By Peter J. Nash
June 18, 2014
(Scroll to Bottom for Update)
It’s been 100 years since Babe Ruth made his debut in a Major League uniform but he remains the most revered athlete in American sports history. The “Bambino” is still so popular that collectors are shelling out millions of dollars and bidding in online auctions on artifacts and autographs attributed to the man called the “Sultan of Swat.” But getting a real Babe Ruth autograph in this day and age can be a challenge considering the fraud and forgery that has infiltrated the sports memorabilia industry and even the Babe’s own granddaughter, Linda Ruth Tosetti, is disturbed by the volume of fakes showing up on eBay and in every major auction house in the country. Tosetti has been doing her part educating fans about the perils of collecting the Babe and in 2010 she endorsed Hauls of Shame’s “Operation Bambino” investigation which was launched to expose the Ruth forgery-rings that have become cottage industries.
The Babe’s granddaughter has even reached out to the FBI on several occasions to address the sales of forgeries attributed to her granddad and, although collectors have become more educated on how to spot Ruth fakes, law enforcement has done little to crack down on the proliferation of bad Ruth material in the marketplace. With the assistance of several talented experts, however, “Operation Bambino” has made significant strides and in this report we pinpoint and identify one specific Ruth forgery-ring that was using Mastro Auctions as their delivery man for forgeries placed on photos, books, balls, Hall of Fame ephemera and even bats.
In the 1990s, the FBI’s “Operation Bullpen” took down a large ring of Ruth forgers headed by the Marino family, but their Ruthian creations were inferior to the examples that have been ushered into the hobby via Mastro Auctions and authenticated by PSA/DNA. As Bill Mastro cooperates with the government and awaits his sentencing arising from the FBI’s Chicago-based Mastro investigation, it is possible that prosecutors could get to the bottom of the Ruth forgery epidemic with Mastro’s help pursuant to the terms of his plea agreement. In Federal Court last week, Mastro’s sentencing was postponed once again until October and, as recent news reports indicate, other auction houses like Grey Flannel are facing similar scrutiny as Mastro cooperates with the Feds.
Babe Ruth's granddaughter, Linda Ruth Tosetti (left) has endorsed "Operation Bambino" while the FBI is currently continuing their investigation into Bill Mastro and his former auction business that distributed scores of Ruth forgeries.
In its current auction, Grey Flannel offered the work of one rogue-Ruth forger who placed phony autographs of Ruth and Lou Gehrig on a counterfeit baseball. The signatures are almost identical to forgeries exposed in the 1990’s and the ball was debunked by comparing its stamping, lacing and other characteristics to genuine AL balls from the period. In response to a Hauls of Shame report, Grey Flannel removed the fraudulent lot from its sale along with the two letters of authenticity from PSA/DNA and JSA signed by the so-called experts Steve Grad and Jimmy Spence.
The Grey Flannel debacle is reminiscent of the circumstances surrounding our last “Operation Bambino” report (Part 5) published last year when Robert Edward Auctions sold the now infamous forged Ruth photo inscribed to Pride of the Yankees star Gary Cooper. REA’s Rob Lifson sold that fake despite the fact that an autograph reference book written by Ron Keurajian specifically identified the same photo as a forgery and illustrated why.
But as reported in our last article, it has been established that both REA and JSA had direct knowledge that the “Sincerely Yours, Babe Ruth” salutation on the Cooper photograph matched another nearly identical Ruth salutation included in a Jimmy Spence-created display of 1927 Yankee cut signatures that appeared in REA’s 2008 sale. In its catalog, REA identified the Ruth signature as genuine, but the auctioneer posted an addendum later stating Spence said the signature was not real and “Secretarial.” But it wasn’t a secretarial signature, it was an outright forgery, and along with the Gary Cooper photo it would become a “Rosetta Stone” for uncovering Ruth forgeries.
In 2005, PSA placed a full-page ad in SCD featuring a forged Ruth photo accompanied by a PSA/DNA LOA signed by Joe Orlando and Steve Grad (inset). The signature matched the one that appeared on the inscribed Ruth photo to Gary Cooper first sold at Mastro in 1999 and at REA in 2013 (inset) with an LOA from ex-PSA employee Jimmy Spence (middle right).
Spence should have recognized that the forgery style mimicked another handwriting example featured in a 2004 full-page SCD ad placed by his former employer, PSA/DNA. The signature on the photo in that ad matched almost exactly the signature Spence included in his 1927 Yankee display and also mirrored the inscribed Ruth photo to Gary Cooper that first appeared with a Spence LOA in a 1999 Mastro auction. That same forgery appeared again in yet another large PSA/DNA ad to promote “Autograph Authentication and Grading” in April of 2005. By all indications PSA/DNA opined that the forgery was authentic and it was signed off in a published LOA by Steve Grad without Jimmy Spence, who had already left PSA to establish his own business, James Spence Authentication (JSA).
What is indisputable is that by 2005 PSA/DNA, Joe Orlando and Steve Grad were using a forged Babe Ruth signature in consumer advertisements offering their “expertise” and authentication services for a fee. The scenario is distinctly similar to PSA’s well documented promotion of Bill Mastro’s fraudulent and trimmed T206 Honus Wagner card that was authenticated, graded and promoted by the outfit that is a subsidiary of the public company Collectors Universe (CLCT) which is traded on NASDAQ. It was Bill Mastro’s concealment of his trimming of the Wagner card and his continued promotion of its high PSA-grade that contributed to the government indicting him in 2012. Similarly, it appears that Spence continues to promote items he has previously authenticated even though he now knows that they are forgeries.
The forged Ruth inscription to Gary Cooper sold at Mastro and REA (left and bottom in red) matches exactly the "Sincerely, Babe Ruth" identified by JSA as "secretarial in REA in 2008 (top in red) and the same salutation appearing on the Ruth photo used by PSA in its 2005 SCD ad (right).
The Ruth forgery saga dates back almost fifteen years when collector John Rogers posted another ad in SCD alerting hobbyists of a slew of Ruth forgeries he had purchased. Rogers noted that the signed photos he acquired exhibited “no pen pressure, mint condition black ink, no spreading of ink and no fountain pen stroke characteristics.” Rogers made his discovery when he bought one photo signed “To John, Sincerely Babe Ruth” that matched exactly the inscription on a totally different photo in his collection. Rogers said at the time, “These forgeries are not done with a forger’s pen and ink but with a high-tech laser printer.” According to Rogers the forger had replicated what he and others believed were genuine Ruth signatures on photos via the laser printer and PSA/DNA (headed by Spence at the time) certified them as genuine. After Rogers and others uncovered the fraud, the “To John” photo was deemed a forgery and by 2010 the photo was utilized by PSA/DNA in its report of the “Ten Most Dangerous Autographs” which featured Babe Ruth as the forger’s number one target. In the report, PSA posted an image of the forged Ruth photo with a caption that stated, “This Babe Ruth forgery would fool most people.”
PSA's Joe Orlando and Steve Grad published the "To John" Ruth forgery in their 2010 "Ten Most Dangerous Autographs" report which identified Babe Ruth as number one. For a genuine example, the report included the PSA Mint 10 single-signed Babe Ruth ball that would later sell for over $300,000 at Heritage Auctions (right).
