since Bill Mastro helped put the system into place over fifteen years ago: Have the LOA not guarantee anything and let everything else boil down to a matter of opinion, even when the evidence is overwhelming that an item is a forgery. As long as the PSA/DNA LOA has all of the facsimile signatures of the alleged experts, that’s all that matters. What the third-party giant has illustrated with the Ward letter is how effective their formula is in facilitating the execution of the perfect hobby crime.
Or maybe it’s just the next best perfect crime in line after someone successfully smuggled all of these Ward letters out of the National Baseball Library in Cooperstown. Heritage and PSA are all too familiar with that, too.
By Peter J. Nash
April 29, 2014
Goldin Auctions sold what PSA/DNA said was Ted Williams' last glove.
“He had been giving away his gloves and bats and had grudgingly consented to a sentimental ceremony today.”
So wrote John Updike about Ted Williams in the New Yorker on October 22nd, 1960. Now, almost fifty-four years after those words were written, one of the gloves alleged to be Williams’ last was just sold on the auction block. But was it the real deal? And why did one of the experts who authenticated it say he never claimed it was Ted’s last glove when his letter of opinion said it was? Are Goldin Auctions and glove authenticators PSA/DNA just hell-bent for leather?
Updike sat in a wooden seat in the Fall of 1960 in the ballpark he described as a “lyric little bandbox” to witness Williams’ last major league game, and the essay he wrote, Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu, became what Roger Angell would later call the “most celebrated baseball piece ever.”
That being said, this is likely the first piece that has paid any attention to Updike’s mention that the “Splendid Splinter” had been giving away his bats and gloves in the weeks leading up to his inevitable retirement. It’s something that caught my eye after Goldin Auctions recently claimed they had the actual sacred relic that Williams pounded his fist into on that late September day in 1960. It was the glove that the “Kid”, himself, would bid adieu to as he hung up his spikes and called it a career.
The finality of the day Updike wrote about in 1960 gives this Williams artifact an aura of immortality and the memories of him hitting that homer into the right-field grandstand in his last at-bat just makes this glove all the more noteworthy and iconic. As Americans we seem rather obsessed with the firsts and the lasts of all sorts of endeavors, so when you say, “this is Ted Williams’ last glove,” it resonates with us and seems profound. For auctioneers, having such firsts and lasts in their possession is like issuing themselves a free pass to make the rounds on the network and cable newscasts. If you happen to have that last glove caressing your own hand today in 2014, it’s something that could be extremely valuable. You might even say it would be worthy of a museum display in Cooperstown.
Sometime before he passed away, Ted Williams actually donated his 500th home run bat and ball from the 1960 season to the Baseball Hall of Fame and they’ve been on display ever since. Ted’s alleged last glove, however, was up for grabs at Goldin Auctions, but how could they be sure it’s really the one he wore on September 28, 1960? And considering Updike’s mention that Williams had been gifting away his tools of the trade, how could you ever be sure which glove was which? Williams likely used dozens of baseball gloves during his career that spanned from 1939 to 1960, so how could anyone know definitively that one was worn in a particular game, let alone his very last?
Ted Williams wore many gloves during his career (l to r): Williams in 1939; 1954; undated photo from the 1950s; and on July 4, 1960.
According to Goldin’s catalog, Williams gave the alleged “last glove” as a gift to John Donovan an ex-Red Sox bat boy who went on to become a Red Sox VP and the teams general counsel in the 1980s. The lot description states, “This one-of-a-kind glove was given to Donovan by Ted Williams upon his retirement in 1960. It was given to a mutual friend of Ted’s and John’s shortly thereafter, and has remained in the family possession for 50 years.” But when Goldin first announced he was selling the glove, Sports Collectors Daily reported, “The auction house says Donovan told them Williams gave him the glove upon his retirement in 1960.”
Sports Collectors Daily reported that Goldin Auctions received the consignment of Ted Williams' alleged "last glove" from a Red Sox executive.
Ken Goldin told us that his consignor was not Donovan or his family, but rather another unnamed individual who he passed the glove along to. Goldin was not willing to reveal the identity of the owner and he had no direct evidence he could offer to prove that the glove was actually used by Williams in his last game. What he did have was a letter of opinion from PSA/DNA signed by glove expert Denny Esken and bat expert John Taube claiming that it was “the very last glove the baseball great ever used as a player and the only one ever authenticated by PSA/DNA.”
You’d think that Esken as an expert would also have hard evidence to support such a claim including a photo or video clip of Williams wearing the same glove or at least the same model glove on Sept. 28, 1960. If not that direct evidence, perhaps he might have pictures of Williams wearing the same glove at other times during the 1960 season, but he didn’t have that either. All Goldin offered as further proof was the additional claim that, “This piece of history has been photographed and featured in numerous books and articles on Ted’s storied career.”
Denny Esken (right) made similar claims that a glove offered by Steiner Sports (center) was "photo-matched" as the last glove Robinson ever wore. But a photo from 1956 (left) reveals that Robinson wore different gloves as evidenced by the "42" he wrote on the strap (see red highlights).
It’s not the first time Esken has made a spectacular claim without supporting evidence as he did the same thing last year when he authenticated what he claimed was Jackie Robinson’s last glove from 1956 (and the glove he wore during the 1955 and 1956 World Series). Esken claimed to have “photo-matched” Robinson’s glove from an image taken during Spring Training in 1956, but that didn’t prove Robinson wore the glove in his last game or in the World Series and, as it turned out, the glove he authenticated was not a “photo-match.” It was a different glove.
Despite PSA/DNA's claims that Williams' glove was a Wilson A-2000, this photo from July 4, 1960, shows Williams wearing another glove with a different heel construction. The glove depicted in the Boston Globe photo shows close to nine metal eyelits whereas the Goldin glove has only six.
In a report published in the summer of 2012, Hauls of Shame presented several photos of Jackie Robinson during the 1956 season and during spring training that clearly showed him wearing a glove different from the Esken authenticated glove that was offered by Steiner Sports. Despite Esken’s false claim, Steiner went on to sell the glove for over $373,000 without posting an addendum reflecting the misrepresentation of the glove to bidders.
As was the case with the Robinson glove, we also found a few photographs of Ted Williams wearing different gloves during the 1960 season. The first photo we encountered appeared in the Boston Globe from a Red Sox game played on July 4, 1960, and clearly illustrated Williams wearing a different model glove. The heel construction in the Globe photo showed at least nine different metal eyelets for lacing while the Goldin auction glove featured approximately six.
This AP photo from July 9, 1960, (top left) shows Williams wearing a different glove with a rectangular label contrasting with the oval Wilson logo alleged to have been Williams' last (bottom right). An undated Wilson A-2000 glove ad from Williams' personal scrapbooks c1959-60 (top right) shows his glove as different from the Goldin lot. Also pictured is a 1961 Wilson ad for the A-2000 (bottom left).
In addition, a second photograph we located was published by the Associated Press on July 9, 1960, and showed Williams posing with Roger Maris wearing a different glove which appeared to have been manufactured by Spalding. The glove was constructed with a rectangular label sewn onto the strap as opposed to the circular stitched “Wilson” logo which is visible on the strap of the Goldin glove.
In the Goldin lot description Esken offers additional information about the A-2000 Wilson glove itself stating:
“The Wilson 11 3/4″ “Shooting Star Palm” fielder’s glove shows the “344A” pro code under the wrist strap which confirms this glove was manufactured specifically for Williams himself. Made from premium Chicago leather, it boasts a Solid X-Lace Web, a new innovation at the time, making this style of glove closer to the modern version in use today than the ones available at the beginning of Williams’ career…”
Goldin and Eskin give the impression that the “344A” pro code was a specific designation for Williams, but others say it represents the code Wilson used for gloves made for MLB players in general.
In the past few decades only a few gloves have been sold as either “game used” or “attributed to” actual game use by Williams. Two of those gloves were sold by Heritage Auction Galleries in Dallas, Texas, and were accompanied by letters of opinion written by another recognized glove expert named Joe Phillips who operates an outfit called “The Glove Collector.” Philips noted that one of the gloves had a “3″ mark on the underside of the wrist strap and noted that a “344A” stamp was used on gloves that were considered “pro stock.” Based upon the characteristics of the gloves and two letters of provenance written by people who claimed to have received the gloves directly from Williams in the 1950’s, Philips wrote that the one glove was “very likely worn by Ted Williams during the mid-1950’s.” Heritage sold both gloves as “game used” and “game worn” by Williams. In 2004, when Heritage sold its first Williams glove, they noted that the only other known “game used” Williams gloves were one at the Baseball Hall of Fame and another with a “Boston area doctor who still holds it in his collection.”
Heritage has sold two other gloves said to be "game used" by Ted Williams (l to r) a c. 1955 glove given to a Williams friend and another from the 1950s attributed to Williams. A third glove resides at the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. A Wilson ad from 1956 shows that Williams used Wilson products.
Before we actually interviewed auctioneer Ken Goldin and the experts at PSA/DNA it was rather easy to establish that Ted Williams wore a glove (or gloves) during the 1960 season that differed from the example being sold as his “last glove.” Reading John Updike’s New Yorker essay, it was even easier to establish the possibility that Williams was actually giving away multiple gloves in his possession in the weeks leading up to his last game at Fenway on September 28, 1960. In fact, it appears that Updike may have heard about Williams giving away his equipment in an article published in the Boston Herald on September 29, 1960 which reported, “Ted has been giving away bats and gloves the last few weeks, leaving little doubt but that he was sincere about his retirement that became official yesterday.”
John Updike (right) likely read that Williams was giving away his bats and gloves in a Boston Herald article (right) published the day after his last game on September 28, 1960 (ticket, center).
So, what could Goldin or PSA/DNA provide that would somehow support their lofty claims and present the lot description as something that was supported by actual evidence? What could separate this alleged glove from other outright frauds that hobbyists have been deceived by recently like the “Shoeless” Joe Jackson “game used” bat offered for sale at Robert Edward Auctions with a fraudulent letter of opinion by PSA/DNA?
When I presented Ken Goldin with all of the information I had discovered, he proceeded to investigate the situation on his own and by Monday morning April 22nd he had posted a new PSA/DNA letter of opinion which described the glove as “One of the Last Gloves Used by Williams in the Major Leagues.” PSA experts John Taube and Dennis Esken were still claiming the glove was used by Williams during his last season, just not in his legendary last game as depicted in the actual auction catalog. The actual auction lot description was changed from Williams’ “very last glove” to “one of the very last gloves.”
PSA/DNA replaced its original opinion of this glove's "game-use" in Ted Williams' last game to his "last season" based on information Hauls of Shame passed along to auctioneer Ken Goldin.
Based on the track record of the PSA experts Esken and Taube, however, was this downgrade of the letter of opinion from “game use” in Williams’ last game to just his “last season” credible?
According to the website VintageBaseball GloveForum.com, the Wilson A-2000 model glove featured a rectangular logo on the wrist strap up until at least 1963 and the round “W” logo appeared circa 1964, almost four years after Williams’ last game. If that information is correct, that would mean it was impossible for the Goldin glove to have been used by Williams in his last season or at any other time in his baseball career. It would mean that the opinion of “game use” rendered by Taube and Esken of PSA/DNA was entirely wrong. What type of research did PSA/DNA conduct to determine the glove was genuine?
The PSA website includes an online feature called “PSA Card Facts” which lets users view hi-resolution scans of every Topps baseball card ever issued since 1951, including Williams’ last season in 1960. The players posing for those cards sometimes wore their gloves and in some cases revealed the actual brand of glove they chose to use on the ball field. We decided to scan all of the cards issued from 1960 to 1967 to determine when the Wilson A-2000 glove (which was first introduced in 1957) changed its logo on the wrist from a rectangular shape saying “Wilson” to the oval “W” logo. The results of this review were quite remarkable.
PSA Card Facts shows that in Topps cards issued from 1960 through 1964, the oval Wilson logo "W" doesn't appear until 1964 on the card of Wes Stock. All Wilson glove appearing on cards before 1964 have the rectangular "Wilson" logo affixed to the wrist strap.
According to the photographs used by Topps on its card products in the 1960’s, the first time a Wilson glove appears with an oval “W” logo is in 1964 on the baseball card of pitcher Wes Stock of the Baltimore Orioles. Topps would use photos of players taken in the previous season or during Spring Training of the year of issue, so the photo of Stock wearing the Wilson glove with the oval “W” logo could have been taken as early as 1963. If the Topps photos are an accurate representation of how Wilson introduced the new style of “W” logo into the Major Leagues, that would again make it impossible for the Goldin Williams glove to have been used in a game during the 1960 season. It isn’t until the seasons of 1965 and 1966 that the oval “W” logo appears with great frequency in the player photographs published by Topps.
The Topps cards of Red Sox pitcher Jack Lamabe illustrate best how Wilson introduced the oval "W" logo on its glove products. In his 1963 and 1964 cards he is wearing gloves with rectangular logos and in 1965 and 1966 the logo has changed to the oval "W" version.
Reviewing the Topps cards from this era on the PSA website also helped to establish the progression of Wilson products in reference to particular players, including Boston Red Sox pitcher Jack Lamabe. Lamabe is shown in his 1963 and 1964 cards wearing a Wilson glove with a rectangular logo on the strap while his cards from 1965 and 1966 show him wearing a Wilson A-2000 glove featuring the oval “W” logo just like the Williams glove up for auction. In addition, the Wilson product catalogs do not incorporate the oval “W” logo until the 1964 Spring issue and they continued through the 1960’s including the 1966 catalog which appears to include the exact same model A-2000 glove as the alleged Williams glove (“last game” & “last season”) authenticated by PSA/DNA.
Hauls of Shame spoke with PSA/DNA’s glove expert Dennis Esken to make some sense of the Williams glove controversy. When asked how he could justify writing an LOA saying the glove was from Williams last game Esken said, “I never said it was from his last game that wasn’t me. That’s a facsimile signature not mine. I said it was from his last season so that’s how it changed.” When asked who wrote the letter Esken said, “It was John Taube in his office and he really doesn’t know gloves like I do. They want me to look at the gloves coming to PSA because there are so many bad gloves people are trying to get by them,” said Esken. Esken also made a point to say he doesn’t work for PSA for the money but, rather, “to help the FBI” and weed out the bad gloves. Taube did not respond to our inquiry for comment on his PSA/DNA letter.
The Ted Williams glove alleged to be from his last season in 1960 is identical to a Wilson A-2000 model that appears in the 1966 Wilson catalog (left).
When asked what evidence he had that the Williams glove with the oval “W” logo was from 1960 (when it appears that such a glove first appeared in the Major Leagues in 1963), Esken said, “It was a prototype glove made for Ted. Twenty years ago I spoke to the Wilson guy who made the glove and he told me it was (made) for him.” In an email to Goldin Esken added, “There is a special number stamped under the wrist strap (344A). I was told by these designers that there was a number stamped to verify whose glove it was. That number matched their records for Ted Williams 1960!”
When we asked Esken if those numbers were simply codes for “pro model” gloves he replied, “These glove guys just don’t understand. Joe Phillips is emailing Goldin and saying the glove could only be from 1963 but he’s wrong, its a prototype.” Phillips did not respond to an email request for comment. Esken said he spoke to the Wilson designer over twenty years ago and said his name was Ted Javor. Esken said he was referred to Javor by another Wilson employee named Earl Malone who has operated a glove repair business in his post-Wilson days. Hauls of Shame attempted to contact Malone for comment but was unsuccessful. When we asked Esken where the Wilson documentation for the “344A” code was now and if he could provide contact information for Ted Javor he replied, “No, that was a long time ago, he’s probably dead by now.”
The Goldin Williams A-2000 glove has "344A" stamped on the inside wrist strap (left). Another A-2000 displayed on a collector website has a "241A" stamp.
If Esken’s claim that the Williams glove was a prototype were true, it would mean that a glove that appeared in the 1966 Wilson catalog was given to Ted Williams six years earlier. We asked Esken why there is no photographic evidence showing players wearing Wilson gloves with the oval “W” logo before 1963 and he said, “It was just for Ted, only he had it.”
Esken also revealed that the consignor and owner of the glove was Dr. David L. Pressman of Chelsea, Massachusetts, and when asked how he could know which glove Pressman had considering reports of Williams giving glves away Esken said, “I know he was giving away his gloves and Dr. Pressman knew Ted and wanted his last glove and he got it. Donovan got the glove for him from Ted. Donovan hardly had the glove, the Doctor has had it for like 54 years. I found out about the glove from the Doctor over twenty years ago when I checked it out.” Esken added that Pressman couldn’t go to Fenway Park to get the glove that day because he had class in medical school at Harvard and sent Donovan to get that particular glove because it was “the nice one” he wanted as opposed to another glove that he said wasn’t in good shape.
