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  1. #1
    Senior Member
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    Nov 2005
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    914

    Tris Speaker bat issue

    From the MEARS website - A long but interesting read:

    Tris Speaker Bat Follow Up - Important

    August 11 2006 at 4:57 PM Mike Rose Mike Rose (no login)Hello Everyone,

    I will apologize in advance for the length of this post. However, I believe this matter relates to one of the most important issues facing the sports collectible hobby and is an extremely important topic to examine if you collect game used equipment. I hope you will take the time to read this post and offer your advice. As background, I was actively involved with a few other people in buying and selling game used sports memorabilia for two years and I believe there are some major issues that need to be addressed regarding third-party item authentications, conflicts of interest, and the policies of some auction houses that sell these items. I will recount my story to you with factual information and hope you can help me determine the appropriate next steps.

    From 2003 to 2005, I was involved with Mr. Christopher Cavalier in actively buying and selling in the game used memorabilia market. As an aggressive buyer of memorabilia at the time, Mr. Cavalier was often contacted by various interests in the hobby hoping to develop relationships with him and sell him merchandise. On October 28, 2004, Mr. Cavalier was contacted by Steve Jensen of Vintage Authentics about a Tris Speaker bat. The bat was graded an SCDA 5 and was authenticated and graded by Dave Bushing and Troy Kinunen who were at SCDA at the time. The bat was offered to us for $15,000. We passed on the offer because we did not think the bat was of a quality that warranted the price.

    Then in February of 2005, Mr. Cavalier was approached once again by Steve Jensen of Vintage Authentics about a Tris Speaker bat that was, according to Mr. Jensen, “the nicest Speaker bat ever graded”. Mr. Jensen further explained that the bat was graded a ‘7’ by MEARS (this authentication was also done by Dave Bushing and Troy Kinunen who had left SCDA and were now working for MEARS). Mr. Jensen also added that the bat could possibly receive an ‘8’ since there was supposedly a Speaker lathe bat MEARS possessed that “matched the specifications” of the one we were being offered. The bat was offered to us at $23,200 under the condition that the bat would be consigned to Vintage Authentics for their next auction.

    Given we had done business with Mr. Jensen before, we trusted Mr. Jensen’s description of the bat. We discussed the specifics of the bat and decided that, although there was a small amount of downside risk, the opportunity to invest in such a scarce bat would make it a risk worth taking. That is, assuming the bat was legitimate, we thought it would likely sell in auction for at least our buy price with the potential to go higher if the right collectors were made aware that the bat was in auction. Trusting Mr. Jensen’s description of the bat, as well as MEARS grading system, we proceeded to consummate the deal with Vintage Authentics and consigned it to them for their July 2005 auction. We were never made aware of the fact that this was the same bat we passed on in October 2004 and that it had been upgraded by MEARS after supposedly finding a lathe bat that “matched this bat’s specifications”. We trusted both MEARS and Vintage Authentics “Opinions” regarding game used items. We were also aware of MEARS’ “money back guarantee” so down-deep we felt there was no risk to us if the bat was later found to be improperly graded.

    As it turns out, the bat was placed in Vintage Authentics’ July 2005 auction with an opening bid of $5,000. Those familiar with auctions know opening bids are typically set at a percentage of what the house believes the item should sell for. In addition, openings bids are generally not set too high as auction houses typically do not want to discourage bidders from placing an opening bid. While we weren’t overly concerned at the start of the auction, with two days left in the auction we noticed that the bat only had one bid. At that point, we knew the collecting community was not showing interest in it for some reason.

    At the time we thought maybe the auction simply wasn’t well promoted. Therefore, assuming we didn’t see any additional bidding, we resigned ourselves to buying back the bat with the intention to consign it in a future auction. Though we originally bought the bat directly from Vintage under the condition that we put it in their auction, we had to buy it back from Vintage’s auction for a closing bid of $6,050 (there were only two other bids placed in the entire auction besides ours). Notably, we also had to pay Vintage the 15% buyer’s premium which cost us another $908.

    While we considered what to do next with the bat, at that point we could not dismiss the fact that only two other bids were placed on a Tris Speaker bat that was the “highest Speaker bat ever graded” (knowledgeable bat collectors know a genuine Speaker bat with that grade should have fetched $25,000 or more at the time of the auction). Though we further considered the possibility that the auction wasn’t well promoted, it seemed less plausible when we noticed other bats in the auction seemed to garner reasonable prices. Given bidders were not showing interest in the Speaker bat, we felt maybe there was something about the bat we were not aware of. At that point, we did some additional research on the bat.

