By Peter J. Nash
February 9, 2015
Legend had it that “Shoeless” Joe Jackson was an illiterate incapable of signing his own name and filmmaker John Sayles contributed to this perception in his film Eight Men Out when he portrayed Jackson signing a fictional 1920 confession with a shaky and tremulous “X.”
Sayles’ portrayal of the disgraced slugger, however, was based more on folklore than fact, for the real Joseph Jefferson Jackson was capable of signing his own name as evidenced by a wide array of surviving legal documents executed during his lifetime. Mortgage documents, promissory notes, contracts, real estate agreements, court transcripts and identification documents issued by the state of South Carolina have survived and are the best tangible proof that Jackson could actually sign his name. These genuine documents serve as proof that authentic signatures do exist of the legendary player who was banned from the game and has been denied entry into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Fueled by the legend and the folklore, the value of Jackson-signed items has skyrocketed over the past few decades as evidenced by the sale of a signed 1916 promissory note that recently fetched close to $130,000. But with sales prices of Jackson signatures are setting records, acquiring a Jackson signature still remains a very dangerous proposition for any collector hoping to secure an authentic scrawl of the Greenville native.
It all started back in the late 1980’s when real Jackson signatures were virtually non-existent and highly sought after by major collectors like Barry Halper. Halper believed he had a genuine Jackson signature but it was actually a ghost-signed version penned by his wife. It wasn’t until 1989 that Katie Jackson’s signatures were dismissed as secretarial and a year later autograph auctioneer Herman Darvick offered what he claimed was an authentic signature of Jackson allegedly cut from a legal document. The signature looked entirely different than any of the signatures that Mrs. Jackson had sent back to collectors who had written to her husband at their home in Greenville, South Carolina.
In 1991 Bill Madden reported on Barry Halper's alleged acquisition of a genuine Joe Jackson signature in a Herman Darvick auction. Halper previously thought a signature executed by Jackson's wife (Katie) was authentic (inset in red). Madden published an image of Jackson's real signature on his drivers license.
Halper’s quest to acquire Jackson’s signature in Darvick’s auction was covered on the pages of The Sporting News by his close friend and personal PR-man, Bill Madden. Halper had already boasted to Madden about owning Jackson’s Black Sox jersey from 1919 and his famous “Black Betsy” bat, both of which he said he acquired from Jackson relatives in the mid 1980’s. But Halper had come to the realization he didn’t own an authentic Jackson signature and when Darvick’s appeared he was prepared to pursue it aggressively to fill the hole in his collection.
When it was all said and done, however, Halper lost the signature in a fierce bidding war with New York dealer and auctioneer, Josh Evans, of Lelands, who ended up winning it for $23,100. Halper regretted losing out on the signature and after the sale approached Evans with an offer to trade him game-used jerseys of Yogi Berra, Warren Spahn and Jim Palmer for the Jackson signature. Evans took him up on the offer and Halper subsequently told Madden, “I hated parting with those uniforms, I have others of all three players. Who knows if I’ll ever have another chance at an authentic “Shoeless”‘ Joe Jackson autograph?”
On the left are authentic Jackson signatures from legal documents spanning from 1915 to 1951. On the right are four highly questionable offerings by Herman Darvick that several experts have deemed Jackson forgeries.
After Halper’s acquisition, Leland’s advertised their purchase at Darvick’s auction as being the “largest sum ever paid for any 19th or 20th century autograph. Darvick claimed that the Jackson cut signature he sold originated from a Jackson relative, but during that same time period a close Jackson family friend sold an authentic cache of Jackson signed legal documents and financial instruments to Dan Knoll, a prominent memorabilia dealer from Chicago. The first of those documents, a 1916 mortgage promisory note signed by Jackson, made its way into a 1993 Lelands sale where the auctioneer described the document as the “first verifiably authentic Joe Jackson autograph offered.” When world renowned handwriting expert, Charles Hamilton, examined the genuine Lelands document, he deemed the $23,000 Darvick cut signature a forgery. The genuine Lelands document was purchased at auction by Barry Halper for over $25,000. Several other authentic Jackson mortgage notes followed the Lelands offering and appeared for sale throughout the 1990’s but during that same time period Herman Darvick sold several other highly questionable Jackson’s including another cut signature, a baseball, a photograph and a signed book.
The three authentic Jackson signatures at the top of this illustration starkly contrast the four Jackson forgeries sold by dealer Herman Darvick. The forgeries were executed on clipped legal documents, a baseball and a book.
When examined and compared closely to the unimpeachable examples of Jackson’s genuine signature on legal documents, all of the alleged Jackson signatures sold by Darvick exhibit tell-tale signs of forgery. The Darvick examples appear to be slowly executed, almost drawn, with laborious heavy strokes that lack the spontaneity and flow of genuine Jackson signatures. One of the most telling characteristics of the forgeries is found in the last end stroke of Jackson’s “n” which tapers to a needle-like point in most all of Jackson’s authentic signatures, but stops abruptly with a thick ink build-up in the forged examples. Although Jackson appears to be very deliberate in what some say is his “drawing” of his own signature, the authentic examples all share a common flow and spontaneity.
We asked several experts to examine the alleged Jackson autographs sold by Darvick and give us their opinions:
-Ron Keurajian, author of Baseball Hall of Fame Autographs: A Reference Guide, said: “Joe Jackson’s autograph is an extreme rarity and limited to signed legal documents or signatures removed therefrom. The Jackson signed book, featured on the History Channel’s Pawn Stars, is, in my opinion, a forgery, and a poorly executed one at that.” As for Darvick’s signed photo and ball, Keurajian does not believe there are any genuine signatures of Jackson that exist on either baseballs or photographs.
-Josh Evans recalled his purchase of the first Jackson cut from Darvick’s auction in 1990 and told us, “I always regretted that one. I never actually saw it before I bought it if you can believe that (the good old days). I heard about it the day before and bid based on Darvick’s rep. I sold it to Halper and we spoke about it being questionable but he never agreed.” HOS has been unable to determine when Halper disposed of the Jackson forgery and who subsequently acquired it.
-Mike Nola, is not a handwriting or autograph expert but he is a Jackson historian who curates the website BlackBetsy.com, and he told us: “He (Jackson) could not really sign his name. He was simply following a pattern taught to him by (his wife) Katie. If you look closely at each of his known signatures, they all differ in some way because he was drawing the signature and no two would be exactly alike.”
-Olan Chiles, was a well known collector of autographs on checks and lived in Greenville, SC. as a youth. A veteran autograph collector with over thirty years experience knew Chiles who told him first hand accounts of meeting Jackson in person. The collector told us: ”Olan told me he used to visit Jackson and his wife often at their liquor store and always asked for an autograph. He would be handed a pre-signed item (signed by the wife). In all the time he knew Jackson he was NEVER able to acquire an authentic autograph, which tells me that the signing process for him must have been so laborious that he only did it when he absolutely had to.”
As for Darvick’s examples of Jackson he said, “I did not like any of them” and added, “The point I was trying to make initially (regarding Chiles) is that (if) someone who was positioned so close to Jackson and was unable to secure an autograph, this leads me to believe that the group the family cut loose represents probably the only authentic Joe Jackson signatures in the public domain. His signature is just too easy to replicate.”
Herman Darvick appears on JSA's website as one of the company "experts" and notes his sale of the "first authentic signature of "Shoeless" Joe Jackson.
Herman Darvick has worked as an authenticator for PSA/DNA and is currently listed on the SGC website as a staff member and on the JSA website as one of Jimmy Spence’s experts with his “field of expertise” being “historical” and “political” autographs. The Darvick bio on the JSA site also references the Joe Jackson forgery stating that Darvick handled “the first authentic signature of “Shoeless Joe” Jackson ever sold.” An embarrassing episode for both Darvick and JSA occurred recently when the History Channel’s hit cable-TV show Pawn Stars featured a Darvick-authenticated Jackson autograph signed on a book (the bottom signature in the above illustration). Pawn shop owner Rick Harrison allegedly purchased the book for $13,000 with an LOA from Darvick and was then told by PSA/DNA it was their opinion that the signature was not genuine.
When the Pawn Stars episode aired Mike Nola added some additional information about Jackson’s signing habits when he posted on a collector forum: “I interviewed Eugene Estes (and that name means little to history, except that he witnessed Joe signing his will). Mr. Estes told me that Joe struggled to sign his name, that he practiced on the back on an envelope three times before setting pen to paper on the Will. Mr. Estes said Joe stopped several times during the signing, which in my opinion would make it looked “traced”. Now, I am not saying PSA got it wrong, but there is enough reasonable doubt in my mind that if I were Rick Harrison, I’d have it forensically tested for period ink and that the ink had been on the page for a period of between 1947 (when the book was published) and December 5, 1951 (The date Joe Jackson ceased to be a living entity). The signature on the book looks different than the one that appears on his will, but the one on his will appears different that the one that appears on his 1941 mortgage note and that one appears different that the one on his 1949 drivers license. In other words…..all his signatures differ somewhat, since he was just tracing a pattern taught to him by his wife Katie. I sent Rick Harrison an email and told him as much.”
Darvick originally authenticated and sold an alleged Jackson-signed book (left) that ended up in the hands of Pawn Stars star Rick Harrison who sent the book to PSA/DNA and Steve Grad who issued a rejection letter (right). Jackson's genuine signature from 1946 appears at the bottom, right.
Since the time Hauls of Shame reported and identified the book authenticated by Darvick as a forgery, the JSA authenticator posted several comments on this site defending his certification stating, “If anyone was going to forge Joe Jackson’s signature on the book, he/she would have used Mrs. Jackson’s Joe Jackson signature to copy. Her signing of her husbands name appeared in many collections as an authentic Joe Jackson autograph. Collectors had never seen a real Joe Jackson signature before I sold this signature which was cut from as building document with a partial date (of) April 1936 typed on the verso.” Declining to address the signature itself and its rejection by PSA/DNA, Darvick added, “The signed Joe Jackson book was signed by “Shoeless” Joe Jackson as I stated in my April 1994 COA.” As for Darvick’s sale of the $23,100 Jackson forgery in 1990 he said, “At the time of my 1990 auction, no one, no baseball autograph dealer, no sports auction house, NO ONE questioned the authenticity of the Joe Jackson I sold.”
Contrary to Herman Darvick's claim, genuine Jackson signatures on his 1949 drivers license (left) and his 1920 White Sox contract (right) were known and publicly displayed before his sale in 1990.
But Darvick’s claim that “collectors had never seen a real Joe Jackson signature before (his)” is entirely false. Before Darvick sold his cut to Lelands in December of 1990 there was already an authentic Jackson-signed 1920 contract on public display at the Chicago Historical Society in the fall of 1989. Darvick already knew this as evidenced in Bill Madden’s 1991 article about the Darvick sale which quotes autograph aficionado Clarence Jerabek as having seen Jackson’s authentic signature on that contract and on several legal documents. Jaribeck told Madden, “Through Shoeless Joe’s relatives, I got to see what an actual signature looked like. It’s on a copy of a drivers licence that is signed by both Joe and his wife.” In addition, Jerabek had already published an article about Jackson’s ability to sign his name in Pen and Quill.
By 1990, several hobbyists had also seen genuine signed documents owned by Jackson family members and friends including Lester Irwin and Joe Anders. Darvick actually contacted Jerabek before he sold his cut in 1990 as documented in The Sporting News which quoted Jerebek as saying, “Darvick asked me what I thought it was worth and I told him at least $1,500 to $2,000. When he went back to the owner, however, the guy told him to put it up for auction.” Madden said in his article that Darvick’s Jackson cut was “obtained by a collector from a relative of Jackson” but Hauls of Shame’s interviews with Jackson family members and Joe Anders, a family friend who was given the signed cache of legal and financial documents from the family, show otherwise. No Jackson family member we could locate ever sold a cut signature to a collector. Interestingly enough, Darvick never mentioned anything about the provenance of his alleged Jackson cut in his auction catalog and when we sent Darvick emails asking him to reveal the source of his Jackson cut signature he did not respond.
Jackson signed this letter along with the 1917 White Sox requesting their World Series money from August Herrmann and Ban Johnson. The unquestionably authentic document was discovered in the HOF's August Herrmann Papers Collection. Jackson's signature (inset in red) shows less spacing between letters when compared to most of the financial documents he signed during the same era.
“Shoeless” Joe appears to have had difficulty signing his name regularly during his lifetime and its well-documented he avoided putting pen to paper whenever he could, thus delegating signing duties to his wife Katie. The verifiable authentic signatures attributed to Jackson on legal documents and contracts (illustrated in this article) are the only examples we can be confident are authentic. We’ll never be as sure about the other alleged signatures on baseballs and other mediums like photographs, even if they come with a PSA or JSA certificate of authenticity. At best, even with strong provenance, some experts will always consider these Jackson signatures “unauthenticatible.” One signed item, however, that is unquestionably authentic and signed by Jackson in the presence of his White Sox teammates is a 1917 team-signed letter to American League President Ban Johnson. The letter was signed by Jackson and every player requesting their share of the World Series receipts for their victory over John J. McGraw’s Giants. The document had remained hidden in the files of the National Baseball Library’s August Herrmann Papers Collection until Hauls of Shame uncovered it a few years ago while researching stolen documents from the same collection. The document is the most clear and convincing evidence that Jackson could and did sign his name along with his teammates on items that did not required a signature in conjunction with a financial transaction.
Alleged partial and full samples of Jackson's signature were found on an envelope said to have originated from the Jackson family. Those samples were sliced into three different examples which were encapsulated in graded holders by PSA/DNA. Another fragment signed just "Joe" was offered in SCD in 1999 (bottom).
Aside from the iron-clad signatures on the legal and financial documents originating from Jackson’s family and friends, other more dubious examples have surfaced for sale in the auction marketplace. When the authentic- signed Jackson documents surfaced in the early 1990s there were several other signatures and fragments of signatures that were alleged to have Jackson family provenance as well. Three such signatures were found on the back of an envelope and another just signed “Joe” was said to have originated from a small note pad that once belonged to Jackson. The three examples of writing included on the envelope were originally sold in 1997 by Mastro & Steinbach Auctions as originating “directly from the Joe Jackson estate” and years later the envelope was cut into three pieces which were ultimately encapsulated and authenticated in three separate PSA/DNA holders. The “Jo” example was paired with a partial Pete Rose signature (“Pete”) in a PSA holder. The “Joe” partial notebook signature was offered in SCD by Frank Foremny in 1999.
In addition to the cut signatures manufactured from the one envelope (which are considered by most experts as genuine) both PSA/DNA and JSA authenticated another alleged Jackson cut that was purchased by the Leaf Trading Card Company and inserted into a 2010 Joe Jackson relic card. The card ended up selling at Heritage Auction Galleries in 2011 for $26,290 with LOA’s from b0th JSA and PSA/DNA. In their promotional materials, Leaf estimated that the value of the alleged autograph was between $70,000 and $100,000. This alleged Jackson signature has been identified as a forgery by several experts we interviewed.
Another alleged Jackson signature was sold publicly for $72,000 at Legendary Auctions in August of 2010 with an LOA (and Grade of 9) from PSA/DNA and Steve Grad. The alleged Jackson pencil signature was signed on a page from an autograph album that Legendary stated, “Has changed ownership a couple of times since its origin in the ’40’s” allthough it was originally acquired by a young girl from Greenville, SC., in that era. The woman, Sarah Taft, allegedly had Jackson sign the album but none of the other pages in the volume are signed except for one by her father Eddie Taft.
Alleged cut signatures of Jackson were included in a 2010 Leaf relic card and a 2013 Legendary Auction with LOA's from JSA and PSA/DNA. Experts who examined both of these signatures, however, are of the opinion they are forgeries when compared to genuine examples of Jackson's signature from his 1915 Draft Card (bottom left) and a 1946 mortgage note (bottom right).
All of the experts we spoke with are of the opinion that the alleged Jackson signed page sold at Legendary is a forgery. In fact, one expert believes that the forger used the authentic signature on Jackson’s last will and testament as his template. When we asked Ron Keurajian about the signature, he referred us to his book which states that the only authentic Jackson signatures he’s seen are found on legal documents. One long-time dealer added, “PSA and JSA have no clue on Jackson’s signature outside of the obvious legitimate legal documents.”
The AP featured an alleged Jackson photo authenticated by PSA/DNA and currently for sale at Heritage. Another Jackson photo sold at Sotheby's in 1999 for $43,000 (right).
In our next report on Jackson’s handwriting we’ll examine the photographs alleged to have been signed by Jackson. In particular, we will focus on the PSA/DNA authenticated photo appearing in Heritage’s Platinum Night Auction later this month and compare it with another Jackson signed photograph sold at Sotheby’s in 1999 for $43,000.
By Peter J. Nash
February 5, 2015
Last week, Allan H. “Bud” Selig officially stepped down as Baseball’s czar and passed the reins to his hand-picked successor, Rob Manfred. Selig served as MLB’s ninth Commissioner since the office was created in 1920 by Garry Herrmann’s National Commission and in stepping down he gives up an annual salary of over $22 million–that’s about 440 times greater than Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis’ $50,000 salary to clean up the 1919 Black Sox scandal. To put it in perspective, Selig’s compensation as MLB’s head honcho for just one season about equaled the record-breaking $29 million fine Landis leveled as a Federal Judge against Standard Oil and John D. Rockefeller in 1907 . Baseball has been very, very good to Bud Selig. So good, in fact, that some sources list his current net worth at $400,000,000. Not bad for a guy once ridiculed as a disheveled used car salesman from Milwaukee and not bad for baseball owners who have seen their annual revenues rise from $2 billion to $9 billion under his watch.
Although he’s retiring from his MLB post, Selig isn’t leaving the game for good and will still rake in $6 million a year as a special adviser to Manfred as “Commissioner Emeritus.” A good portion of the 80-year old Selig’s new duties will likely revolve around legacy building, a process which the former Milwaukee Brewers owner had already kick-started as his days as Commissioner were dwindling. As Rob Neyer writes at FoxSports, Selig isn’t fond of criticism and in the past has phoned writers who have called him out on a variety of issues. He’s also been known to apply pressure on other writers who Neyer says were “told by their bosses to take it easy on the poor old Commissioner.” Now that he’s relinquished his power, Selig wants to make sure that he’s remembered as one of the game’s immortal executives.
Back in 2011, Selig announced he’d be establishing a sports history department at his alma-mater, the University of Wisconsin, and that he’d also spend time on campus to write his memoirs. More recently he’s enlisted the services of his good friend, Doris Kearns Goodwin, to insure that his life-story is in capable hands but Selig’s legend won’t be complete without one last lifetime honor that has eluded even Marvin Miller. Unlike Baseball’s pioneering labor reformer, however, Bud Selig is actually on the fast-track for enshrinement at Cooperstown despite his failures. As he leaves his MLB post only a few writers have been critical of his reign and have said “good riddance” to him like Rolling Stone’s Dan Epstein. On the contrary, Selig is for the most part being hailed as baseball’s “great reformer” by the likes of Jon Heyman at CBS Sports and the “greatest Commissioner of all-time” by Bill Madden.
With all of the accolades being heaped upon Selig recently we thought it would be interesting to gauge his legacy and career as Commissioner by examining the artifacts and memorabilia issues that were generated during his tenure. Can the memorabilia tell us more about Selig and his legacy than some of the card-carrying members of the BBWAA can?
The most obvious artifact linked to Selig’s legacy is the trophy he most recently presented to now-retired Yankees Mariano Rivera and Derek Jeter. When Selig appeared with the hardware at the 2013 World Series he gazed into the gleaming silver and gold Tiffany & Co. trophy bearing his name and then presented Rivera with the “Commissioners Historic Achievement Award.” As Selig glanced away from the trophy he looked to Rivera and said, “Whether they like it or not, players are role models–they are. And can you imagine for this generation, this is our role model.”
The trophy represented what Selig described as a special recognition of Rivera’s “major impact on the sport” and his “contributions of historical significance in Major League Baseball.” For Selig, the award meant even more as he was turning his attention to defining his place in baseball history and his presentation of his own award reinforced his preoccupation with curating his own legacy as he told reporters, “In the life of a Commissioner you have a lot of good days, bad days, whatever, and I can tell you how much this has meant to me and this is for me a very special day.” When Selig presented Mariano Rivera with the trophy he told the closer, “Thanks for all the class and all the dignity.”
Some of Selig’s detractors have argued it is both class and dignity that have eluded both MLB and the Commissioner during his tenure and considering the past recipients of Selig’s “historic” trophy include Steroid-Era cheats like Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, its hard to make a case for Selig’s integrity being fully in tact. His choices of Rivera and Jeter as the last players to receive the award he created are indicative of Selig’s desire to distance himself from his past decisions and associate himself with players who had never been questioned as PED-cheaters.
Selig presented his first trophy to Mark McGwire for reviving the game in 1998 and his last to Derek Jeter in 2014. Selig colluded with his fellow owners in the 1980's and Commissioner Fay Vincent was critical of his theft from MLB players.