Dr. Pressman's Williams glove appeared in a bok written by Bill Nowlin and Jim prime as a "game used" glove with no mention of "last game" or "last season." PSA/DNA authenticator John Taube (center) issued a letter alleging it was from his last game. The company headed by Joe Orlando (right) has since issued a replacement letter alleging game use in 1960.
Esken’s hearsay account contradicted Goldin’s description of John Donovan’s acquisition of the glove and, as a result, Goldin told us, “We rely on the consignor as well as the authenticator in instances like the Ted Williams glove where it is not part of an MLB authentication or similar program. Our consignor was a longtime friend of Ted Williams (a point that is without dispute) and has written to us confirming that he received the glove from Donovan on behalf of Ted Williams and was told it was a game used glove from his final season (1960).” Pressman, however, did not provide for Goldin any of the details Esken described.
Pressman has been quoted in several articles written about Williams after his death and his glove was featured as just a “game-used” glove in a 2002 book written by Bill Nowlin and Jim Prime called, Ted Williams: The Pursuit of Perfection. In 2001, Pressman was also critical of Williams’ son and told the LA Times, “John Henry needs a good Irish kick in the (rear). He’s not what you’d expect from Ted Williams whose word was golden.”
In regard to the glove, Esken’s claims boil down to his own credibility. If you examine Esken’s claim that the current glove in the Goldin auction was a prototype issued to Willliams three to six years before it began appearing on the field with MLB players, you must confront the actual hard evidence that exists in the form of actual photographs of Williams wearing what are clearly two different gloves on July 4th and July 9th, 1960. In addition, you must also confront the existence of the c.1960 Wilson advertisement which shows Williams holding an A-2000 glove with a rectangular logo patch.
Wilson A-2000 gloves appeared in catalogs and print ads but were used by some players beforehand. The A-2000 also incorporated several different design elements between 1961 (left) 1964 (center) and 1966 (inset catalog picture). The Goldin Williams glove matches the A-2000 in the 1966 Wilson catalog exactly in construction and graphics.
Esken also can’t explain why the alleged “protoptype” glove matches exactly the Wilson A-2000 glove that appears illustrated in the 1966 Wilson catalog. It has been demonstrated that there is a lag-time involved between the time gloves are designed and constructed and when they actually appear in catalogs and print ads. Those gloves also can get into the hands of MLB players well before they are made public and in some cases it has been shown that certain designs could be “game used” even a year before the glove has been made an official model. But the A-2000 model incorporated a host of contrasting design elements from year to year during the time period between 1960 and 1966.
Ted Williams was a member of Wilson's advisory board and had visited the Wilson glove factory early in his career (inset). In 1956 (the season before the A-2000 was introduced), Williams appeared in an ad wearing another Wilson glove model. In another 1959 ad (right) an illustration of the A-2000 was revealed.
Would an alleged prototype glove be more likely to resemble gloves that are a year or two removed from a catalog appearance or six years like the alleged Williams glove? And what would be the odds that the Williams glove would match the 1966 glove exactly if they really were separated by six years of designs and improvements? Did it actually take six years for that design to enter the market? Then consider that all of the visual evidence flies in the face of Esken’s claims that the Williams glove was a prototype sent only to him. Based on the story that the glove came directly from Williams, the evidence suggests that this glove was more likely used by him as an instructor, coach or manager after his playing days.
The Boston Globe published a photo of Williams wearing his last glove on the field during his last game (left). Williams continued with the Red Sox as an instructor in 1961 (center) and used other gloves when he instructed players in his role as a coach and as a manager with the Washington Senators (right).
Auctioneer Ken Goldin relies on the authentication companies for opinions and assumes that the companies are competent enough to consider these issues. Goldin responded to our inquiries and stated, “The authenticator, PSA/DNA, not only provided an LOA on the glove, but at my request provided additional information to me, in writing, regarding the glove.” As for the confusion about how and when the glove was acquired by Pressman, Goldin added, “To ensure there is no confusion as to the chain of custody on the glove, we edited out (the) description regarding that.”
Dr. Pressman could not be reached for comment and neither Esken or Goldin were willing to provide his contact information. Goldin did, however, provide us with a statement Pressman prepared on Friday for the auction house in which he mentions his inclusion in Ben Bradlee Jr’s recent Williams biography, The Kid, and says, “I first met Ted Williams in 1948 and had a close personal relationship with him most of his life.” Of the acquisition of the glove Pressman says, “Ted Williams gave John Donovan his game used glove from the 1960 season with instructions to get it to my family. I retrieved the glove from John. I was told by John and Ted it was his game used glove from his final season. It has been in my family’s possession since we received it.”
Pressman, however, did not indicate exactly when he acquired the glove in his statement and when we asked Ken Goldin whether Pressman could address what the date or even the year was he replied, “He only wrote what he 100% remembered from over 50 years ago. No speculation or “I think(s).” He didn’t remember the exact date so he did not include it. I got the impression it was shortly after.”
The date issue is also notable because Pressman wasn’t even living in Boston at the time Williams retired. He was attending medical school at Columbia University in New York City from 1958 through 1961. Considering his claims of having a close relationship with Willaims and Esken’s story that he was able to choose which glove he wanted as a gift, it would appear that this would be more difficult to do while living in Manhattan in 1960.
Esken says that Pressman sought him out to show him the glove about twenty years ago. Of Pressman’s glove Esken told us, “That glove was his baby. He once offered it to me for $200,000 based on what that Mantle glove sold to Billy Crystal for. I thought it was too much.”
The glove sold on Friday night for $88,157. Someone out there thought it was at least worth that, but can the winning bidder ever really know for sure it was used by Ted Williams in 1960?
By Peter J. Nash
April 23, 2014
The 2014 Spring Auctions are in full swing and so is our auction fraud alert.
It’s that time of year again when the REA catalog sniffers wax poetic about the Springtime auction offerings, but Heritage Auction Galleries, Huggins & Scott, Goldin Auctions and SCP have also put together an impressive array of materials from the world of baseball memorabilia we refer to as “the hobby.”
But, as usual, there are numerous items in the Spring sales that collectors shouldn’t touch with a 10-foot pole. We devoted our last two reports to the fraudulent “Shoeless” Joe Jackson “Black Betsy” bat being offered at REA and we’re glad that the high bidder at $55,000 appears to have been able to retract his high-bid. The bat has been willfully misrepresented by REA and PSA/DNA has issued a deceptive letter of opinion stating that the bat was game used by Jackson although there is no definitive evidence to support such a claim.
In response to our report, PSA/DNA’s bat expert, John Taube, issued a three page missive on the REA website in an attempt to defend his position that the Jackson bat was “game used.” Taube writes that Hauls of Shame is “not qualified to comment on the specifics of the authentication process of a game used bat” but ends up backtracking on his original opinion of actual game use by alluding to what he now calls “the probability of game use.”
All Taube does in his letter is reinforce the fact that he has no solid proof to justify a determination of game use by Joe Jackson. Taube actually says, “We know that Jackson did not receive many bats throughout his career adding further weight to the probability of game use.” He says that he “knows” this despite the fact there are no Hillerich &Bradsby records to support his claim and Taube still fails to address the only surviving document detailing an actual Jackson bat order from H&B shows that he received six bats of differing weights in September of 1915. According to Taube, the determination of Jackson’s game-use is based solely on his comparing bats to the vault marked “J-13″ example that sold for close to $1 million at Heritage. He claims that the “J-13″ is unique and was not used by the other players shown swinging the same style bat in period photos. It appears that the primary basis for this opinion is that he has never examined the bats used by other players. Because Taube has never encountered them as a dealer and authenticator, he believes they did not exist. Taube’s letter further illustrates that the process and criteria he uses for determining game use of Dead-Ball era bats is fatally flawed.
In addition to Taube’s letter, REA also posted its consignor’s original invoice from Steve Jensen’s 2004 Vintage Authentics auction. Although Jensen told Hauls of Shame he recalled selling the bat for “about $20,000″ the invoice shows he actually sold it for close to $48,000. So, now we at least know why REA placed a $50,000 reserve on the bat. The seller doesn’t want to risk the misrepresented bat selling for less than his original purchase price. One new question arising from REA’s invoice revelation is whether the Jackson bat opening bid at $50,000 is a legitimate one? All that being said, REA and Lifson are still pimping the bat hard with their last email telling prospective bidders: ”Was this the bat actually used by Joe Jackson in the 1919 World Series? It’s possible, but we’ll never know for sure.”
REA mind as well ask prospective bidders if the “Black Betsy” bat in the sale was also used by Bob Fothergill or Bill Killefer who were pictured swinging lumber that Taube claims was unique to Joe Jackson.
John Taube claims that the REA Joe Jackson bat (bottom) is a unique model only used by Joe Jackson and denies photographic evidence of other MLB players like Bob Fothergill (left) and Bill Killefer (right) using the same "Black Betsy" style bat. If either of the pictured bats were 35.5 inches long, they could become Joe Jackson gamers.
The alleged Jackson bat is the most stunning deception of the 2014 auction season, but here are some other selections that experts and Hauls of Shame readers have pinpointed as problematic:
-Goldin Auctions has another high-profile artifact with alleged “game use” and a PSA/DNA letter of opinion. Lot #1 in Goldin’s “Opening Day Auction” is the highly-touted “Last Glove Worn By Ted Williams.” PSA’s John Taube teamed up on this LOA with glove expert Dennis Esken to determine that the Goldin glove was worn by the “Splendid Splinter” at Fenway during his last game in 1960. According to the auction catalog description its the “only PSA/DNA authenticated Ted Williams glove in existence” and Esken also says, it is the “finest Williams glove in existence.” Goldin Auctions adds, “We dare anyone to differ.”
PSA says Goldin Auctions is selling Ted Williams' authentic last glove from 1960. But photos from 1960, like this one from July 4th (right) show Williams wearing a different glove with a different heel constriction for the lacing (see red highlights).
Last week, a reader asked us to check out the auction’s claims and, as a result, we researched some photos from the 1960 season. The first image we found on the Boston Globe website pictured Williams on July 4, 1960, at Fenway Park wearing a different glove than the one appearing in the auction. The heel of the glove is visibly different than the Wilson A-2000 model that PSA/DNA authenticated as Williams’ last glove in that it features several more circular metal eyelets for the lacing and two which actually appear to the left of the seam on the thumb. The Goldin glove has no eyelets to the left of the seam on the thumb. Is it possible that Williams wore multiple gloves in 1960? Perhaps. But how could Taube and Esken know for sure its the one from his last game? Adding to the intrigue is John Updike in his famous New Yorker essay about Williams’ last game. In “Hub Bids Kid Adieu” Updike says that Williams had been giving away his bats and gloves in the weeks leading up to his final game.
Goldin says the glove has “solid provenance” and was a gift from Williams to Red Sox executive John Donovan. But the auction house also says it was later passed along to another friend and has “remained in the family possession for 50 years.” It could very well be a glove Williams gave Donovan, but is it the last one he ever wore? Does PSA/DNA have actual proof to back up their claim?
We presented the information we discovered to Ken Goldin and asked him how PSA/DNA could have issued an LOA claiming game use in Williams’ historic last game. To his credit, Goldin proactively researched the issue on his own and on Monday morning posted a new replacement LOA from PSA/DNA which now identifies the glove as “One of the Last Gloves Used By Williams in the Major Leagues.”
The Williams glove currently has a bid of $46,585. Look out for a more in-depth report on this glove coming soon.
-Heritage Auction Galleries raised some eyebrows in the preview for its upcoming May auction when they posted several forgeries and non-genuine signatures of rare Hall of Famers Ed Delahanty, King Kelly, Buck Ewing, Josh Gibson and John Ward. The non-genuine Delahanty signature was at least spelled correctly and found on a 2-page letter executed in pencil from the collection of Tom Steinhardt and the Kelly signature was an amateurish forgery in pencil appearing as a signed return address on a period envelope which was executed in ink. It appears that the gurus at JSA and PSA caught these forgeries because most of them vanished from the HA website preview.
Non-genuine signatures of Ed Delahanty, King Kelly, Josh Gibson and John M. Ward appeared on the HA auction preview. Which ones will appear in the actual auction catalog with JSA or PSA LOA's?
The John Ward signature, however, actually made it into the Heritage catalog. The Ward letter is of particular interest in that Heritage says it comes with a “Full LOA from PSA/DNA”. The signed letter was featured last summer in our “Worst 100 Authentications” as number 46. The Ward signature is a secretarial and in no way resembles his genuine signature which is documented on numerous other documents. In fact, this exact same letter was offered in a Mastro auction in 2004 and was removed from the sale after it was reported to the auction that it was not genuine. What is most troubling about this example is that sources indicate that PSA/DNA authenticator Kevin Keating had recently attempted to sell this same non-genuine autograph to a collector for over $25,000. If that weren’t enough, the letter is also believed to have been stolen from the Baseball Hall of Fame’s Herrmann papers Archive. The fact that this letter made it into the Spring sale is a monumental embarrassment for both Heritage and PSA/DNA.
PSA/DNA has authenticated a non-genuine secretarial signature of HOFer John M. Ward. The same item was removed as lot 543 from a 2004 Mastro auction. Illustrated avbove are several Ward secreterial sigs (center) found in the HOF's Herrmann papers Archive. Authentic Ward sigs from the same collection appear to the far right and have no resemblance to the Heritage signature with the PSA/DNA LOA.
Another signature that appears to have made the cut at Heritage is a bogus example of 19th century boxing champ James J. Corbett which comes with a JSA LOA. Boxing expert Travis Roste tells us, “It’s signed by his wife and even says ‘Mrs. James Corbett.’ How could Heritage trust JSA on boxing?” What’s worse is that the Corbett signatures executed by his wife have been widely recognized as non-genuine in the hobby and among boxing collectors.
-Heritage also has its share of questionable single-signed baseballs in its Spring auction including examples attributed to Charles Comiskey and Miller Huggins which appear to have been enhanced or gone over. Other alleged forgeries of Ty Cobb and Babe Ruth also appear in the auction.
Experts say that each of these baseballs feature non genuine signatures of Hall of Famers (l to r): Charles Comiskey; Ty Cobb; Miller J. Huggins and Babe Ruth.
-Robert Edward Auctions has other questionable baseballs that experts claim are not authentic. The most stunning of all is a signed Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig ball that one top expert has opined is a forgery. That being said, JSA and Jimmy Spence authenticated the ball and it is now being touted as one of the premier lots in the auction with a current bid of $35,000.
Experts opine that all of these baseballs in the current REA sale are non-genuine
According to one expert we spoke with: “It lacks the fluid handwriting of Ruth and Gehrig on both autographs. It was just signed too slow and its my opinion it is not genuine.” REA is no stranger to offering fake Babe Ruth material as evidenced last year when they removed nearly a dozen signed photos that experts deemed forgeries while they ignored expert Ron Keurajian’s opinion and sold another non-genuine Ruth signature on a photo inscribed to actor Gary Cooper.
Several experts are of the opinion that this 1927 Yankee ball being offered by SCP is not genuine.
-Sports Cards Plus Auctions (SCP) recently got their Spring auction preview up online and the most troubling item pointed out by readers was another one of the green ink 1927 New York Yankee balls featuring what are believed to be forgeries of Ruth, Gehrig and some of their Yankee teammates. Experts we spoke with noted that the pen pressure is oddly uniform and that the ball resembles the similarly suspect 1927 ball sold for over $300,000 at Heritage in 2013.
Legendary sold a forged Ty Cobb single signed ball in Feb. (left); REA is selling alleged fakes on a 1910 Tiger team ball (center) and a 1955 single (right).
-Legendary Auctions sold a forged Ty Cobb single-signed ball back in February which was authenticated by Jimmy Spence and JSA, and now REA adds two more to that population. One is a 1910 Cobb on a Tiger team ball and the other is a 1955 ball that appears to be signed “Ty Coob.” Despite REA’s claims of provenance from an original owner collection, that fact does not make the signature on the 1955 ball genuine. In fact, it appears that many of these balls have been enhanced and gone over in a different hand. REA also notes this in the description for a Walter Johnson signed ball that one expert has called “downright ugly.”
Ugly also describes an alleged single-signed Dizzy Dean ball touted by Ken Goldin at Goldin Auctions as the “Nicest One on Earth.” The ball, which is featured as a premier lot in the auction with a current bid over $16,000, comes with an LOA from PSA/DNA dated January 31, 2014. Its described by Goldin as “One of the most difficult single signed Hall of Fame baseballs to obtain on the sweet spot” since Dean was known to sign almost exclusively on the side panels of baseballs.