As a result of our “Operation Bambino” investigation, Hauls of Shame has now identified a sizable group of other forgeries believed to be the handiwork of the same forger who produced the Babe Ruth inscription to Gary Cooper. All of these forgeries have been authenticated by PSA/DNA and Jimmy Spence and the majority of the items, which include photographs, bats, balls and Hall of Fame induction covers, were sold at Mastro Auctions and continue to be sold by auctions like REA.
Author Ron Keurajian identified these forgeries in a public forum in 2012 when McFarland published his book Baseball Hall of Fame Autographs: A Reference Guide, but he also discussed Ruth forgeries in SCD years earlier when PSA/DNA placed ads featuring the very same forged signatures Keurajian described. Keurajian illustrated a test to check Ruth autographs by examining whether the signature had been signed in “bold up and down strokes that correlated into a signature that is large, uneven, almost whimsical.” At the time, Keurajian suggested that collectors should focus on the bottom baseline of the signature and said, “The fake ones will be level as if written on a straight line.” Keurajian was describing the work of the forger who had created the inscribed photo to Gary Cooper which he described as “too neat, too perfect.”
In the course of our investigation we have identified the handwriting styles of several Ruth forgers who have created exquisite fakes on baseballs and other mediums, but the creator of the Gary Cooper forgery is particularly noteworthy. In uncovering this style of forgery several concerned individuals, including Ron Keurajian, offered their assistance in helping us determine which other Ruth forgeries were supplied to Mastro along with the Cooper photo. As a result, we uncovered a steady stream of fakes that made their way into Mastro and MastroNet auctions in the late 1990s and early 2000s and when each of these alleged Ruth signatures was compiled and viewed collectively, the results were stunning. After viewing the montage of Ruth forgeries one of the experts we spoke with said, “There is no possible way there are this many examples perfect to one another. Ruth wouldn’t do this. You and I wouldn’t do this in our own handwriting.”
Another expert recognized several similarities shared by the examples we chose and said, “The big tell tale (sign) on most of them seems to be in the “th” in “Ruth” which makes sense (because) that’s usually where a forger screws up, at the beginning and end of the signature. Although Ruth did cross the “t” high and sometimes so high it completely missed the letter, in almost all of these it crosses in the exact same place and intersects into the “h.” Another observation made revolved around the initial curved stroke of the “u” in “Ruth.” One expert noted the prevalence of this characteristic in every example and told us, “The “u” in Ruth all curl right at or after the (capital) R. Many times Ruth would curl inside the R or not curl much at all.” Several experts also pointed out what Ron Keurajian identified in his book stating, “The baseline on each signature is very straight.” In fact, when the illustrated signatures are put to Keurajian’s “straight-line” test, they all fail miserably. All of the identified forgeries lack the bounce and “whimsical” nature of Ruth’s authentic handwriting.
Ruth Forgeries: (Left- Top to Bottom) Ruth "Sincerely" photo (PSA/DNA SCD ads); Gary Cooper Photo, (Mastro 1999; REA 2013); Cut from Spence 1927 Yankee Display, (REA 2008); Hotel Astor Ticket, (Mastro 2000); Game-Used H&B 125 bat (Mastro, 2005, Hunt 2013); 1939 HOF Induction Cover, (Mastro 1999); 1939 Induction Cover (Mastro 2000);Signed Book (Private Sale); (Right-Top to Bottom): Single-Signed "Sincerely" Ball (Mastro 1999); Signed 1938-43 HOF Plaque (REA, ); "To John" Photo, (PSA Article 2010); Pride of Yankees photo, (Mastro 2004); "Babe Ruth Story"-book, (Mastro, 2004); Babe Ruth Story book (Mastro, 1999); 1939 HOF Induction cover, (Mastro, 1999); Enlargement of "e-r-e" in "Sincerely" inscription appears as "r-r-r" in these forgeries.
Here are the alleged forgeries identified in our Operation Bambino investigation that further expose the long-standing incompetence and possible fraud of PSA/DNA and JSA. The evidence suggests that both companies continue to authenticate Ruth forgeries despite having knowledge that the items they are certifying are not genuine. It should be noted that virtually all of these Ruth forgeries entered the hobby via Mastro Auctions:
Author Ron Keurajian identified the Babe Ruth inscribed photo to Gary Cooper (top) as a forgery but it sold at Mastro Auctions for over $25,000 in 1999 and for $11,000 at REA in 2013. PSA and Jimmy Spence authenticated the photo along with a single signed baseball (bottom) that appears to have been signed by the same person who forged the Cooper photo.
1. The Forged Babe Ruth Inscription to Gary Cooper & The Babe Ruth Single-Signed “Sincerely” Baseball-
Ron Keurajian goes into detail describing these Ruth forgeries and specifically notes the Gary Cooper photo in his autograph reference book:
“One forger has created some very convincing forgeries with baseballs and 8 x 10 photographs his favorite target. The famous image of Ruth swinging and facing directly into the camera is one of his favorites. He signs the forgery “Sincerely, Babe Ruth” across his chest. He has Ruth’s hand allmost down to the fine points. Letter construction is very good but unlike a true master forger, he does not have the right speed. The forgeries are clean but methodic. The hand does not evidence a shakiness nor does it have the fast bouncy feel of a genuine Ruth. The lines are uniform and lack variant pressure. He has gone as far as to create a forged 8 x 10 photo inscribed to movie star Gary Cooper. Overall, these forgeries are very nice but they look too perfect.”
In our last “Operation Bambino” report, collector John Rogers recalled the first time he encountered the Cooper photo when it surfaced at a National Convention in the mid-1990s as part of several “too-good-to-be-true” offerings of signed materials ranging from Ruth to Walt Disney. Rogers told us, “I remember at the time someone warning me to stay away from this guy’s stuff, including the Cooper photo.”
But despite that warning, the photo sold for over $25,000 at Mastro in 1999 and again for $15,000 at Legendary in 2010 as part of Bill Mastro’s collection. When it sold in 2010 the photo came with a new LOA from JSA’s Jimmy Spence, but how could Spence have certified the Cooper inscription genuine when he had already determined the same type inscription was non-genuine two years earlier in the 2008 REA auction?
The “Sincerely, Babe Ruth” inscribed baseball also appeared in the same 1999 auction as the Cooper photograph and the similarities in the inscription and signature are remarkable. In addition, Ruth rarely ever signed baseballs using the “Sincerely” salutation. In the course of our investigation we have examined images of over one thousand alleged single-signed Ruth balls and have only been able to locate four examples signed “Sincerely.” The Cooper forger executes his “Sincerely” without distinguishing between the letters “e-r-e” and they appear to be written either “e-e-e” or “r-r-r” and are written at the same height and level unlike Ruth who almost always distinguished between those letters and fluctuated up and down and never on a straight line, as noted by Keurajian.
Mastro auctions in 1999 featured these two non-genuine 1939 HOF Induction first-day covers with almost identical Ruth forgeries.
2. The Forged 1939 HOF Induction First-Day Covers-
The Ruth signatures on these 1st Day covers are dead-giveaways that they were created by the same forger who penned the Ruth inscription to Gary Cooper. The multi-signed covers also illustrate that the forger ventured beyond Ruth and signed the names of the entire 1939 HOF induction class. These covers surfaced at the same time Jimmy Spence examined the now infamous “Honus Pocus” Honus Wagner autograph that magically appeared on a 1939 1st Day cover a few years after he had already authenticated it for Mastro when it was barely visible.