That being said, Selig can only hope that his record as Commissioner in the Steroid-Era will be whitewashed the same way his involvement as a complicit team owner in the collusion conspiracy of the 1980s was. Selig and his fellow owners, under the watch of Commissioner Peter Ueberroth, were found guilty of colluding with each other to keep player salaries down and their wrongdoing prompted an arbitrator to award $280 million in damages to the free-agent players. The collusion saga prompted the next Commissioner, Fay Vincent, to read Selig and his fellow owners the riot act. In an interview with Hauls of Shame last week Vincent recalled, “I laid it out to them and told them they stole $280 million from the players and got caught and that the Union got stronger because of it. But not one of them to this day, including Selig, ever admitted what they did. So it’s no surprise that today collusion is basically forgotten.” In the aftermath of collusion and after Vincent introduced a memorandum setting forth MLB’s drug policy, including illegal steroids, Selig conspired again with his fellow owners in true Machiavellian fashion spearheading the ousting of Vincent and the appointment of himself as “interim Commissioner” in 1992.
Ironically, Selig today uses the excuse that he couldn’t fight or expose PED-cheaters because the Marvin Miller influenced Players Union fought testing so vehemently, but very few writers today (besides blogger Murray Chass) follow up that claim and point out that Selig and his owner-partners were responsible for that circumstance as a result of their greed and unfair treatment of their employee-players. Undoubtedly it was Selig and his fellow owners who set the table for the Steroid-Era. Fay Vincent recalls, “Most people forget that back then the owners controlled all labor negotiations and that Committee was headed by Bud Selig, even before he became Commissioner.” Today, Vincent still recalls how hard it was to push drug testing after collusion. “I couldn’t even get Steve Howe removed after eight drug violations because the Union had became even stronger,” said Vincent. As for the Union finally conceding to testing in the aftermath of the Steroid-Era Vincent added, ”It wasn’t until after steroids were out of control that Don Fehr gave into testing because he saw that Congress was going to step in.”
When looking at Selig’s place in history an argument can be made that he has much more in common with the notoriously cheap and devious owner of the Chicago White Sox, Charles Comiskey, than he does with Fay Vincent, Bart Giamatti or even Judge Landis. Interestingly enough, it was another White Sox owner, and Selig’s closest ally, Jerry Reinsdorf, who provided the arbitrator with the smoking gun to facilitate the $280 million collusion award to the players—a memo he sent to owner Bill Giles showing in detail how he colluded in a proposed deal for player Lance Parrish. Today, Fay Vincent views Selig’s legacy differently but feels he will soon join the “Old Roman” Comiskey in Cooperstown. Vincent told us, “It will happen soon, Bud will get into the Hall of Fame right away. But what people should be questioning is this. What is the standard for the induction of a Commissioner? With Bowie Kuhn in the Hall it looks more like a popularity contest.”
Marvin Miller told Vincent as much just before he passed away. The ex-Commissioner recalled, “It was very sad. Marvin told me, ‘Fay, don’t feel sorry for me. I don’t really care. I’m never going to get 3/4 of the vote. Baseball is vindictive and the players will end up forgetting what I did.’ Marvin knew he wasn’t popular enough to get in. Bud’s got the support of the voters.” Selig also has the support of Hall of Fame operatives like Bill Madden who have even suggested that Miller lacked “character” and “integrity” and that he “all but sabotaged his Hall of Fame-worthy career by refusing to help baseball get rid of steroids.”
As Selig exits the MLB stage, numerous baseball writers and sympathetic MLB mouthpieces are remembering everything positive he’s done for the game but have largely ignored his role in collusion and given him a pass on PED’s focusing solely on the game’s record financial growth. It’s difficult to argue with their observations as ballpark attendance, which dipped by 20 million fans after the strike in 1994, has jumped back up to and surpassed the 73 million mark in 2014. But in terms of real growth in attendance figures, Selig has merely restored attendance figures to what they were the year before the Player’s Strike in 1994. In 1993, MLB saw 70,256,459 fans pass through turnstiles and twenty-two years later 73,739,622 fans went to the ballpark in 2014.
Bud Selig’s legacy, however, is much more difficult to define than by just calculating MLB Advanced Media revenues and ticket sales. Oddly enough, baseball historians can take a close look at Selig’s relationship with the baseball artifacts and memorabilia during his tenure to get a different perspective on his reign as Commissioner. Some might even say that the Tiffany and Co. silver trophy he created is a tangible symbol of Selig’s own complicity in compromising the integrity of the game itself.
Bud Selig presented the trophy he created to Mariano Rivera during the 2013 World Series. The Hall of Fame's collection includes the trophy presented to Lou Gehrig by his teammates on "Gehrig Day" in 1940
Players and Commissioners fade away and die, but the trophies and trinkets associated with their carreers survive and sometimes end up in Cooperstown. There’s Lou Gehrig’s trophy presented by his teammates on “Gehrig Day” in 1941 at one end of the spectrum and Eddie Cicotte’s 1917 World Series uniform emblem and pocket watch on the other. The artifacts themselves sometimes reveal more about the historical subjects than the contemporary accounts published in newspapers. If the “Commissioner’s Trophy” presented to Mark McGwire is ever put on display at Cooperstown it will no doubt say more about Selig’s legacy than writers could ever express in print.
Although Selig won’t be able to spin-doctor his long-term legacy from the grave and will be critically exposed by future historians like Judge Landis has, it appears that while Selig is still living his legacy is largely secure and he is already said to be a shoe-in for the Hall of Fame. All indications point to Selig being honored in Cooperstown with a bronze plaque hanging right next to Bowie Kuhn’s while Marvin Miller will continue to be shut out. And speaking of the legacies of Miller and Selig, a source close to the Player’s Union speculates that another chapter in Selig’s story may one day emerge showing how his operatives pressured HOF Veterans Committee voters in private not to cast their ballot for Miller while supporting his induction publicly.
Back in 2011, SBNation’s Grant Brisbee noted that the trophy Selig created resembled a “big ol’ you-know-what” and that players receiving it were, in fact, getting the shaft, literally. He asked, “Is the award emblematic of how out of touch Selig is, or somehow poignant in its irrelevancy?” Or is the award a symbol in the Post-Steroid Era of what Brisbee called, “A reminder of just how naive most of us were” as McGwire and Sosa juiced up and saved the game, just like Babe Ruth had after the Black Sox scandal in 1919? Selig’s supporters note that the game has experienced unprecedented financial growth and record revenues under his tenure, but wasn’t most of that record growth the direct product of McGwire and Sosa saving the game during the “March on Maris” in 1998?
Mark McGwire memorabilia arrived at the HOF with much fanfare in 1998 (left). Todd McFarlane paid $3 million for McGwire's 70th HR Ball (center). Barry Bonds' record breaking ball was donated to the HOF with an asterisk added to it (right).
Selig, in fact, hatched the scheme to commission his trophy at Tiffany & Co. in 1998 with Big Mac and Sosa slated as the first honorees after both were widely credited with reviving baseball after the devastating strike in 1994. For Selig and his fellow MLB owners, the hitting exploits of McGwire and Sosa got the turnstiles at MLB ballparks humming again and filled up MLB’s cash coffers at a record clip. The Home-Run mania also shifted the focus away from fans vilifying Selig for the part he played in the game’s labor woes. How could Selig not honor the two living legends who were already being honored in the “Great Home Run Chase” exhibits installed at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown? It also wasn’t lost on Selig that he’d been booed at every Hall of Fame Induction ceremony since the strike. Caught up in the home run hysteria, Selig was McGwire and Sosa’s biggest cheerleader and he exploited their accomplishments accordingly.
When McGwire’s 70th home-run ball went up for auction in 1999, comic-book icon Todd McFarlane bought it for over $3 million as the most prized baseball artifact of all-time but in just fourteen years the value of the ball has plummeted drastically. Memorabilia experts say the ball isn’t even worth $100,000 today. In 2010, even McFarlane acknowledged the depreciated value of the McGwire ball when he told the Chicago Tribune, “It’s like a car that loses its value the minute you drive it out of the lot — well, I just crashed the car. But people are still going to want the car James Dean was driving in when he got killed. So it’s still cool. It’s infamous.” In its infamy, the McGwire ball might just be the single artifact that defines Selig’s legacy moving into the future.
Recipients of MLB's Commisioner's Trophy for Historic Achievement have included (clockwise): Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa; Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds. A-Rod was on his was to winning one but MLB's probe into his relationship with PED dealer Tony Bosch stood in the way.
The McGwire ball and the presentation of Selig’s trophy to “Big Mac” also serve as a link to another recipient of the award, Barry Bonds. Bonds was honored in 2002 after breaking the single-season MLB Home-Run record set by McGwire in 1998 and, at the time, was well on his way to breaking the all-time Home-Run mark held by Selig’s close friend and former employee Hank Aaron.
McFarlane also purchased the ball hit for Bonds’ 73rd record-breaking home run for $450,000. Oddly enough, Selig didn’t present a “Historic Achievement Award” to Bonds for breaking Aaron’s milestone. Selig and Aaron are close friends and sources indicate his relationship with Aaron greatly influenced his unprecedented investigation into Alex Rodriguez. A healthy Rodriguez could have made a run at Aaron’s and Bonds’ all-time home run marks but his 211-game suspension last season has made that an impossibility.
There’s no shot that Rodriguez will ever take home a Selig trophy for his career achievements the way Roger Clemens did before he was implicated in the Mitchell Report. A-Rod will never get his hands on the trophy that Selig has also presented to Vin Scully, Ichiro Suzuki, Roberto Clemente (posthumously), Rachel Robinson and Ken Griffey Jr. All things considered, after Griffey received the award from Selig at the 2011 World Series Craig Calcaterra of NBC Sports called the award “baseball’s version of a gold watch to notable players.”
MLB's history with Tiffany & Co. dates back to the creation of the "Hall Cup" in 1888 and extends to the re-design of the current World Series Trophy by Tiffany in 1999 (center). Selig's "Historic Achievement Award" was created by Tiffany in 1998 for Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa.
Baseball’s historic awards and trophies have run the gamut of everything from Gold Gloves to Silver Slugger bats and represent greatness for players who take home the Cy Young awards and League MVPs in the course of their careers. The ultimate prizes in the game, however, have always been awarded to teams winning the World Championship dating back to times before a World Series even existed. Baseball’s history with Tiffany and Co. dates back to 1888 when the company was commissioned to create the “Hall Cup” awarded to Jim Mutrie’s New York Giants as the winners of the National League Championship. It wasn’t until Selig got the idea to create his own Commissioner’s “Historic Achievement” trophy that MLB also re-connected with Tiffany to re-design the Commissioner’s World Series Trophy as well. The Hall Cup is currently on display at the Baseball Hall of Fame in the World Series exhibition room.
Just as the Hall Cup has made its way to Cooperstown, so will Selig’s silver-shafted trophies as future generations of fans will be able to decide for themselves whether Selig was an enabler or a crusader in both the Steroid and Post-Steroid-Eras. Of course, the memorabilia that made its way to Cooperstown during Selig’s tenure is tainted and in retrospect it’s an embarrassment that the Hall of Fame dedicated its plaque gallery to a special exhibition including McGwire and Sosa’s bats, balls and uniforms in 1998. It’s even more of an embarrassment for Selig and MLB that Barry Bonds’ record breaking baseball arrived in Cooperstown with a big asterisk carved into the cowhide–compliments of designer Mark Ecko. And it was Selig who orchestrated the $8 million purchase of artifacts from Yankee partner Barry Halper’s collection in 1998 only to find out nearly a decade later that several of the big-ticket items he purchased, including “Shoeless” Joe Jackson’s 1919 road jersey, Jackson’s “Black Betsy” bat and Mickey Mantle’s 1951 Yankee rookie jersey were poorly executed forgeries that were fraudulently displayed for millions of fans.
Bud Selig helped orchestrate MLB's purchase of $8 million in memorabilia from Barry Halper including a fake 1919 Joe Jackson jersey (left) and a fake 1951 Mickey Mantle jersey (right).
Neither Selig’s office nor the Hall of Fame conducted any suitable due diligence to ensure that the items they were purchasing from Halper were genuine. Halper lied to them saying he purchased his Jackson items from his widow in the 1950s but Selig & Co. could have read The Sporting News at the National Baseball Library to learn that Halper told Bill Madden he’d acquired the jersey from Jackson relatives as a “recent purchase” in 1985. Madden, however, never mentioned that information when he reported MLB’s purchase of Halper’s trove in 1998 for the New York Daily News. After Hauls of Shame published a report in 2010 illustrating the Jackson jersey was a fake and attributed to the wrong White Sox uniform manufacturer, the Hall revealed they had sent the same garment out for testing and found that the jersey was constructed with materials that didn’t exist during Jackson’s MLB career. While Bud Selig had continued MLB’s “lifetime ban” of Joe Jackson into the afterlife, he also succeeded in facilitating the entry of his fake jersey into the hallowed Halls of Cooperstown.
In 1998 Selig and MLB purchased several million dollars in fakes from Yankee partner Barry Halper and donated them to the HOF. The fakes were heralded by Bill Madden in the Daily News and in an MLB press release Selig said Halper's items would be in Cooperstown "for all time."
When Selig and MLB purchased Halper’s alleged treasures in 1998, the Commissioner’s Office issued a press release in which Selig stated, “This important baseball collection belongs in the Hall of Fame and that is where it will be for all time.” In line with Selig’s sentiments, Halper was also honored by Hall Chairman Jane Forbes Clark with a permanent museum exhibition space named after him and a plaque honoring him for his “dedication to preserving baseball history.” After Halper’s fakes were exposed in numerous published reports the man who Selig and his fellow owners helped oust from the Commissioner’s Office years earlier weighed in on the scandal. Fay Vincent, MLB’s former commissioner and an honorary director of the Baseball Hall of Fame, said, “Given the evidence that has come to light in the past several years, the Hall of Fame should immediately reconsider the naming of that gallery to honor Barry Halper. I do not think he deserves the honor.” By the time Vincent’s statement was published by Deadspin in July 0f 2011, the “Halper Gallery” and the plaque honoring the now deceased Yankee partner had been removed from the Hall’s floor plan.
Jane Forbes Clark (left) dedicated a research center at the HOF to Bud Selig (center) but neither Selig, MLB or the HOF have taken any action to recover documents stolen from the August Herrmann Papers collection (right).
Just as the Halper Gallery vanished, Selig was working with the Hall of Fame to establish a “Commissioner’s Research Center” at the Bart Giamatti Research Center in the National Baseball Library. When the ribbons were cut for the alleged “center”, however, former Hall of Fame employee Gabe Schechter published a piece exposing that the dedication of the space was just “for show” and only a symbolic gesture from Hall Chairman Jane Forbes Clark for “her Commissioner” who had chosen to hold the “‘Winter Owners’ Meetings” in Cooperstown. As Schechter noted on his blog, the ceremony gave “each party a chance to suck up to the other” and added, “The Hall of Fame, having finally shed the Doubleday Myth, managed to create another one with the dedication of an empty, inaccessible space in honor of Selig.”
Of the “Research Center” Clark said: “The Selig Center for the Archives of Major League Baseball Commissioners” will ensure a permanent home for the documentation and preservation of the Office of the Commissioner’s contributions to baseball history. This archive will provide a central location for the study and research of the importance of the Office of the Commissioner, and its role in shaping and advancing the National Pastime for nearly a century.” The great irony, here, is that while both Clark and Selig were talking preservation and history they sat back and did nothing to investigate the massive thefts at the National Baseball Library from archives including the papers of former Commissioner Ford Frick and the August Herrmann Papers collection which constitutes the first and most important archive generated by Major League Baseball before the Commissioner’s office was established in 1920. Although there is overwhelming evidence of the thefts and donated materials are being sold at public auctions regularly, neither Selig, MLB Security or the Hall of Fame has taken any substantial action to recover or claim title to the stolen materials. In fact, one source familiar with Hall operations told Hauls of Shame that library employees have been instructed to look for evidence suggesting that items may not have been stolen from the library, rather than pursuing recovery.
In 2009 the New York Times reported that letters stolen from the NYPL's Harry Wright archive were being sold in MLB's All-Star Game auction. The letters, including a famous letter written by Jim Devlin to Wright in 1877 (right), were pulled from the auction after the FBI opened an investigation.
In addition to standing idle as MLB’s own baseball history was looted from the Hall and peddled off at auction, another memorabilia-themed travesty occurred during Selig’s reign when MLB’s 2009 All-Star Game auction featured over fifty rare documents that had originally been bequeathed to the National League in 1895 by baseball pioneer Harry Wright. The letters were once part of Wright’s personal baseball library and archive which he intended to be a nucleus for a collection devoted to the game’s history, but thousand’s of Wright’s letters were stolen from the New York Public Library after they were donated in 1921 by the widow of ex-National League President A. G. Spalding.
As revealed first in a Sporting News article published in 1977 by Bill Madden, the owner of the stolen archive of Wright’s correspondence was none other than New York Yankees minority owner Barry Halper. Halper brazenly showed off the documents to Madden who identified the treasure trove as once belonging to Harry Wright and in the years that followed Halper sold off the archive for big money at Sotheby’s in 1999, including the sale of a letter presenting Wright and his Boston Red Stockings the 1875 Pennant. That same letter was cited in the works of Dr. Harold Seymour and Dorothy Seymour Mills who later confirmed the document was donated to the NYPL and had been stolen.
The Harry Wright correspondence appearing in the 2009 MLB auction was also believed to have originated with Halper and when the New York Times reported that the stolen letters were pulled from the MLB auction Selig declined comment. Times reporter Jack Curry wrote, “Major League Baseball is in an awkward position of having to explain why it coordinated an auction in which it was selling potentially stolen letters.” Bob DuPuy, MLB’s president and chief operating officer at the time issued a statement saying, “Since 2001, Major League Baseball has run an internally-operated authentication program to protect against the illegal sale of baseball merchandise to our fans. We are pleased that reputable companies like Hunt Auctions use sound judgment in deciding to withdraw merchandise that is not properly documented.”
But after a five-year investigation was conducted by the FBI, the NYPL recovered none of the stolen Wright documents. In fact, the investigators and the NYPL actually allowed the sale of the stolen documents from the Hunt Auctions consignor to a dealer for over $35,000. Two of the historic handwritten letters sold were written by disgraced player Jim Devlin, who was banned from the game by President William Hulbert for his part in one of the game’s earliest gambling scandals. Both of those missives were specifically cited in published works by Seymour and also specifically documented as NYPL property in original research notes now housed at Cornell University.
Historian and author, Dorothy Seymour Mills (who originally helped the FBI identify the letters as stolen property in the 2009 MLB auction) still feels that the NYPL should be held accountable. Mills told us, “If the Harry Wright letters belonging to the NYPL, a great research library, are available, the NYPL should purchase them. Instead, the management has spent the library’s money on the opposite goal: working out a plan to dismantle a large part of its research function. I blame the NYPL for not protecting these valuable documents for posterity.”
MLB purchased $125k worth of stolen documents in its A-Rod investigation (left). A dealer recently purchased stolen documents originally willed to the National League by Harry Wright in 1895 (center). Deceased Yankees minority owner Barry Halper owned and sold the stolen Wright documents and has been linked to a 1970s heist at the NYPL.Although they were fully aware of the facts and what was transpiring during the FBI investigation, MLB and Selig did nothing to protect or recover the documents that Harry Wright had originally donated to the National League in 1895. With all of the billions in revenue MLB has been raking in, Selig & Co. couldn't afford the $40,000 to reimburse the current owner of the stolen property and facilitate the return of the archive to its rightful owner, the NYPL. In essence, Harry Wright, one of the pioneers of the game and the "Father of Professional Baseball" entrusted the National League with his archive and the current MLB leadership turned their backs on the commitment that their predecessors had made in good faith.
There’s no doubt that Selig and MLB security have the resources to investigate, pressure and rectify such wrongdoing as was evidenced in the Alex Rodriguez investigation. In their pursuit of obtaining evidence against Rodriguez, MLB operatives knowingly purchased stolen documents sourced to the BioGenesis company that supplied Rodriguez with performance enhancing drugs. As reported in the Sun-Sentinel in may of 2014, MLB’s executive vice president of labor relations, Dan Halem, confirmed that MLB “had bought a ‘batch of documents’ on four flash drives” for $100,000. The Sentinel also noted that police reports in Boca Raton, Florida, showed that MLB purchased an additional $25,000 in stolen documents at the Cosmos Diner in Pompano Beach in 2013.
While Selig and MLB can’t be held accountable for the inaction and negligence of NYPL officials like Victoria Steele and Tony Marx, they could have taken the initiative to do everything in their power to restore Harry Wright’s archive to the NYPL. The first step in that process would have been to reimburse the memorabilia dealer who purchased the stolen documents in 2013. But for MLB and Selig, that small investment appears to have been too steep a price to pay. Or was it?
Sources indicate that Selig and MLB are miffed that reports over the past few years have exposed one of their own, Barry Halper, as the biggest fraudster in the history of the memorabilia industry. Selig and other MLB and HOF officials like Jane Forbes Clark have been embarrassed by the revelations that Halper categorically swindled them out of millions and caused millions of baseball fans to pay for admission to Hall of Fame exhibitions touting fake relics like the jerseys of Mickey Mantle, Cy Young and Joe Jackson.