This ball illustrates just how tough it is to determine whether a single signed baseball is authentic. Upon review, the signature lacks the fluidity of Dean’s autograph and was signed in a slow and laborious hand. Experts we spoke with said they would not be able to certify the ball as genuine. The signature appears unfaded and is signed on a gem-mint ONL ball with the original box. The ball has all the tell-tale signs that should raise red flags for any authenticator and clearly contrasts the single-signed example illustrated on the PSA “Autograph Facts” page for Dean exemplars. When we asked Ken Goldin about the ball he noted that the ball was sold for over $20,000 this past January by Lelands (without a PSA LOA) as part of the “Red” Schoendienst Collection. Did Steve Grad & Co. write the letter for this ball based upon its merits as a Dean signature or because of its provenance? How many other experts would certify this one genuine without that provenance? Another Dean single-signed ball that has been questioned in regards to its authenticity appears in the SCP Auctions preview with an “auction LOA” issued by PSA/DNA. None of the experts we spoke with would definitively opine that that ball is genuine. We are assuming that “Red” isn’t forging Dizzy Dean balls and that the Goldin ball is authentic but it is not representative of Dean’s handwriting. We include an image of both balls for our readers to decide for themselves.
Experts have questioned the authenticity of Dizzy Dean balls in Goldin Auctions (top) and SCP (bottom right). They come with a PSA/DNA LOA and the Goldin ball originated from the Red Schoendienst Collection. The Dean ball on the bottom left corner appears on the PSA "Autograph Facts" page as a genuine Dean exemplar.
-REA and Rob Lifson misrepresent another item they claim “could be” one of the only known 1911 Home Run Baker celluloid pins. They say it “could be” the first pin of its kind to surface but Lifson and his consignor, Dr. Paul Muchinsky, know full well that the item was not manufactured as a pin but rather as a pocket mirror. It is clear that the mirror broke and at some point a period pinback was added to the button transforming it into the new phony rarity that Lifson and Muchinsky are advertising as the real deal. When Lifson and Muchinsky were recently called out for this misrepresentation by collector Al Simeone on Net54 Muchinsky stated he was not involved in the REA write up of the item although he was the consignor and added, “I made no representation to REA of it being a pinback.” Simeone summed up the situation best by telling Lifson, “I think your write up is just a little creative as to what this is. It puts doubt in someone’s mind that hey maybe it is a RARE one of a kind pin when in fact its not. Spin it any way you want, bottom line its just like a broken piece with a great front.”
Neither REA or Muchinsky have amended the lot description to reflect that there is no chance this item was manufactured as a pinback.
The 1911 Frank "Home Run" Baker celluloid pocket mirrors (top) are well known in the hobby, but REA is trying to pass off a broken mirror with a pin replacement (bottom) backing as a newly discovered rarity.
-David Maus, a noted ticket expert and collector, pointed out another misrepresentation on two tickets REA alleges are 1903 and 1904 Boston Americans tickets (lot 1085). REA and Lifson advertise the alleged 1904 ticket as an opportunity for collectors to have a 1904 ticket for a run of World Series tickets, being as there was no Series played in ‘04 and Boston won the AL Pennant. In the case of the alleged 1903 ticket, REA says its a chance for collectors who can’t afford a rare and expensive 1903 WS ticket, to acquire a much cheaper alternative. What REA fails to mention is that the 1904 ticket is actually from 1905 as evidenced by the Rye Whiskey contest on its reverse which is featured in the team’s 1905 season score cards. The 1903 ticket is actually from 1904 as evidenced by the rain check disclaimer which states, “Void after 4 1/2 Innings” which conflicts with the “5 Innings” inclusion on a genuine 1903 WS ticket.
A 1903 WS ticket proves that REA's alleged 1903 ticket is from 1904 (left). A 1905 Boston score card includes a contest featured on the back of REA's alleged 1904 ticket, thus making it from 1905.
-David Maus also identified another ticket REA is selling as an original NY Giant game ticket from May 28, 1951, the day Willie Mays hit his first Home Run at the Polo Grounds. But Maus says the ticket is actually a proof ticket with no section or box indicated. REA listed another proof ticket for a ticket they claimed was from Bobby Thompson’s “Shot Heard Round the World” game, but that was also only a proof-ticket. REA has since added an addendum on that lot, noting the ticket was never used by or sold to fans.
REA is selling two New York Giant tickets from historic games at the Polo Grounds, but they are only proof tickets never intended for use. The tickets are missing the numbers denoting the section or seats.
-Dave Grob, already pointed out in the comments section of our Black Betsy bat report that REA also misrepresented several Brooklyn Dodger satin jerseys as special “one year” uniform introductions when they were actually used for several seasons. Grob told Hauls of Shame readers, “Rather a shame that such little care and attention was given to some of the uniform items in this auction as well” and added sarcastically, “I suspect it would have all but been impossible to find this information since if (you) go to Google and type in a search for “Brooklyn Dodgers White Satin Home Uniforms,” this article is only the #3 reference you would have been pointed to.” Grob was referring to his own article on the subject published on the MEARS website which illustrated that the Dodgers wore satin uniforms in 1944, 1945, 1946, 1949 and 1950.
After Grob’s post, REA did add an addendum to the 1948 Carl Furillo jersey they had said was a one year satin style but couldn’t admit to use in other years stating, “Please note that we have been told that these Brooklyn Dodgers white satin jerseys may have been worn sporadically in other years as well. According to the official uniform database of the Baseball Hall of Fame, the Dodgers’ introduced their white satin jerseys in 1948. However, if they were indeed used in subsequent years, we have no evidence to indicate that brand-new white satin jerseys were issued in each of those following seasons.”
Grob’s article was published in 2008 and specifically addressed the fact that the Baseball Hall of Fame’s “Dressed to the Nines” uniform database was not accurate in regard to the Dodgers’ game use of satin uniforms.
REA called its 1948 Carl Furillo satin jersey a "rare one-year style" but Dave Grob pointed out the Dodgers wore them in several other seasons including 1949.
-REA has also facilitated the return of yet another ghost-signed copy of Christy Mathewson’s Won in the Ninth book. Armed with a 1911 letter sold by Hunt Auctions, REA and JSA claim the letter and the bookplates were signed by the same hand. Unfortunately for REA the majority of autograph aficionados seem to agree with Ron Keurajian’s assessment in his book, Baseball Hall of Fame Autographs: A Reference Guide, that all of the books were secretarial signed. The recent sale prices of the books tend to show that these secretarial examples are losing value since the record-high sales at Heritage for $20,315 in 2012 and $16,590 at Legendary in 2010. The last copy that sold at REA went for $7,702 in 2013. The bid on the copy in REA’s current sale is $4,750.
The secretarial Mathewson signature on the REA bookplate contrasts the authentic signature found on a previous 1912 Mathewson book signed by Matty. A signature found on a copy of a 1911 letter sold by Hunt Auctions is offered by REA with the lot as evidence the Won in the Ninth copies are genuine.
-Huggins & Scott has had lots of items stolen from the NYPL and the Baseball Hall of Fame appear in previous sales and another one showed up in their Spring auction. The auction house sold an 1892 ledger page signed by Harry Wright which was ripped from one of the NYPL’s Wright Correspondence or Account Book volumes. The page was auctioned-off for only $1,700 and it was the same document that was sold last year at Premier Auctions for $2,244. It appears to be a “hobby hot-potato” losing its value. If it were legitimate, the Wright document would command a sale price exceeding $5,000.
The signed Harry Wright document sold at Huggins & Scott originated from the NYPL's famous Spalding Baseball Collection. A page from the NYPL inventory appears to the left.
-Heritage Auction Galleries has yet another item believed to have been stolen from The Hall of Fame’s August Herrmann Papers Collection which includes the files for the National League’s protested games from 1902 to 1926. The Heritage offering is a 1924 letter written to NL President John Heydler by Pirate owner and HOFer Barney Dreyfus in regard to a protested game played against Philadelphia.
The Heritage letter written by Barney Dreyfus to John Heydler in 1924 (left) was once part of the HOF file that still includes many other Dreyfus letters to NL Presidents (including Heydler) in regard to protested games (right).
-Robert Edward Auctions also has several documents suspected of being swiped in its current sale. The auction features three ultra-rare handwritten letters by Roy Campanella in 1946. The letters have incredible content with Campanella reporting back to Branch Rickey’s assistant Robert Finch with scouting reports on other black players like Larry Doby, Joe Black and Junior Gilliam. REA lists no provenance whatsoever for the three letters and states, “We can only recall having seen two other examples at auction in the past fifteen years.”
REA is selling three handwritten letters by Roy Campanella in 1946. Sources indicate that the letters were swiped from the Dodger team files in Los Angeles.
For each letter, REA says that “the historical significance of this letter cannot be overstated” and the auction house points to a 2013 sale of a similar letter by Heritage Auction Galleries. That letter, addressed to Branch Rickey, included a scouting report on Larry Doby and sold for $23,900. How such historic documents made their way into the the REA and Heritage sales is not addressed by either auction house. The Library of Congress is in possession of the Branch Rickey Papers, but that collection does not include Rickey’s files from the Brooklyn Dodgers which remain part of the Dodger archive maintained in Los Angeles by the current ballclub. Sources indicate that a file of Campanella letters addressed to Rickey and his employees including Harold Parrott, Robert Finch and Al Campanis were wrongfully removed from the Dodger team files in the 1980’s. Stay tuned for in-depth coverage of the dubious Campanella letters in an upcoming report.
REA claims to be selling Pistol Pete Maravich's 1974 "game used" warm up (left) with a MEARS LOA. In 2007 MEARS wrote an LOA for a different warm up as being from the same year (center). REA fails to mention that their lot was found in a thrift shop and there is no evidence to support claims of Maravich game use. In addition photos from the 1974 season (inset) show that the Jazz wore different warm ups. Maravich only wore #44 in 1974 (right).
Last but not least, we venture back into the jungle that is known as “game-used” uniforms and equipment and REA’s current offering of an alleged 1974 “game-used” warm up jacket supposedly worn by none other than “Pistol Pete” Maravich. Not only is there no supporting evidence showing Maravich ever wore such a warm up in 1974, 1975 or any other year for that matter, but REA conveniently fails to mention the rock-solid provenance of the garment, having been sold on eBay in 2010 as a “find” in a thrift store. What’s worse is that authentication company MEARS and Troy Kinunen purchased the item at the time after it was pulled from eBay for $4,000 and then proceeded to authenticate the item as game used with no evidence—despite being aware of conflicting info from another warm up they had authenticated previously. In addition, AP photos and NBA game footage from 1974 were posted online where the fraud was disputed at GameUsedUniverse.com in a discussion titled MEARS Mumbo Jumbo. REA, however, makes no mention whatsoever of the controversy and the conflicting information feeling comfortable in selling the warm-up as “game used” with its MEARS LOA. And even though several photos showing the 1974 warm ups have since been published, REA now adds, “MEARS states that it was unable to find a photo of any New Orleans Jazz player wearing a warm-up jacket during the 1974 season.” After MEARS purchased the warm up in 2010 for $4,000 they turned around and then valued it at $20,000. REA lists the estimated value now as “$2,500+” and the garment has a current bid of $1,200.
Step right up to REA and get some “Pistol Pete” or “Shoeless Joe.” Mumbo-Jumbo indeed.
REA identifies several T-206 PSA-8 graded cards (above) as being trimmed. Recently it was revealed in the Mastro case that veteran dealer Lew Lipset wrote a letter to the presiding Judge alluding to the past history of Mastro and Rob Lifson as card doctors (see excerpt inset).
On a final note, REA identifies several PSA-8 graded T-206 cards in its current sale as being trimmed. REA’s Rob Lifson states in several listings for cards including those of Addie Joss and Hugh Jennings, “In our opinion, this card has a very slight trim along the top border, though someone else may have a different opinion.” Lifson’s opinion and disclosure to bidders is interesting considering a recent letter sent to Judge Ronald Guzman in the Mastro case by veteran dealer Lew Lipset. The letter was recently made public in Federal Court and in the letter Lipset describes Mastro as “dispicable” and as a known trimmer of cards. Lipset also mentions Lifson, alluding to the REA President’s own past as an alleged card trimmer with his old partner, Bill Mastro. In the letter Lipset recalled a time when Mastro was viewing cards at a dealer table in the 1980’s. Lipset recalled Mastro telling the dealer, “…these look a little short (i.e. trimmed), did you get them from me or Robert (Lifson)?” Lipset added for the Judge, “Bill’s tendency to trim cards was widely known throughout the hobby.” In interviews with Lipset for our upcoming book, The Madoff of Memorabilia, he also stated that Lifson’s trimming of cards was also well known throughout the hobby.
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.
By Peter J. Nash
April 4, 2014
(Scroll to end of article for updates)
Heritage Auctions recently sold a game-used Hillerich & Bradsby baseball bat they say was swung by “Shoeless” Joe Jackson in 1911 when he hit .408 as a rookie. Sources indicate that movie mogul Thomas Tull was the buyer of the bat which has the name “Joe Jackson” burned into its barrel and also side-written in grease pencil by H&B employees. Tull dropped close to a million bucks for the historic lumber that the bat experts at PSA/DNA call, “The only Joe Jackson bat in existence that is factory documented as being game used.”
Now, just a month after that record-breaking sale, Robert Edward Auctions is selling another alleged Jackson artifact with game use—one of his famous “Black Betsy” bats. This bat, however, doesn’t have Jackson’s name burned into the wood or written in grease pencil. To the naked eye, its just a prototype of a Dead-Ball era bat with a “black betsy” finish administered to its surface.
Despite that fact, the experts from PSA/DNA say this one was owned by Jackson and REA’s president, Rob Lifson, goes even further suggesting that Shoeless Joe may have used the bat in the infamous World Series of 1919. Lifson even sent his employee Brian Dwyer on to the set of ESPN’s “Mint Condition” to show it off and tell host Cary Chow that, “He (Jackson) could have very well used it in the 1919 World Series.” Chow responded, “Which I assume has got to boost the value?”
REA's Brian Dwyer brought the alleged Joe Jackson "Black Betsy" bat on to the set of ESPN's "Mint Condition" and made unfounded claims the bat was game used by Jackson.
Bingo! Dwyer told Chow the bat was “game used” just like the million dollar Heritage bat. The REA offering also comes with a letter of authenticity from PSA/DNA bat experts John Taube and Vince Malta who claim the war club was “authentic and game used by Jackson.” The PSA opinion catapults this bat into an exclusive category far removed from examples which can only be “attributed to Shoeless Joe Jackson.” These “attributed” examples that have been examined by PSA/DNA have historically fetched prices in the $10,000-20,000 range—a far cry from Heritage’s million-dollar Jackson gamer.
But although REA and PSA/DNA have christened the bat as “game used,” it significantly differs from the Heritage bat which was actually cracked via game-use by Jackson and sent back to the Hillerich & Bradsby factory in Louisville, Kentucky. Unlike the alleged Black Betsy featured in the REA catalog, the Heritage bat has an H&B provenance and was handled by an H&B employee who added the “Joe Jackson” name on the barrel and the vault marking “J13″ on the knob and barrel head. The rest is memorabilia history.
The 1911 Jackson bat sold by Heritage came with a PSA/DNA letter detailing two "J13" vault markings and the "Joe Jackson" name burned into the barrel. In contrast, the alleged Jackson bat being offered by REA is blank without the "J13" marks or Jackson name.
Although the 1911 Jackson rookie-bat is said to be one of the rarest baseball artifacts in existence, REA is hoping that their bat follows in its footsteps with a blessing from the boys at PSA/DNA. According to the experts, the REA bat is “one of only six Joe Jackson game used bats in private hands known to exist” and auctioneer Rob Lifson claims in the lot description that “the offered bat is VIRTUALLY IDENTICAL to what is generally regarded as the finest Joe Jackson pro-model bat in the hobby,” the 1911 bat that just sold at Heritage for $956,000. In addition, Lifson says that Troy Kinunen of MEARS, who also filed a report on the bat, states that the bat is a “100% verifiable game-used Black Betsy bat.”
But how could the bat be “VIRTUALLY IDENTICAL” if it doesn’t even feature “Shoeless” Joe’s name or the H&B factory vault markings?
It ain’t so. And it’s not even close.
Upon reviewing the images of the bat and reading the fine print in the REA catalog, its clear that this “Black Betsy” offering has no verifiable provenance and no identifying markings that show the bat was made for or used by Jackson. There is no script or block-letter name burned into the barrel or even a grease pencil factory notation with Jackson’s name written upon its return to the H&B factory.
Period photos show that "Shoeless" Joe Jackson used the two-tone "Black-Betsy" style bat during his entire MLB career from 1908 to 1920. The bat appearing below the photos is an H&B Jackson "Black Betsy" signature model that originated from a 1980's "find" at the Louisville Slugger factory.