This forged 1939 HOF Induction First Day Cover was authenticated by Jimmy Spence of PSA/DNA and appeared in a 2000 MastroNet auction. The lot failed to open at $3,500 suggesting collectors doubted its authenticity.
One forged First Day Cover appeared in Mastro’s April 1999 auction and sold for $8,651, but another one appeared in Mastro’s 2000 sale with a reserve of $3,500 and failed to sell. Although the signatures were nearly identical and authenticated by Jimmy Spence for PSA/DNA and Mike Gutierrez for MastroNet, the cover’s failure to sell suggests that Spence was aware that hobbyists viewed the item as a forgery and avoided it.
The Hotel Astor party ticket with a forged Ruth signature was sold in a 2000 Mastro auction. The tickets were described as forgeries in Ron Keurajian's 2012 book (right).
3. The Forged Babe Ruth Astor Hotel Tickets sold at Mastro in 2000-
Keurajian described these forgeries specifically in his book stating, “Another very well executed forgery can be found on Hotel Astor-Mayor’s Naval Committee ballroom tickets…..Again, very nice forgeries but too precise and too mechanical to be genuine.” One of these forged tickets appeared in Mastro Auctions’ sale in May of 2000 and sold for $1,995. All of our experts agreed that this signature was executed by the same hand that created the Gary Cooper forgery and the “secretarial” cut identified by Jimmy Spence at REA in 2008.
This photo featuring forgeries of Ruth and other HOFers attending Connie Mack's 50th anniversary in baseball was sold by Mastro in 2000 for over $16,000.
4. The Forged Connie Mack 50th Anniv. Photo Sold at Mastro in 2000-
This photograph, sold for over $16,000 in Mastro’s 2000 auction and also illustrates the forger’s skill in duplicating additional signatures including Honus Wagner, Walter Johnson, Eddie Collins, Frankie Frisch, George Sisler, Tris Speaker and Connie Mack. The Ruth forgery is so similar to the other fakes we identified one expert told us, “You could almost superimpose each on top of one other and they are almost dead-on.”
This PSA-authenticated forgery was used by the company in print advertisements for grading services offered to collectors. The signature ia another identical match to the forgery found on the Gary Cooper photo sold by Mastro in 1999.
5. The Forged Babe Ruth “Sincerely” Photo Portrayed In PSA/DNA Advertisements As Genuine-
PSA/DNA published this alleged signed photo of Babe Ruth as an authentic example to promote the PSA/DNA autograph grading program instituted in 2004. Ron Keurajian refers to this photo specifically as a forgery in his book: “One forger has created some very convincing forgeries with baseballs and 8 x 10 photographs his favorite target. The famous image of Ruth swinging and facing directly into the camera is one of his favorites. He signs the forgery “Sincerely, Babe Ruth” across his chest.”
The fact that a company with the resources of PSA/DNA and Collectors Universe could regularly authenticate these Ruth forgeries over the course of fifteen years and also illustrate forgeries as genuine examples in published advertisements geared towards collectors shows just how serious the forgery epidemic is in the unregulated memorabilia industry. the magnitude of the problem prompted one of our experts to call the entire TPA system a “house of cards.”
Mastro sold this photo featuring a Ruth forgery for over $8,000 in a 2004 Mastro sale.
6. The Babe Ruth Forgery On A “Pride of the Yankees” Photo Sold By Mastro in 2004-
This photograph was sold in a 2004 Mastro sale for over $8,000 despite the fact that it featured a forged Babe Ruth signature that matched exactly the scrawl found on the photo inscribed to Gary Cooper that sold for over $25,000 at Mastro Auctions in 1999. The photo also appears very similar to the laser-copy forgeries that surfaced in the hobby c. 2000.
The rare HOF plaque post card that sold at REA for over $44,000 in 2008 (left) bears a signature and inscription that appears to have been executed by the same forger who created the Gary Cooper inscription (top right) and the signed Hotel Astor ticket (middle, right).
7. The Babe Ruth Forgery On A Baseball Hall Of Fame Plaque Post-Card-
It appears that the same forger who drafted the bogus Babe Ruth-signed Astor Hotel tickets and the inscribed photograph to Gary Cooper also tried his hand on one of the scarcest mediums known that could feature a Ruth signature–an early Hall of Fame post-card plaque. The example we identified in our investigation was a rare 1938-43 style post card allegedly signed by Ruth that was the precursor to the later B&W Albertype HOF plaque postcards. The example that Hauls of Shame and other experts identified as a forgery was sold at Robert Edward Auctions in 2008 for $44,062.50. The alleged Ruth autograph was encapsulated authentic by PSA/DNA and came with a LOA from James Spence of JSA.
When the “Sincerely” inscription and Ruth signature were compared against forged examples including the Astor Hotel ticket and the Gary Cooper photograph the similarities were striking. The pen pressure, spacing, letter construction and even the ink used for the alleged Ruth inscription all suggested that the plaque post card was another well-done forgery in the same family as the examples identified in Ron Keurajian’s book. In particular, it is difficult to distinguish between the “e-r-e” letters in “Sincerely” which appear as “r-r-r,” which is another tell-tale sign of this particular forger’s work. In its auction catalog, REA and Rob Lifson described the signed plaque as “incredible” and noted it was so rare that: “Even Barry Halper was never able to locate an authentic signed sepia Hall of Fame postcard of Ruth, and in his collecting career he was able to find just about everything associated with Ruth.” It could be that Halper never acquired one because this forger’s material appears to have hit the market just as he was liquidating his collection at Sotheby’s in 1999.
The signature found on this game-used Ruth bat is a dead ringer for the known forgeries circulating through the hobby since the 1990s. Mastro sold this bat for $75,000 in 2005 and Hunt Auctions sold it for the same price in 2013 although it had an estimate of $150,000-$200,000.
8. The Babe Ruth Forgery On A Game-Used Ruth Bat That Sold For $75,000 at Mastro & Hunt Auctions-
Another example of the TPA-authentication of an alleged Ruth forgery is this bat which sold at Mastro Auctions in 2005 for $72,207. The game-used Ruth bat came with LOAs from Steve Grad of PSA/DNA and Jimmy Spence of JSA certifying that the signature on the barrel of the bat was genuine. PSA’s John Taube further attested that the bat was game-used as did Troy Kinunen and Dave Bushing of MEARS who gave the bat a grade of A-8. But the signature placed on the bat appears to be another dead-ringer for the Ruth forgeries created by the same person who penned the Gary Cooper inscription.
The same bat reappeared in the Hunt Auctions sale in February of 2013 with an estimated value of “$100,000-150,000″ and an LOA from JSA certifying the signature and two other letters of authenticity from PSA/DNA and MEARS who graded the bat as an “A-9.”b Hunt described the autograph stating, “Babe Ruth fountain pen signature on reverse barrel (rating 7 to 7/8 out of 10) is not only an extremely desirable trait in a Ruth game bat but further serves to place the bat literally “in his hands.”
But based upon the signature and the traits and characteristics of the handwriting placed on the bat, it is clear that Babe Ruth never held this bat in his hands to sign it. All of the experts we consulted with opined that the Ruth signature found on the barrel of this bat is a forgery and it is strikingly similar to the handwriting on the inscribed photo to Gary Cooper.
Jimmy Spence, Steve Grad and PSA/DNA have also authenticated Ruth forgeries added to well known books like the "Babe Ruth Story" Left) and "Idol of The American Boy" by Dan Daniel (right). One forgery appeared on the same 1999 Mastro catalog page as the infamous Ruth-Gary Cooper photo.