Former MLB Commissioner Bowie Kuhn already has a HOF plaque (left) while Marvin Miller (center) has been shut out. All signs point to Bud Selig being inducted to the Hall in the near future.
The Commissioner’s office was previously embarassed when Bowie Kuhn’s right-hand man, Joe Reichler, was caught selling off Hall of Fame property loaned to MLB in 1983. Reichler’s sale of many vintage World Series programs to Long Island dealer Bob Sevchuk was exposed by The Sporting News and Kuhn ended up facing the scrutiny of New York Attorney General Robert Abrams. The Reichler incident was described as a major scandal by The New York Post, but that situation pales in comparison to the multi-million dollar thefts from the Hall’s Frick and Herrmann collections and the NYPL’s Harry Wright archive. Barry Halper’s ownership of large caches of stolen documents was never scrutinized because of his reputation as an MLB insider and minority partner of George Steinbrenner.
Considering the magnitude of the thefts and the failure of the recovery efforts—and the fact that an MLB team minority owner was actually linked to the thefts and sales of donated and bogus artifacts, no Commissioner has ever had a more sordid relationship with baseball artifacts and memorabilia than Bud Selig has.
A 2011 New York Post story by this writer detailed the memorabilia fraud of deceased MLB owner Barry Halper (left); Bud Selig said Abner Doubleday "invented" baseball in a 2010 letter to author Ron Keurajian (right).
How history will remember Bud Selig remains largely in the hands of baseball writers and SABR researchers like Dan Epstein. While Selig has fashioned himself as a baseball historian with a soft spot for Abner Doubleday, Epstein and others will likely remind future generations of baseball fans of his entire record in Baseball even if there isn’t much revealing information in his “research center” in Cooperstown. As for Selig’s legacy Epstein told us, “I do believe that Bud Selig was a terrible (and terribly corrupt) commissioner; but this is America, where corporate profits are used as justification (and/or motivation) for everything.” Epstein chalks up the current Selig love-fest to a form of baseball writer Stockholm syndrome and added, “It doesn’t surprise me at all that, given the game’s current rude financial health, Selig would be widely praised as being ‘good for baseball’. And really, he couldn’t have timed his exit better; had Selig left office shortly after the ‘94-’95 strike, the contraction idiocy of ‘01-’02, the move of the Expos to DC or the 2005 steroids hearings, he would be widely considered a failure today.”
As Selig exits the MLB stage, Pam Guzzi, the great-great-granddaughter of the “Father of Professional Baseball” has her own parting shot for the Commissioner. Guzzi, who has been waiting since 2009 to have Harry Wright’s stolen papers returned to the New York Public Library, told us, “With the money MLB pulls in, I find it incredulous that the members are not more willing and active in trying to protect its history and honor the wishes of its forefathers.”
Guzzi is aware that the current owner of the stolen documents is willing to play ball with MLB or the NYPL to facilitate the return of Wright’s letters. The owner, who requested anonymity, told us, “I would accept $35,000 and gladly allow these to be returned to the NYPL via MLB or some other third party. I feel that is honestly about 20%-25% of their “value” since there are two (James) Devlin letters and Harry Wright’s acceptance letter into the Cincinnati Red Stockings.” It is estimated that the fair market value of the cache of letters would be about $250,000 if the items had clear title.
If Harry Wright had not bequeathed his archive the National League in 1895, and his treasure-trove remained in his descendants possession, the Wright family would be sitting on a small fortune worth millions of dollars. Pam Guzzi is frustrated with the NYPL’s failures and Selig’s inaction especially considering the concern MLB expressed in the 2009 New York Times reports. Said Guzzi, “It would have spoken volumes to Selig’s legacy, if he had, although no legal obligation seemed apparent, felt a moral obligation to push MLB to buy the Wright letters and then donate them back to the NYPL. I implore Selig’s successor and MLB to do the right (Wright) thing and get these documents back! If I had the money. I would pay the collector myself.”
Now that Bud Selig’s legacy is being scrutinized, let’s hope that baseball historians in the future remember that when the Commissioner had the opportunity to help recover, preserve and protect the most important baseball archive in existence—he did absolutely nothing.
By Peter J. Nash
January 20, 2015
Keith Olbermann recently used the platform of his ESPN telecast to call out Antiques Roadshow appraiser Lee Dunbar for her million-dollar appraisal of a group of trimmed Mort Rogers scorecards featuring portraits of the Boston Red Stockings. In doing so, he echoed the sentiments of the very small group of collectors who either own or have expertise related to the photographic scorecard rarities. However, in criticizing Dunbar’s ignorance about the ephemeral relics, Olbermann also triggered some SABR-spelunking into his own claims on ESPN that a hundred or so Mort Rogers scorecards have survived and stood the test of time.
Digging a little deeper into the history of the scorecards, historian and author, John Thorn, inadvertently discovered that Mort Rogers, a 19th century printer by trade, may have created the very first set of cards sold nationally and designed to feature the pictures of every professional baseball player for a particular season. Based on the information Thorn unearthed in 19th century newspapers, it appears that Rogers was far ahead of his time and could very well be considered the long-lost father of the modern baseball card. Another advertisement from the New York Clipper discovered by HOS appears to support that claim and also suggests that his “invention” and its use as a scorecard was secondary as his product was marketed to the public as cards to be collected as a series. Rogers even identified each of his offerings as a “Baseball Photographic Card.”
Two weeks ago Olbermann told his ESPN audience, “There are at least two dozen different ones (Mort Rogers scorecards) known and at least one hundred in total in existence, even I have a bunch-and they’re in all the catalogs.” But based upon the numbers assigned to each card, there appear to be at least four or five dozen different cards created by the enterprising printer. More importantly, however, was Olbermann’s claim that one hundred copies have survived when Hauls of Shame could only confirm the existence of approximately forty-two score cards–not including the “bunch” in the broadcaster’s own collection.
HOS research documented 32 images of existing Mort Rogers score cards including the recent find unearthed on Antiques Roadshow (top row left). The other group of 10 trimmed Boston cards that sold in 1992 and 2000 is augmented by unaltered and complete scorecards featuring players from Boston, Philadelphia, Washington and Cleveland. The Baseball HOF has only two examples pictured above of Levi Meyerle and Davy Force.
We contacted several veteran collectors who own examples of the rare scorecards and they were also perplexed by Olbermann’s assertion. One collector said, “Funny, I had the same reaction when I heard Olbermann state there were at least 100 Mort Rogers scorecards known. He said he had “a bunch,” so I suppose he might know something we do not. However, I’ve been following these for decades and would estimate the number known at closer to 50 than 100, more than half of them (with) front covers cut down to varying degrees.”
The collector also informed us that he was aware of about ten examples of the Rogers scorecards that were not included in our grouping of images of documented examples. That would put the verified population of cards at forty-two examples—not including Olbermann’s “bunch” of cards.
The group of forty-two scorecards from games in 1871 and 1872 includes: (10) trimmed Boston cards from the 2014 Roadshow find; (10) trimmed Boston cards sold atLelands in 1992 and REA/Mastro in 2000; (3) complete score cards of Dave Birdsall (Boston), Eugene Kimball (Clev.) and Andy Leonard (Wash) sold at REA/Mastro in 2000; (2) complete score cards of Levi Meyerle (Phila.) and Davy Force (Wash.) in the Baseball Hall of Fame collection; (2) complete score cards of Harry Wright (Boston) and Dick McBride (Phila) in the Boston Athenaeum Collection; (1) complete score card of Cal McVey (Boston) once owned by dealer Jerry Smolin and sold by REA in 2014; (1) complete score card of Dave Birdsall (Boston) sold by Lelands in 2001; (1) complete score card of Harry Schafer (Boston) sold by Lew Lipset in 2000 and believed stolen from NYPLs Spalding Collection; (1) complete Harry Wright score card sold for over $12,000 at Mastro in 2003; (1) complete score card of Count Sensenderfer (Phila.) sold for over $11,000 by Heritage in 2011; (10) additional scorecards identified by a veteran collector (not including Olbermann’s).
If Olbermann actually owns more than fifty Mort Rogers scorecards, more power to him. The broadcaster did not respond to our inquiry as to how many of the 1871 cards he currently possesses. Every experienced collector that we contacted, however, thought Olbermann’s population estimate was way-off, just like Roadshow’s appraisal. That being said, Olbermann’s apparent inflation of the number of the surviving examples would likely be more on point had he made his comments back in 1871 as it appears the scorecard issue actually featured close to one hundred subjects issued in a numbered series. Keeping that in mind and based upon his recent discoveries about the scorecards John Thorn added, “Oddly, Keith’s claim that there were about 100 Mort Rogers cards in existence may yet be proven right.”
Surviving copies of the rare score cards of Dave Birdsall and AG Spalding (from the Roadshow find) reveal that player/publisher Mort Rogers (right) sold his wares at the ballpark for 5 cents and 10 cents.
For decades the Mort Rogers scorecards have been a bit of a mystery for collectors. Most of the cards are dated or identified by specific games played in 1871 or 1872 but some examples have a sales price established by Rogers at 10 cents (10c) while one example depicting Boston player, Dave Birdsall, is priced at just 5 cents (5c). The two prices suggest that the 5 cent score cards may have been issued later in 1872 to reflect a price reduction. Another curious feature is that multiple scorecards of the same player use portraits that are slightly different but appear to be from the same photo shoot. Perhaps the biggest mystery is the scarcity of the scorecards as evidenced by the holdings in the Spalding Collection at the New York Public Library. According to the 1922 library inventory for the largest collection of 19th century baseball materials only one score card of Harry Schafer was donated, and that card is currently missing. (A. G. Spalding’s personal scrapbook from the early 1870s is also missing from the collection and it is possible that some other Rogers scorecards were pasted into that volume.)
Each Mort Rogers scorecard is described on the cover as a “Baseball Photographic Card” and on PBS’ Roadshow, Lee Dunbar, described the cards as, “Some of the earliest known 1871 photographic baseball cards.” On ESPN, Olbermann said that the scorecards were so rare because “they didn’t sell that well.” But was that really true? Were they a bust and were the scorecards only sold in Boston at Red Stockings games as hobbyists have long assumed?
That’s where baseball historian John Thorn was able to shed some more light on Mort Rogers’ scorecard business and the process by which he sold them at ball games and other venues. The first discovery Thorn made was a news item published in the Cincinnati Daily Gazette on July 7, 1871, which announced Rogers’ “invention in the score card line” and shows that Rogers not only sold his scorecards at the Boston Grounds but also at visiting ballparks with pictures of the opposing players affixed to the covers. Evidence suggests that Rogers used Boston photographer J. W. Black to shoot the Red Stockings while other photographers around the country may have provided him with portraits of out-of-town players. Working against this theory, however, is the actual graphic on every card which states “Photographed by J. W. Black.” John Thorn also astutely noted that several of the portraits on the scorecards were identical to those featured on the rare team composite CDV photographs which were also issued in 1871 and sold by J. W. Pierce in Chicago.
John Thorn unearthed an 1871 report from the Cincinnati Advertiser (left) revealing Mort Rogers' plans to sell his series of photographic score cards in conjunction with a reunion game of the 1869 Red Stockings (right) and a NA game between Boston & Washington. (Courtesy of John Thorn)
The newspaper item Thorn found revealed how the scorecards made their appearance at the Union Grounds on Monday and Tuesday of that week in 1871 and how Rogers had “established an agency at Geo. Ellard’s baseball depot, on Fourth street (Cincinnati)” to sell the scorecards. The paper also announced Rogers’ plans for “doing likewise in other western cities.” During that road trip the Boston team played the Olympics of Washington in the Queen City and players from both teams also participated in a reunion game of the champion 1869 Cincinnati Red Stockings. Cincinnati also hosted several other NA games featuring out-of-town teams in 1871 and it is likely that Rogers’ scorecards were sold at each game.
Thorn’s next discovery from the Cleveland Leader was published a week later on July 13, 1871, and confirmed what had been reported in Cincinnati as Rogers sold his cards at the grounds of the Forest City Club of Cleveland. The paper reported, “Mort Rogers, of Boston, now with the club, has gotten out an exceedingly neat photographic score card. This series which he proposes to publish, will comprise pictures of every professional ball player in the country, and will make a valuable collection. This afternoon, score cards with photographs of each member of the Forest City Club will be for sale at the grounds.” Supporting this report is the surviving score card featuring the image of Forest City player Eugene Kimball which was sold by REA/MastroNet in 2000.
John Thorn also found a July 13, 1871, report in the Cleveland Leader that revealed Mort Rogers' score cards were sold in ballparks all around the country and were intended to feature the pictures of every professional baseball player. (Courtesy of John Thorn)
Maxson Mortimer Rogers was born in Brooklyn in 1845, the son of a fish dealer named Albert Rogers Sr., and played his earliest baseball in 1861 as a teenager for the city’s junior circuit Resolute Base Ball Club, which was also known as “Oul man Rogers and Sam Storer’s fish chowder nine.” Early in his career Rogers took on the persona of a jack-of-all-trades as a pitcher, umpire, scorer and club bookkeeper and by 1864 he was appointed the Secretary of the National Association of Baseball Players. Rogers developed into one of the game’s premiere players and a testament to his skill was his inclusion in a famous 1865 woodcut published in Leslie’s Magazine as one of New York’s “leading players” along with the stars of the Excelsior, Atlantic and Mutual ball clubs. Rogers also appeared in another iconic Civil-War era image taken of the Resolutes supposedly during an 1864 tournament in Philadelphia. The group posing with Rogers included notables such as John Wildey of the Mutuals, baseball scribe Henry Chadwick and Philadelphia native Dick McBride who at that time had been granted a furlough from the Union Army to play in the tournament.
Mort Rogers was a prominent player in the 1860's and appears (left) as President of the Resolute BBC after a game in 1864 or 1865 vs. Philadelphia. Rogers (center) was also featured in the famous 1865 Leslie's woodcut (right) honoring Jim Creighton and the "leading players" in NYC.
In 1866 Rogers relocated to Massachusetts to play for the champion Lowell Club and in 1867 he was also named the NA’s first vice president. Within a few years by 1869 Rogers established himself as one of the game’s earliest entrepreneurs when he self-published the New England Chronicle, a weekly sporting newspaper that devoted considerable space to the National Pastime. A printer by trade, Rogers was unable to sustain his newspaper endeavor and after the paper folded in 1870 he partnered with another printer and founded the Rogers & McCartney Printing Advertising House at 173 Washington Street in Boston. Evidence of the venture was found in the collection of the Library of Congress by John Thorn in the form of a woodcut produced by Rogers which incorporates a baseball scene entitled, “The Pitcher that goes often to the Well is broken at Last.”
John Thorn discovered this baseball-themed woodcut produced by Rogers & McCartney in 1870; Mort Rogers (right) was a printer by trade and operated his printing business while playing for the Star Base Ball Club and umpiring Red Stocking games in Boston.
By 1871, Rogers re-named his printing venture “Rogers & Fitts” at the same address and also umpired games for Harry Wright’s Boston Red Stockings in the brand new National Association. It was during that same year that Rogers designed and manufactured what he described as a “Base Ball Photographic Card” that featured an oval portrait of a professional ballplayer pasted onto an ornately designed lithographic card with baseball motifs that doubled as a score card. As evidenced by Thorn’s 19th century newspaper discoveries, the entrepreneur set out on an ambitious mission to disseminate his photographic cards all over the country at ballparks and baseball emporiums including the sporting goods houses of Peck & Snyder in New York City and George B. Ellard in Cincinnati. While the evidence shows that Rogers & Fitts published their scorecards from 1871 through 1872, little is known about the firm’s production numbers and sales figures. The only financial records we could find were related to Rogers’ partner, Frank E. Fitts, of Lowell, who filed for personal bankruptcy in August of 1871 and had that action discharged as of March 27, 1872.
This Rogers & Fitts score card from May 31, 1871 includes notices from Mort Rogers telling fans that his new photographic cards would be available for the June 2nd game vs. Chicago. The score card also revealed that Rogers' first card was sold at the ballpark on May 20th (Boston Athenaeum Collection).
One clue providing a window into the operation of Rogers’ printing business was also uncovered by John Thorn. MLB’s official historian discovered, in the collection of the Boston Athenaeum, a scorecard published by Rogers & Fitts for a May 31, 1871, game between the Red Stocking and Forest City clubs that pinpoints when the card business launched in Boston. The scorecard included a notice from Rogers informing fans that his photographic card, which was first introduced at the Boston Grounds on May 20th, was not ready for sale due to the “great labor needed in getting it done handsomely.” Rogers assured the fans that the cards would be ready for the June 2nd game scheduled against Chicago and added that the scorecard would again depict Harry Wright (Card No. 1) by popular demand.
An 1871 ad in the NY Clipper (left) reveals that Peck & Snyder sold team trade cards featuring the Reds of 1869 and the Atlantics of 1868, but also documents how the Mort Rogers score cards were marketed as photographic cards that featured the pictures of NA players on seven teams including Levi Meyerle of Philadelphia (center).
An 1871 Peck & Snyder advertisement discovered by Hauls of Shame in 2013 sheds even more light on how the company’s scorecards were marketed throughout the country. Originally the ad was noted for its inclusion of the Peck & Snyder trade cards of the Red Stockings and the Brooklyn Atlantics but a second look at the ad reveals more evidence confirming Thorn’s discoveries and goes even further to show that the Mort Rogers cards may have been the game’s first true set of commercially sold baseball cards. The newspaper reports unearthed by Thorn show that Mort Rogers distributed the cards to ballparks in the eastern states and in the west and the 1871 Peck & Snyder ads confirm that the cards were also distributed to and sold at retail establishments that had accounts with Rogers & Fitts. The ad also documents that Rogers created cards for (43) players on Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia and Washington and about (30-34) more unidentified players for Cleveland, Rockford and Kekionga—seven of the nine teams Rogers planned to create according to the news item in the Cleveland Ledger on July 13. Curiously absent from the Peck & Snyder ad are the photos of the players on the Haymaker Base Ball Club of Troy, New York. Which leads us to another interesting discovery via John Thorn.
Just one week after Mort Rogers packed up his scorecards and took them on the road to sell at the ballparks in the Midwest, the following item ran in the Troy Daily Whig on July 22nd:
“The members of the Haymaker Club yesterday had two group pictures taken. Each member also had a picture taken, copies of which, with score card ruling upon the backs, are to be sold at the different games of the club, the picture of each member to be sold in regular order at the successive games.”
Just two weeks after Rogers’ plans to create photographic cards depicting every single player in the National Association was published in the Cleveland papers, it appears that the Haymakers co-opted his idea and decided to create their own cards sponsored by the Burr Penfield Cigar Store in Troy.
The Troy Haymakers of 1871 created their own player scorecards just weeks after Mort Rogers announced his plans to create a photographic card for each player in the NA. The Troy scorecards were sponsored by cigar store owner Burr Penfield.
Penfield was the brother of third baseman Carroll “Cal” Penfield who hailed from Troy and played for local teams including the Enterprise and the Putnams before he joined the Haymakers in 1866. The Burr Penfield “Photographic Cards of the Haymakers” were printed by a local outfit called Hurley Brothers Printers with offices located on the same block as Penfield’s cigar emporium. It remains a mystery why the Haymakers were the only club who decided to create their own locally issued cards rather than be part of Rogers’ distribution at ballparks and stores throughout the country. It is also unclear why Rogers did not include Boss Tweed’s Mutual Club of New York City in his series but what is clear is that Rogers had to rely on the work of J. W. Black and out of town photographers to provide him with albumen prints of player portraits. As Thorn also noted, many of the portraits used by Rogers are identical to those incorporated into the 1871 team composite CDVs made by J. A. Pierce Co. in Chicago.
Mort Rogers' 1872 scorecard of Count Sensenderfer of the Philadelphia Athletics features a portrait identical to the one appearing in the 1871 A's team composite (right) sold by J.A. Pierce & Co. in Chicago.
The question as to what constitutes the first baseball card or the first baseball card set has long been a hot button topic among hobbyists, baseball researchers, dealers and auctioneers. For many years the 1869 Cincinnati Red Stockings trade card issued by Peck & Snyder was considered the first baseball card and in more recent times competing claims have been made in support of the c.1870 memorial trade card of pitcher Jim Creighton; the 1863 cricket-ticket CDV cards produced by Harry Wright; the 1865 CDV cards featuring Charlie Pabor and Dave Birdsall of the Union BBC of Morrisania; and the “set” of 1866 player CDVs of the Unions of Lansingburgh team created by E. S. Sterry.
Claims for "first baseball card" have been made for (l to r): an 1863 CDV cricket-ticket of Harry Wright; a memorial trade card featuring Jim Creighton; CDVs of Union BBC players Birdsall and Charlie Pabor and a "set" of 1866 player portrait CDVs of the Union of Lansingburgh team.