In an attempt to minimize the lack of a Jackson identification on the bat, REA notes in its lot description: “Both PSA/DNA and MEARS emphasize in their respective letters (sic) that aside from Jackson, few other major league players used a “Black Betsy” bat, and of those who did, their bat specifications (size, weight, knob, barrel dimensions etc.) were noticeably different than Jackson’s.” PSA also added, “The ‘Black Betsy’ finish, though not unique to Jackson, was very rare on professional players’ bats.”
Despite the confidence the auction house has in PSA/DNA’s definitive assertions, Hauls of Shame couldn’t get past this particular claim of “Black Betsy” game use without further examining the veracity of REA’s claims. We’re not sure what resources the companies utilized in preparing their reports, but in one day of reviewing auction websites, BlackBetsy.com, the Library of Congress photo archive and even the MEARS website, we found substantial photographic evidence illustrating that many players other than Joe Jackson used what appears to be the exact same “Black Betsy” style bat.
Researcher and Joe Jackson historian, Mike Nola, who operates BlackBetsy.com, told us, “I am not sure how anyone can attribute the REA (bat) as having been game-used by Joe Jackson. There were many players during that era that ordered Jackson style bats with thick handles and darkly stained.”
Other players used what appears to be a "Black Betsy" style bat including(Clockwise): Bob Fothergill; a White Sox batboy; Bob Killifer; Glenn Killinger(NY Giants); Carl Mays; Buck Weaver; Rabbit Maranville; Joe Jackson; Nap Lajoie & Walton Cruise (St Louis); Ray Schalk; Dave Robertson; Maranville and Swede Risberg.
Nola provided us with an image of Jackson’s teammate, Buck Weaver, using such a bat and even PSA/DNA has stated that they’ve examined two bats with a “Black Betsy” finish attributed to Hank Gowdy and Chick Gandil. However, the PSA/DNA “Leter of Grading and Authenticity” says that Gowdy and Gandil “did not use the J13 model and both players had endorsement contracts with Hillerich & Bradsby, indicating bats produced for them bearing their branded facsimile signature on the barrel.” In conclusion, PSA claims, “This bat (in REA) was manufactured for Joe Jackson.”
In addition to Joe Jackson, his White Sox teammates Hap Felsch and Swede Risberg also used Black Betsy style bats. PSA notes that they have examined another similar finish on a Chick Gandil bat they previously authenticated.
How could the experts at PSA/DNA make such a definitive claim considering all of the images existing of players other than Jackson who were swinging what appears to be the same model bat? In regard to H&B player endorsements, Louisville Slugger Museum curator Nathan Stalvey told us that the Museum and H&B factory have only one document related to Joe Jackson and its his 1915 endorsement contract for his own branded signature on bats.
And speaking of Jackson’s White Sox teammate, Chick Gandil, what about additional photos we found showing that his other teammates Hap Felsch and Swede Risberg appear to be holding (along with Jackson) the same two-tone Black Betsy style bats as well?
Back in 2011, Robert Edward Auctions offered a different Black Betsy style bat which sold for a modest $18,800 because it was advertised only as a “1916-1917 “Black Betsy Bat Attributed to Joe Jackson.” The same bat was also sold by Mastro Auctions in 2008 for over $25,000. The bat had something in common with the current REA Jackson bat offering in that it also had no identifiable markings that linked the lumber to ownership or game use by Jackson.
In the lot description REA sang a different tune clearly stating nothing more than attribution: “Because there are basically no available H&B records predating 1920, and the fact that Jackson’s name is not stamped on the barrel (there is no barrel stamping as this is how Jackson’s “Black Betsy” models were produced), MEARS has conservatively graded and evaluated this bat as a “Black Betsy” bat with attribution to Joe Jackson.”
The REA Black Betsy "attributed" to Shoeless Joe Jackson sold for $18,000 in 2011 while a "Game Used" version currently being offered by REA has a reserve price of $50,000. Both bats are nearly identical and have no markings linking then to Jackson.
As far as we could tell, there is virtually no discernible difference between this 2011 REA offering “attributed” to Jackson and the current REA bat being offered as a “Black Betsy” gamer. In fact, the MEARS letter posted on the current REA auction site identifies the bat as a “Professional Model” that is only “attributed to Joe Jackson.”
In their letter of opinion, MEARS never says the bat was game used by Jackson and when we asked Troy Kinunen what he thought about the “game-used” claim made by PSA he replied, “The title of the item in my letter (of opinion) speaks for itself.” Kinunen believes the bat is a 100% authentic “Black Betsy” model, but by no means a 100% authentic bat actually swung by Jackson.
Kinunen’s letter of opinion for the 2011 REA “Black Betsy” bat is also consistent with his current stance. He said, “There are no known catalogs, records, or ledgers showing other players being offered the Black Betsy model bat in these dimensions with a blank barrel, but it is possible. We know that other players did use bats with the black betsy finish, but those examples were found with the players name stamped on the barrel.”
Again, Kinunen’s statements do not address the recent photographic evidence we have compiled showing that many more MLB players utilized the same dark finish on their own Black Betsy style bats, including Jackson’s own teammates. Unlike PSA/DNA, however, Kinunen does not claim that he can put the bat in Jackson’s hand at any time between 1919-1922.
Troy Kinnunen of MEARS (left) says the REA bat is just "attributed to" Joe Jackson while John Taube (center) and Vince Malta (right) of PSA/DNA say it was "game-used by Jackson. Vince Malta of PSA/DNA has authored a reference guide for Louisville Slugger bats.
MEARS clrearly states that the current REA bat is a game used pro-model “Black Betsy” that could have been used by any Major Leaguer, but Rob Lifson chose to highlight Kinunnen’s statement that it is “a 100% verifiable game used Black Betsy bat.” In what can only be described as an exercise in deceptive creating writing, Lifson attempts to couple Kinnunen’s statement with the PSA opinion to elevate the bat to game-used status without ever mentioning that the actual MEARS letter fails to say the bat was ever game used by Jackson.
When Lifson sold the 2011 bat that was merely “attributed to Joe Jackson” bidders and collectors had the final word and the bat sold for only $18,800. Meanwhile, the current alleged “game used” Black Betsy bat in the REA auction has a hefty reserve and opening bid price of $50,000. Why?
It’s that one line in the PSA/DNA report where Taube and Malta say REA’s bat “was game used by Jackson during the referenced labeling.” With one sentence, it appears that the PSA experts have transformed a rather generic relic from the Dead-Ball era into one of the hobby’s holy grails.
It appears that PSA/DNA is relying solely on their comparisons of this bat to other alleged authentic Jackson “Black Betsy” bats they have examined, including the million dollar Jackson “rookie bat.” PSA/DNA in its letter states that the bat itself is a “J13″ model although “no model number appears on the bat.” But PSA also states that “the handle, knob, and barrel dimensions conform to the vault marked and side written J13 Joe Jackson bat that appears in our database.” In addition, PSA reveals that they also factored in their opinion that “the length of the bat (at 35.5 in.) matches the vault marked J13 and the weight at 40.1 ounces today is in the range of weights of the three Jackson bats noted below.” Having compared the bats they conclude that “the dimensions as well as the “Black Betsy” finish also duplicate three Joe Jackson professional model bats in our database.”
This 1915 letter sent to Joe Jackson by H&B shows that Jackson requested bats at a reduced weight.
But with no factory records available, how can there be any definitive determination made based upon the length, width and weight of the suspect bats? While there are no known period records at H&B for pre-1920 Jackson orders, there does exist one letter sent to Jackson from H&B in 1915 which actually shows that Jackson was changing the weight of his bats during that season. The document shows that Jackson requested three bats to be made at a lesser weight than his previous orders (the actual weight is not specified in the letter.) In response, H&B sent him those bats but noted it was “a very hard proposition to get good driving wood in the weights that (Jackson) asked for.” So, in addition, the bat company also sent Jackson, via Wells Fargo Express, three bats which were made “from the weight that (Jackson) formerly used.” H&B suggested that if Jackson would “continue to use this weight bat,” as opposed to his recent order of reduced weight bats, he would ultimately have “much better results.”
We don’t know what Jackson chose to do after he received that order of reduced weight bats. We do not know what his ordering preferences were from 1911 to 1915, nor do we know the changes he may have requested later in his MLB career from 1916 through 1920. The existence of this letter underscores the fact that the bat authenticators at PSA/DNA can’t be sure of anything when it comes to pre-1920 H&B player bats. While Taube and Malta have made considerable research contributions that help collectors date H&B bats and determine whether bats are professional or store models, most of their conclusions regarding game-used bats are nothing more than guess work and hyperbole. Joe Jackson could have used hundreds of H&B bats during his baseball career and its virtually impossible for the bat experts to say with certainty that a bat they’ve examined was actually held in his hands in the course of a baseball game.
Based upon their research, PSA experts Vince Malta and John Taube have established the manufacturing date of the current REA Jackson bat as “1919-1922″ and the “attributed” Jackson bat sold at REA in 2011 as dating from “1916-1917.” Since both of those bats do not have Jackson’s name burned in the barrel, both PSA/DNA and MEARS have theorized that Jackson’s bats during this period were blank.
What is even more troubling about these more recent determinations by the bat experts is a report they filed in 2008 when they authenticated another Jackson “Black Betsy” bat for SCP Auctions and Sotheby’s. That offering is proof that John Taube already knew of the existence of a professional autograph model of Jackson’s “Black Betsy” bat. That same bat was offered with a PSA/DNA report as a “1917-1921″ H&B pro model featuring Jackson’s name burned into the barrel appearing as a script “Joe Jackson” signature with a trade mark designation underneath. The bat had long been considered the only known authentic Jackson “Black Betsy” bat in existence dating back to its first public sale by Lelands in 1994 as part of the Dennis Goldstein Collection.
Although PSA and MEARS are currently certifying blank barrel H&B "Black Betsy" bats as Joe Jackson gamers, the autograph model offered by Lelands in 1994 and SCP in 2008 stands in direct conflict with their opinions.
The Lelands catalog described the bat as the “only authentic Joe Jackson bat from his Major League playing days ever to be offered for public sale. The true Black Betsy is a Louisville Slugger 125 with dot-dash-dot labeling.” Lelands also noted that the 35.5 inch and 40 ounce bat actually had a verifiable provenance and “came directly from the famed Hillerich & Bradsby find” in 1979. Lelands said the bats were “discovered in the yard of Hillerich & Bradsby and sold by a company executive.” The bat was sold to current SABR VP and author Bill Nowlin as “the only known verifiably authentic Joe Jackson game used bat.”
At the time the “Black Betsy” sold in 1994 there was no recognized entity that authenticated bats outside of hobby equipment experts Dan Knoll and Dave Bushing. It was during that time period that Joe Jackson bats became a prime target for forgery and fraud. At the time, New York Yankee partner and collector Barry Halper claimed to own a game used Jackson “Black Betsy” and said he purchased it from the sluggers widow at her home in the 1950’s along with his 1919 White Sox jersey. Both of those items were sold by Halper to MLB and the Baseball Hall of Fame as part of an $8.5 million acquisition of Halper’s top artifacts in 1998, but after a Hauls Of Shame investigative report was published in 2010, it was determined that the jersey was a forgery constructed with elements produced after Jackson’s playing days and the alleged “Black Betsy” was nothing more than a Spalding store model bat that was never used or owned by Jackson.
Barry Halper claimed to own Jackson's Black Betsy bat but the example he sold to MLB and the Hall of Fame was bogus and nothing more than a Spalding store model bat. Halper had Billy Martin swing the bat in a film about his collection and the 1998 purchase of the bat was celebrated in the press by Bill Madden of the Daily News (Inset)
If the Hall of Fame had done their due diligence, they would have discovered that by 1998, the only recognized authentic Joe Jackson bat belonged to Rounder Records founder, Bill Nowlin. Nowlin’s bat was even publicly displayed as the only known Jackson example along with others from his collection at the Ted Williams Museum in Florida. The bat was displayed at the museum for several years until Nowlin decided to sell the bat for close to $300,000 in the 2008 SCP/Sotheby’s auction. At the time of that sale PSA/DNA issued a report and letter of authenticity for the bat SCP/Sotheby’s described as “one of only two known bats and the only full name signature model manufactured by Louisville Slugger Inc. that can be attributed to being used by Joe Jackson during his active Major League career.” The other bat referenced was the 1911 side written bat sold at Heritage.
Now, in 2014, Robert Edward Auctions says that the “rarity of an authentic Joe Jackson bat cannot be overstated” and that both PSA/DNA and MEARS now claim that there are “six Joe Jackson game used bats in private hands.” According to Lifson and the experts, the population of this ultra rare “game used” artifact has tripled since the sale of Bill Nowlin’s Black Betsy model at SCP/Sotheby’s just six years ago.
Bill Nowlin shows Ted Williams his Jackson "Black Betsy" in a story by SCD. The bat was exhibited for several years at the Ted Williams Hitters Museum in Florida. Nowlin believed that his bat was the only on verifiably "game used."
To illustrate just how far the auctioneers and authenticators are willing to push the envelope in the unregulated memorabilia industry we point to Rob Lifson’s own 2005 endorsement of SCD Authentic’s “Grading Scale For Bats.” Lifson’s views on game used bats nine years ago starkly contrast his current stance working with PSA/DNA and MEARS. Back then, Lifson believed that although the bats he was offering his customers “were most likely game-used bats, there was no way to know with certainty the precise history of any given game bat.” Lifson added that, “There was no way to know if perhaps a given bat was used only in batting practice, or given away as a gift, having never been used at all, or borrowed by another player for use.” Lifson was correct in his determination that, “It can often be very difficult or impossible to distinguish game-used bats from those intended for use but never actually used by the player in a Major League game.” Nine years later, Lifson and REA are willing to say that the Joe Jackson style bat has verifiable game use and suggest that he may have used it in the 1919 World Series.
In his 2005 endorsement of SCD Authentic's bat grading services, REA's Rob Lifson expressed views on "game used" bats that starkly contrast his current auction policies.
Knowing that he has conflicting reports issued by two experts with different opinions, Lifson has done everything in his power to conceal that fact from the general public who have seen the bat touted on ESPN as an unquestioned Shoeless Joe gamer. Like all auctioneers, Lifson and REA will ultimately hide behind the opinion of their third-party authenticator and plead ignorance when it comes to the process of evaluating bats and explaining the conflicting opinions of his two expert reports. REA does include slightly out of focus and grainy images of the MEARS letter of opinion on its website, so collectors who read the information carefully can see the fraud that REA is attempting to perpetrate with the aid of PSA/DNA. Yes, for PSA and REA to say the bat being offered is a game used Jackson bat is outright and intentional fraud. Neither PSA or REA have any evidence to back up their claims and the existence of the MEARS opinion should have put both on notice that a “game-used” designation would be highly problematic.
The REA bat for sale is not a new hobby discovery as it was publicly displayed at the MEARS booth at the National Convention in 2012 as a consignment to MEARS and comes with an c.2005 LOA from SCD Authentic that REA does not post on its auction site. Troy Kinunen told Hauls of Shame this week that the bat was consigned to MEARS but never sold. ”We never owned or purchased that bat and we returned it to the consignor.” MEARS issued their letter of opinion on July 27, 2012 and the owner at that time was fully aware that Kinunen had determined that the bat was not game used by Jackson. It wasn’t until the bat was submitted to PSA/DNA on September 23, 2013, that the bat transformed into an iconic baseball artifact.
REA fails to mention that the MEARS letter of opinion for the Jackson "Black Betsy" fails to cite "game use." The bat first surfaced as a consignment to MEARS at the 2012 National where it was displayed at the MEARS booth.
Hauls of Shame contacted PSA/DNA expert John Taube to ask for an explanation of his determination that REA’s Black Betsy style bat was actually used by Jackson in Major League games, but he did not return calls for comment. We also contacted Vince Malta at his San Francisco realty office, but Malta did not return our calls requesting an interview.
Like the other bat authenticators including Troy Kinunen and Dave Bushing, John Taube also buys and sells bats as a dealer and is the owner of J. T. Sports, a company he founded in 1991, before he started working for PSA/DNA. Taube was originally authenticating bats for Grey Flannel Auctions when PSA entered an agreement with the company to start a bat authentication division. Bats were sent to Grey Flannel for authentication by Taube and Vince Malta who would issue a PSA/DNA letter of authenticity. At the time PSA President Joe Orlando told SCD, “The combination of PSA’s brand name, John Taube and Vince Malta’s expertise and Grey Flannel’s hobby presence form an unrivaled service.”
PSA/DNA issued an LOA stating that REA's Black Betsy bat was "game used" by Joe Jackson. PSA authenticator John Taube (center) also buys and sells bats through his company J.T. Sports.
