Earlier this year I wrote a couple of articles about the memorabilia market and market values. Those articles focused on understanding what drives value and pricing. Please know up front this is NOT an article aimed at getting anyone to send anything into MEARS for evaluation. It addresses something that Dan Scheinman and I have been discussing as of late, that being that credible and objective evaluations increase value in the market place.
I will confine my comments to the market for flannel baseball jerseys, although I feel very strongly that the things I address have macro level relevance and transcend commodity item in the sports memorabilia industry. Be that as it may, when credible and objective work is performed, it only serves to increase the value of legitimate items. Quality evaluations do one thing in particular; they define or help to define the supply portion of the supply and demand equation. Consider this partial list of items I have looked at for MEARS this year.
1903-1907 Jimmy Collins home jersey (UTA)
1919-1920 Muddy Ruel home jersey
1927-1928 Tony Lazzeri home jersey (UTA)
1930’s Lou Gehrig home pants (UTA)
1918-1922 Miller Huggins home pants
1947 Joe DiMaggio road jersey (UTA)
1954 Warren Spahn road jersey
1955 Mickey Mantle road jersey (UTA)
1955 George Shuba road jersey (UTA)
1956 Stan Musial road jersey
1958 Billy Herman road jersey (UTA)
1959 Don Drysdale road jersey (UTA)
1964 Sandy Koufax home jersey (UTA)
1965 Tommy Harper road jersey
1966 Eddie Mathews home jersey
1966 Roberto Clemente home jersey
1966 Brooks Robinson home jersey
1966 Mickey Mantle road jersey
1966 Vada Pinson road jersey (UTA)
1970 Reggie Jackson road jersey (UTA)
1968 John Odom yellow alternate jersey
1971 Pete Rose road jersey
1971 Gene Tenace home jersey
This list includes some 23 items evaluated and 11 of those (48%) were found to be problematic and deemed as Unable to Authenticate (UTA). Some of these items have been offered multiple times through various auction houses. Nothing about the jersey has changed since it was first offered, some dating back to the early 1990s. What has changed, at least with respect to me, is the standard by which they are evaluated.
I wrote an article back in October of 2005, (yep…over four years ago) that among other things, questioned what constitutes and expert in this field. As a template, I used the Federal Rules of Evidence in scoping how this should and could be applied to the authentication segment of this industry. The idea being in order to work in this field, you should have to meet the same criteria required to testify as an expert in court. I felt this was reasonable because an opinion is tantamount to a testimony. For those who have not read that piece, he are the requirements:
(1) The testimony is based upon sufficient facts or data.
(2) The testimony is the product of reliable principles and methods.
(3) The witness has applied the principles and methods reliably to the facts of the case.
Now let’s explore their relevance within the context of looking at sports memorabilia.
(1) The testimony is based upon sufficient facts or data. For the hobby, I think we are all agreeable that the “because I said so” is a rather weak argument. We did not like hearing this as kids, and certainly like it even less when we are being asked to buy something based on that as a rational. We should expect that any opinion that is based on any number of facts or data points:
a. How does this compare with other know examples and what those examples are? For instance when someone states “All Correct Tagging,” what is the basis for stating this?
b. If photographic references are made, are the photographs included? If not, where I do reasonably go to see this for myself? This goes back to the point I made about what a person is entitled to. In cases where an authenticator has paid for research time and photographic reproductions, as is often the case with the National Baseball Hall of Fame Research Center, what you should be entitled to is know where and how you can obtain those same photographs versus copies of the photos themselves. In other cases it may be nothing more than providing you with the title and page a photograph can found.
Other reasonable questions or issues that should be addressed when considering whether the facts and data are sufficient may include:
a. How long has the person been involved in this particular aspect of the hobby?
b. An approximate number of like items the person has seen.
c. Do they have any special or formalized training or experience in related fields such as imagery analysis, manufacturer of the item, or as a researcher?
d. Have they published any works in the associated field that have held up to the public scrutiny of the hobby?
While this is not meant to be the all-inclusive list of qualifications, I would think it would begin to address the basics.
(2) The testimony is the product of reliable principles and methods. For me, this means the person has and uses an established process that makes sense given what they are being asked to look at. This process should be expected to be made public in the form of “this is what I look for and this is how I do it.” I am not advocating that all of the reference data be made available since much of this has been accumulated at both the time and personal expense of the person offering the opinion.
The concept I would like to emphasize centers on the word reliable. This should mean that if you do the same things in the same manner with the same information, you should get the same results, or in this case, opinion.