Each time these photographic cards have surfaced at auction for sale, auctioneers have pled their case for the “first baseball card” hoping to bolster bidding and in several cases the sales job worked. In particular, the claims that the 1863 Harry Wright cricket CDV produced by Jordan & Co. was ”the world’s very first baseball card” and that it was “the first card picturing a baseball player printed for the purpose of promoting the retail sale of a product to the public” propelled bidding into the high five-figures as Keith Olbermann paid $83,000 to secure the card at MastroNet/REA in 2000. In 2008, REA sold for $8,812 a c. 1865-70 CDV of Dave Birdsall which featured within his image the caption of his nickname “The Old Man.” In its lot description REA claimed: “To the best of our knowledge, Birdsall’s card is the very first baseball card with the identification of a current individual player incorporated into the design of the card. By this definition, the “The Old Man” card can lay claim to being the first baseball card.” Another card of Birdsall’s teammate, Charlie Pabor, was also issued with the nickname “The Old Woman In The Red Cap” within its image and was featured in A.G. Spalding’s 1911 book America’s National Game and is currently missing from the New York Public Library’s Spalding Collection.
Disputing these earlier claims to the “first baseball card” is dealer Brian Wentz of BMW Cards in Wisconsin who is currently offering for $179,000 a set of 1866 player CDVs featuring the Unions of Lansingburgh. According to Wentz all of the other alleged first cards “cannot be definitively dated to 1866 or earlier and those that can do not comprise a complete set or subset of a specific team — i.e., they were not meant to be collected as baseball cards. In our opinion then, this group of six different players from the 1866 Union team of Lansingburgh would represent the earliest known baseball cards.”
There are many conflicting opinions as to what constitutes the oldest or first baseball card or card set. John Thorn told us he considers the first baseball card an 1844 engraved ticket for the ball of New York City’s Magnolia Ball Club which incorporated a scene of a baseball game in progress on the Elysian Fields in Hoboken, New Jersey. Card collectors and purists, however, require cards to meet a host of different criteria to be considered the first card or the first set. Considering the new information he has added to the debate regarding the Mort Rogers cards Thorn told us, “I would agree that the Rogers scorecards, printed in unknown quantities, is the first numbered set of baseball players.”
A strong case could be made that the Mort Rogers cards were the first true baseball card set and that they incorporate the elements present in most every classic baseball card issued since the 1880's including (clockwise) N-167 Old Judge (1886); N-172 Old Judge (1888); T-206 (1909); M-101 (1915); Cracker Jack (1915); Goudey (1934); Topps (1952) and Topps (2014).
Back in 2013, an 1860 CDV of the Brooklyn Atlantics was erroneously characterized by the mainstream media as the first baseball card and in response Keith Olbermann laid down his own ground rules for what actually constitutes a baseball card. Olbermann pointed to the c.1869 Peck & Snyder team trade cards of the Reds and Atlantics but said that “the truly big idea for baseball cards, the seemingly obvious one- make lots of cards of lots of different players” didn’t appear until the Kalamazoo Bat and Old Judge cards were sold in Goodwin Tobacco cigarette packs in 1886. Olbermann did refer to the Mort Rogers cards for featuring individual players but noted that they were only sold at Boston games and that Rogers “lost his shirt” in the endeavor.
Each Mort Rogers "Baseball Photographic Card" features a player portrait and identifies each subject by name, team, position and number in the series (all in red). This sequence shows players from the Boston, Philadelphia and Washington teams numbered from 1 to 48. (L to R.): Harry Wright, Boston #1; Levi Meyerle, Phila. #16; Davy Force, Wash. #29; Cal McVey, Boston #48.
Contrary to Olbermann’s opinion, however, the new information discovered by John Thorn about the sale of the Mort Rogers score cards nationally and the evidence from 1871 showing that Peck & Snyder marketed them more as “baseball photographic cards” than as just “score cards,” creates a strong case for the Rogers issue as the first true baseball card set. Minus the portrait cards of the Haymakers and the Mutuals, the evidence shows that the cards featured all of the players from seven of the nine National Association teams and that each one was numbered in what the Cleveland Leader called a “series” that would “make a valuable collection.” The evidence suggests that these photographic cards were produced in great quantities to service large crowds in multiple cities and were intended to be collected. As demonstrated on the recent Antiques Roadshow episode, it appears that at least one 19th century fan did just that as he saved the cards and displayed them in an album that was retained by his own family for over 140 years.
In 1871 Mort Rogers called his product "Base Ball Photographic Cards" while Sy Berger (right) and Topps marketed their product as a "Baseball Picture Card" as seen on a 1952 wrapper (center).
When former Topps vice president Sy Berger passed away in December he was hailed as the “Father of the Modern Day Baseball Card.” Berger joined Topps in Brooklyn in 1951 and a year later he worked with hobby legend Woody Gelman to create the iconic 1952 Topps set featuring 407 cards of every player in the American and National Leagues. Berger was widely credited with creating that first complete set and incorporated design elements featuring facsimile player autographs, team logos and statistics on the backs of the cards picturing Mays, Mantle and Jackie Robinson. In his obituary in the New York Times Berger was remembered as the man who “conceived the prototype for the modern baseball card.” It is interesting to note also that Topps and Berger marketed their creation as a “Baseball Picture Card” (as Bowman also did dating back to 1948), a designation so very similar to Rogers’ own “Base Ball Photographic Card.”
The former Brooklynite, Mort Rogers, came up with his scheme to peddle baseball cards more than eight decades before Sy Berger’s arrival at Topps. Rogers designed his own prototype for baseball cards and worked to create his own ground-breaking near-complete set of cards picturing the game’s true pioneers including the Wright brothers, Albert Spalding and Al Reach. Rogers’ “invention” was the product of his design skills as a printer and there’s no doubt he was way ahead of his time. As evidenced, an argument could even be made that it was Rogers who first coined the term “baseball card.” His 1871 card/scorecard issue also introduced some of the very same elements that Berger and other card pioneers like Woody Gelman had used dating back to the Goudey Gum issues of the 1930s. Every one of his cards had a uniform design and included the picture, name, team and position of each player.
The Mort Rogers scorecards are not recognized in the Standard Catalog of Vintage Baseball Cards (left and center). The 1872 Warren CDV photos of Harry Wright and the Red Stockings (right) are included as baseball card issue/series.
In his own obituary, there was no mention of Mort Rogers’ baseball card creations and innovations along with the tragic details of his demise. Rogers passed away just three days after his own brother Fraley Rogers (a former Boston Red Stocking player) had committed suicide and reports stated that the printer’s brother had killed himself after he’d contracted malaria and was driven to a state of temporary insanity. Mort Rogers’ death in New York City on May 13, 1881, was attributed to his shock over his brother’s devastating suicide.
Outside of his being mentioned in auction catalogs beside each surviving “baseball photographic card” bearing his name, Mort Rogers has, for the most part, been forgotten and never properly credited for his printing innovations and his baseball card designs. The Standard Catalog Of Vintage Baseball Cards doesn’t even recognize the “1871-72 Mort Rogers Scorecards” as a baseball card issue although it does include the 1872 Warren CDV portraits of Harry Wright’s Red Stockings as an actual card series. All things considered, if Sy Berger is remembered as the “Father of the Modern Baseball Card” it may be time for Mort Rogers to receive his just due as the “Grandaddy of the American Baseball Card.”
(Editor’s Note: Although these discoveries add to the history of the Mort Rogers Scorecards there is likely much more information about the cards that has yet been unearthed. If you know of or find any new information about the cards, or know of previously unknown examples to add to the population please contact us at: Tips@haulsofshame.com)
By Peter J. Nash
January 9, 2014
When a woman strolled onto the set of Antiques Roadshow with a long-lost archive linked to Boston’s baseball history, she never expected to hear PBS appraiser, Lee Dunbar, tell her she’d hit the jackpot. But after viewing her treasure trove which consisted of a group of ten trimmed 1871 Mort Rogers photographic scorecards, a few CDV photographs of A. G. Spalding and the 1872 Boston Red Stockings and a document bearing salutations and signatures from the famous Wright brothers (Harry and George), Spalding and other pioneer players like Dave Birdsall, Cal McVey and Harry Schafer she was told by Dunbar that her collection was worth a million bucks.
The group of materials was originally housed in a period carte-de-visite photo album and all of the player photos featured on the covers of the scorecards were at one time trimmed down to fit inside the book. The original score cards consisted of two pages, but these examples only retained the covers which were manufactured for sale by player Mort Rogers. The photographic score cards are one of the true rarities in the hobby and this newly found cache could almost double the known population. But just because they are extremely rare and historic does not mean they are worth a million dollars. Case in point is another “set” of ten similarly trimmed Mort Rogers score cards featuring the same players that has been sold twice in the last twenty five years. In August of 1992 Lelands sold the group of trimmed cards for about $26,000 and in 2000 the same group sold again in a REA/MastroNet auction for $45,202.
A group of (10) trimmed Mort Rogers score cards sold at Lelands in 1992 for $26,000 (left). The same group was resold at REA/MastroNet for $46,000 in July of 2000 (right) along with three other examples in a separate lot.
No other similar sets or groupings of the cards have ever surfaced but a handful of un-trimmed examples of full score cards featuring Harry Wright, Dave Birdsall and Cal McVey have sold at auctions ranging in price from $6,000 to $12,000 for the Wright. Another example of a Harry Wright score card is currently housed in the collection of the Boston Athenaeum.
Un-trimmed Mort Rogers score card examples of Harry Wright, Dave Birdsall and Cal McVey sold for $12,000, $6,000 and $12,000 respectively.
It appears that another full scorecard featuring Harry Schafer was sold at auction in 2000 by Lew Lipset, but that example appears on the missing list of the New York Public Library’s famous A. G. Spalding Collection and is believed to have been part of the multi-million dollar heist at the library in the 1970s. The Spalding Collection features the greatest assortment of photographic materials related to Spalding and Wright’s early Boston teams and it is notable that it is devoid of examples of the Rogers score cards. Several of A.G. Spalding’s personal scrapbooks, however, were also stolen in the late 1970s and some believe that many 19th century photo and score card rarities that have surfaced in the hobby were removed from those same missing volumes.
The NYPL's "Missing List" for the Spalding Collection includes a Mort Rogers score card of Harry Schafer. In 2000, Lew Lipset sold a Schafer score card (left) believed to be the missing example. The recent PBS show revealed the trimmed Schafer card featuring a different portrait.
As you can see, despite the extreme rarity of these full and partial photographic score cards, the historic prices realized at public auction in no way support the $1 million dollar appraisal given to the owner on Antiques Roadshow. At best, if both of the cards of the Wright’s and Spalding sold for $25,000 and each of the other cards sold for $5,000 (which is a high estimate for trimmed examples), the group would be worth about $110,000.
The PBS Spalding CDV (left) is comparable with a lesser condition CDV that Heritage sold for over $9,000 in 2009 (center left). The trimmed PBS 1872 Boston trade card is comparable with a similar card of the Phila. A's that sold for over $44,000 at auction in 2014.
Also in the Roadshow group are an untrimmed Warren CDV of Albert Spalding and a trimmed trade card featuring the 1872 Boston BBC. Heritage sold a similar Spalding CDV (in lesser condition) for $11,950 in 2009 and the only comparable sale similar to the 1872 trimmed Boston trade card was an example featuring the Phialdelphia A’s. Legendary Auctions sold the untrimmed card graded “Authentic” by SGC as being unique (although others are known) and it fetched $44,813 in May of 2014. It would be hard to make the case that the trimmed Boston card, created by George Wright and Charley Gould’s Sporting Goods company (Wright & Gould), could command a price higher than $44,000.
Lastly, the document signed by some of the members of the 1871 team and addressed to the woman who owned the Boston boarding house where the players resided, is a remarkable artifact but it is not as valuable as Roadshow claims. Appraiser Lee Dunbar told the owner, “To have this letter with Harry Wright and Spalding on it is tremendous, to have anything with their signature is phenomenal.” Spalding and Wright’s signatures are scarce and most Wright signatures on the market were stolen from the NYPLs Spalding Collection, but there are comparable signed documents that have been sold that dwarf the importance of the letter penned to the boarding house proprietor. Lee Dunbar’s former employer, Sotheby’s, handled one of these documents during the 1999 Barry Halper sale—the actual letter awarding Harry Wright the championship pennant of 1875 which was signed by Wright and National Association president (and HOFer) Morgan Bulkeley. The document was originally in one of the three Harry Wright scrapbooks stolen from the NYPL in the 1970s and was documented and cited in research notes taken by historians Dr. Harold Seymour and Dorothy Mills who held the same document in their hands at the NYPL in the 1950s. The Seymour original notes are now part of the Seymour Collection at Cornell University. The stolen 1875 document sold for $14,950 at Sotheby’s and despite its overwhelming NYPL provenance, the letter has not been recovered by the FBI or NYPL. The Roadshow document is nowhere near as significant.
An 1875 letter awarding Harry Wright's Boston club the 1875 Pennant sold at Sotheby's in 1999. A letter written by Spalding to Wright during the World Tour of 1874 was sold at REA in 2007. Both letters were stolen from the NYPL and the 1875 letter is documented in the original research notes (center) of Dr. Harold Seymour and his wife Dorothy (inset). The notes show the letter was in Volume 1 of Wright's incoming letters on "p.21."
As for signatures of Albert Spalding one of the most historic documents ever offered was a 4-page letter he penned to Harry Wright from England when he and the Boston team were on their World Tour of 1874. That letter was also stolen from the NYPL’s Wright scrapbooks and was sold by REA and Rob Lifson in 2007 for $28,875.
Roadshow appraiser Lee Dunbar (far right) appraised the Boston collection at $1 million but the value of the artifacts, including signatures of Harry Wright and A.G. Spalding (left), falls far short of that benchmark.
The bottom line is this—–Antiques Roadshow and Dunbar have no supporting evidence to substantiate their $1 million appraisal of the collection featured on the recent broadcast. Media outlets ranging from major newspapers to TMZ have published stories disseminating the inaccurate and unsubstantiated appraisal and each of them took the PBS press releases as gospel. Only Keith Olbermann corrected the record by naming Roadshow and Dunbar as his “World’s Worst Person in Sports” on ESPNs Wednesday night telecast. Olbermann also correctly noted that no Mort Rogers scorecard had ever sold for over $15,000, a point that was seconded by MLBs official historian John Thorn on Twitter.
Just do the math: the trimmed Rogers score cards, at best, could realize $100,000-125,000; the Spalding CDV $15,000; the 1872 Boston trade card $25,000; the Red Stocking signed document $25,000-35,000. All in all, a far cry from a million dollars (even if the number is inflated for insurance purposes). Josh Evans, of Lelands Auctions, had a different take on Dunbar’s appraisal which he defended. Said Evans, “Lee Dunbar is one smart cookie. By putting a million dollar value on the collection she made baseball memorabilia a hot story that carried all the way overseas to London where I just read a great article in the Daily Mail.”
Antiques Roadshow’s recent track record regarding major baseball artifacts has been severely marred since its 2012 appraisal of a bogus 1960 Willie Mays uniform that ended up being sold to the Pawn Stars and re-sold at Julien’s Auctions in Beverly Hills. The uniform was a salesman’s sample that was never issued to Mays. Roadshow appraiser Mike Gutierrez from Heritage Auctions authenticated and appraised the uniform at $25,000-$35,000. It was fraudulently sold as Mays’ actual uniform at Julien’s for only $12,000 and was featured on the cover of the auction house’s catalog.
The Jackson scrapbooks feature rare photos and documents that shed light on the turbulent life and times of one of baseball's greatest players. One gem is a 1917 note to Jackson from a gambler looking for some inside "dope" on the White Sox (right).
In stark contrast to the value of the PBS Boston find is the remarkable lot of “Shoeless” Joe Jackson’s personal scrapbooks that are currently being sold by Lelands and have a current bid just under $10,000. The scrapbooks are described by Lelands founder Josh Evans as the “Dead Sea Scrolls” of baseball memorabilia and the appearance of the long-lost volumes literally dwarfs the PBS find in terms of historic import. The three thick scrapbook volumes were compiled by Jackson and his wife Katie and span from his earliest days in the game to the time of his death.
The scrapbooks surfaced last summer after Lelands issued a million dollar reward for the original Black Sox scandal confessions of “Shoeless” Joe and his “Eight Men Out” teammates. Well known for advertising rewards in the past for Bobby Thompson’s long-lost home run ball , Josh Evans told us, “The consignor saw the reward we ran regarding the Chicago Black Sox confessions. They knew they weren’t going to get a million dollars, but it should be a great deal of money for the three scrapbooks. These could be the most (important) scrapbooks ever discovered.” When asked what separates these volumes from other great hobby finds of his career Evans responded, “He (Jackson) transcends the game as a subject of books, movies, television and of all media. He is a piece of the fabric of American folklore along with Jackie Robinson and Babe Ruth, as the tragic figure of the bunch. He is baseball’s American tragedy whose role will be debated long after we are gone. And these scrapbooks are a window into his soul.”
Mike Nola, the nation’s foremost Jackson researcher who operates BlackBetsy.com, says he knew of the Jackson scrapbooks for many years and that they were passed on from Katie Jackson to her husband’s sister, Gertrude. Said Nola, “Gertrude used to pull these out for anyone wanting to see them, but then reporters started stealing pages from the scrapbook and she stopped letting anyone see them. Some great stuff in there. (I) wish I had the money to buy it, but this one will go off the charts.”
Joe Jackson's scrapbooks ended up with his sister Gertrude (left). The Joe Jackson Museum in Greenville, SC, (center) is hoping to get access to the information in the scrapbooks. Josh Evans of Lelands uncovered the scrapbooks by offering a reward for the Black Sox confessions. (Photo of Gertrude Jackson courtesy of BlackBetsy.com)
As to whether the scrapbooks look like they were cherry picked at one time Evans told us, “The scrapbooks are unpicked. There are very few missing pieces, as there are only a few small missing spaces. We checked the spines and could see no missing pages. But this is best spelled out by what is there.”
Sources indicate that the scrapbooks passed from Jackson’s sister to a woman named Frances Suddeth and it is believed that her heirs are the consignors to the Lelands sale. Nola and other researchers would love to get full access to the information housed in the volumes and Nola even went so far to offer to pay Lelands for their time and effort if they could scan every page so that he could secure the information for the “Shoeless” Joe Jackson Museum in Greenville, South Carolina, which is housed in the structure that was Jackson’s actual residence.
Arlene Marcley, the curator of the Jackson Museum, thinks the scrapbooks are breathtaking. Marclay can only hope a well-heeled donor might buy the scrapbooks and donate them to the non-profit institution that she helped establish and told Hauls of Shame, “Absolutely incredible. I just hope a museum gets them so they papers can be archived properly. I have a feeling they are in bad shape.” Scrapbooks from the Dead-Ball era are usually in need of significant conservation and the Jackson volumes would most likely need some archival attention. Marcley and others can only hope that the volumes don’t vanish into a collector’s vault or are purchased by a dealer who could disassemble the contents of each volume for resale purposes.
Evans and Lelands say they’d love for the museum to get access to the information in the scrapbooks and added, “We have every intention of facilitating that as long as the buyer is agreeable.” Evans even told Mike Nola that he’d cover the costs to scan the materials.
Jackson holds a trophy he won as "Best Slugger" (left) on "Murnane Day" in 1917. The Lelands lot included the original presentation card for another trophy he won during that same All-Star benefit game (bottom right) played at Fenway Park. (Correction: Jackson is actually holding the trophy won for longest throw at Fenway in 1917).
The volumes are chock full of documents and news clippings that chronicle the life and career of baseball’s most tragic figure. One remarkable artifact found in a scrapbook is the presentational card that once accompanied the trophy presented to Jackson for winning the “Longest Throw” contest held in conjunction with the 1917 benefit All-Star game played at Fenway Park to raise funds for the family of writer Tim Murnane. Photographs of Jackson holding his trophies in his residence have surfaced in recent years and it is believed the accompanying trophy is still in the possession of a Jackson relative along with Jackson’s 1917 World Series medal which he had made into a ring while he was still living.
The scrapbooks also feature important documents linked to gambling and issues related to the Black Sox scandal of 1919. Josh Evans told us, “My favorite piece is undoubtedly the unsigned typed letter written from a mysterious fan asking him for inside gambling information.” Evans added, “Dope is the old fashion term denoting illegal insider info. What a great precursor to the Black Sox scandal and the only communique that exists where Jackson is solicited. The most interesting thing is the fact that the family kept it.”
One scrapbook contains a two-page lawsuit Jackson filed against Charles Comiskey in 1924. The document included questions asked of Jackson regarding his taking money to throw games in the 1919 World Series.
In addition, one volume features a two-page lawsuit and an actual page from court pleadings detailing questions and answers concerning “Shoeless” Joe’s involvement in the fixing of games. The document originates from the 1924 lawsuit Jackson filed against White Sox owner Charles Comiskey for back salary and the lot description says the document reveals “10 questions asked of (Jackson) regarding the infamous 1919 World Series.” Lelands also says that questions five through 10 ”touch on whether he threw the series or took money to that aim, all of which he answered “no.”
