PSA/DNA authenticator John Taube is widely respected for his knowledge of vintage and modern baseball bats. The original owners sometimes make life a little challenging.
Major League Baseball has gotten into the memorabilia business and that’s just fine with John Taube.
The leagues now employ authenticators at virtually every game, labeling pieces that are put into play. Fewer items thus find their way into the collectors marketplace without an official stamp of approval.
One of the country’s experts when it comes to game used bats, the New Jersey-based owner of JT Sports is also a collector and dealer so he appreciates the authenticity of a bat tagged with an MLB sticker.
"MLB Authentication is good. I like it. It’s readily verifiable. It makes our job easier. Instead of getting something that is coming from who knows where, you’re getting it authenticated by a Major League rep authenticated from a Major League clubhouse."
Make no mistake, though. Taube’s work normally does involve plenty of investigation into whether that wooden stick really was carried onto the playing field by a big league player. Factory records relesed by Louisville Slugger in recent years help, especially with potentially valuable vintage bats where the items can be compared to a player’s actual order forms that are on file.
It’s often more difficult to determine the authenticity of bats and other game used equipment when dealing with more modern material.
Taube says some players create authentication issues by being too liberal with their willingness to inscribe bats as game used when signing them. "There is one major star who will sign anything ‘game used’ when it is well known that he only uses a certain type of bat in batting practice," he said.
Players under exclusive individual contracts to various memorabilia companies will often agree to provide a game worn jerseys, home run bats, shirts, batting gloves, shoes and other memorabilia for resale. The material is delivered to the memorabilia agency with little or no labelling and when a player comes to sign the items, Taube says it’s become obvious that perfect on-site authentication wasn’t done.
"They just walk into a room full of equipment. The home run and special event bats aren’t marked. They write game used on all of it but In many cases, they’re just signing a bat and they really have no idea what it was used for."
Taube says some Latin American players are known for giving less fortunate family and friends game used equipment from their own lockers or from pro colleagues. The material can then be liquidated.
"That’s how they take care of them," Taube said.
"I had a guy who was a player for the (independent) Atlantic City Surf. He came into my office one day with a Derek Jeter glove, a Bernie Williams glove and several other Yankee bats. I immediately called the Yankees and they told me they knew the pitcher had gotten these things as gifts. There’s nothing they can do about it."
Like other areas of sports memorabilia, doctoring ordinary items to turn them into something more valuable is not uncommon.
"The biggest challenge as an authenticator is to make the right call in certain situations where gray areas exist. I’ve been trained by one of the best restorers in the country so I know how to look for alterations."
He also has to be on the lookout for items that might be identical to what a player uses in competition, but is really just a replica.
"The new player records will have categories for bats that were sent out for promotions or samples. It’s an accounting method so the companies know what’s going out the door."
Earlier records weren’t as detailed. Still, it takes a trained eye to determine that sometimes players did use bats some might consider ‘store models’.
"We’ll have bats that come into my office which for appearance sake look fine. However, you can’t find a record for it. That’s where the biggest challenge is. That’s where we depend on our expertise, player characteristics, the nuances of pine tar application, sporing of a handle or barrel, kicking their spikes on the bat which creates a mark. That’s where something that may not appear in a record does turn out to be an authentic piece of memorabilia."
The interest in game used bats, especially those used by Hall of Famers from years past, continues to grow.
"It’s almost recession proof," he told a panel discussion at the recent Chicago PCCE show. "You’re almost guaranteed to show appreciation. There is an awarness of buyers to the limited availability."
Even when prices do dip, it’s usually temporary.
"Our business is like the stock market. When it rebounds, it rebounds very well."