(3) The witness has applied the principles and methods reliably to the facts of the case. In this case, the witness is the person offering the opinion. All this is saying that the process, principles, and methods used served as the basis for the opinion, not the other way around. By this I mean, if the person’s methods or procedures call for use of photographs for comparison, they cannot simply choose not to do this because some of the photographs contradict their opinion. In addition if they evidence that supports more than one possibility, they should state what both are and then clarify why they believe it to be on case over another.
When I read these rules and wrote that article some four years ago, I took them to heart and have acted on them accordingly. In doing so, I have been able to identify dozens of items that were previously thought to valid members of the supply population. In other words, adding value to those pieces that can stand up to credible and objective evaluation.
Truth be told, my life would be a lot simpler and far more profitable if the only thing I did was offer opinions on this narrow and defined population set of flannel baseball uniforms. As I buy all my own reference materials (to include exemplar uniforms and fabric samples), research aids, and associated technology, I am quite capable of functioning outside of the MEARS umbrella. Even though this has cost me far more money (both in real dollars and opportunity costs) than I have made, my association with MEARS has enabled me to have an impact on the larger industry. It remains to be seen how long I am willing to continue to do this. If there existed a dynamic or environment that only required that I evaluate, research, and publish findings that compensated me for my time and actual costs, it would tough to say no to. But that is a topic for another time.
Getting back to my discussion with Dan, he suggested the hobby/industry would far better off if the evaluation service segment was completely separate from the other facets and performed by a truly qualified body of individuals. I could not agree more. But I ask the same question I did years ago, where do these people come from and what incentives do they have to do the work? To do it well and to standard, thus having a positive effect on supply and the market, it takes far more than just saying “well I’ve been doing this for years” or “I have a huge collection.” I remain convinced that on a personal level, if you can not address and satisfy the points above with respect to the Federal Rules of Evidence, then how is your work to be considered credible and objective? This is important to see and understand because it is a driving force in establishing value in the market place.
For every Mickey Mantle or Joe DiMaggio jersey that is found to be problematic, it only increases the value of those that can objectively stand on their own merits. Since there is always going to be a demand for items like this and they exist in a finite number, legitimizing the population only increases market value. Hence the market has a legitimate need for some means or service to perform this function. I feel I have shown first hand how to do this and what constitutes an acceptable level of work and process. I have no problem with individuals who may not agree with my opinions, but when this occurs, I expect that this contrary view be based on a similar methodology, supporting data, and analysis.
I could write an entire article based on a conversation I had this week with a gentleman who was offering opinions on flannel uniforms long before I become publicly involved in this segment of the industry. His questions focused on an opinion I offered on a jersey of his. The things he was suggesting as the reasons I was seeing what I did with his jersey were laughable at best. Although when I took him to task on some of this, he was quick to reply they were not necessarily his opinions, but rather just two guys talking about a jersey and how to evaluate them.
Consider this gem…a possibly reason why (when seen under UV lighting) the numbers did not match the lettering is that somehow there is difference in the stability of the color of the fabric in larger and smaller items. Please tell me how does size affect the physical and chemical qualities of twill fabric? There were also differences in the thread used to affix these items when seen under both UV lighting and digital microscope. Also, when viewed under UV lighting, there appeared to be both an outline and residue of where the numbers may have been previously once applied, with the current numbers having been offset slightly. To me all of this indicated that the objects had not been on the jersey for the same period of time and subjected to same environmental conditions for the same period of time. In other words, one had not been on the jersey for the same period of time as the others. What did I base my observation on? I performed this same level of analysis on four (4) other jerseys for the same team, by the same manufacturer, from the same general period.
Concepts like the small-large fabric theory, a player wearing a jersey sized 3 sizes above what was tagged on the jersey because he had an injury and needed more room, or it has to be a Yankees World Series jersey because it has red thread are just some the reasons why such a high % of flannels today floated through the market place and collector’s wallets in the past. Somebody said it and somebody listened. The 1980s and 1990s was a great time for both supply and demand for flannels. The question is how legitimate was the supply or the work done to feed the demand? I would offer that both were inflated.
The more professional (or seen to be operating from an objective basis of expertise) that evaluators of flannel uniforms become, the greater the value for both their services and the products they serve. This is what Dan and I have been discussing. The ball is really in the court of the collector as they are the ones who pay the price for the jersey in question and really pay the price when they remain wedded to the market and environment of the 1980s and 1990s.
As always, collect what you enjoy and enjoy what you collect.
MEARS Auth, LLC
For questions or comments on this article, please feel free to drop me a line at DaveGrob1@aol.com