9. The Forged “Babe Ruth Story” and “Idol of The American Boy” Books-
When the forged Ruth-inscribed photo to Gary Cooper was sold at Mastro as lot 833 in 1999, another forged item appeared as lot 836 on the same auction catalog page. That lot was an alleged signed copy of the 1948 book The Babe Ruth Story but it included a forgery that matched the work added to the Cooper photograph. The autograph was authenticated by Jimmy Spence and another forgery that was sold by Mastro in the winter of 2004 was authenticated by both Spence and Steve Grad for PSA/DNA. The forger also executed a Ruth signature on another Ruth book (sold privately) called, Babe Ruth: Idol of The American Boy. The signatures that appear in these three books are almost identical to the other forgeries attributed to the creator of the Gary Cooper photo.
John Rogers (bottom left) placed this ad in a 2001 edition of SCD to warn collectors of laser-printed Babe Ruth forgeries. Experts say the inscriptions copied were also forgeries including the "To John" Ruth photo used in PSA/DNA's 2010 Most Dangerous Autographs list.
10. The “To John” Babe Ruth Forgery Identified By John Rogers In 2001 & Later Included In PSA/DNA’s-2010 Most Dangerous Autographs” List-
In 2001, collector John Rogers took out a full page ad in SCD to warn collectors about laser-printed Ruth forgeries, but the examples that were laser copied were also forgeries believed to have been executed by the same forger who created the phony inscription on the Ruth photo to Gary Cooper. Rogers’ dilemma began when PSA/DNA authenticated an initial group of the laser-printed forgeries which prompted him to purchase an additional group of forgeries.
Sources indicate that PSA/DNA only identified the “To John” photo as a forgery because it was laser-copied and that the company believed the original inscription was authentic. Experts like Ron Keurajian, however, have identified the same inscription as a forgery penned in the same hand as the forger who created the Gary Cooper fake.
PSA/DNA published the bogus Babe Ruth "Sincerely" photo in a MastroNet catalog. The ad evidences the close relation between the auction house and the TPA's who MastroNet said offered the "best service in the autograph industry."
With all of the expensive, high-profile blunders that the TPA’s have made in the past fifteen years collectors should not be surprised that alleged gurus Spence and Grad have been fundamentally wrong on their authentications of the player who represents the backbone of the billion-dollar memorabilia industry. As this report has illustrated, both PSA/DNA and JSA have cost collectors hundreds of thousands of dollars as they have recklessly and carelessly (and some allege intentionally) authenticated Ruth forgeries that should have been easily detected by experts collecting fees from the general public for their opinions. The TPA malpractice dates back fifteen years but as illustrated by JSA and PSA/DNA’s recent authentication of a Ruth forgery on a modern replica ball, the TPA’s problems are worse than ever. If the two leading authentication companies can’t tell what a real Babe Ruth signature is how could they ever be trusted to examine other signatures that are even more difficult to decipher?
The fact that our investigation was actually bolstered by ex-PSA employee Jimmy Spence’s admission that his “Sincerely Babe Ruth” cut was non-genuine is also strong evidence suggesting that both Spence and PSA/DNA had been covering up this information for years. The reversal of Spence’s opinion on the item he authenticated and sold is further proof that JSA and PSA/DNA may have covered up the Ruth forgery scandal to protect their auction house clients who had sold the forgeries for well over a decade.
Experts say other forgers are creating Ruth fakes like the bat and index card sold by Bill Mastro in 2010 (outlined in red) and the signed photo currently being offered by Goldin Auctions (highlighted in red oval) The Goldin photo (left) contrasts a genuine example sold by Heritage (center). Mastro (inset) also owned a $222,000 authentic autographed palm-print of the Babe that is also being sold by Goldin.
The signatures illustrated in this report are only a small sample of the forgeries that have entered the marketplace as there are multiple forgers who have mastered signing Ruth’s signature. The different styles of Ruth forgeries show up in virtually every major auction and sale accompanied by LOA’s from both PSA/DNA and JSA. As noted, several alleged Ruth fakes appeared in the current Grey Flannel sale and Ken Goldin’s current “Babe Ruth Centennial Auction” includes others. One Ruth item Goldin is selling that is unquestionably authentic is the Bambino’s autographed palm-print that was created for a Baseball Magazine article in the 1920s. The relic was part of Bill Mastro’s personal collection and was featured in the book Smithsonian Baseball where he described how he displayed the print under glass in his hobby room and said, “Not a single person, including the handyman and the exterminator has ever entered that room without placing a palm atop the Bambino’s paw print.” The print, which was purchased by Mastro at the Sotheby’s Halper sale for $42,500, sold for $222,000 in Legendary’s sale of his own holdings in 2010 which also included the infamous Gary Cooper photo featuring the forged Ruth inscription. Experts say Mastro’s private stash also included other Ruth forgeries including a PSA/DNA “Gem Mint 10″- “Sincerely, Babe Ruth” index card, which sold for $4,200,and a signed Ruth store- model bat which sold for $36,000.
One of the experts we consulted with summed up this “Operation Bambino” report stating, “If the FBI digs deeper and exposes the sellers and consignors in the Mastro sales they very well could start to blow the lid off of this Ruth problem.”
If you purchased any of the items featured in this report, or if you feel you have been victimized by Mastro Auctions, PSA/DNA or JSA we suggest you contact either: the FBI offices in New York (212-384-1000/NY1@ic.fbi.gov) or Chicago (312-421-6700/Chicago@ic.fbi.gov); the office of the US Attorney handling the Mastro investigation (312-353-5300); or the chambers (312-435-5363) of Judge Ronald Guzman who is presiding over the Mastro case and the sentencing of Bill Mastro.
(All of the prior “Operation Bambino” reports can be accessed by clicking on each installment: Part 1; Part 2; Part 3; Part 4; Part 5)
UPDATE (July 1, 2014): Ruth Forgery Identified In Operation Bambino Surfaces In eBay Auction Of Ex-PSA Grader; FBI Aware Of Listing Ended Early By Seller Andy Madec
The Pride of the Yankees photograph featuring a Babe Ruth forgery that originally sold at Mastro Auctions in 2004 for over $8,000 appeared last week in the eBay store of ex-PSA grader Andy Madec with a price tag of $17,500. The same photo was highlighted in this report as the #6 Ruth forgery executed in the same handwriting style as the infamous Ruth fake inscribed to actor Gary Cooper that was sold twice at Mastro Auctions in 1999 and 2010 and at REA in 2013.
The bogus Babe Ruth autograph certified as genuine by PSA/DNA appeared on eBay last week but the sale was ended early yesterday by seller and former PSA grader Andy Madec.
The eBay listing illustrated the PSA/DNA letter of authenticity dated on August 3, 2005, which features an unidentified live signature and the facsimile signatures of Steve Grad, Zach Rullo, John Reznikoff, Bob Eaton and Roger Epperson. Hauls of Shame sent an inquiry to dealer Andy Madec asking when and how he acquired the photograph and whether he knew that the same photo was identified as a forgery in our current “Operation Bambino” report. Madec was hired by PSA as a grader back in 1995 shortly after he was released from a California prison after serving a sentence stemming from a statutory rape of a 14-yr old girl in 1992. Madec did not respond to our inquiry and subsequently ended the eBay listing for the bogus photograph. Sources indicate that the FBI was aware of the offering, but Madec also failed to respond to our inquiry asking whether he had been contacted by the FBI.
