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April 2005 Cycleback Interview with Game Used Baseball Jersey Expert Dave Grob

Lieutenant Colonel Dave Grob is Policy Director for MEARS, a prominent game used sports equipment authenticating company used by major auction houses including Sotheby's and MastroNet. Grob has been a regular contributing author for Sports Collectors Digest and has provided research support to the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

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Cycleback: There are always faked autographs and baseball cards on eBay and elsewhere. What amount of fake game used equipment exists on the market?

Grob: Great question to start off with. I can't offer a percentage, but it is higher than it should be. The proliferation of post 1990 star player knits is fairly high. Uniform manufacturers and players wear far many more uniforms a year than in past decades. They have also realized there is a lucrative market for their game worn apparel. You also have to deal with the concept of "team blanks" being sewn for players as well. "Team blanks" is a term I use to describe uniforms that have been manufactured for a team to be lettered for a player during the season to accommodate trades or replacement. This is not a new concept. The problem is that these shirts can enter the hobby after the close of a season. They will have all the proper team tagging. All they need is numbering and lettering which is readily available as well.


Cycleback: Can you give some examples of common types and forms of fakes on the market?

Grob: Besides the above mentioned examples for contemporary uniforms, these are some of the examples I have come across over the years:

Example 1. Star player uniform made from blank stock flannel body. On this uniform the numbers on this shirt did not match the lettering in terms of stitch pattern. In addition, the glue holding the numbers in place was white/clear compared to the "browish" cracking on the team lettering across the front. The player identification that was chain stitched in the tail and the area immediately around the stitching showed signs of excessive wear in an attempt to age it.

Example2. Contrived use. The player in question was known for head first slides. The front of the jersey and the tackle twill lettering showed great signs of stress, with closer examination under light magnification, the stress pattern and lines appeared to be scoring that went in a horizontal pattern vs the vertical you would expect as the chest area moved parallel to the ground. The rest of the outer uniform showed similar signs of staining. The outside of the uniform appeared to have shown indications of more than one use. Yet, when the uniform was turned inside out, there was no gathering of fabric and a few of the initial exit threads where still in place.

Example 3. Contrived Use. The gathering of fabrics is often caused by heat associated with dryers. In one case, the rear numeral showed signs of excessive gathering with respect to other items on the jersey done in the same fabric or appliqué. Under closer examination with a light table, you could clearly see the outline of an iron just at the top of the numeral. This was a 100% polyester knit that was never intended to have been ironed.

Example 4. Contrived Use and Wear; Alterations to a Replica Flannel. In this case, the jersey was of a 1960s Hall of Famer. The jersey was one of the high quality reproductions made available for retail sale in the past decade. While many of these jerseys are very visually appealing, they do lack the number of correct buttons in most cases. In addition the cut of the jersey is more full, without the taper you would expect. They also typically do not come with a name on the back. This shirt had the name added in double color tackle twill when it should have featured tackle twill over wool blend felt. The original manufacturers tag had been removed from the lower left front tail and that outline could be seen on a light table. The jersey featured a trimmed Rawlings tag when the correct manufacturer should have been Spalding. The gray body of the jersey and the material had a nice fade to it, but the shirt had the faint but distinct smell of chlorine, either from soaking in a mild bleach solution or from having been put in a pool and then placed in the sun to dry.


Cycleback: What are a few of the most common mistakes beginning collectors make?

Grob: The biggest mistake new collectors make is they don't spend enough time figuring out "what right looks like" before they buy. The other thing I ask folks to do with jerseys, is make sure the tagged size matches the actual size of the jersey they are looking at. Modern jerseys feature many supplemental tags for extra length in the body or the sleeve. Many have taken these to mean the jersey is good. The question is what should regular length be and does this jersey truly have it? New collectors also don't seem to have a process to follow. I look at shirts the same way every time. In the guide I am working on, I have included that worksheet/process for their use. There is a natural tendency for new collectors to look at a shirt, find some aspect they are comfortable with, stop evaluating and then make a decision to buy. You need to be satisfied with the totality of the circumstances surrounding the item. Many folks simply don't know what they don't know.


Cycleback: Do experts and collectors regularly use photos to help in authentication?

Grob: If they don't they should. The big thing today is folks wanting to "photo match" their item. I applaud that, but I am not sure folks are doing it correctly. Here's what I mean. The person will usually look at the jersey or bat first and then find are particular nuance in the photo (they stop when they find something that matches). That is backwards and here's why. The photograph represents that item at a point in time. The jersey itself represents the actual the cumulative life of that item. You should pick out a distinct aspect of the item in the picture and expect to see it on the item. If it was on the shirt at the time of picture, it should still be there (not counting light staining that could have been washed out). In addition, folks need to know how to imagery analysis. I have an entire chapter devoted to this in a collectors guide I am working on.


Cycleback: How important is provenance in authentication? For example, that a jersey came from a former batboy or the estate of a general manager.

Grob: It is getting to be more important, especially with post 1987 baseball uniforms. The key to remember, is no matter what the source is, even the best provenance can't make an item something that it is not. By this I mean, even if the player himself says this is his glove from the 1955 World Series, yet that manufacturer did not make that model until 1960, then it is not possible. I also ask folks to think about two aspects of provenance; it must be reasonable and verifiable. Reasonable refers to asking if based on what is being offered, is it reasonable that the person would have had access to the item as stated. Verifiable means is there an independent way to check the story out. In a recent case, a collector was interested in obtaining a bat of a Hall of Famer. The story was the bat was obtained because his father was a car salesmen for sold cars to the players. With my prompting along these lines he was able to verify the man's name, the dealership he worked for, and get some additional insights all because he asked the right questions.


Cycleback: I notice that some modern game used bats and jerseys come with LOAs and holograms from the teams or the players, including Alex Rodriguez, Barry Bonds, Tony Gwynn and Rickey Henderson. How reliable should the collector consider these types of LOAs?

Grob: This goes back to the point I made earlier about players realizing the value of their own bats and equipment. Here is where player's conduct comes into question as well as the folks who handle their business affairs. If a player is or has been involved in taking illegal substances, would they be above with the dubious marketing of their own item? This LOA's are great, but they are not a substitute for doing due diligence to make sure the uniform or bat is what it is supposed to be. As an authenticator, if I don't have any problems with jersey and there is nothing that would cause me to question the players motives, they have value. The other thing to consider, is that if a player is marketing his own items, then he is aware of the value. That being said, there will likely be no real shortage of product out there.


Cycleback: For the novice who wants to start collecting game used jerseys, what starter advice do you have?

Grob: The first thing I would recommend is that they develop a focus…make a conscious decision on what you want to collect. Network with others who share this area. Seek out people who's opinion you value and ask questions. Spend some money upfront in building a research library. There are many great sources of information out there that involve spending little or no money, just time. If you are collecting jerseys, spend some time looking at common player jerseys from the same time frame before buying "star caliber" players.


Cycleback: What is the favorite jersey you've owned or handled?

Grob: I will pick one of each. The favorite jersey I have owned was a 1934 Cincinnati Reds Road jersey. An incredibly rare and colorful style. CINCINNATI on the chest; REDS on the arms. The best shirt I have been asked to look at is a no-brainer. Last year, Doug Allen at MastroNet brought me in to look at the jersey that was purported to be the one that Roger Maris wore when he broke Babe Ruth's single season home run record in 1961. The key to identifying this jersey at the exclusion of all other possibilities involved some advanced imagery analysis techniques, this involved far more than just matching up pinstripes. I hope the winning bidder is not reading this, but I actually put the shirt on and had my picture taken in it.


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