Jacob Pomrenke, the chairman of SABRs Black Sox Scandal Research Committee thinks the scrapbooks are “A priceless resource with information on Jackson’s personal life that can’t be found anywhere else.” As a resource for SABR members Pomrenke also said, “What interests me most about the sample images in the Lelands auction listing are the advertisements and broadsides on Jackson’s “outlaw” career in the 1920s and ’30s. Jackson’s post-banishment baseball career hasn’t been well documented, and there are large gaps in the record on exactly when and where he played.”
The Jackson scrapbooks feature several rare vintage broadsides advertising Jackson's participation in barnstorming games after he was banished from the game.
MLBs official historian, John Thorn, was also impressed when he viewed images from the scrapbooks on the Lelands website and told us, “(The scrapbooks) are a treasure trove and the post-1920 barnstorming broadsides are amazing.”
Evans thinks there are many other significant “hidden gems” in the scrapbooks that have yet been unearthed. “Our time was limited and we did very little if any research as to the specifics of the pieces herein as such as who wrote these letters, what their relationship to Jackson (was),” said Evans. There is still more to learn from many items like “The broadsides (and) what the importance was of each individual game and (the) results and how each document played a part in his life.” According to Lelands, “The content is fairly evenly covered throughout his life from his pre major league days, earliest days in the game with the As, then Philadelphia, Cleveland and finally Chicago, to his play outside the league when he was banned and the trials and tribulations of that, to his later years at home. The key here is that almost all of it has never been seen and there is great mystery here that the scrapbooks unlock.”
When we asked Evans what he estimates the actual monetary value of the scrapbooks is he said, “These scrapbooks are worth a fortune. These are as important as any of the million or multi-million dollar pieces sold in the last few years.” When pressed on an actual number Evans was quick to respond and mused, “They are certainly worth low six figures.”
Pomrenke and other SABR members are hoping that the scrapbooks make their way back to Jackson’s hometown and Arlene Marcley. ” My hope is that the scrapbooks find a permanent home with the Shoeless Joe Jackson Museum in Greenville, the same town where those books have spent most of their time over the last century, first with Joe’s wife, Katie, and then his sister, Gertrude,” said Pomrenke. ”If the scrapbooks do end up in a private collection, I hope the new owner will at least allow some access to Black Sox historians and researchers who are interested in learning more about Jackson’s life.”
Safe to say, there are more than a few researchers who consider the scrapbooks priceless and they can only hope to be lucky enough to get access to the information held within each brittle and dusty volume. Pomrenke summed up the thoughts of most SABR members we spoke with saying, “If the scrapbooks do end up in a private collection, I hope the new owner will at least allow some access to Black Sox historians and researchers who are interested in learning more about Jackson’s life.”
By Peter J. Nash
December 29, 2014
2014 saw more turmoil and fraud in the memorabilia industry and Hauls of Shame was there to report on many issues that were overlooked or ignored by the mainstream and hobby press. Some of the on-going sagas stemming from the thefts of artifacts from the Baseball Hall of Fame and the Boston Public Library were represented this past year as well as long-standing and newly discovered controversies tied to the Barry Halper Collection. But in 2014 even more fraud related to “game-used” and autograph items were uncovered at the big auction houses, Panini America and even on the History Channel’s hit show Pawn Stars. PSA/DNA and JSA continued their run of flawed and fraudulent authentications and the FBIs fraud case against ex-hobby kingpin Bill Mastro entered its final phase as Mastro and his associates signed plea agreements with the government and await sentencing in 2015.
We’d like to thank our loyal readers for their continued support as our investigative reports reached a greater audience with over 2.1 million page views this year–a significant increase from the 1.5 million views in 2013. We look forward to publishing more compelling stories in 2015 which will mark our five-year anniversary. Have a Happy New Year!
We tabulated the most popular articles HOS published this year based upon the number of page views for each story. Here are the Top 10:
1. Glove Fans Bid Kid Adieu: Was Ted Williams Wearing This Baseball Mitt When He Walked Away From Fenway In 1960?
Auctioneer Ken Goldin advertised this PSA-authenticated glove as the same one Ted Williams wore on the day he played his last game at Fenway Park in 1960 but imagery analysis of vintage photographs from 1960 proved that this claim was fraudulent and based solely upon the unverified consignor’s story and glove authenticator Denny Esken’s letter of authenticity. Read full article
2. (Tie) Crime Pays: Heritage & PSA Exposed In Scam Sale Of Bogus $50K HOF Autograph/The Case Of The Missing Honus Wagner Letter
Heritage Auction Galleries continued its sale of documents believed to have been stolen from the Baseball Hall of Fame with the sale of a letter written by Honus Wagner in 1911 but also offered another stolen letter featuring a bogus signature of 19th century HOFer John M. Ward. The Ward letter was authenticated by Steve Grad of PSA/DNA despite the fact the signature bore no resemblance whatsoever to Ward’s genuine handwriting. Read the full John Ward and Honus Wagner articles.
3. (Tie) Pawn Stars & PSA Expert Steve Grad Faked His Own Bio & Committed Perjury/Pawn Stars Sells Bogus Willie Mays Uniform That Was Appraised On Antiques Roadshow
Pawn Stars and PSA authenticator Steve Grad was exposed for having fabricated his personal resume and lying under oath that he was a college graduate, which he is not. In a deposition for a PSA/DNA related case Grad also revealed that he got all of his hobby training from his mentor– confessed criminal Bill Mastro. The Pawn Stars provided another popular story when they purchased and re-sold a bogus Willie Mays uniform that had been appraised by Mike Gutierrez on Antiques Roadshow. Read the full Steve Grad and Pawn Stars articles.
4. Tie-Mastro Case Plea Agreement Nixes Trial & Lifson Appearance As Government Witness/Plea-Agreements Detail Mastro Shill Bidding Scheme
Former Mastro employee William Boehm was set for trial in 2014 with ex-MastroNet partner Rob Lifson slated as a Government witness, but a plea agreement Boehm entered into with prosecutors nixed any chance of the Mastro case ever coming to court. In 2014, Mastro’s former employees Doug Allen and Mark Theotikos also entered plea agreements which detailed the shill bidding schemes conducted by the auctioneers. Read full article
5. An All-American Case of Consumer Fraud: How Panini America, MLB & The Baseball Hall of Fame Got Caught Up Selling Over 2,000 Phony Jim Thorpe Relic Cards
The results of an HOS investigation revealed that the original jersey used by Donruss and Panini to create Jim Thorpe relic cards was never worn by Thorpe and exposed how Panini created and marketed over 2,000 phony relic cards, many of which were licensed and endorsed by the Baseball Hall of Fame and MLB. Read full article
6. Field of Schemes: Fraudulent Claims Of Game Use For Shoeless Joe Jackson’s Black Betsy Expose Dangers Of Vintage Bats
Robert Edward Auctions offered an alleged Shoeless Joe Jackson bat that PSA/DNA bat authenticator John Taube claimed was “game-used” but there was virtually no credible or verifiable evidence that could back up his fraudulent claim. Read full article and update
7. Tie-OPERATION BAMBINO: PSA & JSA Exposed For Authenticating Babe Ruth Forgeries For Past 15 Years/Yankee-Fakers: PSA Certs Bogus Ruth-Gehrig Ball For Grey Flannel
Part 6 of our Operation Bambino investigation revealed that both Jimmy Spence and Steve Grad have been authenticating scores of Babe Ruth forgeries for Bill Mastro that date back to their time working together at PSA/DNA back in 2000. In 2014, Grad and PSA were also exposed for authenticating 1927 Yankee forgeries and a Ruth-Gehrig forgery that was created on a phony baseball made in the modern era and featuring stamped, facsimile signatures of the Bambino and Gehrig. Read full article
8. Irish Eyes Are Smiling: Nuf Ced’s Red Sox Treasure Returned To Boston Public Library; More Evidence Links Barry Halper & Rob Lifson To The McGreevey Heist
One of Nuf Ced McGreevy’s long lost photographs was recovered by the Boston Public Library thanks to an honest collector. The photo which once hung on the wall of the 3rd Base Saloon had been donated to the BPL in 1923 by McGreevy who was also known as baseball’s most famous fan. Read full article
9. The Original Wagner: The Legend Of Willie Ratner’s Honus & Its Travels Through Hobby History
While most people know about Bill Mastro’s now infamous trimmed T206 Honus Wagner card, the story of the Wagner’s rarity dates back to the 1930s when boxing writer and collector Willie Ratner showed off his copy of the card to his readers in Newark, New Jersey—-The Original Wagner. Read full article
10. Searching For Tommy McCarthy: The Hunt For The Last Will & Testament Of A Hall Of Famer With An Autograph To Die For
In 1999 a court probation officer plead guilty to stealing the wills of several Boston Baseball Hall of Famers and the investigators thought one of the documents stolen was the will of Tommy McCarthy who died way back in 1922. But that was impossible, since seventeen years earlier, New York Yankee partner and super collector Barry Halper showed-off the same stolen will to SI’s Robert Creamer and told him he bought it for $150 from a McCarthy relative. Despite the fact that Halper showed off the will in major publications it somehow vanished and its whereabouts are unknown. In 2009, Halper’s former associates Rob Lifson and Tom D’Alonzo told the Boston Herald they had no knowledge of the stolen will. The hunt for McCarthy’s lost will has lasted for over three decades and continues. Read full article
2014 RECAP: Our most popular CHIN MUSIC column of the year covered the Yogi Berra Museum heist in October and other popular posts that failed to crack the Top 10 dealt with: The mystery behind HA’s 1923 Babe Ruth WS watch; the uncovering of T206 Magie fakes; Huggins & Scott pulling a 1909 Pirate photo stolen from the HOF; the aborted sale of a 1920 Red Sox photo stolen from the NBL; HA’s offering of a Randy Marshall forgery at the National; the history of authentications and sales of fakes by Heritage employees; Heritage selling a stolen Roger Connor pay receipt; the FBI seizing some of John Rogers‘ memorabilia; the 2014 Spring Auction Fraud Alert; LOTG selling phony record-breaking balls from Halper Collection; The NY Daily News & Michael O’Keeffe publish false statements; Huggins & Scott offering of a bogus Joe Jackson photo; A class action suit filed against RR Auctions; and SF Giant owner Dan Scheinman writing to the Judge presiding over the Mastro case.
By Peter J. Nash
December 12, 2014
The FBI and the Boston Police Department zeroed in on court officer Joe Schnabel and they knew they had their man. The authorities arrested Schnabel in May of 1999 on two counts of larceny and when he finally admitted to stealing the wills of several Boston baseball legends whose estates were filed in the Suffolk County Probate Court, a bizarre baseball mystery appeared to have been solved.
It was in the early 1990s that Schnabel hatched his scheme to swipe the autographs of Hugh Duffy, George Wright, Tommy Connolly and other Baseball Hall of Famers from the Boston Probate Court where he worked. Then he ventured outside of Massachusetts to pilfer the wills of other players like “Old Hoss” Radbourn in Illinois, Ned Hanlon in Baltimore, Harry Wright in Philadelphia and even Babe Ruth in New York City. Through a New Jersey fence named Jack Heir, Schanbel sold the documents to collectors for tens of thousands of dollars until researchers like Michael Bowlby and Don Hubbard realized that the wills were missing from Court files and alerted the authorities.
For investigators the arrest ended an embarrassing episode that had reached the national media and for Schnabel, a plea-bargain led to a sweetheart deal with prosecutors who sentenced him to just one year probation with a $5,000 fine. The disgraced state employee even got to keep his pension. But there was still one thing that didn’t sit well with the Feds and the researchers aiding them in the investigation. One of the missing wills Schnabel was accused of stealing was executed by 19th century star Tommy McCarthy whose signature is considered one of the hobby’s most valuable prizes.
That being said, McCarthy is also considered by baseball minds like Bill James the “worst Hall of Famer ever” and he’s provided great material for arguments about undeserving Hall of Famers on websites like Baseball Past and Present. Of course, the substantial value of McCarthy’s signature is derived more for its scarcity due to his death in 1922 than for his skills as a ballplayer. Back in 1999, investigators were convinced that Schnabel had stolen the valuable McCarthy will but he denied doing so adamantly. After he had admitted to stealing at least seventeen wills it wouldn’t have made much difference for him to admit to stealing just one more. When the Associated Press reported that Schnabel was charged in the thefts, the McCarthy will was specifically noted as being part of the investigation.
Oddly enough, the will-swiper was telling the truth. Schnabel never had a chance to boost the death-bed scrawl of the diminutive Irishman who ended up with his own plaque hanging in Cooperstown. McCarthy’s will had already vanished from the court files long before he was on the prowl. But if that was the case, who smuggled one of the game’s rarest signatures out of the Boston Courthouse and when?
Seventeen years earlier in 1982, Sports Illustrated’s Robert Creamer interviewed collector Barry Halper for an article on autograph hounds and Halper couldn’t resist bragging about his latest acquisition—the last will and testament of Tommy McCarthy. The Yankee partner had been compiling what he fashioned was the only complete set of Baseball Hall of Famer autographs including the ‘John Hancock’ of every inductee dating back to the 19th century. According to Halper, the McCarthy signature was the final piece of his Cooperstown puzzle and one of his most prized possessions.
Halper's ownership of the stolen McCarthy will was documented in 1990 in Connoisseur Magazine (left) and in a 1982 Sports Illustrated article written by the late Robert Creamer (right).
McCarthy’s 1922 will was executed just before he passed away at the age of 50 and Creamer wondered how Halper ever got his hands on such an unusual rarity. Creamer’s article entitled, “Hey Mister, Can We Have Your Autograph” established George Steinbrenner’s Yankee partner as the Babe Ruth of autograph collectors and his ability to track down treasures like McCarthy’s deathbed scrawl gave Creamer the impression he was interviewing a “collecting demon” and baseball’s own Indiana Jones. Describing what Halper told him about the acquisition Creamer wrote, “Somehow Halper tracked down a relative who found Tommy’s will, signed two days before his death. Halper paid $150 for it.”
But Halper had lied to Creamer who had no good reason to question his acquisition story. In an interview with Hauls of Shame in 2010 the late Creamer said, “I never suspected anything devious about the Tommy McCarthy signature when Barry told me about it.” At the time, Halper’s spotless reputation preceded him and Creamer added, “I would have been surprised and even shocked if I had heard rumors or reports about Halper doing something shady.” Nearly two decades after Creamer’s SI article, the investigators in the Boston case also never suspected that it was the uber-collector Halper who had somehow snatched up McCarthy’s hot will. Meanwhile, McCarthy’s biographer, Don Hubbard, who had been searching for the will in the late 1990s, actually tracked down a few of McCarthy’s relatives and none of them said they ever possessed or sold a copy of the ballplayer’s will. Hubbard then found himself assisting investigators in the Schnabel probe providing information he had gathered while writing The Heavenly Twins of Boston Baseball, his dual biography of McCarthy and his best friend, Hugh Duffy. Hubbard ended up incorporating an entire chapter in his book devoted to Schnabel’s thefts of player wills but at the time he also didn’t realize that Halper had already acquired the stolen document way back in the 1980’s.
In his biography, published by McFarland, Hubbard noted how he was deprived of the vital information found in McCarthy’s missing estate file and wrote, “One can only surmise the financial situation he (McCarthy) found himself in at the close of his life.” Hubbard had discovered that McCarthy’s will, inventory and final account had vanished from the courthouse and expressed his disdain accordingly as he added, “Stealing a person’s last will and testament is a disrespectful and disgraceful act to commit.”
Ironically, sources familiar with the probe say the investigators had contacted Halper and he denied ever owning any of the stolen court documents. He also failed to mention that he had previously bragged about owning the McCarthy will to Robert Creamer in 1982, and that in 1990 he had shown it off to reporters from the Associated Press and Connoisseur Magazine who marveled at how Halper collected every Hall of Famer’s autograph including the one they described as the “rarest of all” on McCarthy’s will. Even Bill Madden of the New York Daily News had included the McCarthy will in an article listing the rarest autographs in Halper’s collection. Sources indicate that the stolen will was also documented in the 1996 appraisal of Halper’s collection conducted by Christie’s for the investment banking firm of Lazard Freres. Halper retained the firm to offer his entire collection for sale to entities interested in displaying it in a museum setting.
By November of 1998 stories like this one in SCD made it clear that all of the Hall of Famer wills in the marketplace were stolen and subject to an FBI and Boston Police investigation. The missing Tommy McCarthy will was identified in many of the reports in the press.
But by the time investigators came asking Halper questions about the Schnabel thefts in November of 1998, he had already decided to sell a portion of his collection to MLB for a donation to the Baseball Hall of Fame and the remainder of the collection was slated for auction in 1999 at Sotheby’s in New York City. Halper stipulated that Sotheby’s hire his long time dealer and associate Rob Lifson, of Robert Edward Auctions, to oversee the sale and from 1998 through 1999 Lifson and Halper’s personal archivist, Tom D’Alonzo, spent most of their time cataloging the massive collection for the once-in-a-lifetime auction event. After Halper cut the deal with the auction giant, he shipped off most everything in his collection to a Sotheby’s warehouse in Spanish Harlem. Both Lifson and D’Alonzo had intimate knowledge of Halper’s holdings and at the time of the 1999 Sotheby’s sale Lifson’s employee, Barry Sloate, told VCBC magazine, “No one has a more encyclopedic knowledge or for that matter a photographic memory of the (Halper) collection than Rob.”
Extending beyond Halper, the Schnabel investigation revealed that Lelands Auction house in New York City had purchased and resold stolen probate documents signed by Hall of Famers George Wright and James O’Rourke; Hunt Auctions had sold the stolen will of baseball pioneer Harry Wright; and dealer Jack Heir acted as Schnabel’s fence selling many other wills to various dealers and private collectors. When investigators spoke to PSA authenticator Jimmy Spence, he dropped dime on a client who had purchased the stolen will of “Old Hoss” Radbourn for close to $20,000. By February 1999, the Radbourn will had been returned to an Illinois courthouse but many of the others remained unaccounted for–including the will of Tommy McCarthy.
Interestingly enough, Tom D’Alonzo and Rob Lifson were both aware that the McCarthy will was one of Halper’s prized possessions but neither of them ever reported the whereabouts of the missing document to investigators. Lifson, with his encyclopedic knowledge of Halper’s collection, wasn’t likely to miss a rarity like the McCarthy will that would have been documented on computer inventories D’Alonzo created while he was employed by Halper. In fact, by the end of October 1998, Lifson was already cataloging Halper’s collection for auction and was fully aware of the baseball will scandal. In November of 1998 Lifson was also faxing articles written about the Schnabel situation to clients and fellow auctioneers.
Barry Halper wrote a testimonial (left) praising Rob Lifson & REA for cataloging and selling his collection at Sotheby's. Halper's archivist, Tom D'Alonzo, (far right) went to work for REA after the Halper auction. D'Alonzo's primary job for Halper was documenting each item in the collection which included the McCarthy will.
So, if the entire Halper camp had knowledge of the stolen McCarthy document and Halper had already admitted to owning it from at least 1982 through 1990, what happened to the last will and testament of one of Boston’s “Heavenly Twins?” How could the rare and valuable signature of Tommy McCarthy vanish into thin air?
A decade after Halper’s 1999 Sotheby’s sale this writer and several others reported that many items in Halper’s collection had been stolen from the New York Pubic Library, Boston Public Library and the Baseball Hall of Fame. In particular, Halper owned hundreds of letters stolen from the NYPL’s Spalding Collection that were written to baseball pioneer Harry Wright. The letters originated from three large scrapbook volumes that were stolen from the library in the mid-1970’s and were documented in Halper’s collection in 1977 in a report published by Halper’s friend Bill Madden in The Sporting News. One of the stolen documents was an 1879 Boston contract of second baseman Ezra Sutton that was sold as a lot in the Sotheby’s sale and reappeared for sale in 2012 at Heritage Auction Galleries in Dallas. At the time of that sale Hauls of Shame revealed interview testimony from a source with ties to the Baseball Hall of Fame who claimed that Barry Halper had told a family member that he had orchestrated the NYPL thefts and that the material “was there for the taking.”
Barry Halper owned another McCarthy autograph on an 1887 tintype portrait that was stolen from the NYPL's famous Spalding Baseball Collection. The image is still listed on the NYPL's "Missing List" (inset).
Surprisingly, another item in the Halper collection at one point featured yet another autograph of Tommy McCarthy, an 1887 signed tintype portrait that was once owned by his manager Harry Wright and identified by its exact inscription in the 1921 NYPL Spalding Collection inventory. Halper ended up trading that tintype to a collector in Lowell, Mass. named Paul Dunigan, who operated a successful adult book store and peep-show business. Dunigan later consigned the tintype to Lelands in 1994 but, like McCarthy’s will, the rare and valuable artifact is still among the many missing artifacts stolen from the NYPL archives.