PSA/DNA issued this LOA certifying that the forged Babe Ruth signature on the "Pride of the Yankees" photo offered on eBay was genuine.
The bogus Ruth offering is just further proof of the blatant disregard authenticators like Steve Grad of PSA/DNA have for the general public as forgeries he and his company have authenticated continue to be distributed in the marketplace, despite the fact that he and PSA/DNA have full knowledge that the items they certified as genuine are counterfeits.
By Peter J. Nash
June 12, 2014
Jimmy Spence and Steve Grad authenticated a modern replica ball as a Ruth-Gehrig original in Richard Russek's current Grey Flannel sale.
(For UPDATES scroll to bottom)
If Grey Flannel and Rich Russek needed some additional information to pull the bogus Babe Ruth-Lou Gehrig ball appearing as a premier lot in its current “Summer Games” auction, here it is….
A Hauls of Shame reader emailed us an image of a modern replica Babe Ruth autographed baseball that was manufactured and sold by a company in Florida in the past five years and it matches exactly the Ruth signature found on the sweet spot of the Grey Flannel auction lot. It is not the exact same replica ball pictured but the quotations around “Babe” are in the exact same position as the replica as well as every single other characteristic of the alleged Ruth signatures printed on both of the replica baseballs. Of course, we already pointed out in our last report that the ball, itself, was a counterfeit, but that wasn’t enough for Russek and GF to withdraw the lot the same way they pulled a JSA authenticated program allegedly signed in 1948 by HOFer Wilbert Robinson–when he died in 1934.
The news represents a new low in third-party authentication as both PSA/DNA and JSA have been exposed again as incompetent and perhaps involved in intentionally certifying the forgery to cover-up PSA’s original error in authenticating the ball previously with a certification number of “V11120″ in the PSA/DNA database.
As reported by Hauls of Shame in our last report, the signatures replicated on the bogus baseball are forgeries created in the early 1990’s by an infamous New York forger called “Johnny Fang.” The forgeries were well known among hobbyists and dealers operating in the 1990s but despite that fact PSA/DNA and JSA still were duped and authenticated modern ball featuring facsimiles of the original Fang forgeries.
Grey Flannel's premier lot certed authentic by JSA & PSA/DNA (left) is the same as modern replica balls made featuring facsimile signatures of known forgeries (right). The Ruth signatures above are identical down to the quotes around "Babe" on each ball.
When the replica ball is illustrated next to Grey Flannel’s premier auction lot, it is abundantly clear that Jimmy Spence and Steve Grad have once again committed authentication malpractice by turning a worthless modern ball into a vintage artifact they say was signed by Yankee greats Ruth and Gehrig. Grey Flannel was looking for an opening bid of $7,500, but since Hauls of Shame published a report identifying the ball as a forgery, not one bid has been placed on the fraudulent lot.
The bogus Grey Flannel lot was certified authentic by PSA/DNA and registered in the PSA system.
The bogus baseball has been registered in the PSA/DNA system, but it’s unclear exactly when Steve Grad & Co. first authenticated the facsimile signatures of Ruth and Gehrig. Aside from the authentication of the facsimile signatures it is unclear how such a large company with access to advanced technology could not recognize that the baseball itself was counterfeit with the lacing, stamping and consistency of the surface contrasting thousands of genuine examples already authenticated by the alleged PSA/DNA experts.
Grey Flannel's premier lot failed to receive an opening bid at the reserve price of $7,500.
Grey Flannel chose to keep the fraudulent lot in its “Summer Games” auction even after our report illustrated the problems with the ball’s authenticity. The fact that the ball hasn’t received an opening bid apparently hasn’t been enough for the auction company to withdraw the ball that several experts had already identified as a forgery. Now that it has been revealed that the ball is not only a forgery but a manufactured modern facsimile, its up to Grey Flannel to save face and withdraw the fraudulent lot. Collectors and Grey Flannel customers will have to ascertain whether the company’s inaction regarding the bogus Ruth-Gehrig ball is representative of bigger problems at the auction house that is reportedly under investigation for the sale and authentication of fake and misrepresented game-used memorabilia. Grey Flannel has a long history of authenticating fake game-used memorabilia dating back to their work with the Barry Halper Collection at Sotheby’s in 1999. In that sale, hundreds of thousands of dollars of bogus garments were sold with Grey Flannel’s approval.
Experts have also identified Grey Flannel’s 1927 New York Yankees team-signed photo as a forgery but that lot has received sixteen bids and currently stands at $30,597. That photo was authenticated by Jimmy Spence and JSA. Considering that Spence was just exposed authenticating a replica ball made in the past ten years as a vintage 1928 AL ball autographed by Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, the bidders on that lot might be better off listening to the experts who have identified the photo as a “poorly executed forgery.” For more examples of JSA & PSA/DNA’s past authentication blunders you can check our “Worst 100 Authentications” report that was published last year.
We contacted the Grey Flannel offices earlier today and notified an auction representative that the 1928 Ruth Gehrig ball was bogus and manufactured in the past decade. The representative told us, “I have no idea what you are talking about, let me get someone you can talk to.” We were placed on hold and then hung up on shortly thereafter.
If readers are concerned with Grey Flannel’s offerings of fakes and frauds you can contact the Southhampton Police Department at 631-728-5000 or the New York City office of the FBI at: NY1@ic.fbi.gov
UPDATE (June 14, 2014): Grey Flannel Withdraws Phony Ruth-Gehrig Ball From Auction; Suspect 1927 Yankee Photo Identified As A Forgery By Experts Tops $30,000
Eleven days after we published our first report identifying one of Grey Flannel’s “Premier Lots” as a forgery, Richard Russek and the Westhampton, New York, auction house have removed a bogus Babe Ruth-Lou Gehrig signed baseball from its current sale. The forgery was created by using a recently manufactured replica ball which featured a facsimile of a 1990s forgery of Babe Ruth’s signature. Besides being a modern replica, the stamping, lacing and construction of the ball were dead giveaways that the sphere was a counterfeit. Since we published our first report, the ball failed to receive any bids at the reserve price of $7,500. The ball was authenticated by PSA/DNA and JSA.
JSA's Jimmy Spence authenticated this forgery of the 1928 Yankees for Mastro Auctions. Why would collectors think he's right on the current 1927 photo being offered by Grey Flannel?
While Grey Flannel pulled the bogus baseball from its sale, the auction house has still not withdrawn an alleged signed photo of the 1927 Yankees which has also been identified as a forgery by experts. That photograph has been authenticated by Jimmy Spence and JSA, but Spence has a well-documented history of certifying bogus Yankee team-signed items as genuine. Among others, Spence authenticated a forged photograph of the 1928 Yankees for Mastro Auctions in 1999 (see photo above). The current bid on the alleged 1927 photo is $30,597 and the auction ends on June 18th..
By Peter J. Nash
June 2, 2014
UPDATE (June 11th): Grey Flannel has not removed the bogus c.1928 Ruth-Gehrig ball from its current “Summer Games” auction. The ball has failed to receive an opening bid at the reserve price of $7,500. The alleged 1927 New York Yankees signed photo, which has been identified by several experts as a forgery, is also still for sale and has a current bid of $25,286.