Having buyers, sellers and dealers in positions as the “experts” who are also authenticating their own material is a system riddled with conflicts of interest. PSA stipulated that their autograph authenticators divest their interests as dealers but they have not made the same request with Taube and Malta. It’s a dangerous proposition for experts to be in such a position to make or break artifacts that could be worth upwards of a million dollars with their seal of approval. The current REA Jackson bat is a prime example of the big flaws in the system and clear-cut evidence of bats being fraudulently authenticated and sold. One industry source told us the REA Jackson bat could have ramifications beyond this one sale. He said, “This has the very real potential to call into question the value of both collections and personal and professional reputations.”
When it comes to bats, collectors put their faith in the experts and auction house executives expecting they are not being taken advantage of. When Bill Nowlin bought his own Black Betsy at Lelands in 1994 he relied solely on Lelands’ representation that the bat was genuine and that it came from the original 1980’s Louisville Slugger “find.” Nowlin, a renowned SABR baseball researcher, never thought to research the bat himself and looking back now says, “I should have asked for more information at the time.” Nowlin got lucky picking up his own Black Betsy since it appears to be the genuine article, but he wasn’t as lucky with others. ”I later learned that one or two other bats I bought from dealers were not legitimate,” says Nowlin.
This H&B pro model black betsy style bat was purchased at a yard sale and is the spitting image of the bat REA is currently offering. It's further proof that the experts at PSA/DNA have no evidence to claim the REA bat is "game used." (Courtesy BlackBetsy.com)
While writing this article we were contacted again by Mike Nola at BlackBetsy.com and he passed along some images that were sent to him of a Black Betsy style bat that was purchased in a yard sale and looks exactly like the bat being offered by REA. Nola told us. “The yard sale bat has about as much potential as being used by Joe Jackson as the REA bat does. They both are Joe Jackson style bats, with blank barrels, both appear to be professional model bats, both have similar specs to a Joe Jackson gamer, but so do other bats ordered by players other than Joe Jackson.” For Nola and many other collectors we spoke with the PSA/DNA determination of game use lacks any credibility. Nola summed up the situation saying, “There is just too much reasonable doubt here for me or anyone else in their right mind to pay more than $1,500 or so for either of these bats.”
At the time this article was published the fraudulent REA Jackson bat already had two bids and stands at $55,000. Calls to REA president Rob Lifson for an explanation as to why he and PSA/DNA are trying to pass off the generic Black Betsy as game used were not returned.
Who knows, maybe the yard sale purchaser can send his bat into REA on consignment. We hear they can turn “Shoeless Joe” stuff into gold.
UPDATE (Mon. April 7th): High Bid of $55,000 Retracted on REA’s Fraudulent Shoeless Joe Jackson Bat; REA Said MEARS Expert Certed Black Betsy Bat As “Game Used” When He Didn’t; When Will Misrepresented Bat Be Removed From Sale?
Since the time this article was published last week, the high bid of $55,000 appears to have been removed or retracted for Robert Edward Auction’s premier lot, the alleged “game used” Shoeless Joe Jackson bat. A call to the auction house this morning for details on the lot’s downward turn was not returned.
REA not only tried to conceal the fact that the PSA/DNA and MEARS reports clashed, they lied outright and said MEARS called the bat "game used" when they didn't.
A Hauls of Shame reader also pointed out that REA and Rob Lifson didn’t just attempt to conceal the fact that the PSA/DNA and MEARS reports clashed, they actually lied and wrote that MEARS certified the bat as “game used” along with PSA/DNA when they did not in their 2012 letter of opinion. MEARS expert Troy Kinunen did not return calls and emails requesting comment on REA’s false claim regarding his opinion. REA officials did not respond to our inquiry as to whether the bat would be removed from the sale.
UPDATE (April 7th 4:25 PM): Auction Adds Addendum to Joe Jackson Bat Lot; REA Now Says No Way To Prove Game Use:
Late this afternoon REA posted this addendum on Lot 3, the alleged Shoeless Joe Jackson “game used” bat:
While MEARS has authenticated and graded this bat as a “Game used Black Betsy model bat attributed to have been used by Joe Jackson” and PSA DNA has authenticated and graded the bat as a “Black Betsy professional model bat that is “authentic and was game used by Jackson during the referenced labeling”, REA does not believe there is any way to prove with certainty (as is the case with virtually all vintage bats attributed to use by any player) actual game use by Joe Jackson.
The addendum represents a 360-degree turn-around for REA and Rob Lifson who appear to be siding with the more conservative determination made by MEARS as opposed to the fraudulent determination made by PSA/DNA that the bat was “game used” by Joe Jackson. PSA/DNA has no evidence whatsoever that can put the bat in Jackson’s hands at any time during his career. Although REA has posted the addendum, they have still not corrected the line in the lot description which falsely claims that MEARS said the bat was game used by Jackson and one of only six game used examples known to exist.
By Peter J. Nash
March 17, 2014
Nuf Ced McGreevy was grinning in this photo traveling with the 1907 Red Sox to a Spring Training game in Hot Springs, Arkansas. He'd likely be smiling today knowing that his stolen photo has been recovered by the BPL.
As officials at the New York Public Library sit back and watch as the stolen baseball artifacts donated by pioneer Albert Goodwill Spalding are given away to memorabilia peddlers by the FBI and US Attorneys, officials at the Boston Public Library have recovered yet another treasure from the donated collection of baseball’s greatest fan, Michael T. “Nuf Ced” McGreevy.
As documented in a McGreevy biography contributed by this writer to the new SABR book, New Century New Team: The 1901 Boston Americans, close to one-third of the BPL’s “McGreevey Collection” was stolen in the late 1970s. Over the past few decades, however, many recoveries have been made, and thanks to an honest collector, another photo that used to hang on the wall at Nuf Ced’s original “3rd Base Saloon” has been recovered by library officials. The oversize sepia photograph is one of the true gems of McGreevy’s treasure-trove and shows him accompanying Jimmy Collins, “Chick” Stahl, Cy Young and the rest of the 1907 Red Sox on a trolley headed to a Spring Training game at Hot Springs, Arkansas. The recovered photograph also appears in the new SABR book edited by Bill Nowlin.
The photograph was reproduced in a 1907 edition of the Boston Herald and was also publicly displayed in a Filene’s Department Store window in 1939 to celebrate baseball’s mythical 100th birthday. The silver-gelatin print was recently identified by its owner as one of McGreevy’s lost pictures. The BPL oval stamp had been erased and defaced to conceal the library ownership, but when the collector realized what he possessed was stolen property he decided to return the antique image to its rightful owner and asked that his identity not be revealed.
The long-lost BPL photo of Nuf Ced and the 1907 Red Sox was recently returned to the library by a collector. The photo last appeared publicly in a Filene's store window in 1939 (see red outline, right).
In turning over the rare photo the collector took a total loss on the item that has an estimated value of at least $5,000. It is not known what his purchase price was but sources indicate that the stolen photo was once in the possession of deceased New York Yankee partner Barry Halper. The photograph also appeared for sale in an advertisement placed by T & K Sports Memorabilia of Fall River, MA, in Sports Collectors Digest in October of 1984.
The BPL photo "In Training at Hot Springs 1907" appeared in a 1984 SCD advertisement (left and inset) placed by T & K Memorabilia of Fall River, Mass. The photo was offered with at least six other cabinet photos stolen from the McGreevy Collection.
BPL Print Department representative, Aaron Schmidt, confirmed for Haulsofshame.com that the photograph had been returned to the library and was added to the BPL’s Flikr page featuring McGreevy’s entire collection (minus approximately 35 photos still missing).
The McGreevy scrapbooks at the BPL show a Boston Herald clipping of the same photo which was published sometime in March, 1907, during spring training and reveals that the BPL photo may also include the last known image of Sox manager "Chick" Stahl who committed suicide on March 28, 1907 (Courtesy BPL).
It appears that the photograph at one time was misidentified as dating from 1906, but the same photo was published in the Boston Herald in March of 1907. McGreevy’s donated scrapbook contains the original clipping that identifies the Red Sox are headed to a game from their hotel in Little Rock. The handwritten entry in the scrapbook dates the Herald issue as being published on March 6, 1907, but this date has not been verified. The haunting photo is one of the last known images taken of Red Sox manager “Chick” Stahl who would commit suicide three weeks later by drinking four ounces of carbolic acid.
In recent times the BPL has recovered other important photographs including one of “Nig” Cuppy from 1901 and another of Jimmy Collins posing with boxer John L. Sullivan in 1904. The Collins photograph was traced back to the collection of Barry Halper as was another recovered photo of Collins and three Red Sox teammates which appeared in a Lelands auction. That same photo, which is currently featured on the cover of the SABR book New Century New Team, also appeared for sale in an 1984 SCD ad from T & K Memorabilia and was later identified as BPL property in a 2000 Lelands sale by baseball researcher and collector Bob Richardson.
A photo of the 1901 Red Sox was stolen from the BPL's McGreevey Collection and appeared in a 2000 Lelands auction (left). The same photo was returned to the library and appears on the cover of the new SABR book "New Century, New Team: The 1901 Boston American." (right).
The 1901 spring training photo featuring Jimmy Collins, Fred Parent, Hobe Ferris and Buck Freeman was removed from the Lelands sale and returned to the BPL after Richardson informed the library the photo was stolen from the McGreevey Collection. The Lelands “Charlie Sheen Auction” lot description even described the McGreevy provenance of the photo stating: “Back is stamped, “The McGreevy Collection, Gift of March 28, 1923.” Prior to appearing in the Lelands sale, the same photo was sold at Sotheby’s in 1999 along with several other stolen BPL photos owned by Barry Halper and cataloged by auction consultant Rob Lifson. Interestingly enough, the same photo also appeared for sale for $75 in the 1984 “T & K Sports” SCD ad which described it as, “1901 Boston inf…..stamped on the back “The M.T. McGreevy Collec. Gift of Mar. 28, 1923″ stamped on front “Cab. 23-5(9).15.”
Mammoth albumen prints of the 1889 (left) and 1892 (right) Boston teams were stolen from the BPL's McGreevey Collection and appeared in the 1999 Halper sale at Sotheby's. The 1889 photo was pictured in the catalog with the BPL ownership mark "Cab.23.59.15" (inset). Both photographs are still missing from the BPL.
Halper and Lifson’s offerings of materials stolen from the BPL were well documented in the Sotheby’s catalog and included two mammoth plate albumen photographs of the 1889 and 1889 Boston Base Ball Club featuring “King” Kelly. The 1889 photo appeared as lot 291 with the BPL’s ownership stamp reading “Cab.23.59.15″ appearing in the upper right corner which represented the actual cabinet the photo was stored in at the library. The 1892 Boston photo offered as lot 303 at Sotheby’s was photographed by the BPL before it was stolen and exhibits the exact same damage captured on the library’s second generation print. Despite the fact that the 1889 photo has been widely exposed as being stolen in the press and the fact that BPL officials have located the owner of the 1892 photo, both artifacts still remain on the BPL missing list.
Photos of the 1891 Boston (left) and 1882 Buffalo (center) teams were stolen from the BPL and were consigned to REA by Halper's widow in 2006. The photos included defaced BPL ownership stamps that are found on other images that have not been stolen from the McGreevy Collection (right).
Additional evidence linking Halper to items stolen from the BPL and NYPL surfaced after his death in 2006 when his widow, Sharon Halper, consigned items she found in her house including two more mammoth size cabinet photos of the 1891 Boston and 1882 Buffalo teams. Both of those photos featured obscured and defaced BPL ownership stamps that were visible under close inspection. Additional 19th century CDV and cabinet cards of sporting goods pioneer Andrew Peck also showed defaced NYPL stamps and other items like a proclaimed unique cabinet photo of Alexander Joy Cartwright also fit the description of items on the NYPL Spalding Collection’s missing list. After this writer told REA’s Rob Lifson that the Peck CDV was stolen from the NYPL he returned it via the FBI but went ahead and sold the other stolen NYPL items in his auction. The 1891 Boston and 1882 Buffalo photos never made it into the REA sale after they were also identified by this writer as stolen items and reported to BPL official Aaron Schmidt. Sources indicate that Lifson, President of Robert Edward Auctions, disputed the library ownership claims at first but ultimately turned the photos over to the library on behalf of Halper’s widow.
The recovery of the BPL’s stolen 1904 photo of Jimmy Collins and John L. Sullivan has helped shed some more light on the timeline of the “McGreevey Collection” thefts. The famous photo of the Red Sox manager sitting in the dugout with heavyweight champ was sold by Halper and Lifson at Sotheby’s in 1999 but also appeared in print twenty years earlier with a credit to the BPL in a coffee table book authored by Daniel Okrent and Harris Lewine known as The Ultimate Baseball Book. The book was commercially released in 1979 by Houghton-Miflin and the illustrations were researched and compiled in 1978. In his acknowledgements Daniel Okrent recognized Eugene Zepp of the Boston Public Library for being “generous with (his) time and advice” and the book was one of the first to highlight images from the little known “McGreevey Collection.” Before Okrent and Lewine discovered the depth of the BPL’s collection and exposed it to a wider audience of baseball fans and collectors, only authors including Harold Seymour, Dorothy Seymour-Mills and Robert Smith had ever published images from the BPL collection in their works.
In an interview with Hauls of Shame Zepp confirmed that the 1904 Collins-Sullivan photo was the first McGreevy item to be discovered missing in early 1983. Said Zepp, “Someone came in looking to view that photo which was one of our most popular images but I couldn’t locate the original and realized it was missing.” Zepp worked in the BPL’s Print Department from 1971 to 1983 and the discovery that the Collins photo was missing, coupled with the publication of the same photo in Okrent’s book in 1979, pinpointed the thefts occurring sometime between 1979 and 1982.
In the course of an internal library investigation a South Boston resident named Emil Pagliarulo was identified as a “person of interest.” Zepp described Pagliarulo as a “big burly guy who showed a great interest in the McGreevey Collection.” As for other patrons Zepp said, “I don’t remember many people I was very suspicious of and from 1979 to 1981 the library was very understaffed and there was no security.” According to Zepp patrons only had to sign a log book to view the baseball pictures in the Print Department and there was no requirement to show ID. ”You could have written any name in the visitor book at that time,” said Zepp. Zepp added that he has always been baffled how anyone could have smuggled out photographs that were so large.
Rob Lifson (center, bottom) loaned items from his collection for "The Ultimate Baseball Book" in 1978. Author Daniel Okrent (top center) acknowledged Lifson in the book along with the BPL's Eugene Zepp who provided Okrent with images from the McGreevey Collection including the 1904 photo of Jimmy Collins and John L. Sullivan (right).
Sources with more recent knowledge of the BPL probe say that there was another suspect who was thanked along with Eugene Zepp in Daniel Okrent’s 1979 book. Okrent expressed “special gratitude” to several memorabilia collectors in the acknowledgements including the 19-year-old Rob Lifson who contributed items from his personal collection for a special color section in the book devoted to “Baseball Art, 1876-1978.” The section pictured Lifson’s baseball cards issued by Old Judge, Mayo, Allen & Ginter, Cracker Jack, Sporting Life, Goudey and others as well as sheet music, advertisements and a rare celluloid button honoring the 1915 World Champion Red Sox.
At the time Lifson assisted Okrent and Lewine with their book project in 1978 he was considered one of the top memorabilia and baseball card dealers in the country and his recognition alongside the curators at institutions like the Boston Public Library and the Baseball Hall of Fame added to his reputation as a hobby whiz-kid. In recent years Lifson told a Smithsonian publication, “When I was a kid, I used to go to bookstores and libraries to find books that featured information about baseball memorabilia.” But shortly after the Ultimate Baseball Book was published Lifson, then a student at the Wharton School of Business at UPenn, was apprehended stealing what was described in TIME Magazine as a large cache of rare photos from the New York Public Library’s Spalding Collection. TIME reported that the unnamed thief was caught when a guard saw him slipping the cards into a bubble gum box taped to his briefcase.” When Lifson was apprehended he had $5,000 cash on his person and the NYPL security official told TIME writer David Aikman that Lifson said he had made the cash selling baseball cards in just one day. Recent revelations confirming Lifson’s involvement in the NYPL thefts has only fueled more speculation that he was also involved in the BPL heist.
Former owners of stolen BPL photos (l to r): Paul Dunigan, adult bookshop owner; Dealer Alan "Mr. Mint" Rosen; Magician Wayne Miller; and Yankee partner Barry Halper (with Joe DiMaggio).
In 1979 Lifson was also known as the primary dealer supplying Barry Halper and it was during that same time period that at least sixty of the rare photographs from the “McGreevey Collection” vanished, many of which later surfaced publicly in the Halper Collection. By the time Halper chose to sell his BPL items in 1999, he stipulated that Sotheby’s hire Lifson as the consultant in charge of the auction due to their personal history and Lifson’s intimate knowledge of Halper’s holdings.
