|Tuesday, July 9
Updated: July 10, 6:06 PM ET
Williams memorabilia floods onto market
By Darren Rovell
Last Friday morning, the eBay auction site listed about 2,000 items related to Ted Williams for sale. By Monday, that number had skyrocketed to more than 6,500.
Instead, the market for Williams items has expanded gradually since the former Red Sox great's health began declining.
Reeni Healy-DeFilippo, a memorabilia dealer who specializes in Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle and Ted Williams autographs, said the price for Williams autographs has steadily risen over the past year and a half. She noted that a 16x20 signed picture that sold for $399 in the months before November 2000, when Williams had a pacemaker implanted, rose to $499 after the surgery. After Williams' death Friday, the price rose another $100. DeFilippo is selling signed bats authenticated by a company owned by John Henry Williams, Ted Williams' son, for $1,795.
"As soon as Ted couldn't sign anymore, the prices started going up," said Rich Altman, owner of Hollywood Collectibles, a sports memorabilia store in Florida. "It was the same thing that happened when Mickey Mantle was sick and he had to get his kidney transplant."
Altman is selling Upper Deck Authenticated baseballs signed by Williams for $475.
Collectors like 32-year-old Michael Tanucci of Cedar Grove, N.J., seem to have more confidence in the authenticity of items originally distributed by John Henry, who began coordinating his father's memorabilia business after "Teddy Ballgame" was conned out of millions of dollars worth of autographs in the early 1990s.
"Time is running out on the available 100 percent authentic signatures," said Tanucci, who won an auction Sunday night by bidding $885 for an autographed picture of Ted Williams' first major league at-bat, a picture authenticated by Green Diamond.
But it is well known in the sports-collectibles community that Ted Williams' signature is among the most-forged, prompting some dealers to caution collectors about the so-called authenticated items, as well. Phil Castinetti, owner of New England-based Sportsworld, believes that even some Williams autographs authenticated by the slugger's son might be forgeries.
"There's no way all the stuff that has come from his companies is legit," Castinetti said of the volume of paraphernalia the younger Williams has sold to dealers over the years. "I would bet my life that there are autographs that he has authenticated and sold that he signed himself."
Castinetti said two experiences cause him to question the authenticity of signatures authenticated by John Henry Williams. In 1991, Castinetti said John Henry showed him the perfect Ted Williams signature. "John Henry and his partner Brian Interland would sign 'Ted Williams,' " Castinetti said, "and they'd laugh, because you couldn't tell theirs and Ted's apart."
Then in 1999, Williams made his final public appearance at the All-Star game at Fenway Park. "I saw him sign there, and he could barely write; his signature was a scribble," Castinetti said. "Then the next week, I see signed panoramic photos of the moment authenticated by Green Diamond, and the signature was flawless."
John Henry Williams did not return calls seeking comment.
John Henry's history of bankruptcies and legal battles also should send red flags, Castinetti said. After signing an exclusive memorabilia deal with Upper Deck on his father's behalf in the early 1990s, John Henry allegedly continued to market his father's memorabilia on the side, in violation of the Upper Deck contract. The card company subsequently sued and terminated the deal.
In May, John Henry filed a lawsuit and an injunction against his sister, Claudia Williams, to prevent the sale of 2,000 signed bats, worth between $1.3 million and $2 million, that had been given to her by her father. While the injunction has been dropped, the lawsuit is still in limbo.
Despite John Henry's history, there are other collectors who aren't concerned about possible forgeries.
"What John Henry did helped clean up the market," said Healy-DeFilippo, who was one of the most active Green Diamond distributors.
"There were always rumors that John Henry signed," Spence said, "but people also said that Mrs. Ruth signed all of Babe Ruth's checks, and Vince Lombardi's secretary signed all of his checks. But I've never heard any good story that substantiates either one of those beliefs."
If Williams' signature at the 1999 All-Star game looked erratic, Spence said, it could be because as he got older, Williams became more erratic in signing. Williams stopped signing balls altogether in 1993 after a second stroke made it hard for him to rotate the ball while signing.
Since Williams' death, Spence has received numerous calls from people asking to authenticate or re-authenticate their Williams-signed items.
"They say, 'I know it's kind of morbid, but I really want to find out,' " Spence said. "Well, if you thought there were a lot of forgeries of Ted Williams before, wait 'til you see what people start selling this week."
Spence said autographs like Mantle, DiMaggio and Williams are harder to forge, because the signatures are generally more clear than the scribble of today's stars. But there are a handful of good Williams forgers that are so good most people can't see a difference.
"Luckily, forgers have habits too," Spence said.
Darren Rovell, who covers sports business for ESPN.com, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.