When contacted earlier today, the Westhampton Beach Police Department said it could not deny or confirm whether complaints had been made in regard to Grey Flannel’s offering of the bogus Babe Ruth-Lou Gehrig ball. A Police representative suggested that we make a Freedom of Information request to see if any complaints had been filed against Richard Russek and the auction house for offering the counterfeit ball.
While collectors appear to agree that the Ruth-Gehrig ball is a forgery, it is no surprise that others are still bidding on the alleged 1927 photo that experts believe is a fake. Third-party authenticators have been certifying bogus 1927 items for decades as evidenced by this 1927 forgery certified genuine by Steve Grad and Zach Rullo of PSA/DNA in 2007 when it sold for $22,318 in a Mastro auction. Like the Ruth-Gehrig ball in the current sale, this 1927 ball includes forged signatures executed on another counterfeit baseball that appears to be a cowhide baseball manufactured in the past few decades.
This 1927 Yankee fake was authenticated by Steve Grad and Zach Rullo of PSA/DNA in 2007.
(End of Update)
According to recently published news reports, Grey Flannel Auctions is the target of a grand jury and FBI probe for allegedly selling bogus and misrepresented game-used memorabilia. The auction house’s current sale suggests that the government can also add the sale of forged autographs to Grey Flannel’s list of alleged transgressions. The premier lot in its current sale is a JSA-authenticated signed photo of Babe Ruth and the 1927 Yankees, but Hauls of Shame and several noted experts in the field have identified the photograph as a poorly executed forgery that once again exposes so-called expert Jimmy Spence of JSA as either totally incompetent or complicit in the distribution of fakes into the marketplace. Another premier lot in the same auction has also been identified as a forgery by author Ron Keurajian who told us, “The Ruth/Gehrig signed baseball in the Gray Flannel Auction is, in my opinion, a forgery. The authenticity of the baseball itself is questionable and looks like a counterfeit. This item should be reported to the Westhampton Police Department for investigation.”
That being said, the Grey Flannel catalog featured yet another bogus lot with a JSA certificate of authenticity, a 1948 dinner program that Spence said was signed by HOFer Wilbert Robinson. Robinson, however, died in 1934. Grey Flannel has already removed that JSA embarrassment from the current online auction.
JSA authenticated a Wilbert Robinson signature (top right) on a 1948 dinner program (left). Robinson, however, died in 1934 and he real signature (bottom, right) would never be mistaken with the JSA-certed example.
With the heat apparently turned up on Grey Flannel’s Richard Russek, you’d think the Westhampton, New York, auction house would have also pulled the other dubious 1927 Yankee autographs from its auction after being notified by Hauls of Shame last Friday, but they didn’t. The auction house has a long-standing relationship with JSA and Jimmy Spence who has also appeared on Grey Flannel’s short-lived Discovery Channel show called All-Star Dealers. Spence’s history of authenticating fake 1927 Yankee material is well known, including his certification of a 1927 Yankee signed ball that is now widely regarded in the hobby as a forgery, but Grey Flannel still considers him an expert and includes his LOA with the premier lots in the current auction. The owner of the bogus 1927 baseball that Spence certified genuine, however, has a contrary opinion of Spence’s authentication skills. David Atkatz, of Saratoga Springs, New York, lost over $14,000 over a decade ago when he purchased his Murderers Row-signed baseball because it was accompanied by one of Spence’s letters of authenticity. Atkatz learned years later the ball was a fake.
Based on the inclusion of Grey Flannel’s premier auction lot it appears that Spence has not learned from his mistakes and is still certifying forgeries of the famous New York Yankees of 1927. In addition, both Spence and PSA/DNA have also authenticated a 1928 baseball with forged signatures of Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig (lot #10) which appears to have been executed by the same forger who created the 1927 ball that victimized Atkatz back in 2000. When Hauls of Shame informed Atkatz of Spence’s continued certification of fakes he responded, “That Ruth/Gehrig ball was, without a doubt, done by the same guy. It’s nice to see that both PSA and JSA are authenticating his stuff—I took a $14,000 hit on that ball—maybe I’ll consign it to Grey Flannel.”
Jimmy Spence knew of the Fang forgeries but still wrote this LOA for the forged 1927 Yankee ball at Bill Mastro's offices. Spence said it was his "unwavering opinion" that the signatures were genuine..
Spence was aware of the work that this writer and renowned handwriting expert Charles Hamilton had done as early as 1993 to expose what became known as the “Fang forgeries,” but he continued to certify the fakes as genuine when they began showing up in Bill Mastro’s auctions in the late 1990’s. Mastro was also aware of the Fang fakes when he organized Sotheby’s sports auctions in the mid-90’s and proceeded to sell them in his own auctions as long as he could get Spence, Steve Grad or Mike Gutierrez to write LOA’s for them. At the time, authenticators like Spence and Grad were beholden to Mastro who had helped establish their livelihoods and reputations at Mastro Auctions and at PSA. While Mastro publicly lauded his experts he expressed a contrary opinion of them privately. Mastro revealed how little he respected Spence, Grad and Gutierrez in a 1994 letter to this writer in which he said, “The so-called autograph experts we have in our business today don’t know shit.”
In public Bill Mastro spoke highly of Jimmy Spence and other authenticators but in private he revealed he had little regard for their skills calling them "so called experts" and saying, "They don't know shit."
Considering that Spence and others had known about the Fang forgeries as early as 1993, it is stunning that he could still write the letter of authenticity for the ball purchased by Atkatz from Greg Bussineau at Superior Sports Auctions in 2000. Bussineau was an early PSA-dealer and the person who introduced Bill Mastro to west-coast sporting goods magnate Jim Copeland. For making that introduction, Bussineau also made a commission on Mastro’s $110,000 sale of the fraudulent T206 Wagner to Copeland after Mastro had trimmed it. In 1997, three years before the Superior sale of Atkatz’ fake 1927 ball, dealer and authenticator Richard Galasso identified a similar Fang- forged ‘27 Yankee ball in ads he placed in Sports Collectors Digest. But in Spence’s LOA, written at the Mastro offices in September of 1999, he opined about the other forged Yankee ball stating, “It is my unwavering opinion that the signatures are genuine.” Knowing that Spence had learned about the Fang forgeries years before he wrote the LOA for his bogus ball, Atkatz told us, “There is no excuse, then, for Spence to have authenticated Fang’s forged 1927 ball in 1999, and it is a joke that he—and PSA—are still being fooled in 2014.”
Grey Flannel's Rich Russek (left) uses Jimmy Spence (2nd from left) as an expert for his auction and defunct TV show. Spence has a long history authenticating bogus 1927 Yankee material including a forged baseball that surfaced in the 1990's (right).
But are they really being fooled? The evidence suggests they are intentionally authenticating forgeries. The alleged 1928 Ruth-Gehrig ball in the Grey Flannel sale features dark black signatures executed in what appears to be India-ink and the autographs are almost identical to the forgeries that surfaced in the early 1990’s with California Investments, Art Jaffe and Mike Gutierrez, among others. The forger’s specialty was executing pristine Ruth and Gehrig signatures on snow white non-official baseballs and the current example appears to have been created to contrast those earlier examples with a dark shellacked appearance on an official AL ball. The alleged forger, known as “Johnny Fang,” was so skilled at creating Ruth’s circa 1927 signature in quotes he may have eluded detection if it were not for mistakes he made in regard to the baseballs he used which were also counterfeits.