    The result of our research led us to some major questions about the authentication and the first of two correspondences we had with the people at MEARS. Given I am trying to be completely accurate in the recounting of events, here is an exact excerpt outlining the questions we asked MEARS in our first email to them on October 6, 2005. In addition, given MEARS’ highly publicized “money back guarantee” we expressed that we felt entitled to a refund based on the inappropriateness of the grade. Here is the excerpt outlining our concerns:

    1. Your grading criteria for an “A7” is as follows:

    “A7 thru A6: Authenticated bat with evaluated use and noted player characteristics

    Factory production details of the bat has been compared to known records and have been determined to match recorded length (+/- 1/4”), weight (+/- 1 to 4) ounces, model, and correspond with proper labeling period from point in examined players career. (5 points base grade)

    Use characteristics & player traits have been examined and player use has been found to be lite or medium. Player traits may be present but no additional points are awarded. (Add 1 to 2 point use grade)

    In cases where this grade was obtained because of points subtracted, those reasons will be clearly noted on the enclosed “Bat Grading and Authenticating Official Worksheet.” (Up to 4 points subtracted for negative use, see Negative Traits chart below).”

    In addition, under point (f) of your letter of opinion of this bat you state “originally graded A5, points added since lathe bat shows shorter bats ordered, no record for this era exist so lathe is best known evidence of orders”.

    Quite frankly the statement that “…no record for this era exist” is incorrect. There are two specific references from the Hillerich & Bradsby records which show bats ordered by Speaker during the 1917-21 labeling period. Speaker ordered bats on 09-15-1920 that were 35 inches in length and 40 ounces in weight and bats on 06-18-1921 that were 35 inches in length and 40-41 ounces in weight. According to these records, the bat in question -- with a length of 32.5 inches and a weight of 33 ounces – certainly does not meet your criteria for the bat to be “compared to known records and have been determined to match recorded length (+/- 1/4”), weight (+/- 1 to 4) ounces, model, and correspond with proper labeling period from point in examined players career”.

    2. Regarding the weight of the bat, in addition to the two orders during the 1917-21 period mentioned above, the lightest bat Speaker ordered according to the Hillerich & Bradsby records was 35 ounces which occurred on 05-14-1925 which was made of his 9-21-1923 bat. Speaker was also consistently shipped 37-ounce bats from 02-20-1926 to 03-05-1927, and once in 1928 and 1929. In addition, one shipment on 05-29-1929 references Jimmy Foxx model bats shipped to Speaker weighing 36 to 38 ounces. Otherwise, from 1920 to 1929, all Speaker bats according to the Hillerich & Bradsby records were 38 ounces or more. Thus, even later in his career when you would expect Speaker to order lighter bats as he got older, there is no precedent of Speaker ordering any bats that would allow a 33 ounce bat to meet your criteria for the bat to be “compared to known records and have been determined to match recorded length (+/- 1/4”), weight (+/- 1 to 4) ounces, model, and correspond with proper labeling period from point in examined players career”.

    3. Apparently, the authenticators of the bat placed a great deal of emphasis on a lathe bat of greater than 33 inches that has the following notation “Speaker ? 24, make 33” K48L”. Why is this lathe bat given so much emphasis in the authentication process when: a) there are Hillerich & Bradsby factory records of bats ordered by Speaker in the 1917-21 period, and b) there is no mention of this lathe bat on the back of Tris Speaker’s record card? With the previous information, along with the fact that the lathe bat likely is from 1924, it definitely seems inappropriate to place 33 inch bats into the hands of Speaker from 1917-21.

    4. To compound the problem, even if 33 inches was an acceptable length for Speaker bats from 1917-21 (which is not acceptable as per the points above), this bat is only 32 ½” and does not meet your criteria “to match recorded length (+/- 1/4”)”.

    While we were hoping this issue would be handled by Dave Grob, unfortunately in our opinion, we were told that this was an “operational issue and outside of [his] purview”. One week later we received an email from Troy Kinunen which I am cutting and pasting here so as to be perfectly accurate:

    “In our opinion and based on a combination of factors such as our research, experience, and interpretation of all available information, the bat was awarded the grade of A7. The discovery of the lathe bat suppeforted our opinion. Our published criteria serves as a guide for the basis of our grades and we always encourage collectors to ask specific questions when the criteria may need clarification.

    Your knowledge of game used and graded bats is well documented and I would encourage you to ask more specific questions before placing bids in future auctions.

    Dave Grob is involved in the policies of MEARS, I am responsible for the business activities and upon the a second review, the grade still stands.

    Troy”

    About one month later we did receive a more detailed response that MEARS has already posted on their site’s bulletin board. Troy’s response, which is in the latter part of the post, can be found with the following link:

    http://www.network54.com/Forum/426247/message/1151316750/TRIS+SPEAKER+BAT...+IMPORTANT+%21

    At this point, though we still did not agree with MEARS’ opinion, it was clear MEARS was not interested in providing a refund. Thus, we had to decide what to do with the bat given our investment. It was at this point that we sent the bat to Sothebys to see if they would be willing to put it in their auction. We first called Sothebys to make sure they were very clear about the bat’s history and told them to let us know if they had any questions once they received it. After they received the bat, we received a call from Dan Imler at Sothebys saying they were not willing to auction it. Mr. Imler gave the following two reasons: 1) Sothebys used both MEARS and PSA/DNA for their authentications and John Taube (of PSA/DNA) was reluctant to authenticate the bat based on its unusually small size; and 2) Sothebys offers a five-year refund policy. As such, Sothebys has the final say in what items they put in their auction (that is, they will not auction any item they are not comfortable with offering to the public).