In 2009, a group of letters addressed to Harry Wright appeared in MLB’s 2009 All-Star game auction and reports were published in the New York Times and the Boston Herald questioning whether the documents were stolen from the NYPL’s Spalding Collection. Herald reporter Dave Wedge published a story about Halper with a headline reading “Stolen Boston Baseball Memorabilia Traced To Dead Yanks Owner” and interviewed Don Hubbard regarding his quest to find McCarthy’s missing will. Wedge also reported Halper’s admission of ownership of the McCarthy will in Sports Illustrated in 1982 and in the Associated Press reports published in 1990.
In 2009, REA's Rob Lifson (bottom right) was questioned by Boston Herald reporter Dave Wedge (top right) about the whereabouts of the missing Tommy McCarthy will. Lifson lied and claimed he "had no knowledge" of the document.
Wedge also called Halper associate Rob Lifson for comment but ended up speaking to Halper’s former assistant, Tom D’Alonzo, who had been working for Lifson’s company, Robert Edward Auctions, since 2000. Wedge asked about the McCarthy will and reported that D’Alonzo said he “had no knowledge of the whereabouts of the McCarthy will.” According to Wedge, when he told D’Alonzo the will had an estimated value in excess of $25,000, D’Alonzo even went so far as to tell him that such a document “wouldn’t have much value.” The next day the Boston Herald published a follow up to Wedge’s report after hearing back from Lifson who echoed D’Alonzo’s sentiments claiming that, despite the reports published stating Halper owned the stolen document, he also had “no knowledge of McCarthy’s will.”
Lifson and D’Alonzo, however, appear to have lied to Wedge and the Herald just as Barry Halper had lied to Robert Creamer and Sports Illustrated back in 1982 when he said he bought the will from a McCarthy relative.
Lifson, in fact, had procured a photocopy of the actual McCarthy will for this writer in the mid-1990’s when I was developing a baseball autograph handbook with world-renowned handwriting expert Charles Hamilton. Lifson provided that photocopy for me years before the Schnabel stolen-will scandal was exposed in the national media and before wills were considered contraband. Years later, when he was working on his McCarthy biography, I told Don Hubbard I had been given a photocopy of the missing will but at the time was unable to locate it in my files.
The photocopy of Tommy McCarthy's last will and testament reveals the official filing information of the Suffolk County Probate Court. McCarthy's will, "No. 204521" was recorded in Volume 1280 on page 33. USAToday (center) reported on the stolen signature in 1999. McCarthy is honored at the HOF with a bronze plaque (right) and his will would fetch over $50,000 if it were sold legitimately.
Lifson produced the photocopy of McCarthy’s will around the same time that this writer had consigned another will of Hall of Famer James O’Rourke to his Robert Edward Auctions sale in 1996. I had purchased the O’Rourke will in 1993 for $6,500 from Lelands who claimed the document originated from O’Rourke’s family. I then sold the will for $4,274 at REA in 1996, but two years later in 1998 it was clear that the will had been stolen from a Connecticut court house by Schnabel and that player wills were illegitimate items. That being said, in 1999 Lelands said they would reimburse me the entire purchase price of the will if “it (was) found that Lelands did not have proper title to (the) item when it was sold.” Lelands did end up reimbursing me.
It wasn’t until 2011 that I finally located Lifson’s photocopy of the McCarthy will in my files revealing that it was a one-page document setting forth the settlement of McCarthy’s financial affairs and signed by the Boston baseball legend in a shaky and sickly hand. The image of the signature captured on the photocopy is the only tangible evidence proving that the document exists and shows that the will was recorded in “volume 1280, page 33.” It’s proof that Barry Halper’s Hall of Fame “Holy Grail” didn’t just vaporize or vanish into thin air. The original is out there—somewhere—and Lifson and D’Alonzo may be the only two people who know where it is. Additionally, two veteran dealers recently recalled seeing a photocopy of the will in 1995 via a dealer in California, but they could not find a copy of the will in their own files.
Considering Lifson’s well-established background as an institutional thief and his 1979 apprehension stealing rare photographs from the New York Public Library’s Spalding Collection it is quite possible that Lifson, himself, stole the McCarthy will from the Boston Courthouse and sold it to his top client, Barry Halper. Halper’s well-documented ownership of other stolen artifacts from the McGreevey Collection at the Boston Public Library only adds to the suspicions that Lifson may have stolen the will knowing it was on his “want-list.” It may also explain why he’s been lying to reporters and denying he’s ever seen the document.
While the photocopy of the missing McCarthy will suggests that Lifson and D’Alonzo have been less than truthful it is still unclear where the will actually ended up. It’s likely Halper would have planned on selling the will at Sotheby’s in 1999 but when the Schnabel investigation commenced Halper or Lifson could have unloaded the document on the black market to a collector who had no qualms about owning stolen property. In 2000, despite the awareness of the Schnabel scandal, Lifson’s long time associate and partner, Bill Mastro, offered the stolen will of 19th century star Ned Hanlon in a Mastro Fine Sports auction but had to withdraw the lot and turn it over to the authorities. It was Don Hubbard who told authorities that Mastro was selling the Hanlon will after he saw it in the auction catalog. By the year 2000, it was virtually impossible to offer and sell one of the stolen wills publicly, but Mastro still included the Hanlon document in his catalog.
Rich Iannella, former head of the Boston Probate Court (left), recovered stolen wills with the aid of author Don Hubbard (top center) but couldn't find the will of Tommy McCarthy (bottom). Hubbard helped recover the will of Ned Hanlon (right) which was pulled from a 2000 Mastro sale.
It is also possible that Halper held back the McCarthy will from the Sotheby’s sale the same way he held back other artifacts which he knew were stolen from the New York and Boston Public Libraries. After Halper died in 2005 his widow consigned all of the items that were left in the Halper household (including several stolen artifacts stolen from the NYPL and Boston Public Library) to Lifson and REA and it is possible the will resurfaced at that time only to be buried once again. Bruce Dorskind, a recently deceased client of both Lifson and Halper, was a witness to Lifson’s vast knowledge of collections and his ability to pinpoint the whereabouts of baseball’s buried treasures. Dorskind once said, “He (Lifson) knows the value and most importantly he knows where the bodies are buried.”
Don Hubbard still wants to know where Tommy McCarthy’s will is buried. His search has lasted for over a decade but he is at least satisfied to have reviewed the details memorialized on the photocopy of the original document. Still, Hubbard is disturbed that the originally filed copy and other supporting documents remain among the missing despite his best efforts and the FBI investigations. Says Hubbard, “I plan on reaching out to the probate, the FBI and Boston Police Department to see what the status of this case is and see if these these valuable wills, especially McCarthy’s, can finally be recovered.” One prominent collector also told us, “Things like this don’t just vanish without a trace, Halper had it and his boys know where it is. These characters are just too greedy to have destroyed the evidence, its probably sitting in a drawer somewhere. How could the FBI have let this go?”
Earlier this week Hauls of Shame contacted the Boston Police Department and Detective Steven Blair confirmed that the McCarthy will was never returned. Blair said there had not been any activity in the missing wills cases since 2012 when he was investigating dealer Kevin Keating’s possession of a stolen document from George Wright’s probate file. Hauls of Shame furnished Blair with the photocopy of the McCarthy will and he said he would re-address the cold-case of the missing probate file and continue his investigation.
Back in 2012, Michael Bowlby, the man who originally uncovered the will scandal by identifying the stolen George Wright papers in a Lelands sale, was critical of the original investigation and told Hauls of Shame, “The FBI was not terribly thorough in this case and got upset when I reported it to one of the newspapers and not them.” Bowlby added, “Schnabel tried to implicate me as I knew him as a collector and from the courthouse. I was interviewed by the FBI and they investigated me.” We recently contacted Bowlby but he declined any further comment.
The stolen wills still missing from Probate Court files feature the signatures of HOFers (l to r): Jackie Robinson, Harry Wright, Jimmy Collins and James "Orator" O'Rourke.
Also still missing are the wills of other Hall of Famers stolen by Schnabel including Jackie Robinson, Jimmy Collins, Joe McCarthy, Jack Chesbro, Roger Connor, Johnny Evers, Harry Wright and a host of others. Schnabel, however, didn’t just steal wills he also stole the related probate documents and the wills of family members as well. Dealer and PSA/DNA authenticator, Kevin Keating, recently tried to sell a George Wright signature cut from a stolen probate document pertaining to Wright’s wife Abby in 1888. Also missing from the Middlesex County courthouse in Boston are the guardianship papers showing that 19th century Hall of Famer John Clarkson was declared insane in 1907.
For Don Hubbard the insanity of the grave-robbing by the hobby’s twisted treasure hunters is hard to comprehend, as is the apathy of hobbyists and dealers who have been less than cooperative in assisting in the recovery efforts. To date, only the wills of Hugh Duffy, Tommy Connolly, George Wright, “Old Hoss” Radbourn, Ned Hanlon and a few others have been recovered. It took a lawsuit filed by then-New York State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo against dealer Mark Lewis to recover Babe Ruth’s stolen will to a New York City courthouse. One resource helping to raise awareness of the problem of the stolen wills is the book Baseball Hall of Fame Autographs: A Reference Guide by Ron Keurajian. In his chapter entitled, “Provenance, the Black Market and Other Things” Keurajian calls the proliferation of stolen wills in the hobby a, “Huge problem whereby court archives have been raided” and adds, “I consider wills of any kind to be toxic, so I advise collectors to avoid them in total.”
Hauls of Shame was unable to ask REA’s Rob Lifson why he lied to the Boston Herald in 2009 and whether he was involved in the original theft and subsequent sale or concealment of the stolen document. As a result of Hauls of Shame’s continued investigative reporting Lifson’s attorney, Barry Kozyra, has sent repeated correspondence stating that we not communicate with “REA or Mr. Lifson as it is viewed to be harassing and actionable conduct.”
Despite the lack of cooperation and his misgivings for the hobby, Don Hubbard is determined to restore the public records of McCarthy and others to the municipalities that originally presided over the probate proceedings. For Hubbard the hunt for the wills of Tommy McCarthy and his fellow Hall of Famers continues. When informed that Steven Blair of the BPD had the photocopy of the will in his possession and that the old investigation could be revived Hubbard said, “That’s good to hear, if there’s anyone who can track this down it’s Detective Blair.”
By Peter J. Nash
December 5, 2014
When a man walked onto the set of Antiques Roadshow in 2011 with an alleged 1961 Willie Mays uniform in his hands, Heritage Auction Galleries’ consignment director Mike Gutierrez was stunned by its pristine condition and told the owner it “would grade a 9 or a 10″ as he appraised the garment at “$25,000-$35,000.” A year later the same guy strolled into the Las Vegas store of the Pawn Stars with his family heirloom and offered the jersey to Corey Harrison for $45,000 but was met with skepticism from his employee, Austin “Chumlee” Russell, who told him, “Just because it was in your family doesn’t make it real.” Chumlee also doubted that Mays ever wore the uniform and made the observation: “This doesn’t look game worn, Willie Mays was a bad-ass he was slidin’ around the dirt and the grass. I imagine there would be a bunch of stains on it.”
But despite Chum’s observations and doubts, Corey cut a deal for the uniform and snagged it for $31,000. The pawn-shop purchase made headlines and the alleged Mays gem was promoted everywhere from the Huffington Post to USAToday. By the time two writers from TheOnlineSeller.com visited the Vegas pawn-shop in April of 2013, the Mays jersey already had a price tag of $80,000 attached to it. When a member of the “Game Used Universe” forum visited the pawn shop this past May it was still priced at $80,000.
Earlier this week that same Mays jersey appeared for sale at Julien’s Auctions in Beverly Hills with the consignor advertised as “The World Famous Gold & Silver Pawn Shop” and the uniform went on the block receiving only eight bids and according to sports auction director, Dan Nelles, sold for $19,200. New evidence, however, shows that the uniform is not genuine and suggests that the Pawn Stars could have saved 31-grand and avoided selling the fake if they had just listened to Chumlee whose healthy skepticism on the History Channel episode mirrored the thoughts of uniform expert and historian, Dave Grob, who told Hauls of Shame on Tuesday that the uniform was bogus and never worn by Mays. According to Grob, the uniform is nothing but a Spalding salesman’s sample with minimal value. Grob, the senior uniform authenticator at MEARS, knows a thing or two about evaluating Mays garments as he just recently shot down an alleged $675,000 1951 Willie Mays rookie jersey as a fake and spurred on a lawsuit filed last month against the estate of deceased collector Barry Halper.
As for the Pawn Stars‘ bogus Mays uniform, Grob elaborated on his opinion for us and also furnished visual evidence. Grob stated: ”Like I have always said, you have to go into this physical and intellectual process asking yourself two questions: What am I seeing that I should not be seeing? What am I not seeing that I should? Of course, in order to ask and answer these questions, your study and analysis has to be well grounded in knowing what “right should (look) like” as well as appropriate contemporary information and references to support your subsequent observations and findings.”
Grob added, “In this case I saw the outline of a tag, and it’s of tag that should not be present on a uniform ordered by the club for player use. The missing tag is a fabric content tag found on salesman’s samples. This tagging allowed the salesman to reference to fabric content (indicative of the quality of the garment) as the product was being marketed or showcased. Over the years I have purchased a number of these salesman samples to augment my on hand uniform exemplar library, and the enclosed graphic includes one such offering.”
Expert and historian Dave Grob gave us an illustration identifying the Pawn Stars' uniform as a salesman's sample never worn by Mays. The flannel jersey retained the remnants of a tag that was removed and was only used on samples. Grob provided an image of a sample in his exemplar collection for comparison (right).
Using his experience with other garments and exemplars Grob also told us, “When you combine this information, with what was said to be the current condition of the uniform, as well as the irregularities with the supplemental information chain stitched into the tail of the garment as compared to period Spalding products for the San Francisco Giants, I don’t know how you come to any other objectively defendable position or opinion other than the uniform being a salesman sample.”
In conclusion Grob summed up the TV journey of the Mays uniform saying, “In short, someone took off a tag, someone took it to someone claiming to be an expert, and someone got taken.” Grob was not the only person in the uniform community who questioned whether the Mays jersey was a salesman’s sample. Phil Wood, a long-time uniform collector and Washington Nationals broadcaster, told us, “I saw that show and commented to my wife that it was a salesman’s sample.”
Heritage consignment director and Antiques Roadshow appraiser Mike Gutierrez (right) authenticated and appraised the bogus Mays jersey at $25-35,000 on a 2011 PBS episode.
The Mays uniform was first examined and appraised by Heritage’s Mike Guiterrez at an Antiques Roadshow event on August 6, 2011, and was then presented by the same owner, identified only as “John,” on a Pawn Stars episode called “Free Willie” that aired in August of 2012. When the jersey and pants were presented for sale to the shop for $45,000, Corey Harrison told the seller “I’m gonna need some proof before I shell out that kind of money” and he called in local memorabilia dealer Jeremy Brown, of Ultimate Sports Cards and Memorabilia, to examine the uniform. Brown noticed the “immaculate condition” of the garment and suggested that the uniform lacked evidence of “game use” and concluded that it was “game issued.” He told the seller, “Although it can’t be proven that this is a game used jersey, this is a 100% authentic jersey that Willie Mays was issued.” Brown was correct in his determination that the uniform lacked game use, but that was because it was a salesman’s sample that had never been issued to Mays.
Pawn Stars tweeted a picture of the "Old Man" flashing his signature glare with the caption: "That moment when someone tries to sneak something fake past you." The seller known only as "John" did just that on the "Free Willie" episode (left) where he sold his uniform fake for $31,000.
Julien’s, which bills itself as “The Auction House to the Stars,” was informed of Dave Grob’s findings and sports director Dan Nelles told us, “We verify the authenticity of all of our items and we had three different people examine the uniform and none of them told us it was a salesman’s sample. We also relied on the Antiques Roadshow appraisal and the Pawn Stars provenance.” We asked Nelles to identify the experts or authenticators who examined the uniform but he declined to divulge names. In its lot description the auction house did say, “We cannot definitively state whether this particular uniform was worn by Mays in game action.” The uniform was accompanied only by a letter of authenticity from “The World famous Gold & Silver Pawn Shop.”
Hauls of Shame called Jeremy Brown at his memorabilia store in Las Vegas to ask if he knew of any other experts who examined the uniform and what his background was in regard to uniform authentications. Brown did not return several calls to his shop.
Laura Herlovich, the public relations representative for the Pawn Stars cast, passed along our inquiries about the Mays uniform to Rick and Corey Harrison and Chumlee. We asked the cast for the identity of the seller and the experts who examined the uniform as well as asking whether the store would contact the auction house and offer a refund to the winning bidder. The cast of the popular cable show failed to respond to our request and say whether they will seek a refund from the man who sold the garment on the History Chanel episode. It is also unclear whether any third-party questioned the authenticity of the uniform since its acquisition and also unclear why the Las Vegas store and Julien’s Auctions didn’t retain the services of a skilled expert like Dave Grob who evaluates uniforms for the authentication company MEARS. Grob has authenticated the most valuable uniforms in the hobby including the record breaking 1920 Babe Ruth jersey that was purchased by movie mogul Thomas Tull for $4.4 million.
Pawn Stars expert Jeremy Brown (left) authenticated the bogus Mays jersey that sold at Julien's Auctions for $19,200. Expert Dave Grob is considered the authority on uniforms and authenticated the record breaking $4.4million Babe Ruth jersey.
The initial authentication and appraisal conducted on the set of Antiques Roadshow gave the Mays uniform instant credibility that it never deserved. Appraiser Mike Gutierrez’ observations that the jersey was in such pristine condition should have warranted a closer examination of the garment but it only gave the seller additional cache to market the uniform for sale. We called the Antiques Roadshow office at WGBH in Boston and asked show publicist Hannah Auerbach if she was aware of other Roadshow episodes where a non-genuine artifacts were authenticated and appraised as the genuine article? Auerbach told us she was not aware of a similar situation and could only cite instances where some appraised items ended up selling for lower prices due to market fluctuations, but not because they were fraudulent like the Mays uniform. Auerbach also noted that appraiser Mike Gutierrez is not on the current roster of appraisers on tour for 2014. Dave Grob told us the Mays salesman sample was worth between $2,000-$3,000 as opposed to the $35,000 appraised value assigned by Gutierrez. For comparison, SCP Auctions is currently offering a genuine 1967 Mays road uniform graded “A-10″ by Grob and MEARS which already has a bid of $35,433 with one day left in the auction.
At the time the uniform was sold on Pawn Stars in 2012, Yahoo Sports baseball editor, Dave Brown, recalled the uniform’s prior appearance on PBS and wrote in his column, “The seller didn’t say so on Pawn Stars, but I found an earlier video of him taking the jersey to Antiques Roadshow…Man, Roadshow and Pawn Stars? This dude is a trollop when it comes to reality show finds, isn’t he? He didn’t need to get top dollar. He just needed to be on TV so we could all watch him get appraisals. I feel so … used.” Brown also raised the issue of the uniform’s authenticity and noted Chumlee’s skepticism stating, “It’s not impossible to fake something like this — especially now, when there’s a strong market for legitimate reproductions. Also, as Chumley cautioned, the uniform looked almost too pristine to be 50 years old, and to have been used in games by Willie Mays.”
Ironically, 24 hours after they sold the fake Mays jersey in Beverly Hills, the Pawn Stars Twitter feed posted a message stating “What it looks like when someone tries to sneak something fake past you.” The Tweet was accompanied by a photo of store patriarch Richard “Old Man” Harrison flashing his signature glare of disapproval usually directed at his son, grandson and Chumlee. Safe to say the “Old Man” won’t be happy when he hears how Corey got ripped off and how the store subsequently sold a bonafide fake at auction (at a $10,000 loss). This time, however, the Pawn Stars won’t be able to blame Chumlee.
By Peter J. Nash
November 22, 2014
(FOR UPDATE SCROLL TO BOTTOM)
When kids and collectors opened up their Donruss “Timeless Treasures” packs back in 2005, a select few were thrilled that they pulled “relic cards” celebrating the baseball career of Native American Olympic champion and Football Hall of Famer Jim Thorpe. The slick and graphically appealing cards were like miniature museums housing what the company claimed were ultra-rare and historic relics. When the consumers, both young and old, turned over their “lucky ticket” cards they read the Donruss statement endorsed by both MLB and the Baseball Hall of Fame which read:
“The enclosed piece of jersey was cut from an Authentic Jersey personally worn by Jim Thorpe in an official Major League Baseball game. The authentic Game-Worn Jersey was obtained and is guaranteed by Donruss Playoff L.P.”
The statement was definitive and unwavering with the additional visuals of the official logos of Major League Baseball, the Baseball Hall of Fame, the Cooperstown Collection, and the Giants featured prominently alongside the Donruss guarantee. Today these same cards are selling in the secondary market on eBAY and at Heritage Auction Galleries for prices ranging from $80 to $2,800 and are described as hobby treasures by media outlets like Beckett.com. Little did the kids and collectors realize, however, that every Thorpe card pulled from packs between 2005 and 2014 were outright frauds and actually housed old pieces of vintage flannel that the great Jim Thorpe never owned let alone ever wore in an actual Major League baseball game.