Lot 10 in Grey Flannel's current sale appears to be a forgery reminiscent of the Jimmy Spence and Mike Gutierrez authenticated forgeries on bats and balls that first appeared in the 1990's at California Investments (bottom) and still appear in auctions today with JSA LOAs.
Grey Flannel’s bogus Ruth and Gehrig signatures are also executed on a counterfeit baseball. When compared to authentic examples of a scarce 1928 style AL Reach ball (with an E. S. Barnard stamp as AL President), the JSA and PSA- certed ball shows significant differences. Other Ruth fakes that hit the market were signed on genuine non-official balls from the period and the most notable of those forgeries appeared in Heritage Auction Galleries’ October 2012 sale described as “the finest 1920’s single signed ball in existence.” At the time, Hauls of Shame called the ball out as a forgery but Chris Ivy of Heritage continued the sale and later reported that the ball sold for $110,000. The Heritage website, however, now shows that the ball went “unsold” suggesting that the $110,000 bid was not real as well. Heritage consignment director Mike Gutierrez had previously sold that same bogus Ruth ball in his own MGA auction catalog in 2004.
The Ruth forgery found on Grey Flannel's Lot 10 matches the Ruth forgery on HA's Ruth single signed ball from 2012 that was reportedly sold for $110,000. Both balls were authenticated by Steve Grad of PSA/DNA (inset).
The current Grey Flannel ball features a Ruth forgery so similar to the Ruth forgery on the Heritage ball, it looks as if the Grey Flannel ball features a stamp of the other Ruth autograph (with the quotes around “Babe” added later with a pen). Beyond those unusual similarities, the Grey Flannel baseball, itself, appears to be a phony official AL ball. The differences between the Ruth-Gehrig ball and a genuine AL ball are illustrated in detail when posted next to the example illustrated in Brandon Grunbaum’s book, The Official American League Baseball Guide. The authentic example shows key differences in the size of the characters and the placement of each line of information on the sweet spot of the ball. In addition, the laces on the ball are inconsistent in size and color with genuine examples and the bogus ball appears to be a more modern cowhide baseball that was doctored-up to appear vintage. Like many of the other Fang forgeries executed on fake baseballs, this one exhibits all of the tell-tale signs that have been exposed in the past. Further forensic testing would, no doubt, confirm that the materials used to create the forgery were not vintage from 1928.
The Grey Flannel Ruth-Gehrig signed ball appears to be a counterfeit AL Barnard ball (right). When compared with an authentic example in Brandon Grunbaum's ball guide (left) tell-tale differences in the size and placement of the Reach graphics are revealed.(Official American League Baseball Guide, Brandon Grunbaum)
Bogus baseballs and photographs featuring forgeries of the ‘27 Yanks have been surfacing with greater frequency and are all accompanied by letters of authenticity from JSA and also PSA/DNA. The most notable forgeries of late have been two alleged 1927 team signed baseballs executed in bright green ink that sold for $149,375 at Heritage Auctions in 2013 and for $53,759 at SPC Auctions in 2014. Neither of those questioned baseballs came with JSA certifications and were both authenticated by Spence’s former colleague Steve Grad, who currently appears as a so-called expert on the History Channel’s hit cable show Pawn Stars.
Two 1927 Yankee balls alleged to be forgeries were sold recently at Heritage Auction Galleries (left) and SCP Auctions (right).
Spence’s history of authenticating 1927 Yankee player autographs started when he was setting up at baseball card shows as a dealer and selling “cut-signature” forgeries from his own dealer tables. By the mid to late 1990’s Spence was placing advertisements offering for sale large framed collections of cut signatures for well-known teams in baseball history including the 1927 Yankees who were priced at $12,000 per frame in ads Spence placed in VCBC and SCD. Sources indicate that cut signatures and 3×5 cards of common players used by Spence were usually genuine, but the valuable and scarce examples of Ruth, Gehrig, Miller Huggins and Joe Giard were often non-genuine.
Jimmy Spence created and sold framed team displays with cut signatures at card shows in the 1990's and those items have re-appeared at major auctions now authenticated by JSA. In 2008, REA posted an addendum (bottom) stating that JSA claimed that Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig signatures in Spence's framed creation for the 1927 Yankees were "secretarial" (top).
In fact, when some of Spence’s framed team creations appeared in an REA sale in 2008, auctioneer Rob Lifson failed to inform bidders that the items which were created and originally sold by Spence were also being authenticated by him. REA advertised the Spence creation as genuine in its catalog but later posted an “extremely important addendum” to its lot description claiming that Spence had identified the Ruth and Gehrig signatures as being “secretarial.”
Oddly enough, when Hauls of Shame and other experts recently examined the alleged Ruth secretarial signature we noticed it was a dead ringer for the forged Ruth signature appearing on a now infamous bogus photograph inscribed to Gary Cooper and another forged single-signed Ruth ball which was sold by Bill Mastro (see illustration below). In other words, REA and JSA’s determination that the signature was “secretarial” was an attempt to deceive bidders when they knew the signature was an outright forgery.
When it appeared in REA in 2008, Jimmy Spence deemed one of the Ruth signatures he included in his 1927 Yankee cut signature display as "secretarial." That signature, however, matches a Ruth forgery Spence certed for Bill Mastro (top) and another from a bogus signed photo inscribed to actor Gary Cooper (center).
All three of these Ruth forgeries have one thing in common—they were all authenticated early on in the marketplace by Jimmy Spence. Spence authenticated the forged Cooper photo for a Mastro auction in April of 1999 (lot 833) and 2010 (lot 459); the single-signed Ruth forgery for a Mastro sale in November 1998 (lot 1313) and the forgery REA identified as a “secretarial” was sold as genuine by Spence when he first created the framed piece. But how could Spence and REA justify designating the cut signature in Spence’s 1927 display a “secreterial” and later ignore evidence and opinions stated by Hauls of Shame and author Ron Keurajian calling the Ruth signature and inscription to Gary Cooper an outright forgery? If Rob Lifson and Spence knew the Ruth cut was bogus, how could they allow the forged Ruth-Cooper photo to be sold in REA’s Spring 2013 sale with a JSA LOA? Some REA bidders apparently took Keurajian’s opinion to heart and refrained from bidding as the photo only sold for $11,850 as opposed to the $15,600 it fetched in the sale of Bill Mastro’s collection at Legendary Auctions in December of 2010.
Not only was the Ruth-Cooper photo an item that federally indicted auctioneer Bill Mastro had already sold twice, it was also an item called out as a forgery at the time of the REA sale and the high bidder had to argue with REA’s Rob Lifson to retract his high bid. Not only did author Ron Keurajian go into great detail about the same photograph being a forgery in his book Baseball Hall of Fame Autographs: A Reference Guide, in addition to his opinion, Gary Cooper’s own daughter, Maria Cooper-Janis told Hauls of Shame that she had no recollection of such a photo ever being part of her family’s collection of Cooper memorabilia. Despite all of that evidence, Jimmy Spence stuck with his fraudulent opinion and along with REA kept a forgery alive in the marketplace. Like other disreputable auctioneers, Lifson hid behind Spence’s worthless LOA and collected $3,700 in commissions for selling the forgery.
Ex-hobby kingpin Bill Mastro (inset) sold the forged Babe Ruth-Gary Cooper photo twice with LOA's from Jimmy Spence. Author Ron Keurajian (inset center) identified the same photo as a forgery in his 2012 book (center). REA's Rob Lifson (right) sold the forgery in 2013 despite Keurajian's published opinion.
