Perception is reality?

I was perusing a certain well-known online shopping site not too long ago when something for sale caught my eye. It was an “autographed” Cleveland Indians baseball from the early 2000s, and it looked strangely familiar. A quick trip to my basement confirmed my suspicions; it was the same autographed ball I had in my possession. In fact, I still have a bunch of ‘em.

First, let’s back up the memorabilia truck for a moment, and allow me to explain. From 1999 to 2010, I had a part-time business selling sports novelties at Indians and Browns games. I also worked many weekends in Pittsburgh, doing Pirates and Steelers games when the Tribe or Browns were out of town. Finally, on rare occasions I’d even work some Reds or Bengals games in Cincinnati. For the most part, it was a lot of fun; when the weather was nice, there wasn’t a better job in the world.

I never got into the business of autographed memorabilia, simply because of the risk involved. I remember hearing at the time that upwards of 75 percent of all autographed sports memorabilia was forged, and that number was probably low. In the instance of the autographed baseball above, what I had – and what someone was apparently selling as "legit" – was known as a “facsimile autographed” item.

In other words, the company would obtain the autographs of a team, copy them, and then “stamp” them on a baseball. It was strictly a novelty item, and anyone with a bit of common sense could see that the autographs were clearly copies. Plus, at the time, I sold the baseballs I had for $5 each, so you can imagine what I paid for them. Obviously, legitimate signatures would fetch just a wee bit more.

After confirming my suspicions, I went back to the site to email the seller to let him know his ball wasn’t authentic, but his ad was already gone, hopefully because someone else already pointed out the error of his ways. Or, more likely, perhaps he found a sucker and was covering his tracks. Then again, on the flip-side, how sorry can you really feel for someone who buys something as risky as autographs online? If anything ever screamed out for “in-person scrutiny” prior to purchase, you’d have to think an autograph would rank right up there, wouldn’t you?

I always get a kick out of the “certificate of authenticity” which many collectors display proudly with their (supposedly) legitimate autographs. Wait a second … if an unscrupulous seller is going to forge an autograph, isn’t it just as easy to forge the certificate?

I used to set up my novelty stand on East 9th Street right across from the players' parking lot, where crowds would gather hours before game time in hopes of securing an autograph. The epitome of social consciousness, I sold baseballs, Sharpies, etc. to those in need. Over the years, I noticed many of the same adults showing up, eventually discovering that these guys – who couldn’t care less about the game of baseball – were grabbing the autographs and then immediately selling the items online. Eventually, the players started to recognize these same “fans” and soon stated they would only sign for kids, to stop the profiting of their autographs by the adult autograph hounds.

Of course, it wasn’t long before I saw these same adults driving up with cars full of kids, carefully directing each child as to whose autograph he was to try and obtain, and then hiding in the background as the kids did their dirty work. Ah … free enterprise at its best!

Now, if anyone is interested in souvenirs from the memorable Tribe World Series of ’96 – seriously, who can forget that one? – please look me up…

Jeff Bing

Lifelong Westlake resident who dabbles in writing whenever the real world permits. My forte is humor and horror...What a combo!

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Volume 6, Issue 19, Posted 10:01 AM, 09.16.2014