Many of the stolen McGreevy photos were dispersed throughout the hobby in the early 1980s through various dealers including T&K of Fall River and Wayne Miller of Columbia, Maryland. Hauls of Shame contacted Miller this week to ask him where he acquired his BPL items but he declined to divulge that information. Miller, who left the hobby in the 1990s to pursue a career as a magician was only willing to say, “I flew to Boston and returned everything.” A source with knowledge of the BPL investigation told Hauls of Shame that Miller purchased at least nineteen BPL photos from New York dealer Lew Lipset. Miller is also said to have sold several other BPL photos to T & K in Fall River and Hall’s Nostalgia in Arlington, Massachusetts.
The same source says that Lipset purchased his BPL items from Paul Dunigan of Lowell, Massachusetts, a collector who also regularly traded and purchased items from Barry Halper. In 2011, Dunigan’s son sold a 1901 BPL photo of “Nig” Cuppy on eBay that was purchased and returned to the library by a collector in Iowa named David Maus. Several sources allege that Halper was selling the stolen BPL materials before they started showing up at baseball card shows and in advertisements placed in Sports Collectors Digest. Over time, however, Halper ended up reacquiring stolen BPL items that resurfaced in the marketplace including photos he purchased from the group of material Alan “Mr. Mint” Rosen and Lew Lipset partnered on and acquired from Dunigan.
In the 1980s Sinclair Hitchings (left), the BPL's "Keeper of Prints," helped recover dozens of photos stolen from the library's print department (center). Collector Barry Halper (right) ended up owning most of the stolen photos Hitchings was unable to recover.
Collector and SABR member Bob Richardson was one of the first in the hobby to recognize McGreevy’s items being sold at card shows in the early 1980’s and working with the BPL’s “Keeper of Prints,” Sinclair Hitchings, he helped recover dozens of missing pictures including the ones that ended up with Wayne Miller. In some cases Hitchings established a library fund which enabled Richardson to buy back stolen items from dealer tables at card shows with BPL funds.
In the course of the BPL’s own investigation of the McGreevy heist, Barry Halper was contacted and questioned but denied ever owning any McGreevy photos. Sources indicate that the BPL is in possession of documentation that shows Halper’s denials in writing. But the evidence that’s surfaced since Halper’s death in 2005 suggests that he lied and the clearly marked BPL items he sold at Sotheby’s and kept in his personal stash support the contention that Halper was well aware he was buying and selling stolen artifacts with a BPL provenance. Some hobby veterans have even suggested that Halper’s practice of selling and repurchasing stolen BPL materials was a vehicle by which he laundered and legitimized the contraband. In addition, BPL items that were worth a few hundred dollars when they were stolen were eventually sold for thousands by the time Halper liquidated his holdings in the 1999 Sotheby’s sale.
Fifteen years after Halper’s Sotheby’s sale many of those same stolen photos remain in private hands. Despite the fact that the BPL has identified the current owner of the missing Imperial cabinet photo of the 1892 Boston team the collector has refused to turn it over. Despite the fact that Halper’s stolen 1889 Boston team cabinet photo has been pictured several times in the Boston Herald no one has come forward yet to return it.
Some collectors don’t want to lose the money they’ve invested in the stolen artifacts and others are just plain addicted to the stuff and content to enjoy Nuf Ced’s treasures in the privacy of their own homes. The honest collector who did the right thing and returned McGreevy’s Red Sox gem to the library is the exception to the rule, but the City of Boston is glad he had a conscience.
Its been thirty five years in the making but little by little “Nuf Ced” McGreevy’s donated legacy is making its way back to the library on Copley Plaza. Call it the luck of the Irish.
By Peter J. Nash
February 20, 2014
Heritage is selling what they say is the most important baseball artifact in existence, Babe Ruth's 1923 WS pocket watch. But is it the actual watch that was presented to the Babe in 1923 and why did Barry Halper say he owned one too?
Scroll to bottom for Updates:
It’s the stuff that legends are made of.
The great “Bambino” passes along one of his treasured World Series awards as a gift to a close friend who, in turn, passes it along to his nephew who used to caddie for the “Sultan of Swat” at a golf course in Queens, New York. The former caddy’s widow says Babe Ruth was a life-long friend and that her husband even left his own wedding reception to visit the golf course clubhouse where the Babe toasted his nuptials. Over the years the Babe signed baseballs and photos for the family and at some point they even acquired what they claim is the Babe’s own locker key-tag marked with the number “3.”
It’s a remarkable story and in today’s sports auction landscape its just the type of tale that aggressive auctioneers want to hear when consignors bring them their personal treasures to sell. Just recently the Babe’s 1920 Yankee road jersey was purchased for $4.4 million by movie mogul Thomas Tull so, when someone told Heritage Auctions they had the Babe’s World Series hardware from 1923, auction director Chris Ivy saw dollar signs….big ones. As reported by the Associated Press, Heritage and Ivy say they have Babe Ruth’s World Series pocket watch from 1923 and they predict it could fetch close to a million dollars at auction thanks to the priceless story attached to it. It’s just further proof that George Herman “Babe” Ruth is still the king of the billion dollar baseball memorabilia industry.
Up on the auction block at Heritage with an alleged current bid of $425,000 (Heritage regularly places their own house bids on lots in order to get them closer to secret reserves) is a 14k gold Gruen “Verithin Pentagon” pocket watch that was allegedly presented to Babe Ruth in recognition of his first world championship in Yankee pinstripes. The auction house with its headquarters in Dallas, Texas, is pulling out all stops to promote its consignment as the auction catalog states, “As Babe Ruth’s personal award for the first World Championship in New York Yankees franchise history, this is arguably the most important article of sports memorabilia that exists.” Even Forbes is telling its readers they should buy the Babe’s pocket watch.
It all sounds too good to be true. All that’s missing is a Heritage press conference introducing the Babe’s old caddie recounting his first person tale of Ruth’s mulligans and his relationship with his hero. But that’s impossible, since Lewis Fern passed away last August at the ripe old age of 95 with full military honors. Fern not only caddied for the Babe, but he was also a World War II veteran who served his country as an Army Captain and paratrooper. Considering the timing of his passing, you might think his heirs are the ones putting his treasured Babe Ruth watch up for sale as part of his estate, but that’s not the case. That’s where this Ruthian story gets kind of complicated.
Charlie Schwefel was friends with Ruth and was photographed with him in the press (top right). Ruth and Schwefel signed this photo (left) for his nephew, David Fern, whose brother, Lewis Fern, caddied for Ruth when he played at the St. Albans Golf Club in Queens (bottom right). The watch being sold by HA has "To My Pal Charles Schwefel" engraved on the interior case (bottom left). (Photos courtesy of the Fern Family).
Heritage claims that when Ruth was battling cancer in 1948 he “asked his close friend Charlie Schwefel if he might want anything from his collection to remember him by.” Schwefel, the auction house claims, “Asked for his dying friend’s pocket watch.” But the story isn’t told by Schwefel or his immediate family because, according to Heritage, Schwefel kept the watch for only two years and then passed it along to his nephew, Lewis Fern, who they say caddied for Ruth many times at the St. Albans Golf Club in Queens, New York, in the 1930’s. Heritage is relying on a letter of provenance in their possession signed by Fern and they say he “kept the watch for decades until it was privately sold into one of the finest sports collections in the world in 1988, where it has remained hidden away until now.”
In a press release Heritage describes in more detail the watch and its Ruth provenance stating, “The “Babe Ruth” engraving at the upper edge was added by the Babe himself just prior to gifting the symbolic memento to Schwefel. The rear case pops open to reveal further engraving, most notably the original text announcing, “Presented by Baseball Commissioner to George H. Ruth.” Just above we find the rest of Ruth’s late 1940s addition, reading, “To My Pal Charles Schwefel.”
The 1923 Yankee World Series watches were all hand engraved and unique. The details of the heads of each player and the ornamentation surrounding the word "Yankees" illustrate this best (see red highlight). The alleged Ruth watch offered by Heritage (left) is missing areas of engraved shading on each side of the engraved words "World's Champions" on the genuine watches of Yankee exec Ed Barrow
Each of the watches presented to Ruth and his Yankee teammates is an expertly crafted timepiece which incorporates a hand engraved scene of a pitcher tossing a ball to a batter and a catcher. Every detail depicted on each watch case, ranging from the face of each player to the folds of each uniform, is unique to each timepiece. But the most notable difference between other genuine 1923 Yankee watches and the Heritage Ruth watch is the two missing sections of engraved shading to the left and right of the “Worlds Champions” inscription. This shading appears on every watch we examined including examples presented to players Wally Schang, Charles O’Leary and Harvey Hendrick.
Inside the authentic watches, there is yet another section which was engraved in block letters to identify the actual player being honored; it is the only element found on each watch that links it to the ownership of the individual players. It is also the easiest element for forgers to replicate and transform authentic awards presented to utility players and scrubs into the hardware awarded to the greats of the game.
That being said, Heritage’s Chris Ivy also told the AP, “No one knew where the piece had been. No one has ever seen it for public sale or public auction. The fact that there was no news about it for so many decades, it was just thought that at some point it had been lost to time.” Considering Ivy’s statement, how could he and Heritage ever know that Babe Ruth personally added engraving for his friend to the watch up for sale? How could they ever know if Ruth had his own name engraved on the outside case of the watch when none of the other surviving 1923 watches has a players name in the same spot?
Then, add to Heritage’s speculation the fact that the Babe’s own granddaughter, Linda Ruth Tosetti, has long believed that her grandfather’s World Series awards were wrongfully removed from a family safe deposit box at the time of Claire Ruth’s death in 1976.
Not to mention that the 1984 New York Yankees Yearbook featured a list of Yankee partner Barry Halper’s top 29 Ruth items and included “Babe Ruth’s 1923 World Series gold pocket watch” as the number “4″ relic in an article written by Bill Madden. In 1989, Phil Pepe of the New York Daily News also listed the pocket watch among Halper’s greatest Ruthian treasures. Halper was obsessed with collecting Ruth items and told Pepe, “People know I’m a fanatic when it comes to Babe Ruth. So they call me and offer me things.”
The 1984 Yankee Yearbook lists Barry Halper's 1923 Ruth pocket watch as the number "4" item in his Ruth collection. In 1989, the watch was also mentioned as one of Halper's best Ruth items by Phil Pepe of the Daily News.
And if all that’s not enough to spark some speculation about the Heritage offering, there is the long-standing baseball legend which says Leo “The Lip” Durocher was caught stealing one of the Babe’s prized watches from his hotel room when he was with the Yanks in 1925. In his 2001 autobiography, Elden Auker, also claimed that Ruth had a fist-fight with Durocher after he’d caught him stealing marked bills from his hotel room. Years after Ruth’s death Durocher denied ever swiping his watch as he told a reporter, “You didn’t have to steal Babe’s watch,” he said. “If you liked it, he gave it to you.”
So where did this particular 1923 World Series pocket watch come from and what is its actual chain of ownership? The recent Associated Press report sheds some light on the subject by revealing some information about the current consignor of the watch. AP says, “The present owner, who wished to remain anonymous, declined to be interviewed. He said through Heritage that he acquired the watch for around $200,000 and was parting with it now to help fund charitable organizations important to him.”
Hauls of Shame interviewed Lewis Fern’s son, Dwight Fern, of Atlanta, Georgia, who had a conflicting recollection of the sale of his father’s watch. When asked if the watch sold for $200,000 Fern said, “That’s not true, he sold it to somebody in Atlanta, I don’t know who, and it wasn’t $200,000, it was like $85,000. Maybe they passed it on from there.”
The person from Atlanta he sold it to was gynecologist Dr. Goodman Espy III via collector and dealer Darrel O’Mary. In an interview with Hauls of Shame Espy said he couldn’t remember exactly what he paid for the watch and referred us to Darrell O’Mary who he said had the letter signed by Fern. O’Mary spoke about the deal and said, “Back in the early days when he was so inspired to build a collection, Dr. Espy didn’t have much knowledge and I sort of became (his) gate keeper for any potential purchases.” As for the discrepancy on the sales price O’Mary declined comment and said he never owned the Ruth pocket watch and added, “I can not weigh in on that. I just cannot professionally do it.” The sale of the watch was one of the largest transactions in baseball memorabilia history at a time when Bill Mastro had just sold his trimmed T206 Honus Wagner for a record price of $110,000.
When we asked O’Mary who actually discovered the watch he said, “I can’t remember if Mr. Fern called me or Dr. Espy but at the time he was excited about it and very liquid and that was by far the most he’d ever spent for an item. He was thrilled to get it.” Both men were also very comfortable with Lewis Fern’s representations about the watch and O’Mary recalls, “Lewis Fern was just such a gentleman and class individual, we never doubted its authenticity.” O’Mary says that neither he or Espy were aware at the time of the purchase that Barry Halper claimed he already owned the Babe’s 1923 Series watch.
Lewis Fern (left) sold the 1923 WS watch for at least $85,000 in 1988. In a handwritten note from a family album (center) Fern recalls Ruth giving him the watch which was photographed before it was sold (right).
At the time of the sale O’Mary recorded Fern’s recollections about the watch in his own writing and had Fern sign the document. This is the same letter that Heritage currently quotes in its lot description but when we asked O’Mary for a copy of that document he declined and said, “Just out of courtesy I’d have to get permission from the auction house.” O’Mary did, however, confirm that Fern was told “This should have been yours all along” when he was given the watch by the Schwefel family. O’Mary said, “That actually came out of (Lewis) Fern’s mouth.”
When we asked Heritage’s Chris Ivy for Fern’s “letter of provenance” described in the lot description he refused to produce a copy and replied, “A copy of the letter will be provided to the winning bidder and the description in the catalog accurately reflects its contents.”
Ivy’s reluctance to make the letter public led to our interview of Fern’s widow, Marion Fern, who offered another account which conflicted with the Heritage auction description. Fern told us the watch was given to her husband by Elsie Schwefel when one of her sons had passed away. ”My husband was with (Billy Schwefel’s) mother during part of the funeral and evidently she was supposed to give the watch to Billy, that was one of the sons, and Billy had died, so she passed it on to my husband who they were all close with.” Dwight Fern recalled that Schwefel funeral took place in the early 1960’s.
Dwight Fern also noted that he recalled seeing the Ruth pocket watch when he was a child. “I think I was about seven years old, I never saw the engraving to Charlie Schwefel. I never saw that but the rest of the engraving was there.” Fern provided us with an image taken of the watch when it was still in his father’s possession. That image shows the “Babe Ruth” engraving on the exterior of the watch but when asked if his father took a picture of the interior engraving Fern said he just learned about that engraving in the Associated Press reports that appeared nationally. ”I don’t think he did because that was new to me when I read that in the article. The engraving was on the inside and I never opened it up like that,” said Fern. Also appearing in the picture of the watch was a handwritten note written by Louis Fern that differs from the accounts given by his wife, O’Mary and Heritage. Fern wrote, “Babe Ruth gave me his World Series (1923) watch-’he liked me’ I caddied for him.”
Television producer and author, Cyndi Todd, of Atlanta, Georgia, has been working on a biography of Lewis Fern called A Paratroopers Purpose and in her interviews with him before his death discussed his relationship with the Babe and the pocket watch. ”The Babe Ruth story is one of the cornerstones of my book,” said Todd who added, “Lew told me that he got the watch from his Aunt Elsie after his Uncle Charlie passed away.”
The alleged Ruth watch being offered by Heritage (outlined in red) joins seven other surviving and authentic watches that have been sold at public auction. The watches were presented to Yankee players and executives after the 1923 World Series.
While Fern got his watch from his Aunt Elsie, the Yankee players and executives got their gold pocket watches from Judge Landis and it wasn’t until 1927 that the Babe received his first World Series ring. Ruth later added rings with world titles in 1928 and 1932, rounding out his collection with a total of three diamond-studded rings along with the 1923 gold pocket watch. All of them, except for the Babe’s alleged 1927 ring currently in Charlie Sheen’s possession, had remained AWOL until the 1923 pocket watch recently appeared in an Associated Press report and on the cover of the catalog for Heritage’s “Platinum Night’ auction in New York City on February 22nd.
Authentic and surviving examples of the 1923 Yankee pocket watch created by Gruen are exceedingly scarce and only a handful (approximately eight) have appeared for sale at public auction in the past few decades. Even the museum at Yankee Stadium could only manage a replica watch for its display. Genuine examples attributed to Yankee executives Ed Barrow, Mark Roth, Paul Krichell and R. J. Connery, however, have surfaced as well as one presented to team trainer “Doc” Woods. To date, the only player watches known to have survived in private hands are the ones Judge Landis presented to to Wally Schang, Charles O’Leary and George Pipgras. In 1991, Sports Illustrated published a story chronicling how Pipgras’ 1923 watch was stolen from him at gunpoint in the 1930’s and found over 50 years later by a pawn shop owner who sold it back to the family for $500. The Baseball Hall of Fame also has a player watch presented to Harvey Hendrick and another that belonged to Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis.