The flannel jersey that the card company had sliced and diced was a vintage New York Giants road jersey manufactured by A. G. Spalding Bros. sometime between 1921 and 1923— three to five years after Jim Thorpe played his last game for John “Mugsy” McGraw’s Giants–thus making it impossible for the Native-American legend to have ever worn the garment being promoted and sold by one of the most prominent players in the unregulated billion dollar sports memorabilia industry.
But how could this be? How could Panini America (formerly Donruss) and the powers that rule Major League Baseball be involved in such a scam targeting consumers? Were they all duped, or could it be that each of the entities involved failed to conduct their due diligence and should have known better? Or is it possible that they knew that there were serious problems with the bogus jersey fragments they were unloading on unsuspecting customers and collectors?
Jim Thorpe's alleged 1918 jersey sold for $46,000 in 1999 at Sotheby's. 1918 was one of the few years in which the team included a "G-I-A-N-T-S" logo across the chest. Photos from the early 1920s show Giant players Casey Stengel, Art Nehf and "Irish" Meusel wearing the exact same style with a distinctive placement of the letter "A" which separated into two parts when unbuttoned. These examples match the jersey sold by Halper and illustrations on the uniform database of the Baseball Hall of Fame (inset) which shows a matching 1921 jersey.
To understand the entire scope of the Jim Thorpe relic-card fraud we have go back about fifteen years to the sales floor of Sotheby’s in New York City when the original uncut Thorpe jersey was sold on the auction block as part of the once prominent baseball collection of the late New York Yankees minority partner Barry Halper.
Halper’s alleged 1918 Thorpe jersey was advertised as an authentic New York Giants road jersey manufactured by Spalding with the name “Thorpe” chain stitched in black thread in the back of the collar next to the Spalding label. Without any photo documentation of Thorpe wearing this exact same jersey in a game, the chain-stitched name was the only evidence suggesting that the jersey was made for Thorpe’s use in Major League games. Sotheby’s lead cosultant, Rob Lifson, of Robert Edward Auctions, described the jersey in his catalog description as an “important relic” and said that it ”may be the only surviving Jim Thorpe jersey from his professional baseball career.”
Lifson also hired Richard Russek and Andy Imperato of Grey Flannel to authenticate the Thorpe jersey (and every other garment in the Sotheby’s sale) and in the auction catalog Lifson stated, “Grey Flannel Collectibles Inc. is honored to have had the opportunity to evaluate and authenticate this wonderful collection of uniforms and jerseys belonging to Barry Halper.” Months before the auction, the hobby newsletter the Sweet Spot published a story about Grey Flannel’s work with the collection and indicated “It is believed that the origination of some of the jerseys will be questionable.” Imperato told the Sweet Spot that many of the older jerseys were missing tags and that it would be “uncertain who wore them.” Imperato noted that “jerseys of certain eras should have names stitched in, but do not” while “others have undergone number changes.” He added, “There will be stuff where we just don’t know and we’ll have to do the best we can.” When Grey Flannel authenticated the Thorpe jersey it appears that the chain stitched name in the collar was the only link to alleged game use by the Olympic champion.
The Thorpe jersey sold again in 2004 for almost $60,000 at Grey Flannel (left). The jersey had been legitimized through authentications and manufactured provenance provided by Richard Russek (top), Rob Lifson (bottom) and original seller Barry Halper (pictured with the bogus "Shoeless" Joe Jackson jersey he sold the HOF.)
With the blessing of Lifson and Grey Flannel and its Halper Collection provenance, the Thorpe jersey sold for $46,000 to Greg Manning & Co. a sports collectibles company headed by Greg Manning who was identified in post-sale reports as one of the biggest buyers in the Halper sale. Shortly after his company’s purchase of the Thorpe jersey, Manning ran a full page ad in Sports Collectors Digest showing off his new acquisitions including Thorpe’s 1918 Giants jersey which he described as “the only one in existence.” Manning’s company, however, soon after liquidated many of his Halper acquisitions including the Thorpe jersey which ended up in a Grey Flannel auction in 2004 where it sold for $59,542 and was again authenticated by Russek and Imperato who said in their lot description, “The legendary Jim Thorpe wore this NY Giants road flannel jersey during the 1918 baseball season. It is from the collection of another legend, Barry Halper.” Back in 1998 (before the Sotheby’s sale) Halper had also sold some of the gems in his collection for close to $8 million to MLB and the Baseball Hall of Fame and in 1999 the Barry Halper Gallery was created in the Cooperstown museum to honor Halper’s career as a collector. But the authenticity of many of Halper’s uniforms had already been challenged by auctioneer Josh Evans of Lelands who informed Halper, Lifson, Grey Flannel and Baseball Hall of Fame board member Bill Gladstone that he believed that many of Halper’s jerseys from the Dead-Ball era and earlier were forgeries.
After the hammer dropped at the Grey Flannel auction in 2004, the new owner of the Halper-sourced Thorpe jersey was the Donruss Trading Card Company and they had plans to cut the jersey up into pieces and create Jim Thorpe-themed “relic cards” to serve as an incentive for collectors to buy more product in their quest to collect cards incorporating authentic game-used memorabilia. In 2005 Donruss began producing the first of over two thousand relic cards which housed actual swatches of Halper’s old jersey and in 2012 and 2013 the same company, which had been purchased by Panini, was even using the buttons from the Thorpe shirt to create new “button cards” with manufactured rarity. The 2012 issue was called “Panini National Treasures” and was licensed and endorsed by the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Donruss and Panini produced Thorpe relic cards with manufactured rarity in select "limited edition" runs of 25-50-150 and 250 Thorpe "relic cards" which were endorsed by MLB and the Baseball Hall of Fame.
But by 2012, it was public knowledge that a large portion of Barry Halper’s vintage jerseys sold to the Baseball Hall of Fame and at Sotheby’s were counterfeits and fabricated frauds. The alleged rare jersey he claimed was once worn by “Shoeless” Joe Jackson was exposed as a fake in a report published by this writer for Hauls of Shame and subsequent testing conducted by the Hall of Fame proved that the jersey was created with materials manufactured well after Jackson’s playing career. Other jerseys attributed to Mickey Mantle’s rookie year and to Negro Leaguer Buck Leonard were exposed as frauds and dozens of jerseys sold at Sotheby’s were also proven to be counterfeits by this writer and uniform expert Dave Grob, of MEARS. One particular jersey attributed to 19th century star Wilbert Robinson sold for $32,000 in the 1999 Halper sale and later sold for only $1,000 at Legendary Auctions after it was also exposed as a fake. Another 1907 jersey attributed to Hall of Famer Jimmy Collins was rejected by Grey Flannel nearly a decade after the company authenticated it for the Halper sale. In a letter to the collector who paid over $30,000 for the Grey Flannel-certified Collins jersey, Russek said, “As you are well aware, those 19th century (Halper) jerseys are full of controversy and we would be uncomfortable running it.”
With stories published in the mainstream media in the New York Post and Deadspin, the Halper frauds were well documented and much more than just controversial. That being said, it appears that Panini, MLB and the Baseball Hall of Fame either failed to conduct proper due diligence related to Halper’s Jim Thorpe jersey or, perhaps, decided to conceal the reality that the Thorpe jersey was a fraud just like so many other Halper-sourced garments from the Sotheby’s sale. Earlier this month collector Michael Jacobs from Pennsylvania filed suit against the Barry Halper estate and Grey Flannel Auctions claiming that an alleged 1951 Willie Mays rookie jersey he purchased for close to $70,000 was also exposed as a fake by uniform expert Dave Grob. The collector had arranged a sale of the jersey for $675,000 to Lelands Auctions but the transaction was nixed when Grob’s findings were revealed. To date, none of the major card companies, MLB or the Baseball Hall of Fame have ever retained the services of Grob who has been widely known as the leading expert for uniforms and jerseys for the past fifteen years.
The HOF uniform database, based on the work of Mark Okkonen (right), shows that the 1918 Giant uniforms differ distinctly from the 1921 and 1922 uniforms worn by the team. The alleged Jim Thorpe jersey dates it to the 1920s making it impossible to have been worn by Thorpe.
What is truly stunning about the Thorpe jersey used by Panini is that it could have easily been identified as a fraud by simply visiting the Baseball Hall of Fame’s website to view its “Dressed to the Nines” uniform data base. That online data base, created from the published work of uniform historian and SABR member Marc Okkonen, shows that the alleged Thorpe jersey features letter placement of the letters “G-I-A-N-T-S” that was only used by the ball club during the early 1920s. Okkonen’s illustrations of the Giant uniforms in 1921 and 1922, in particular, show a distinctly different placement of the letter “N” in opposition to the 1918 version and the same as the Halper jersey.
Vintage images of the 1918 NY Giants, including a blurry image of Jim Thorpe (inset), show that the 1918 team jerseys incorporated the letter placement shown in the Okkenen database. The photos of John McGraw and Ross Youngs (above) prove that the Halper Thorpe jersey was not genuine.
Not relying simply on the illustrations created by Okkonen, we researched photographs of the Giant players in 1918 and those images supported Okkonen’s illustrations and verified that 1918 Giant road uniforms incorporated the “N” in “GIANTS” directly in the center of the jersey on the middle fabric strip that the buttons are sewn upon. Unlike the Giant uniforms from the 1920s (and the Halper jersey) the 1918 uniforms featured an “A” placed to the left of the middle strip of the shirt and in one piece that does not separate into two when the shirt is unbuttoned.
Photographs show the Giants wearing different road jerseys in 1918 including Ross Youngs and John McGraw (bottom row). In 1921 and 1922 the jerseys worn by Youngs and George Kelly (top row) were distinctly different. The alleged Thorpe jersey cut to create the Donruss/Panini relic cards was manufactured several years after Thorpe left the Giants. Mark Okkonen's illustrations also show it is impossible for the Halper jersey to be genuine.
The evidence illustrating that the Halper jersey was never worn by Jim Thorpe is quite definitive. It is impossible for Thorpe to have played in a MLB game wearing a uniform that was manufactured two to three years after he was no longer playing with the team. In addition, the details regarding the dating of the uniform suggest that the “Thorpe” name which was chain-stitched into the shirt’s collar next to the Spalding label was placed there in the past few decades and, like the name stitched into Halper’s bogus “Shoeless” Joe Jackson jersey, is an intentional forgery. In 2005, Donruss created a special card which incorporated the section of the Thorpe jersey featuring the swatch of flannel with the entire chain-stitched name. The card was featured in Donruss advertisements and published in hobby magazines and the Beckett Price Guide. Despite the fact that the company expended considerable capital to promote these cards as historic “relics,” every single Thorpe card created by Donruss and Panini since 2005 has been a fraud featuring a swatch from a jersey that Thorpe never wore.
The bogus chain-stitched "Thorpe" name included in the Donruss card is similar to the Joe Jackson forgery sold to the Hall of Fame (center) and two alleged Joe DiMaggio uniforms (right) sold by REA as replicas.
By the time Donruss created and sold the first Thorpe relic cards in 2005, it was already well known among hobby insiders that there were serious authenticity issues with the majority of Halper’s early vintage flannel jerseys. In 2007, Halper’s lead consultant at Sotheby’s, Rob Lifson, was also fully aware that several important jerseys Halper had represented as genuine and had sold to MLB and the Hall of Fame for hundreds of thousands of dollars were forgeries. Despite that knowledge, however, Lifson sold off several of those jerseys after Halper’s death in 2007 and sources say he intentionally misrepresented them as “replica jerseys“. Mickey Mantle’s 1951 rookie jersey and his Kansas City minor league jersey, which Halper sold to MLB and the Hall of Fame, were decribed by Lifson in his REA sale as: ”Garments (that) were created using vintage flannel jerseys from the period as a foundation, thus giving them the true look and feel of 1950s style jerseys. The lettering, numerals, and stitching in the collar too were carefully applied to mimic those used on actual Yankee jerseys.”
In another lot sold in 2007, two fraudulent Joe DiMaggio jerseys were described by REA and Lifson as:
“These two unique replica jersey were created with vintage materials in order to more accurately commemorate Joe DiMaggio’s early career. Joe DiMaggio later signed (7/8″) each jersey in the collar as a favor for Barry Halper. Neither of these jerseys would ever fool an expert, anymore than a modern-day replica would, nor are they intended to, but at a glance both look very much like authentic Joe DiMaggio 1930s style Yankees road jerseys…The lettering, numerals, and stitching in the collar too were carefully applied to mimic those used on actual Yankee jerseys.”
REA was correct that the jerseys were meant to mimic the originals but as forgeries, not replicas. While Lifson claims that these jerseys could never fool an expert, the facts show that the DiMaggio “replica” was purchased by MLB and the Hall of Fame from Halper in 1998 and it had even fooled DiMaggio.
Even more remarkable is the fact that since the day the bogus Thorpe jersey hit the market at Sotheby’s in 1999, all authenticators had to do was purchase a copy of Marc Okkonen’s MLB uniform compendium, Baseball Uniforms of The 20th Century, and compare the Halper example to the illustration the author depicted as the style the 1918 Giants wore. Just by looking at that page in Okkonen’s book would have given authenticators, Sotheby’s, Donruss, MLB and the Baseball Hall of Fame sufficient pause to question the authenticity of the jersey and the attribution of Thorpe’s game-use. In fact, the Hall of Fame endorsed the Donruss product back in 2005 when Okkonen’s analysis was illustrated on the Hall’s own website in the online exhibit known as “Dressed To The Nines.”
The fraudulent chain stitched Thorpe name from the Halper jersey was featured in its own relic card and advertised in Donruss ads in 2005. In 2011 Panini CEO signed a partnership deal with the Baseball Hall of Fame headed by Chairman Jane Forbes Clark and President Jeff Idelson.
Not only should the Hall have referred to their own online resource that showed the jersey was problematic, but by the time of the 2012 Panini release they should have seriously questioned and investigated any Halper-sourced garment after other fakes had already been exposed in their own collection that they had displayed as genuine to hundreds of thousands of visitors and fans. Knowing that the jersey had a Halper provenance should have raised red flags for the Hall regarding the legitimacy of the jersey and its licensing agreement with Panini. Hall of Fame President Jeff Idelson did not respond to our inquiry asking what due diligence his staff conducted in relation to their agreement with Panini/Donruss.
We also contacted MLB’s Commissioner’s office and asked Matt Bourne, MLB’s VP of Business Media Relations, what due diligence MLB or the MLBPA conducted in relation to Panini producing relic cards with alleged “game-used” materials and bearing the MLB logo? We also asked him whether MLB conducted additional due diligence on materials sourced to ex-MLB owner Barry Halper knowing that Halper had defrauded MLB in 1998 when he sold millions in bogus artifacts to the Hall of Fame? Bourne and MLB did not respond to our inquiry.
In reviewing the Beckett.com database it appears that, at a minimum, Donruss and Panini have sold over 2,000 Thorpe relic cards created from the fraudulent Halper jersey. In the October issue of Beckett Sports Card Monthly editor Chris Olds states that the Beckett database also shows that “there are 1,001,558 different memorabilia cards of the game-used (or event used) variety out there for collectors to chase.” According to Olds, that number has increased by 263,163 in the past three years.” While Olds notes the growth of the relic card population in such a short time period, he makes no mention of the recent controversies linked to the FBI investigation that nabbed several dealers who were selling a significant volume of fake materials to the card companies for game used relic cards.
Barry Halper sold millions in fakes including a bogus Joe Jackson jersey to the HOF, but Beckett Media's Chris Olds (inset right) has defended him along with REA's Rob Lifson and blogger Murray Chass (inset left). Olds featured a fake Thorpe relic card in his October Beckett column (center) which says there are over 1 million relic cards in the hobby.
In 2012, Olds published a post at Beckett.com commenting that a small number of fraudulent modern items shouldn’t taint the larger population of game-used cards but his commentary never addressed the probability that a good majority of the vintage materials the card companies were purchasing had even greater issues regarding authenticity. That being said, Olds’ recent October, 2014, column illustrates a bogus Thorpe-themed relic card produced by Panini/Donruss. In his column, Olds has publicly defended Halper’s well-established frauds along with REA’s Rob Lifson, blogger Murray Chass and Halper’s son, Jason, and has claimed that this writer’s reporting of the late Yankee partner’s frauds is just “mud-slinging“. Olds, who sources say lacks credibility because of his close ties to the card companies, did not respond to our requests for comment.
Our on-going investigation into relic and game-used card fraud extends far beyond the bogus Thorpe uniform swatches and a perfect example of how widespread the problem is the discovery last week by collectors at the Blowout Cards Forum that Panini produced fraudulent 2014 NFL cards that were advertised as containing “game-used” materials. The collectors pointed to unquestionable proof that the company used generic “event” products instead of actual “game used” materials actually worn by players like Russell Wilson and Colin Kaepernick. In response to the exposure of the problem Panini published a press release on its website authored by CEO Mark Warsop stating that what had occurred was just a “regrettable mistake” and that the “event worn” materials were used in error. Said Warsop, “There is nothing we take more seriously here at Panini America than the ironclad authenticity of our products — and the memorabilia and autographs we use to make them.” The CEO of the NFL licensee added, ”There was no intent to deceive or to portray those pieces of memorabilia as anything other than what they are: Event-worn by those players. The error in this case occurred in the labeling of those cards, not in producing them. We pride ourselves in being true to our consumers and in standing by every product we make. We absolutely will do that in this regard.”
We called Panini and informed the CEO and its product manager, Tracy Hackler, of the issues regarding the company’s Thorpe-related products and we also wanted to ask for the company to specifically identify which jerseys and bats it acquired to cut up and create its relic cards from 2005-2014 of Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, “Shoeless” Joe Jackson and Stan Musial. Neither Warsop or Hackler have responded to our inquiry.
When the dealers convicted of selling Panini bogus “game-used” materials were sentenced in 2012, their attorneys claimed that Panini was complicit in the crimes and that they invited fraud with their sub standard acquisition methods for obtaining “game-used” materials at a discount. Panini, in turn, filed a “Victims Impact Statement” for the “Jersey-Gate” cases claiming damages and requesting restitution in the millions from the presiding judge. The court, however, denied their request and decided not to award the company any restitution whatsoever, not even a penny.
UPDATE (Dec. 10, 2014): PANINI STILL SILENT ON JIM THORPE FAKES AS COMPANY DUCKS CONSUMER INQUIRIES ABOUT GUARANTEE; eBAY SELLERS STILL OFFERING RELIC CARDS WITH FABRIC FROM FRAUDULENT HALPER JERSEY
Over two weeks after our initial report was published, Panini America is still silent on its creation of over 2,000 bogus Jim Thorpe relic cards created from the fraudulent New York Giants jersey sold by Barry Halper at Sotheby’s in 1999. While Panini recently issued a statement regarding alleged “mistakes” with its current “Flawless” NFL product, the company has not addressed the Thorpe situation. Hauls of Shame submitted additional questions for Panini CEO Mark Warsop through product manager Tracy Hackler but those inquiries have not received a response. According to several collectors with bogus Panini Thorpe products in their possession, the company has also failed to respond to customers inquiring about the alleged “guarantee” referenced on the backs of Panini and Donruss cards.
Since the time our report was published, there also appears to have been an increase of Thorpe relic cards listed on eBay and despite the news revealing that the Thorpe cards are frauds, eBay seller Probstein123 sold one 2012 Panini “National Treasures-Remarkable Rarities” Thorpe card for $743.00 in an auction that ended on Monday. Rick Probstein told Hauls of Shame that there appeared to be no irregular bidding on the card and that the high bidder on the card was from Ohio. Hauls of Shame asked Panini if the company, or agents of the company, were buying the cards on the secondary market to remove the fakes from circulation, but Panini and Hackler did not respond.
One collector who once owned as many as forty of the bogus Thorpe cards told us he currently owns fifteen of the fake cards and asked us, “I unfortunately was one of the collectors that spent thousands of dollars on these cards. In your investigation did you find that the issue was only with their “game worn jersey” or was it also with their “game used jacket cards.” Hauls of Shame did not investigate the football jacket-cards and only found issues with the baseball jersey cards. The collector also told us, “I have contacted Panini and Heritage, the auction house where I purchased most of these cards and have not heard from them yet” and added “I am curious though since the cards are “Guaranteed.” I want to know what Panini/Donruss thinks that means?”
A source familiar with the government’s prior investigation into bogus “game-used” materials being inserted into trading cards told us that Panini is not the focus of any current FBI investigation. However, considering the large volume of fakes that the company has manufactured and distributed, the source suggested that collectors who feel they are victims of Panini’s marketing and sale of the bogus Thorpe cards (and others) contact the Dallas office of the FBI at 972-559-5600 and file a complaint.
We asked Rob Bertrand, the Voice of the Collector and host of Cardboard Connection Radio, for his thoughts on Panini’s silence regarding the Thorpe situation and he said, ”It’s unfortunate these problems continue to exist within the hobby. I would like to believe that once companies are made aware of potential issues regarding authenticity, with regards to game used material, that they will do everything in their power to investigate the alleged issue, rectify the situation from happening again and fairly compensate collectors if warranted.” Bertrand, whose radio show counts Panini as a sponsor and features Tracy Hackler regularly as a guest, asked us to pass along his offer to have collectors with fake Thorpe cards in their possession on his broadcast adding, “I don’t believe there is any great conspiracy to cheat collectors simply to sell more product. That would be short sighted thinking and these companies have shown that they are in the business for the long haul.”
