Tuff Stuff Misses The Point With Autograph Removal Article

By Adam McFarland, Founder of SportsLizard on March 16, 2006

Those of you who read Tuff Stuff Magazine on a regular basis are familiar with a new controversial process that removes autographs from baseballs. The process, created by Alan Berman, is being used to create a more collectible single signed baseball. For example, if you had a baseball autographed by Billy Ripken and Cal Ripken Jr., you may want to remove the Billy Ripken autograph so that you could have a ball signed by only Cal. The process is particularly useful for older balls where the desired player is deceased and there is little chance of finding an affordable ball signed by only them.

I personally think that this is a great thing – this is a consumer driven business and if there is demand for it then I say do it as long as you don't mess with the integrity of the hobby (which, if you keep reading, you will see that they are not). However, there has been quite a bit of unwarranted negative publicity towards the process.

Below I have transcribed the article as it appears in the February 2006 issue of Tuff Stuff Magazine. The article appears in bold, with my comments in normal weight (Fire Joe Morgan style). I have a great deal of respect for both Tuff Stuff and editor Rocky Landsverk (SportsLizard.com was mentioned in the same issue so I owe them a HUGE 'thank you' for the free publicity).

That said, I disagree with the bias tone that the article takes against Berman and his process. Berman is left alone to "defend" his side while all of the authentication experts that Landsverk interviews are against the new process.

The article can be partially seen on Tuff Stuff's website, although that is not exactly what appeared in the magazine.

Without further adieu, here it is:

Tuff Stuff Investigates: Autograph Removal Service Makes Waves

Authenticator Spots Process with a UV Light; Company says that's Fine with Them

By Rocky Landsverk

The newest process offering autograph removal from baseballs, which in theory results in a more collectible single-signed baseball, leaves a staining that is obvious under a black light. Tuff Stuff, with the help of autograph authenticator Richard Simon, examined the process and informed the company that offers the service of its discoveries. Company officials said that's fine with them because their product wasn't designed to deceive anybody anyway.

You can already tell how the tone of the article is tilting against Berman. I love how they "informed the company of their discoveries" of it leaving a stain under a black light. Considering that the company knew that the process left the stain, what exactly did you discover?

Simon "tested" the new company by having a forged Mickey Mantle autograph removed from a Lee McPhail baseball. With the naked eye, the baseball looks pretty good, though close inspection shows that the leather in the "cleansed" area is smoother than the leather on the rest of the baseball.

However, under an ultraviolet ("black") light, what seems like a chemical process leaves a dark purple staining. Simon said authenticators like himself should now be checking single-signed baseballs for the staining and, when necessary, he will add language to his COAs along the lines of "evidence of signature removal can be seen on the side panel."

Upon getting his test ball back, Simon said he could see the surface looked different where the signature was removed. "The rest of the ball has a 'grainy' type of surface," he said. "The surface where the bogus signature was is extremely smooth when compared to the rest of the ball." Alan Berman of Signed Baseball Magic said this ball was signed with a newer pen that was difficult to remove and most of the balls that go through the process are vintage and don't inherit such a smooth panel.

To me, this is what it really comes down to: authenticators are upset that they now have to check each ball under a black light. Period. You guys do realize that all you have to do is shell out a few bucks (try blacklight.com) and flip a switch for each ball you check? Not to mention that you probably should have been doing that anyway.

As far as adding the language to the COA's – good. Berman repeatedly states throughout the article that they are not trying to fool anyone, while Landsverk continues to assert that he is. Berman WANTS the language in the COA. He is simply providing a service to collectors. If you don't like it, don't use it. But don't try to say that he is doing something "unethical."

Simon tested the company because he, like many other veteran hobbyists, doesn't like the concept of autograph removal. "I have serious reservations about removal of autographs on the ball and wanted to see if this guy's work was really good," Simon said. "I just don't believe anything should be altered; that's my major concern. I think this falls into that category. I don't think museums put up things that are altered. I think this has serious repercussions in the hobby."

OK, this paragraph drives me nuts. Rocky subtly drops in the "like many other veteran hobbyists." How do you know that? Do you have any data whatsoever to back that up? Talking to a few biased authenticators isn't enough. That little statement already paints the picture that what Berman is doing is "wrong."