The engraving on Heritage's Ruth watch (top left) starkly contrasts the engraving found on the genuine watches presented to Yankee executives Ed Barrow, R. J. Connery and Mark Roth.
The “long-lost” example currently being offered by Heritage clearly has a credible provenance story that shows how the watch was transferred from Charlie Schwefel to his nephew Lewis Fern. There are, however, several inconsistencies in that story that could very well be the product of some exaggeration or family legend that developed over the decades. Putting that story and those facts aside, however, this 1923 pocket watch has other visible issues totally unrelated to its chain ownership. The most interesting issue appears to be the interior engraving that starkly contrasts the work inscribed into the 14K surfaces of the known genuine examples presented to the Yankee executives. The next prominent issue is that the Heritage offering has case and movement serial numbers that also do not appear to correspond with all of the other existing 1923 Yankee Gruen watches.
The serial number engraved on the Heritage Ruth watch is not in the same sequence as the numbers engraved on previous authentic watches sold by Heritage which were once presented to Yankee execs Ed Barrow, Mark Roth and R. J. Connery.
The serial number engraved on Heritage’s Ruth watch (1060722) is approximately 3,500 numbers away from the series of numbers found on the other genuine 1923 Yankee watches previously sold by Heritage. Unconfirmed reports state that Gruen sold about 50,000 “Verithin” model watches annually which would mean that the alleged Ruth watch was made months after all of the other known examples.
The serial number on the Gruen movement of the Ruth watch is "526564" while the watch presented to Mark Roth has the number "518470."
In addition, the serial number found on the actual Gruen movement inside the gold case of the Ruth watch is separated from the other known examples by close to 8,000 digits, thus further suggesting the Heritage offering was created well after the others were assembled. Why?
For comparison, another 14k Gruen Verithin Pentagon pocketwatch was offered on eBay recently and was engraved with an inscription dated “March 25, 1925.” The watch was a 21st birthday present and was accompanied by the original presentation box and the Gruen certificate which included the record of its $100 sales price.
A similar Gruen Verithin watch was offered on eBay and was inscribed with a date of March 1925. The case number was "1070849" and the movement number was "541668." The watch came with its original papers and was priced at $100 in 1925.
The case number on the watch, which was presented and engraved in March of 1925, was “1070849″ and the watch movement serial number was “541668.” The Yankee watches were presented to the players on Opening Day which fell on April 23, 1924. With the known genuine Yankee watches having case numbers ranging between “1057335″ and “1057343″ and movement numbers in the “518470″ range, the 1925 eBay watch further suggests that the Heritage Ruth watch was assembled after the other Yankee watches were created because its case number is “1060722″ and its movement number is “526564.”
The Gruen Watch Company was founded in the late 19th century and at the time the Yankees were presented with their watches, Fred Gruen had already taken control of the Cincinnati company after the death of his father who founded the company. All of the Gruen watch cases and movements were imported from Switzerland and assembled in Ohio and Toronto. A local Cincinnati jeweler named Frank Herschede was the dealer who actually sold Baseball the Gruen watches as referenced in a Cincinnati newspaper that published an image of one of the Yankee watches before they were presented by Judge Landis.
In January 1924 the New York Times reported the Yankee World Series watches might be presented to the team at Spring Training (left). Yank exec Paul Krichell's 1923 Yankee watch survived with its original presentation box from Cincinnati jeweler Frank Herschede. An item from a 1924 Cincinnati newspaper (right) illustrated one of the engraved watches sold by the firm.
It is possible that the Gruen watches sold by Herschede were chosen by the Commissioner’s office because the Chairman of Baseball’s National Commission, August Herrmann, had been based in Cincinnati since the turn of the century and Herschede was also a stockholder in his Cincinnati Reds franchise. The August Herrmann Papers collection at the National Baseball Library includes files of correspondence from Herschede as well as the papers of Judge Landis and his office during 1923 and 1924. It’s possible there might be some additional documentation of Landis’ purchase of the watches for the Yankees, however, the National Baseball Library has been closed to the public since two key library employees, Tim Wiles and Freddie Berowski, recently left the Hall to take positions at other libraries.
That being said, when we questioned Heritage’s Chris Ivy regarding the fact that the interior engraving on the Ruth watch contrasted the engraving found on other executive and player watches, Ivy claimed to have documentation in his possession proving the watch was the exact same one presented to Ruth by Judge Landis on Opening Day 1924.
The NY Times reported Judge Landis cancelled the Yankee watch ceremony on Opening Day (1924) but later reports (center) show that he did present them. Jacob Ruppert also gave gold watch fobs to his champs (right).
“In addition to the Fern letter, we also have correspondence from the period that not only confirms that the watch is engraved exactly as instructed by the Yankees organization and the Commissioner’s office, but provides additional data and facts that support that the watch that we are offering is 100% authentic and was the watch issued to Babe Ruth for the 1923 NY Yankees championship,” said Ivy in an email. Ivy, however, is not willing to make that information or the Fern letter public and added,”We also have data that ties this Ruth watch to the other presented 1923 championship watches in a very specific and clear manner.” According to Ivy the only person or persons who will be privy to this information are, “the winning bidder as well as any interested and qualified bidders that contact us prior to the auction close.”
While Ivy and Heritage have issued strong statements about their evidence, they still have no answer for the past claims that Barry Halper once owned Ruth’s 1923 pocket watch. With the inconsistencies in the known provenance stories and the fact that Heritage is apparently unwilling to share information they claim proves Ruth was presented their watch on Opening Day 1924, we can only look to the surviving pocket watches to try and unravel the mystery of Ruth’s Yankee bling.
We consulted with one of the nation’s top experts on Gruen watches and presented him with all of the evidence we’ve compiled related to the ten Yankee watches known to have survived. Charlie Cleves, from Bellevue, Kentucky, is the owner of Cleves and Lonnemann Jewelers and is also one of the few people in the country who have acheived the rank of “Certified Master Watchmaker 21st Century (CNW21)” after passing testing administered by the American Watchmaker and Clockmaker Institute’s Board of Examiners. Cleves, who also has his own collection of Gruen “Pentagon” watches, examined images of all the known examples focusing on the engraving and manufacturing elements of each timepiece.
Cleves began with his analysis of the inconsistencies in the engraving and although he was somewhat concerned with the contrasting engraving on the Ruth watch told us, “Gruen had at least ten different engravers on their line during this time period and they would have different styles in their work. The engraving alone isn’t enough to rule this out.”
As far as the great disparity in the serial numbers on the watch movements as compared to the other Yankee executive watches Cleves said, “I would expect the movement serial number to fall in line with the other ones, but this discrepency could be explained away by the fact that Gruen would put a new movement in your watch if you sent it in for repairs.” So that could explain that issue.
But when it came to the the 3,500-plus number disparity in the serial numbers of the actual gold watch case and the known executive watches, Cleves told us, “I’m very concerned with this aspect.” Cleves did determine that all of the Yankee watches were made during 1924 but then added, “The simpler, more probable explanation is that it is a slightly higher case and movement number and it was made four or five months after the original ones.” The original ones Cleves was referring to were the Yankee executive watches sold by Heritage in previous sales. Cleves added, “Did he lose his watch or decide he needed a second one?”
Watch expert Charlie Cleves (inset) was able to determine the dates the 1923 Yankee watches were manufactured by examining the serial numbers on the watch cases.
If Cleves’ analysis is correct and the Yankee executive watches inscribed “Presented by New York Yankees” were made at the same time as the player watches inscribed “Presented by the Commissioner,” then it is highly improbable that the million-dollar Heritage watch given to Lewis Fern is the same watch presented to the Bambino on April 24, 1924. Based upon Cleves analysis, could the pocket watch have been a second one ordered by Ruth or the Yankees? When we asked Daryl O’Mary what he thought about the conflicting serial numbers he told us, “Let’s just say if this could have been a duplicate watch, I’m confident that Lewis Fern knew nothing about it.” As for the contrasting engraving issues O’Mary added, “I know Dr. Espy has not had any type of engraving added to it, I would swear under oath to that.”
Since everything seems to boil down to the actual 14k gold case serial numbers, is it possible that the Yankee executive watches were made months before the watches presented to the Yankees on Opening Day? One more mystery tied to this Ruthian saga is the fact that none of the Yankee player watches sold at public auction have included any images of the engraving and serial numbers found on the interior cases. Neither Lelands or Hunt Auctions provided photos in three different sales of Wally Schang’s watch. Hunt never pictured the interior case on trainer “Doc” Woods’ watch in 2004 and Charles O’Leary’s watch sold by Barry Halper at Sotheby’s in 1999 also failed to include a picture of the case. We couldn’t find any images of the other 1923 Ruth watch that Halper claimed to own in the 1984 Yankee Yearbook. That being said, many of Halper’s prominent Ruth artifacts ranging from his rookie Red Sox uniform to a lock of his hair have been exposed as counterfeits in reports that we published at Deadspin and the New York Post.
The Babe’s own granddaughter, Linda Ruth Tosetti, has been doing her own tracking of her family’s lost heirlooms and told us she called the Baseball Hall of Fame and found that they had only one player watch in the collection which was presented to Harvey Hendrick. Tosetti, however, could not determine what the serial number was. ”The Hall of Fame told me it was either out on loan or in a display case and that it wasn’t possible to get the numbers,” said Tosetti.
Tosetti even called up the grandson of Babe’s old teammate George Pipgras to see if he could share the serial number on the watch returned to his family after being stolen in the 1930’s. When Tosetti called Pipgras’ grandson, George Simpson in Inverness, Florida, he was unwilling to help solve the mystery and said his son in Jacksonville had the 1923 watch and Pipgras’ 1927 Series ring and that he was also unwilling to help. Tosetti told us, “He just blew me off and actually hung up on me. Geez, if Babe was alive to hear this he’d give them a piece of his mind. Here’s a family that recovered their watch due to the generosity of others and this is how they act?”
Linda Ruth-Tosetti (left) has been searching for Babe's World Series awards; Dr. Goodman Espy and his ex-wife Cheryl (center); Heritage CEO, Steve Ivy (right).
Hauls of Shame also contacted the Pipgras-Simpson family and attempted to get a confirmation on the case serial number from George W. “Pip” Simpson, but the undercover cop who was recently in the news after shooting a suspect in a drug bust declined comment. George Simpson Sr. told us he hung up on the Babe’s granddaughter because he didn’t believe it was really her. ”How am I supposed to tell if it was really her,” said Simpson. Without any confirmation on the case serial numbers on the Pipgras, O’Leary, Schang and Hendrick awards, we still can’t be sure that the watch Heritage is offering is the Babe’s first Yankee hardware. Unfortunately, this mystery will continue until this information is researched further and verified. Could Heritage have confirmed this information and still be holding it back from prospective bidders and the general public? If it is revealed that the case numbers on player watches are close to the “1060722″ number on Ruth’s watch its safe to say that Lewis Fern really did have the genuine article. This mystery would be solved.
One thing that is not a mystery, however, is the fact that Heritage Auctions may not even have clear title to sell their million-dollar Ruthian treasure. In the course of our interview with consignor Dr. Goodman Espy he asked that his name not appear in our report because he had not revealed his ownership of the 1923 watch in a recent divorce proceeding with his ex-wife Cheryl Petros Espy of Atlanta, Georgia. When we simply asked Heritage’s Chris Ivy for the Fern letter and pointed out the inconsistencies in the engraving he threatened Hauls of Shame on Espy’s behalf stating, “Should you move forward to write and publish an article that includes inaccurate, misleading, and/or irresponsible speculation that causes financial harm, or otherwise, to our consignor, then you will simply be opening yourself up to further legal repercussions should he choose to pursue them.”
In response, we asked Heritage’s CEO, Steve Ivy, if he knew about the Espy divorce and if the auction house had verified that their client had clear title to offer the watch for sale. We also asked Ivy to address the prior claims made by Barry Halper that he actually owned Babe Ruth’s 1923 watch four years before Espy did? Ivy did not respond to our inquiry.
When contacted at her home in Atlanta, the consignor’s ex-wife, Cheryl Petros Espy, confirmed that her husband did not disclose his ownership of the Ruth pocket watch in their divorce proceeding but declined further comment.
(If you own the 1923 Babe Ruth World Series watch Barry Halper claimed to have in the 1980s or if you own another 1923 Yankee player watch with visible serial numbers please contact us at: Tips@Haulsofshame.com )
UPDATE (Feb 21, 2014): Heritage Auctions posted this update to the lot description of the 1923 World Series Pocket Watch:
1923 New York Yankees World Championship Watch Presented to Babe Ruth. Update: We are pleased to announce that in addition to a copy of the original signed letter of provenance from Lewis Fern, we have added the following documentation to the files that will accompany the watch:
1) Copies of fourteen pages of correspondence between the New York Yankees, the office of the Commissioner of Baseball and the watch company dating from late 1923 to early 1924 regarding the ordering of Championship watches. The precise manner of engraving is confirmed by this paperwork, as are the details of the watches’ construction that are specific to the 1923 championship watch order. Only eleven of the thirty-nine watches delivered to the team exhibit a full first name and middle initial as requested in the letter. George H. Ruth is one of those eleven.
2) A letter of provenance from the son of Lewis Fern, who sold the watch to our consignor over twenty years ago. This letter confirms all details of the elder Fern’s own letter of provenance as well as the fact that the watch remains identical in appearance to his earliest recollections of it as a child in the 1950’s.
3) We have discovered that the Championship watches issued to the 1923 Yankees, both front office and player versions, were very lightly hand-scratched with a five-digit code beneath the serial number. The codes are represented by a “46XXX” number and are consistent on all inspected examples, including the Ruth representation. We have determined that this coding was done prior to presentation to the recipients and appears to be present only on Yankee watches and absent on all other Gruen Verithin Pentagon examples we have located in our research. We will include photographic imagery of the other known Yankee watches to illustrate this trait that links each to the same specific population.
UPDATE (Feb 22, 2014): Hauls of Shame presented watch expert Charlie Cleves with Heritage’s updated information concerning the 5-digit numerals and he responded saying:
“The number inscribed underneath the serial number is usually put on by jewelry stores or watchmakers who work on watches. In this case it could have been put on by Herschede Jewelers when the hand engraving was done if they were the ones who engraved the cases and not the factory. If it is a job number put on by the jeweler and this watch was made the same time as the other one then the numbers would all be sequential. If there is a gap between this watch and the rest of them then I would think it was made at a later date (4 or 5 months later). It could be a number put on by Herschede to track the watch for warranty purposes. We still put a number very small on every watch we sell. We can always look up the number and know exactly what the price was, date of purchase and the person who bought it. So if it was something that Herschede routinely did then it would also be on a watch they made later and have a slightly higher number than the other ones.”
We then asked, “Would the actual serial number on the case be the most accurate element to determine the date of manufacturing?
“We can date watches we sold by our numbers we put in them going all the way back to 1932. The biggest problem arises from the fact that some watches sat 10 years in our showcase before they were sold to the customer. When you look up some of the Bulova watches that are date coded with the year of manufacturing it will be coded 1966(m6) and our card may say we sold it in 1972. Once Herschede went out of business I’m sure all of there files were destroyed. When the companies were going strong their serial numbers would be the best way to date a watch. Gruen was definitely tops in their field in the 20’s.”
UPDATE (Jan. 28, 2015): HERITAGE OFFERS BENNIE BENGOUGH’S 1923 YANKEE WS POCKET WATCH & SOLVES THE RUTHIAN MYSTERY; MORE PROOF THAT HALPER’S BABE RUTH WATCH WAS A FAKE
When we first published this article last February there were still lots of lingering questions about whether the 1923 pocket watch sold by Heritage was actually the one awarded to Ruth on Opening Day in 1924. Gaps in the sequence of serial numbers for watches awarded to Yankee executives and players created some confusion and the fact that so few player watches were available for comparison just added to the mystery of the World Series hardware. But with Heritage Auction Galleries’ current offering of items from Yankee Bennie Bengough’s estate the mystery appears to have been solved—the sequence of serial numbers on Bengough’s 1923 Gruen pocket watch is consistent with the numbers engraved on the Ruth watch.
Heritage’s lot description states that the engraving on the watch reads: “Presented by Baseball Commissioner to Bernard Bengough.” The lot description adds: “The case bears a serial number of “1060730,” just eight removed from Ruth’s model. We also note that a five-digit hand-scratched jeweler’s notation just under the serial number beginning with the number “46xxx” is present here, as found on all other known models, including Ruth’s.”
