This was a question posed to myself, the judge and a jury of twelve in a recent high profile court case that I was involved in this past week. It was submitted by the prosecution that we/I of MEARS was to be entered into the legal system as a qualified expert to testify as to the merit of some game used equipment. The judge and jury looked on as the defense team came forward. Their question was simple and to the point. What makes one an expert in this field. Is there a college degree that specifically deals with game used memorabilia? How about a forensic theme or even some special fabric or carbon dating concentrations. How does one answer that question? One of the hardest tasks in this business is to qualify as an expert witness to the satisfaction of both the prosecution and the defense, especially at the state Supreme Court level. That if the highest courts in the state is going to take into account the statements of said expert, then they must meet the criteria that would allow testimony to be regarded as gospel with the fate of certain people hanging in the balance. A daunting responsibility not to be taken lightly. This testimony has the power to convict or vindicate which in itself weighs as heavily as does the authenticity of a game used item.
In a court case of this level with such high profile clients and even bigger numbers where the stake for one could be the loss of hundreds of thousands of dollars and the stake for another could result in a lengthy prison sentence, the court has every right to consider the question of what makes or qualifies one as an expert. Regardless of whether a person is brought in for the defense or prosecution, it is the job of the other side to make sure that the expert witness will not be pulled to one side or the other regardless of which side hired him. That the witness will not only be credible but be able to present the evidence and bring it into focus for a jury , to make it understandable and logical and not so lofty as to talk circles around them. Once both side agree that the person brought on board is qualified expert in their field, he is then approved by the judge and it is forever recorded that you or your company has now been recognized by the highest court in the state as an expert material witness with special talents in a certain field that evoke enough confidence within the courtroom as to be integral in the case.
How did we stand up to the cross examination when it was in the best interest to the defense to have us disqualified? It wasn’t easy. There were no college courses in the field in which we were testifying, it was not about textile dating, it was a matter of characteristic study. With each worksheet performed by MEARS which now numbers well over six thousand (look at the MEARS population study on line), there are over 50 lines of recorded dated which computes out to more than 300,000 factual measurements and statistics. We have complied a spiral bound set of books that logs in every piece of game used equipment ever sold by any major auction since 1985 and this information as to size, make, player, team, year, auction house, date and page are all recorded in two sets of books covering all sports and all equipment such as shoes, hats, pants, jackets, shirts, cleats, etc. and these are sorted by both player and team.
It is about the cost of gathering over 5000 actual color copies, full size, of the inside stitching patterns of every shirt made by every manufacturer. It is about putting together a library of over a thousand publications dating back to the nineteenth century. It is about the hundred plus articles written on this subject by members of the MEARS team in the past few years. It is about books written and published on the subject. And special exhibits and lectures given at museums and institutions of higher learning. When the most prestigious insurance companies such as Lloyds of London consider your work to be sufficient for their policy holders and when baseball players call on you to supply such inventory replacement costs to their insurance carriers. It is about recording, measuring, and dating every manufacture tag ever used. It is about a photo data base of over 100,000 images to compare all existing data.
But most of all, it is about responsibility and how it is handled. How are mistakes dealt with and how are they avoided in the future. What is the ratio of mistakes to accuracy? What is the responsibility of any qualified expert or authenticator as some are called? As I explained to the court, it is not really a matter of authenticating but a matter of recording data and comparing with existing data to form an opinion based on fact, not fiction, and to be able to support such theory in any court of the land. That is the job at hand, not simply handing out opinions because someone says so. The highest court in the state agreed and we were permanently admitted as an expert witness and recorded as such, a very high honor indeed. Our testimony was valid and confirmed by the entire court and the state which made every statement made admissible.
And that is what it takes to be an expert. Not one person but a group that is dedicated to a field and continues to advance that subject, adding data each week at an alarming rate knowing that it will never be fully complete but knowing that it must be a continuous process and with it, an accountability that few want and even fewer can grasp. And the highest state court deemed that efficient enough to grant us expert status. It was one of the highest compliments ever bestowed upon MEARS and with it, an awesome responsibility. So the next time someone brushes off this business as those “so called” experts, remember what it takes to be considered such and what responsibility comes with the title and ask yourself if you think you can do it better and how you would fare in a court of law and then, and only then, will you fully comprehend what the future holds for this business and where collectors would be without it. Read the article about the million dollars with of “unable to authenticate” jerseys that may have made into the market place and into collectors hands if such a group did not exist. The Jordon shooting shirt and just recently the Pete Rose jersey, both of which were listed as such and placed on our site so that potential buyers could read our comments and just last week, a rare one of a kind Hank Greenberg jersey that fell into the same category. Sure, some people don’t feel that they need the so called experts but you have to ask yourself, where would this hobby/business be without them? Remember too that experts don’t know everything nor do they claim to. They just know how to do research and have spent a huge amount of money putting that research into a searchable database so that real winner is the collector who without hobby confidence, his/her collection would suffer and the hobby as a whole would have a lot more bogus merchandise floating around than it does now.