Jimmy Spence started his hobby career selling questionable Ruth, Gehrig and 1927 Yankee player autographs at card shows and now he’s the alleged authority who passes judgment on the same items and most every other signature that makes its way into auction sales. When he was selling his framed team autograph displays as “A Year To Remember” he claimed “all autographs are guaranteed authentic for life” but as David Atkatz experienced with his fake ‘27 Yankee ball, that’s one promise Spence has failed to deliver on. When Spence was wheeling and dealing autographs he claimed that he was carrying on a family tradition that started in 1938 when his grandfather “ushered fans at Yankee Stadium and the Polo Grounds.” In print ads Spence added, “Grandpa Spence’s massive collection laid the groundwork for one of baseball’s most impressive autograph collections” and according to Spence, he and his father “hawked autographs outside (Yankee) Stadium” and followed in Grandpa Spence’s footsteps. If that’s true, Grandpa Spence would likely be rolling over in his grave if he saw the Yankee forgeries that his grandson, James Spence Jr. (previously known as James Spence III) is now certifying as genuine.
Spence published ads to sell his made to order team autograph displays noting his grandfather's "massive collection" and a lifetime guarantee on the autographs he sold. In 1998 he was selling 1927 Yankee signed displays for $9,000 and today he's authenticating '27 Yankee forgeries like the current premier lot in Grey Flannel auctions (inset).
The premier lot in Grey Flannel’s current auction is one of those items. Its one of several alleged signed photographs of the 1927 Yankees that Spence has certified as genuine despite the fact that several experts have opined that the signatures appearing on the image are “poorly executed forgeries.” Grey Flannel doesn’t say too much about the photo other than stating it comes with an LOA issued by JSA and adds, “Each of these players signed on the photo where they’re standing in black fountain ink and in our opinion, rates an 8 overall with the Ruth signature being the boldest of the group.” But the evidence suggests that none of the Yankee players ever signed the photo depicting the famous Murderers Row crew.
Grey Flannel's alleged 1927 Yankees signed photo features signatures that several experts have deemed non-genuine and executed in a slow and laborious hand which is evidenced by uneven ink flow and hesitation.
When each alleged signature on the photograph is compared with authentic exemplars of each player found on genuine New York Yankee payroll checks dating from 1924 to 1930, it is clear to see that the Grey Flannel lot has major problems. In fact, upon close examination it appears that some of the existing Yankee payroll checks offered previously at auction may have been copied by the forger to create Grey Flannel’s “Premier Lot.” The handwriting exhibited on the photograph was executed in a slow and laborious hand which resulted in uneven ink flow with evidence of abrupt stops and hesitation. Grey Flannel also misidentifies the ink used on the photo as being black when it appears to be a common blue Parker ink or “Quink” ink from the 1950’s that is easily accessible and popular among forgers. In comparison, the forged signatures found on the auction photo also appear inferior to the forged examples featured on the ‘27 Yankee ball that Spence authenticated in the 1990’s.
The alleged forged signatures of the 1927 Yankees appear on the left and authentic signatures of the same players taken from NY Yankee payroll checks issued between 1924 and 1930 appear to the right. The genuine signature of Waite Hoyt is from a 1928 letter (bottom right). Experts can tell that the Grey Flannel signatures were not written in the same hand as the genuine signatures and it appears that a forger used some of the Yankee payroll checks as his guide.
Considering Spence’s history of authenticating ‘27 Yankee forgeries dating back to the 1990’s, his current authentications of both the Ruth and Gehrig signatures on a counterfeit AL ball and the forged 1927 Yankee photo illustrate the house of cards that third-party authentication has become.
The bogus Ruth Gehrig ball in the current Grey Flannel auction (top left) was created by the same forger this 1927 Yankee team ball forgery in the early 1990's (bottom). In the 1990's Jimmy Spence was a dealer and hand-wrote "Guaranteed Authentic For Life" on invoices (top right). Spence has not lived up to that motto with forged items he's certified authentic like David Atkatz' 1927 forgery (bottom).
Jimmy Spence’s well-documented incompetence and the allegations and evidence coming to light that suggest he is committing criminal acts by authenticating items he knows are bogus should bolster what sources say are on-going FBI investigations focusing on JSA business practices. Does anyone believe that Spence examined Grey Flannel’s Ruth-Gehrig ball unaware that it matched exactly the well publicized forgeries that had fooled him in the 1990’s? Did Spence not realize that the Babe Ruth “secretarial” in his 1927 team display was a dead ringer for the Gary Cooper inscribed Ruth photo he authenticated for Lifson and REA? And now that these examples have been illuminated in our column, what will Spence and the auction houses do to rectify the authentication fiasco? Last but not least, when will law enforcement sweep down on the JSA authentication juggernaut and topple Spence’s house of cards?
In addition to JSA’s authentication problems, sources indicate that the relationship between Spence and his business partner, Roy I. Weitzer, of Mendham, NJ, has deteriorated recently over a controversy arising over submitted items disappearing from the JSA main office in Parsippany, New Jersey. Sources also indicate that JSA may face further scrutiny from the authorities since both LA Weekly and the Miami Times reported last spring how the company collects cash when on the road. Reporter Jake Rossen stated in his reports, “Business is so good that they (JSA) use garbage cans to hold the cash they collect from reviews at hobby conventions.” An ex-JSA employee has also alleged that JSA has not properly reported considerable cash income collected at card shows and signing events. In a recent report Spence has claimed that JSA examines “300,000 to 350,000″ items per year.
Rich Russek (shown with ex-NBA Commissioner David Stern) is the official authenticator and appraiser for the Basketball Hall of Fame despite certifying scores of Barry Halper's fake jersey's as genuine including a 1905 John McGraw jersey worn by Yogi Berra on the cover of TSN (center).
Richard Russek and Grey Flannel did not respond to our request to explain why they are offering counterfeit memorabilia for sale and as of this morning the 1927 Yankee photo and the 1928 Ruth Gehrig ball are still part of the auction which ends on June 18th. The 1927 Yankee photo currently has a bid of $17,270 while the phony Ruth-Gehrig ball has failed to receive an opening bid at $7,500. Russek is no stranger to the sale and authentication of fake memorabilia. On his company website he states that he was chosen by Sotheby’s to authenticate the uniforms and jerseys that were included in the Barry Halper Collection auction in 1999. Russek doesn’t mention, however, that he and partner Andy Imperato authenticated hundreds of thousands of dollars of bogus uniforms that were sold by Sotheby’s.
On his company website, Russek calls Barry Halper a “baseball collector extraordinaire” and includes a testimonial from Halper stating, “Nobody has studied their craft any harder than GF. They are the finest authenticator of uniforms in the hobby today. Their knowledge and integrity are indisputable.” Russek still includes the Halper quote on his website but when collector Chris Sullivan of Boston recently tried to consign a bogus $30,000 Jimmy Collins jersey that Grey Flannel authenticated, Russek responded, “We are returning to you the Collins jersey that came from the Halper auction because, as you are well aware, those 19th century jerseys are full of controversy and we would be very uncomfortable running it.”
It appears that Russek and Grey Flannel are very comfortable selling fake ‘27 Yankee photos and phony Ruth and Gehrig balls. This time it’s Grey Flannel and JSA who are full of controversy.
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.
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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.