    We were also told that John Taube had not physically seen the bat but had it described to him by Mr. Imler. At that point we sent the bat to John Taube of PSA/DNA for formal review and authentication. The result was the following Letter of Authenticity:

    http://www.gameuseduniverse.com/vb_forum/attachment.php?attachmentid=1577&d=1155331104

    In addition, at the time of the PSA/DNA authentication, John Taube called Dave Bushing and asked to see the actual lathe bat but Bushing refused saying he did not want to ship it to him for fear of it being lost. Notably, hand-written notes by Bushing indicate the lathe bat itself is actually 34 ¾ inches, not 33 inches.

    After receiving the PSA/DNA letter, we then sent the bat to Mike Specht of Global Authentications. While we were aware of the importance MEARS was giving to the lathe bat, Mr. Specht, among other things, questioned the hand-written notations on the lathe bat, specifically the reference to a model number. In his opinion, which Vince Malta later concurred with, the reference to a bat’s model number would not have referred to anything used in Speaker’s playing career since models numbers were not in use at the time and would not be found on bats until well after this bat’s label period. In our minds, this was just another dagger in the theory that the bat we had could ever have made it into Speaker’s hands during his playing career. Here is the complete letter from Mr. Specht:

    http://www.gameuseduniverse.com/vb_forum/attachment.php?attachmentid=1578&d=1155331295

    At that point, we then re-contacted MEARS on June 19, 2006 asking them to reconsider their position in light of all the evidence in this matter. We were hoping Dave Grob could handle the matter but we were once again told this was an issue he was not “empowered to resolve on [his] own as it falls outside of [his] authority as the Policy Director”. We later received an email from MEARS which included, among other things, the following response, “MEARS has not changed its position on this matter. Our policy when we offer opinions is designed to ensure that the person(s) buying an item is getting what we believe it to be and the reasons why. In this case, various and varying opinions from PSA and Global, do not make our findings and letter inaccurate or wrong.”

    Last, but certainly not least, Mr. Cavalier also had a conversation with Vince Malta two weeks ago at the National Convention where they both had the bat in their possession. Mr. Malta also had all of Tris Speaker’s records with him. According to Mr. Malta, this bat does not match any known records for Speaker and that Speakers’ records consistently show him ordering only 35” bats during that era. He also noted that, although the LOA states this bat was 33”, this bat was only 32 ¼ inches (a ¾” discrepancy is not acceptable even for a 33” bat). Further, when asked, Mr. Malta stated that these are objective facts and not anything that can be attributed to an “Opinion”.

    At this point, I believe we have a few options. Notably, we already decided to contact Vintage Authentics since they had publicly declared that “Ultimately, the responsibility lies with [them] as an auction house to provide quality and authentic merchandise and [they] are 100% committed to doing so." Unfortunately, when we contacted Vintage they told us they stood behind MEARS’ opinion and that they felt they had no fiscal responsibility given they use MEARS for their authentications and MEARS offers a money back guarantee if there are any problems. They also said they would be willing to resell the bat for us outside of their auctions and that they would split anything above the price we initially paid for the bat. We responded by telling them we had no interest in trying to resell a bat that, in our opinion, was never used by Tris Speaker.

    The last point I want to make here is that we were never told throughout this entire ordeal that Dave Bushing (one of the bat’s two authenticators) and Steve Jensen (the one supposedly “brokering” the bat to us) were both previous owners of the bat. We only found about this fact through the MEARS post mentioned above. In my opinion, this fact should have been divulged to us prior to our purchase given the potential conflict of interest.

    That brings us to the point of my post. Currently, I believe we have a few options which include: 1) trying the case in a court of public opinion; 2) pursuing legal means such as adjudication in the courts or arbitration; 3) soliciting other examples of proven mis-graded items and pursuing a class-action suit or its equivalent. It is also my understanding that, although MEARS (as per their website) may want any court proceedings to be conducted in Milwaukee, any officer of their company can be served if they are present in another state, thus, forcing the venue to a different location. It was never my intention to open this matter for broad discussion. Indeed, I believed MEARS or Vintage Authentics would stand by their policy when presented with the information they may have missed in their initial review of this item. I would be the first to acknowledge their actions if they stepped up and corrected this situation in the past or future. Sadly, this has not been the case to date.

    Thus, my question to the collecting community is this…what would you do in my situation? I look forward to hearing your opinions and any insights you may have.

    Sincerely,

    Mike Rose




  2. #2
    Senior Member Eric's Avatar
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    Re: Tris Speaker bat issue

    This thread already exists on this forum. Please see

    http://www.gameuseduniverse.com/vb_f...ead.php?t=4019

    All comments should go under that thread. I'm going to lock this one.
    Eric

 

 

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