WHO’D BOTHER FAKING A COMMON PLAYER JERSEY?
Although today’s hobby climate, with higher financial stakes and far greater team sourcing availability, may make the above question rhetorical, the history of game-used jersey collecting, and the cooperation or lack thereof from teams in making their uniforms available to the general public, actually can produce the answer “somebody did” to that question.
A recent acquisition by a friend of MEARS bears that out, as our associate purchased a 1987 Blue Jays home knit of Lloyd Moseby on eBay. He was surprised to learn that this Moseby, a minor star, at best, was a from-scratch fake, determined by the sloppy appearance of the embroidery font in the collar strip tag, as well as the nature of the tag itself. Wilson-made Blue Jays knits usually have three numbers in the collar (uniform number, year and set), with extras ordered by the ball club bearing only a year. This had uniform number and year (15 87) with no set.
This phony Moseby has been floating around for over a decade, as I recall seeing it at the table of one east coast team specialist in the mid-1990s. The Jays were not, of course, the team he specialized in, and several factors, ranging from personal arrogance to his own personal disdain for anyone who titled himself an authenticator, led him to refrain from pulling the item from his offerings. Now, over 10 years later, it has surfaced again, although MEARS has obtained it to pull it off the market and store it as an exemplar of what to avoid.
OK, why did someone (not the most recent seller and not the east coast specialist I referred to from the mid-’90’s) forge a Lloyd Moseby jersey? The answer is not found with the player, but with the team. Throughout much of the 1990s and before, the Blue Jays were the most difficult team to find jerseys of. Stories circulated that most of their 1970s and early/mid ’80s unies were destroyed by the team, and, while jerseys sold by the team in sales date back to the late 1980’s, their availability was not there until roughly 2000. The scarcity of the genre for the first 20 years-plus of the franchise’s existence resulted in sufficient scarcity and corresponding demand to allow even common/minor star phonies to be introduced into the hobby. A similarly bogus, similarly wrongly tagged 1987 home of Fred McGriff, a borderline HoFer, has also been in and out of inventories and auctions for the same time frame as the bad Moseby, and a phony 1977 Rawlings road of Ron Fairly, another minor star, surfaced in that time frame as well. The phony Fairly was detectable from the incorrect font on the TORONTO front.
Another team whose hobby scarcity in the distant past produced otherwise unimaginable forgeries was the Minnesota Twins. Until the mid-1980s, when Hartel Sports landed hundreds of Twins knits and several dealers acquired a moderate quantity of flannels, weighted more towards road greys, Twins unies were extremely scarce. This scarcity resulted in 1970s and ’80s forgeries of, among others, Jerry Koosman (a laughable fake with a Twins sleeve logo not even close to the correct design) and, believe it or not, a bogus Mike Cubbage! Cubbage’s replica was saddled with a totally off-design NOB font.
Minor stars, or players who were ever-so-briefly the toast of the town, combined with scarce styles and/or popular uniforms, also created some less-than-Cooperstown level fakes. The popularity of 1976 Tigers phenom Mark “The Bird” Fidrych resulted in a plethora of phony ’76 Wilson Tigers knits (mostly road greys).
The intense hobby popularity of the then-new Astros rainbow jerseys, made by Sand-Knit, produced more than one fake jersey of Cesar Cedeno, Bob Watson and J.R. Richard. Likewise, the demand among collectors to snag a Bill Veeck-designed 1976 Rawlings jersey over the next year or two found non-authentic (in terms of team sourcing) versions of players of limited star power such as Ralph Garr and Jorge Orta brought into the fledgling hobby. Being that most 1976 White Sox gamers did not bear a year/set flag tag, the discernment of fakes often boiled down to a laundry-markered size notation in the front right outside tail.
Keep in mind two important contributing factors, as well: 1) Photo resources were not nearly as available in the 1970s and 1980s as today…you couldn’t just hop on the computer and bring up Getty Images or Corbis. Secondly, the general collecting mindset, particularly in the 1970s, was not based on historical significance nor any similar concerns. Many of the era’s collectors bought jerseys to wear, be it to stand out at the company picnic softball game, or to impress the babes at the local sports bar. In this era, an Astros rainbow knit of Cedeno was a $250-$300 jersey, because many prospective buyers thought they’d look slick wearing all those colorful horizontal stripes. Flannels…not cool to wear and not appreciated in that era for their historical significance…often went begging for buyers at prices under half the range cited above for the Cedeno.
And the market, which could bear fakes of players no one would bother faking today, found these low-level fakes circulating because there wasn’t much in the way of resources available for collectors who wanted to do their homework, not to mention many collectors who had no interest whatsoever in even basic research (something still evident in the hobby three decades later).
Considering the above, now you can see why a player doesn’t have to be a superstar or a hot young rising star to be the subject of a forged piece of equipment being falsely touted as “game-used”.