UPDATE (Dec. 11, 2014): PANINI SENDS OUT E-MAIL TO JIM THORPE RELIC CARD OWNER BUT FAILS TO ADDRESS SITUATION ON COMPANY BLOG
The collector who is the owner of 15 bogus Jim Thorpe relic cards issued by Panini/Donruss tells Hauls of Shame that the company sent out a ‘generic” email addressing the Thorpe cards from its “customer service portal” stating, “We are looking into the investigation and will provide any information we find.” The collector, who also informed Panini he had “spent several thousand dollars over the years” on the Thorpe cards, also told us he had submitted a comment/question about his cards on the company’s “Knight’s Lance” blog and that Panini did not post that comment on the its website. Since we published our report exposing the Panini/Donruss Thorpe cards as frauds, product manager Tracy Hackler has published close to 40 posts on the company blog and none of them have addressed the Thorpe situation.
By Peter J. Nash
November 12, 2014
Hot on the heels of the recent auction withdrawal of the 1909 Pittsburgh Pirate photo that was stolen from the National Baseball Library in Cooperstown, another vintage image of the 1921 Red Sox, was removed from another auction after it was identified by Hauls of Shame as also having been stolen from the archives of the Baseball shrine.
The photo was once part of the collection of the late artist, Richard Merkin, and was being offered by Hake’s Americana in York, Pennsylvania. Like other rare and valuable photographs stolen from the Hall featuring the portraits of Christy Mathewson, Nap Lajoie, Mickey Welch and others, this photo features Hall of Famers Hugh Duffy and Herb Pennock and also shows evidence of Hall of Fame library ownership identifications being obscured to conceal its Cooperstown provenance. But unlike other sports auction houses like Heritage and Huggins & Scott which have refused to withdraw stolen item from sales, Hake’s President, Alex Winter, immediately removed the photo from the sale when informed that the library accession number was visible on the reverse of the photo. Said Winter, “The item has been removed. We will make sure the photo finds its way back to where it belongs.” Winter said he would contact the Cooperstown Police Department to inquire how the photo can be returned to the Hall. When similar stolen items have appeared at auction, however, the Hall of Fame has failed to claim title or attempt to recover the artifacts. One case in particular involved a a rare 1870 CDV photograph of the Philadelphia Athletics that was sold by Legendary Auctions despite photographic evidence that documented the item was once part of the Hall’s collection.
The attempt to conceal the fact that the 1921 Red Sox photo was stolen from the library was unsuccessful as the library accession number is still clearly visible in black ink on the reverse of the photo. That number, which reads: “BL-11,608-89″ was transformed into “BOSTON” with a blue sharpie, but is still clearly visible. The number represents the 11,608th item donated to the National Baseball Library in 1989. The photo also shows evidence of the handwritten letters “PD” in the upper right corner which is written on photos at the library which are in the public domain. Former Hall of Fame librarian, Tom Heitz, did not respond to our inquiry asking if he could identify the handwriting of the accession number.
The back of the 1921 Red Sox photo being offered by Hake's reveals two sections that have notations obscured by modern sharpie writing. When magnified it is also revealed that these notations were added to conceal the Hall of Fame accession number of the photo which reads: "BL-11,608-89." The number indicates this was the 11,608th item donated to the institution in 1989 and is New York State property.
The appearance of the stolen photo at auction is just further evidence of the multi-million dollar thefts that occurred at the Cooperstown institution in the 1980s. As scores of reports published by Hauls of Shame have proven since 2011, the objects stolen from the Hall and listed on our “HOF Hot 100 list” have been scattered all over the hobby and have ended up in the hands of many unsuspecting parties. This particular photograph was owned by the late artist Richard Merkin.
The handwritten HOF accession number covered by the blue sharpie ink on the stolen photo (top left) matches another accession number on a photo still in the HOF collection identified as: "BL-5160-88." An accession number appears on a Hugh Duffy cabinet photo donated in 1956 (top right) and another from 1986 (bottom right). The "PD" notations to the right signify that the HOF considers them "public domain."
Last month, when a 909 Pittsburgh Pirate photo appeared in a Huggins & Scott auction, Hauls of Shame alerted the Cooperstown Police Department and also submitted a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to Hall of Fame President Jeff Idelson. The Cooperstown Police are currently investigating the situation and sources indicate they have been in contact with Huggins & Scott Auctions, the consignor of the photo and officials from the Hall of Fame. Hall officials, however, have refused to comply with our FOIA request which they were supposed to respond to within five days of receipt under New York State law. All of the artifacts in the Hall’s collection are owned by New York State, not the Hall of Fame, and it is our contention that all documentation and information related to donated artifacts is subject to FOIA guidelines.
Red Sox exec Bill James was critical of HOF leadership in his 1994 book (inset). Current HOF leadership under Jane Clark and Jeff Idelson is refusing to honor FOIA requests made by Hauls of Shame.
Bill James, in his 1994 book, Whatever Happened To The Hall Of Fame, said as much when he wrote:
“Before anything else, the Hall of Fame belongs to the State of New York. There are state regulations regarding the operation of a museum and the care of its artifacts, and these regulations have the force of law. The state is the ultimate owner of all of the Hall of Fame’s property. If you give something to the Hall of Fame, you are giving it to the State of New York; if you were to steal something from the Hall of Fame, you would be stealing it from the State of New York.”
James, who is currently an executive with the Boston Red Sox, also wrote about a 1980s Hall of Fame scandal involving the sale of donated artifacts by, Joe Reichler, an assistant to then-Commissioner Bowie Kuhn. When James wrote his book, however, he was unaware of the massive thefts and only had knowledge of a small selection of missing items involved in the Reichler scandal. All of those artifacts, mostly World Series programs, were ultimately recovered by the Hall after New York State Attorney General Robert Abrams sent a letter to Bowie Kuhn.
The current Hall President, Jeff Idelson, and Chairman, Janes Forbes Clark, appear to be at odds with James’ statement regarding New York State laws, and sources familiar with the inner workings of the institution have confirmed that the Hall’s stonewalling of our request is directly related to the continued cover-up of the thefts which expose the gross negligence related to the institution’s care of artifacts and even greater negligence in their failure to actively pursue recovery and claim title to stolen items that have surfaced in public auctions and in private collections.
L to R: Self-Portrait of artist Richard Merkin; 1993 "The New Yorker" cover by Merkin; Beatles' Sgt. Pepper album featuring Merkin (inset and in red).
Throughout the past few decades the materials stolen from the Hall of Fame have made their way into the unlikeliest of places and the inclusion of the 1921 Red Sox team photo in the collection of the late artist Richard Merkin is a testament to this. Merkin was a noted artist with works in the collections of the Whitney Museum, the Smithsonian Institution and the Museum of Modern Art and his illustration work also graced the covers of magazines including The New Yorker. Merkin also served as a contributing editor at Vanity Fair Magazine and was also a professor at the Rhode Island School of Design. In his 2009 New York Times obituary writer Tom Wolfe said, “He was the greatest of that breed, the Artist Dandy, since Sargent, Whistler and Dali. Like Dali, he had one of the few remaining Great Mustaches in the art world.”
Merkin was also a prominent collector of baseball artifacts and memorabilia with a particular focus on Cuban baseball and the Negro Leagues and throughout his career Merkin created many paintings of baseball legends ranging from 19th and early 20th century baseball pioneers such as Harry Wright and Rube Foster. After Merkin passed away in 2009, his baseball collection began to appear for sale at Hake’s Americana which was founded by Merkin’s friend Theodore Hake. The auctioneer has been offering Merkin’s significant baseball holdings (and other treasures) in sales that have spanned over the past few years. Merkin also had a notable collection of erotica which was the subject of his 1979 book Velvet Eden: The Richard Merkin Collection of Erotic Photography and he is also well known for his appearance on the cover of the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album released in 1967.
Hake’s estimated that the value of Merkin’s 1921 Red Sox photo was about $400 but several experts we spoke with believed the photo was worth over $1,000 if it had clear title. Baseball Hall of Fame and President Jeff Idelson did not respond to our inquiry as to whether they will attempt to recover the photograph from Hake’s and failed to identify who donated the Red Sox photo back in 1989. The Cooperstown Police Department, which is currently investigating the theft of the 1909 Pirate photo withdrawn from a Huggins & Scott sale, became aware of the Hake’s offering and its withdrawal after they were contacted by Hauls of Shame.
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By Peter J. Nash
November 6, 2014
Last spring, Heritage Auctions sold a bogus letter alleged to have been written by 19th century Hall of Famer John M. Ward. The sale of the letter was a prime example of the auction house’s deceptive practices and its marketing of non-genuine autographed materials. Despite the fact that the Ward autograph was identified as a secretarial signature in a hobby reference book and in several reports published by Hauls of Shame, Heritage continued with the sale of the bogus document for close to $9,000 even though the letter was only worth a few hundred bucks.
Heritage continues its tradition of offering items that experts have questioned as fakes in its current sale which includes signed baseballs purported to bear the signatures of Honus Wagner, Dizzy Dean, Babe Ruth, Branch Rickey, Casey Stengel, Nap Lajoie and others. Our reports over the past few years have identified similar Heritage offerings which experts have opined were fakes but were accompanied by third-party authentication company certificates claiming they were genuine. As the world’s largest auctioneer of collectibles, Heritage moves an enormous amount of vintage material through the hobby but it appears that they offer more fakes than most of their competitors. The signed baseballs in the current sale are so substandard that the experts were aghast that the items were actually hitting the market with LOAs from PSA/DNA and their alleged expert Steve Grad.
So, why does Heritage attract so much material that experts we spoke with claim are forgeries and how do they get these questionable items authenticated?
Experts are of the opinion that the signatures on these baseballs being sold by Heritage are not genuine (or have been enhanced) but they have all been authenticated by PSA/DNAs alleged expert Steve Grad who also appears with Rick Harrison as an expert on Pawn Stars.
To answer that question one has to look no further than Heritage’s two in-house consignment directors, Mark Jordan and Mike Gutierrez who, before they had an affiliation with the auction giant, were the most prolific sellers and authenticators of forged materials in the hobby.
In addition to being the prime suspect in the massive thefts of genuine signed documents from the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, Mike Gutierrez has also been linked to the authentications of numerous groups of fraudulent materials including scores of Babe Ruth secretarial signatures, the infamous Ty Cobb forgeries created by Al Stump, items attributed to the 90s forger known as Johnny Fang, numerous problematic items sold by Richard Wolfers Auctions and MastroNet as well as the sale of numerous forgeries to private collectors who returned materials to him and signed non-disclosure agreements in lieu of receiving refunds. From the late 1980s through the late 1990s Gutierrez was considered one of the leading authenticators of baseball autographs and was hired by numerous auction houses (including Sotheby’s) for his alleged expertise. Along with Jimmy Spence, Gutierrez was also responsible for authenticating many of the Babe Ruth forgeries that entered the marketplace through Mastro Auctions and have now been identified as the work of a forger who created the now infamous Ruth inscribed photograph to actor Gary Cooper.
Like Gutierrez, Mark Jordan, was also once considered a leading authentication figure in the hobby through the 1990s but fell out of favor with the hobby powers that be after he was linked to the authentications of hundreds of big ticket forgeries that were offered and sold by Richard Wolfers Auctions and Sports Heroes Inc. in the 1990s. Jordan authenticated dozens of forged single-signed baseballs for Sports Heroes and Wolfers in 1992 and some of those same baseballs are the subject of a current lawsuit filed against Mastro Auctions and Mike Gutierrez in Chicago that alleges Gutierrez authenticated forged baseballs for Bill Mastro and his former auction business. Jordan authenticated an entire collection of single signed baseballs around the same time that a forged letter from Red Sox owner Tom Yawkey surfaced stating that he had once owned a collection of rare signed baseballs from the likes of Jack Chesbro, John Ward, Cap Anson, Rube Waddell and others. (The current HA sale features a single-signed ball of Branch Rickey (shown above) that was part of Jordan’s problematic 1992 authentication for Jerry Zuckerman of Sports Heroes and it was also offered as Lot 56 in Wolfers’ 1992 “Treasures” auction). Jordan also authenticated dozens of other items alleged to originate from the estate of sportswriter Fred Lieb including alleged “game-used” baseball gloves and baseballs bearing forgeries of Cy Young, Josh Gibson, Ty Cobb and Walter Johnson.
HA consignment director Mark Jordan was once the leading authenticator in the hobby but he certified hundreds of forgeries that appeared in auctions during the 1990s including his certification of over 100 single signed balls including forgeries of Jack Chesbro, Sam Thompson, Tim Keefe, Josh Gibson and Amos Rusie (all inset).
Gutierrez and Jordan joined the staff at Heritage Auctions in 2006 as consignment directors and it is no surprise that they are responsible for referrals from their old customers and for the procurement of materials they have either sold or authenticated in the course of their hobby careers.
While Gutierrez and Jordan were once the final authority for many auctioneers in regard to the authentication of autographs, the formation of PSA/DNA in 1999 paved the way for the emergence of one of Jordan’s ex-employees at Mark Jordan Inc., Jimmy Spence Jr., who worked for PSA and later established his own authentication company now known as JSA.
Mark Jordan (inset) was the principal authenticator for Richard Wolfers Auctions in the 1990s and he certified many forgeries including baseball gloves bearing forgeries of Ty Cobb (top) and Josh Gibson (bottom).
Gutierrez has also worked for PSA/DNA in the past and is currently listed as an expert consultant for James Spence Authentication (JSA). Although Gutierrez and Jordan are employees of Heritage working under the auspices of HA sports director, Chris Ivy, the auction house relies primarily on the authentication services of PSA/DNAs lead authenticator, Steve Grad. According to his Twitter account, Grad spent September 16th and 17th authenticating materials slated for Heritage’s current sale. According to several sources, it was on this authentication trip to Dallas that Grad authenticated the questionable materials for the company that is considered one of PSA/DNAs biggest hobby clients. One source familiar with the autograph examination process told us, “There’s no way you can properly examine that volume of material in that short a period of time with just one guy.”
Heritage and Chris Ivy, however, appear to be comfortable with Grad’s solo skills as an authenticator despite his very public authentication mishaps which we’ve chronicled in detail in our Worst 100 report of 2013. They also appear to support Grad despite the revelations that he has misrepresented and lied about his education and also perjured himself in court ordered depositions in which he stated he was a college graduate when he has never graduated from any college or university.
Steve Grad (center) tweeted how he spent just two days authenticating items for Chris Ivy (right) and Heritage's current sale.
PSA/DNA is a subsidiary of the public company Collectors Universe (CLCT) and Grad has clearly violated the company’s “Code of Business and Ethical Conduct” which is published on the company website. Curiously, it appears that Collectors Universe has taken no action against Grad for his perjury under oath but that might be explained by language included in the company’s annual report for 2014 which was released to shareholders last month. In that report the company states they are “dependent on (their) collectible experts” and state:
“There are a limited number of individuals who have the expertise to authenticate and grade collectibles, and the competition for available collectible experts is intense. Accordingly, our business and our growth initiatives are heavily dependent on our ability to (i) retain our existing collectibles experts, who have developed relatively unique skills and enjoy a reputation for being experts within the collectibles markets, and (ii) to implement personal programs that will enable us to add collectibles experts as necessary…..”
Collectors Universe also states in the report they are very concerned that “Some of our experts could leave our company to join a competitor or start a competing business.” That could explain why Grad has not been terminated by the company for his violations of the code of conduct, however, Grad’s authentication malpractice and his spectacular mistakes appear to have been overlooked by the company as well. In the annual report, it appears CU should be concerned about damage to the company reputation resulting from Grad’s mis-authentications as they state: “Failures and errors in authentication or grading processes, such as inconsistent application of grading standards or incidents that put the integrity of those processes into question, could significantly impair our reputation in the marketplace which, in turn, could lead to a loss of customer confidence and a decrease in the demand for our services…”
It appears, however, that CU and PSA are flourishing despite Grad’s incompetence as the company just announced that its trading card and autograph authentication revenues are already up 8% for the first quarter. But although the cash appears to be pouring into the company coffers, the 2014 annual report released in October includes a few points of concern for PSA/DNA as 2015 approaches. Collectors Universe tells shareholders that there is no current litigation that would adversely affect the company’s financial standing but sources indicate that PSA and CU could be dragged into the class action lawsuit filed against PSA authenticator Bob Eaton and his company RR Auctions.
The class action suit vs RR Auctions deals with signed Rock n Roll items that were rejected by Steve Grad and PSA/DNA. PSA rejected a signed Eagles guitar (left) and in a deposition an attorney for RR and PSA said that PSA could reverse their opinion and make the item genuine (inset).
This week the plaintiff in that lawsuit, Michael Johnson, posted on the lawsuit website his own deposition testimony and his exchanges with RR’s attorney Suzanne Storm. Storm and her lawfirm Attlesey & Storm, interestingly enough, also represent PSA and PSA/DNA and in the course of her questioning of Johnson revealed that a group of autographed items rejected by PSA could actually be reversed by the company and now be deemed genuine. Johnson’s claims involve his purchase of about twenty signed entertainment items and record albums from Eaton and RR that were all subsequently rejected by Grad and PSA/DNA as non-genuine.
In the deposition exchange posted on the website, Storm suggests that PSA could change their opinion on all of Johnson’s items that were deemed non-genuine and Johnson asks, “If PSA/DNA was willing to issue new certificates of authenticity? So, they’re going to change the old stuff that was bad, now they’re going to issue new ones and say they’re good now?” Storm answered him and said, “Correct.”
The exchange between the PSA/RR lawyer and the plaintiff illustrates how much power the TPAs like Grad and PSA/DNA hold as they can render opinions that can make items either extremely valuable or worthless simply by issuing their letter of authenticity bearing the facsimile signatures of Grad, Eaton and other PSA consultants. The conflicts of interest involved with sellers who are also authenticators is striking and the past employment of authenticators at auction houses is also problematic. Steve Grad, for instance, was first employed by Bill Mastro at Mastro Auctions in the 1990s and got his start at PSA in large part due to Mastro’s relationship with PSA as their biggest client at the time.
Sources familiar with the current class action suit against RR say that PSA potentially has exposure in the case and the fact that Attlesey & Storm represents both PSA and RR suggests that there is a conflict of interest and possible collusion between the auction house and the authenticators. One source told us, “Why would that lawfirm represent RR Auctions when they already were representing the authentication company that was involved in the same case?” One source also suggested that other victims could join the class and implicate other auction houses like Heritage for engaging in similar practices with PSA/DNA. Currently, PSA has failed to appear at depositions and has also failed to comply with other discovery requests. One source familiar with prior PSA litigations told us, “That’s just the PSA playbook, delay, delay, delay and then throw a bunch of cash at the problem to make it go away.”
The Collectors Universe annual report for 2014 shows increased net revenues for PSA and PSA/DNA despite controversies related to revelations about the trimmed T206 Wagner card and reports that the company is under FBI scrutiny.
Speaking of cash, Collectors Universe says that the company had net revenues exceeding $60 million and that “trading cards and autographs” certified by PSA and PSA/DNA were responsible for about $14 million. The increase in revenue has come in the midst of PSA being exposed for grading the now infamous trimmed PSA-8 Honus Wagner card and reports from several sources stating the company has been under investigation related to the Mastro Auctions fraud case. According to the financial report PSA/DNA, led by senior authenticator Steve Grad, examined 431,800 autographed items which was up from 376,600 items authenticated in 2013. Based upon those numbers, PSA/DNA is examining close to 1,183 items per day. Included in that number are the items appearing in Heritage auctions that Grad spends just a day or two examining. The CU report also claims that “As of June 30, 2014, we employed 6 autograph experts with an average of 25 years experience in the autograph memorabilia market…” If those six individuals actually handled all of the incoming PSA/DNA authentications, each of them would have to examine close to 200 items each per day.
One interesting passage in the CU annual report listed under “risk factors” notes that the collectibles industry is “not currently subject to federal, state or local regulation.” CU believes that if the government does “impose restrictions on the collectibles industry” or regulates “the conduct of auction businesses” it could have a negative effect on its bottom line. CU says, “Adoption of laws or regulations of this nature could lead to a decline in sales and purchases of collectibles and, therefore also to a decline in the volume of coins trading cards and other collectibles that are submitted to us for authentication and grading.”
Collectors Universe may have good reason to present the regulation issue to its shareholders. Hauls of Shame has confirmed that several disgruntled PSA/DNA customers have approached elected officials in their own districts seeking regulation of PSA/DNA and the autograph industry. In addition, Ron Keurajian, an attorney and the author of Baseball Hall of Fame Autographs: A Reference Guide, has drafted proposed federal legislation that could be used to regulate the authentication industry. Hauls of Shame has confirmed that the authentication issue is on the radar of the FBI and federal prosecutors and that Keurajian’s proposed legislation is currently in the hands of interested parties.