Although the serial number sequences match on the Ruth and Bengough watches, the engraving on each watch case appears to be different.
Mystery solved. (Although we note that the serial numbers are in sequence, all of the engraving including the player names and Commissioner presentation information appears to be distinctly different.)
That being said, the revelation made by Heritage makes it even more likely that the 1923 World Series pocket watch that deceased collector Barry Halper claimed to have owned was a forgery. Halper’s alleged 1923 Ruth watch was depicted in Sports Illustrated’s 1995 profile of the collector entitled “The Sultan of Swap.” The watch was also identified as one of the premier pieces in Halper’s Ruth collection in a 1984 New York Yankees yearbook feature written by Bill Madden.
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By Peter J. Nash
February 10, 2014
Heritage's Chris Ivy (bottom right) is selling Roger Connor's payroll receipt (center) which was sent to the HOF in 1970 by sportswriter Red Foley (top left). Lew Lipset (top right) sold the same doc in 1989 when he was partners with HA's Mike Gutierrez (inset, center right).
As Hall of Famer Yogi Berra once said: “It’s Deja-vu all over again.”
Last year Hauls of Shame published an investigative report about the Baseball Hall of Fame thefts which identified several rare documents believed stolen from Cooperstown and traced them back to hobby veteran Lew Lipset and his Four Base Hits auctions back in 1989 and 1990.
The report included a copy of a 1970 letter sent by Hall director Ken Smith to New York sportswriter Red Foley acknowledging the receipt of fourteen 19th century New York Giant payroll receipts bearing the ultra-rare signatures of several Hall of Famers including Mickey Welch, Buck Ewing, James O’Rourke, Jesse Burkett and Roger Connor.
Now, one of those same documents, the signed Roger Connor receipt, has surfaced in Heritage Auction Galleries’ Platinum Night event scheduled in New York City for February 22nd. Like the Buck Ewing receipt from the same group, which sold for over $35,000 in a Mastro Auction in 2004, the Connor document represents an extremely valuable autographed rarity which could command a sales price of $50,000. Heritage describes the document as “just the third representation to surface in the modern collecting hobby.”
The problem is, the document also fits the exact description of a signed Roger Connor receipt sent to the Hall in 1970 by Red Foley and the auctioneer who sold that same Connor autograph in 1989 for $3,800 has no recollection of where he acquired the document, along with the others including O’Rourke, Ewing and Welch. The document sent by Foley (and the others) are all currently missing from the National Baseball Library.
In a 1970 letter addressed to Red Foley, HOF Director Ken Smith acknowledged the receipt of a group of (14) New York team payroll documents signed by HOFers including Roger Connor.
When Hauls of Shame interviewed Lew Lipset last year he confirmed that he sold the rare Giant documents and also revealed that the winning bidder on a few of the lots was auctioneer Duane Garrett from Richard Wolfers Auctions. Lipset said that the Buck Ewing document sold for $3,625 in September of 1989 and the O’Rourke and Welch receipts sold for $4,500 and $4,400 respectively early in 1990. The Ewing document was subsequently authenticated and encapsulated by PSA/DNA and sold in a 2004 Mastro Auction and currently appears on the PSA “Autograph Facts” website as an exemplar of Ewing’s signature. When asked about the sale price of the Connor autograph, Lipset said he did not have any information indicating the price realized in his November 1990 sale.
Heritage is selling this payroll receipt signed by HOFer Roger Connor in the 2014 Platunum Night Auction in New York City on February 22nd.
When Lipset offered the documents for sale he noted that the ends of the documents were trimmed or clipped. When he sold the Buck Ewing autograph Lipset noted the document was “Partially cut at right, not affecting signature.” As we reported last year, it is likely that the documents were cut to remove the National Baseball Library accession information which would have indicated the year of donation and the sequence of the item’s donation during that time period.
In regard to his acquisition of the rare autographs Lipset told us, “I remember when I got ‘em. It was one of those too good to be true things. I didn’t give a thought to the fact that they could be stolen.” But as for who he acquired the stolen documents from Lipset responded, “I have no recollection where I got these but I remember I was suspicious not because of the origin but if they were real and I brought them to Mike Gutierrez, who told me they were good. It is also my recollection that they were in my collection for a few years before I sold them, so I would have purchased them a few years before the auctions.” We also asked Lipset if he had any records that might show the identity of the seller and he answered, “I have no check records from that far back, so I have no idea.”
Payroll receipts signed by Ewing, Welch, O'Rourke, Burkett and Connor (left) are all identified in the 1970 HOF letter to Red Foley. All except the Burkett also appeared in Lew Lipset's auctions in 1989 and 1990 (right)
Lipset, however, also revealed that he had a partnership at that time with Mike Gutierrez, who is now well-known as the prime suspect in the 1980’s Hall of Fame thefts and the subject of an FBI investigation due to the fact he sold a stolen Babe Ruth photo to New York dealer Josh Evans in 1988. According to ex-Hall employees the investigation was dropped because the institution feared bad publicity and backlash from past and future donors of artifacts to the museum. Gutierrez is currently working for Heritage’s Chris Ivy as one of his consignment directors.
Lipset and Gutierrez have a long history of partnering on memorabilia deals and the purchases of collections over the years. Gutierrez even served as the point-man for Lipset’s autograph survey published in the late 1980s in his hobby newsletter, The Old Judge. In one of his surveys Lipset also reveals that Gutierrez made several trips to the Hall of Fame to seek out exemplars for the survey and autograph price guide published in Lipset’s Old Judge newsletter.
In our report last year, we asked Lipset about his relationship with Gutierrez and he indicated that both men have not spoken in years. But Lipset did recall the days when they were close and even mentioned taking a trip to the National Baseball Library with Gutierrez in the late 1980s. Lipset told us, “The one time I went to the Hall with Mike, we weren’t there very long. We were in Tom Heitz’ office discussing Mike’s idea and I don’t believe anywhere else. I don’t think Mike was off by himself, but then I don’t really remember.” The “idea” Lipset mentioned was a proposal Gutierrez made to Hall officials to permit him access to contact information for Hall of Fame families and relatives in order to purchase memorabilia and then donate portions of those purchases to the Hall since the museum is not permitted to purchase artifacts.
Mike Gutierrez (left) was suspected of stealing items from the National Baseball Library (center, left) in the 1980s and made a trip with Lew Lipset (right, center) to meet with NBL librarian Tom Heitz. Chris Ivy of Heritage (right) has sold items stolen from the NBL.
The museum policy that bars the Hall from buying material directly was actually referred to in the 1970 letter sent by Ken Smith to Red Foley. In that letter, Smith made it clear to Foley that the generosity of the donor, a friend of Foley’s cousin identified as “Mrs. McSherry,” was greatly appreciated. Smith wrote, ”The museum does not purchase display and library material” and made a point to thank Foley upon his receipt of the documents in Cooperstown: “I certainly appreciate yours and your cousin’s kindness in remembering the Hall of Fame as a place where these signatures would be welcome.”
The revelation in our report published last year of Smith’s letter to Foley being found in the Hall of Fame files should have prompted Hall officials to investigate the situation and report the loss to the authorities. All items donated to the Hall are property of New York State, not the Hall of Fame or the Clark family who founded the institution in the 1930s. When we asked if the accession records could be reviewed to confirm the 1970 donation of the payroll documents Hall spokesman Brad Horn denied us access to the records and would not reveal if the Hall was in possession of other similar receipts as the 1970 letter to Foley indicated that there may have been additional “coupons” in Mrs. McSherry’s possession.
The failure of the Hall of Fame to properly report thefts and safeguard the treasures they have been entrusted to protect and preserve was illuminated even more when a CDV photograph of the 1870 Philadelphia Athletics, which was verified as stolen from the National Baseball Library, was sold at Legendary Auctions in 2012. Despite our production of unimpeachable photographic evidence proving the photo was stolen from the library, Hall of Fame officials did nothing to either claim title to or challenge the sale of the donated artifact. The A’s CDV had been photographed by the Society For American Baseball Research (SABR) in 1983 while it was still part of the Hall of Fame’s collection. The rare card ended up selling for about $1,600 (about $8,000 less than a legitimate one Legendary sold in 2010).
An 1886 cabinet photo of the NY Giants was photographed at the NBL in 1983 by SABR (left). The same albumen print (removed and remounted) then appeared in auctions conducted by Lew Lipset in 2006 and Heritage in 2010. The 1983 photo and the current auction photos show the exact same unique imperfections highlighted in red.
That CDV had no direct link to Mike Gutierrez or Lew Lipset and first appeared at auction in a 1994 Robert Edward Auctions sale conducted by Rob Lifson the self-confessed institutional thief who was apprehended stealing CDV’s at the New York Public Library in the late 1970s. Other items photographed by SABR in 1983 do, however, appear to be Hall of Fame property and have been sold in auctions conducted by Lew Lipset. Lipset sold 1886 and 1894 cabinet photos of the NY Giants team and a Horner portrait of John J. McGraw that appear on contact sheets from SABR’s 1983 photo-shoot at the Hall.
When we asked Lipset back in December of 2012 where he acquired the 1886 Giant team cabinet photo his response was identical to the answer he gave about the 19th century payroll receipts. Lipset again told us, “I know I had the 1886 in my collection for years before I put it in the auction. Its the same one as in the SABR publication. I have no record or recollection where I got it from.” After Lipset unloaded the photo in his own sale it ended up selling again at Heritage who auctioned the same cabinet card for over $10,000.
Lipset’s past partnership with Gutierrez and his handling of items stolen from the Hall with no recollection whatsoever of how he came into possession of them has created a body of circumstantial evidence that would lead many to believe he knew the items he was selling were stolen. Our research indicates there are many more suspect items that Lipset and Guttierrez have been partners on. One of those items is Keith Olbermann’s $63,000 Harry Wright cricket CDV that was removed from Robert Edward Auctions sale last year. That CDV was purchased by Lipset and Gutierrez at a 1989 Butterfield & Butterfield auction as part of a photo album alleged to have originated from Wright family relatives. But the album had no verifiable Wright provenance and Gutierrez was the auction consultant for Butterfield at the time. Gutierrez also alerted Lipset that the photos were being sold and asked that he front the money to purchase them. Lipset confirmed this last year when he told us, “I do remember the Butterfield auction. Mike was working for Butterfield as a consultant and he called me with a description of the album. I told him to “buy it”. We were partners on it.”
A Harry Wright CDV found in a family photo album is suspected to have been stolen from the HOF and other letters written to August Herrmann have been removed from Heritage Auctions after being identified as stolen letters.
The evidence, however, suggests that the CDV album may have belonged to Harry Wright’s brother George and may also have been part of a very substantial donation Wright’s son Irving Wright made to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1941. Its just another situation where Gutierrez and Lipset are linked to items suspected to have been stolen with no verifiable or legitimate provenance. The same could be said for Gutierrez’ employer Heritage Auctions which has removed and also sold numerous documents believed to have been stolen from the Hall of Fame’s famous August Herrmann Papers Collection.
Despite all of the evidence suggesting the links between Gutierrez and Lipset and stolen items like the signed Roger Connor document in the current Heritage sale, the Baseball Hall of Fame continues to violate its charter by failing to protect and recover the artifacts entrusted to their care. The Hall’s failure to pursue recovery and establish title for items stolen from its library has not yet prompted the filing of any action against the museum by the office of the New York State Attorney General. The Hall of Fame’s Director of Communications, Craig Muder, responded to our inquiry about the Heritage sale and said, “The Museum has no comment on this.”
In response to our inquiry, Chris Ivy sent us this answer (in its entirety) via email:
“Heritage has no interest in selling stolen collectibles. Every consignor to our auctions signs a consignment agreement noting that they have legal claim of ownership and that is the case with this item as well. On rare occasion, we are contacted by authorities drawing legal ownership into question. Certainly if the Baseball Hall of Fame or any governmental agency were to contact us about this item we would take the appropriate steps. This has not happened. I can assure that we will not sell this item if any evidence supporting your claims of disputed ownership is supplied by the parties in question.”
HOS asked Heritage CEO, Steve Ivy (left) and his son, Chris Ivy (right) to comment on the auction house's offering of the Connor document and the links HA employee and Antiques Roadshow appraiser, Mike Gutierrez, has to the Hall of Fame thefts.
In response, Hauls of Shame sent Ivy and his father, Heritage founder and CEO, Steve Ivy this email (in its entirety):
“In regard to the issue of disputed ownership I published an excerpt from a letter written by HOF director Ken Smith in 1970 which specifically documented his receipt and possession of a group of NY Baseball Club pay receipts. That document identifies a signed Roger Connor receipt and several others sent to the Hall by Red Foley. I cannot locate any such Connor receipt (or any others) in the collection of the National Baseball Library. You describe the Connor receipt as an “elite rarity” that was “located in the archives of the New York Giants.” What evidence or information do you have to support your stated claim that this document was in a New York Giant archive? Where was that archive? What research has the auction house conducted to assure its bidders that this item is legitimate?
You do realize your consignor’s claim of title is meaningless considering the same item was offered previously by Lew Lipset who claims he has no idea where he acquired the document before it was sold his own auction. I should also note that Mr. Lipset claims to have accompanied your employee Mike Gutierrez on a trip to the National Baseball Library shortly before the time he sold the Connor check in his own auction and had Gutierrez authenticate the signature for him.
Considering the rarity of the item and the dubious provenance beginning with Lew Lipset’s sale of the same Connor receipt are you still comfortable selling it?
Or is it that, even if it appears to be stolen from the Hall of Fame, Heritage is fine with selling the document simply because the Hall will not claim title and dispute the sale (as has been the case with numerous other items that you have even previously removed from sales)? I understand your dilemma regarding the Hall not disputing the sale, but wouldn’t the strong evidence supporting the claim that this is the property of New York State, deter Heritage from even getting involved with the sale of such an item?
When Legendary Auctions recently offered an 1870 CDV of the Phila A’s we published an article showing the exact same item (with the same unique imperfections) documented as HOF property in a photograph taken by SABR inside the museum in 1983. Even with that overwhelming evidence the HOF declined to claim title or dispute the sale. Is it Heritage’s belief that the inaction of the Hall in regard to past items like the A’s CDV has now somehow made these items free and clear of future title issues for your customers?
Aren’t you really just saying that even if an item is identified as stolen you have no problem selling it because the victim of the theft is not pursuing recovery? Just wanted you to clarify that based on your statement that Heritage “has no interest in selling stolen collectibles.” If the Hall doesn’t pursue recovery of a stolen item, isn’t it still stolen?
I have been blocked by Hall officials from viewing the museum accession records from 1970 to identify the donation number assigned to the Connor receipt in 1970. Have you attempted to access that information from the Hall of Fame? Do you feel an obligation to contact the Hall of Fame considering the evidence suggesting this document was stolen from the Hall’s archive?”
Steve Ivy responded to our inquiry via email:
“We have an obligation to both the consignor, and any potential buyer, as covered by our consignment agreement, and terms of sale. As outlined in Chris’s email, we also have an obligation to deal with any 3rd party that may have a claim, and we do so when such situations occur. We can’t address what ultimately amounts to conjecture, as you are asking us to do, as that may harm the consignor who has warranted good title. As you are aware, we also warrant good title to any potential buyer, and clearly have the financial wherewithal to back it up. You obviously have no standing in this matter. Your continued attempts to create issues where none exist (at least to our knowledge) to promote your own interests is transparent to all who know you.”
It appears Ivy believes an item still has good title even if the prior seller claims he has no idea where he acquired the item and was also partners with the prime suspect in the Hall of Fame thefts at the time he sold it. Ivy also fails to address Heritage’s prior sale of the $10,000 cabinet photo of the 1886 Giants which was stolen from the Hall of Fame and also previously sold by Lew Lipset. Ivy is also aware that Lipset could not recall where he acquired that stolen item either. Ivy appears to have no problem with his company selling stolen property.
We responded to Ivy and asked for one more clarification: ”Based upon your response is it safe to say you and your son Chris just made that thing up about the Connor receipt being “located in the archives of the New York Giants”?
Incident reports related to the New York BBC payroll receipts, including the Roger Connor receipt, are said to have been filed with Chief Michael Covert of the Cooperstown Police Department. Lew Lipset, who recently retired from the hobby as an active dealer and auctioneer, was contacted last night at his home in Carefree, Arizona, and still had no recollection where he picked up the Connor autograph. When asked if he had figured out how he acquired the $250,000 worth of signed documents since we spoke last year Lipset replied, “I still don’t remember.” Lipset is said to be working on a hobby memoir chronicling his career as a dealer and collector since the 1970s. It is not clear whether Lipset’s memoir will reveal more about his relationship with Mike Gutierrez or the source of the 19th-century payroll receipts he sold in his own auctions.