As far as Simon not believing that "anything should be altered" – fine, you are entitled to that belief. But let's think about this for a second. It's not as if he's tampering with the single signature. He's removing the other signatures. Would you have a problem if he cut the leather out with the single signature on it and put it in a baseball card? Because that is exactly what a cut signature is - an autograph cut out and embedded into a card. How is what Berman doing worse than that? It's not difficult to argue that what Berman is doing is less destructive to the original piece of memorabilia than a cut signature is.

Next is my favorite quote of the entire piece. "I don't think museums put up things that are altered." Did you take five seconds and read the "Our Story" section on Berman's site? Obviously not. Because had you researched the very process that you were attacking, you would know that Berman's daughter discovered the process when she was doing museum quality art restoration. Not only do museums put up altered things Richard, there are actually people that make a career out of altering art for museums! I can't stand ignorance.

"I think this has serious repercussions in the hobby" is another beauty. What repercussions? You having to do 30 seconds more work per baseball that you authenticate? Let's see if he addresses that below, my guess is no.

"I know guys can take nylon stockings and remove wax from a card. I don't think that's the same thing as this. I think removing dirt from something is different than what these people are doing. From now on, I will examine all baseballs under a UV light and will note it on the certificate if something has been removed."

You dug your own grave with "I think removing dirt from something is different than what these people are doing," mostly because you don't back that up with any reasoning. As far as I'm concerned, it's pretty much the same. And you already "threatened" us with examining baseballs under a UV light and noting it in the COA. I can't say this any clearer - BERMAN WANTS YOU TO EXAMINE IT UNDER A UV LIGHT. HE WANTS YOU TO NOTE THE REMOVAL IN THE CERTIFICATE. Whining about your "extra" work is getting redundant and quite frankly is taking away any credibility you had left.

Berman said the news that the process is evident under UV light should help the service avoid gaining a devious reputation.

"I have had several calls from the major auction houses, concerned that down the road, people would try to be deceptive," Berman said. "This lays their fears to rest. Personally, I don't know any collectors that keep their collections under ultraviolet light. What we've said all along is under the naked eye, or even under a magnifying glass, these things look great. We never tried to deceive anybody or say they were truly single-signed balls. Mr. Simon is of the opinion that what we're doing is bad. Quite frankly, I'm of a different opinion.

In the latest Lelands.com auction, a Jackie Robinson single-signed baseball went for $14,000. I've got one on my website for $4,000; I've removed four signatures from it. If you've got $14,000, buy the truly signed ball. As a collector, I'm positively thrilled with the balls I'm able to obtain. In 15 years of collecting, I've never seen a Eppa Rixey single-signed baseball available. Well, now I've got one – I removed four signatures from it."

But doesn't this service create the opportunity for confusion down the line, when a buyer might not find out the ball had signatures removed until an authenticator tells them?

"I don't know; these balls are in my collection, and the ones I'm selling, they're advertised exactly what they are," Berman said. "We say exactly how many signatures were removed. We're not trying to deceive anybody, and anybody who sent the ball to the authenticator would find out."

Exactly. It took until the eighth paragraph of the story to let Berman respond. Berman's best line is the "Personally, I don't know any collectors that keep their collections under ultraviolet light."

You would think that his rebuttal would be sufficient and put the baby to bed….but we aren't even close to done yet.

Noted authenticator James Spence said he believes that there is the possibility if confusion years down the line, and he's seen it already.

This is one of those pauses for effect. Catch your breath, and take your time on the next paragraph because his example is classic.

"There are people on eBay that have a letter of mine that says 'There have been removals from this baseball,' and they make the letter fuzzy, they sell the ball, and the guy winds up getting the letter and reading it and saying, 'That wasn't in your description," Spence said.

How is that Berman's fault? Does that somehow invalidate the process? Making the letter fuzzy in the photo and not disclosing it in the auction is against the rules. That seller should be reported to eBay. If it's disclosed in the auction, as it would be by any legitimate seller, there will be no problems. Is that the best argument that you have? Oh wait, there's more.

"But you know what – it's caveat emptor to a certain degree. The collector has got to be more educated and skeptical. Educate yourself; that's part of the process, don't make the authenticator the villain down the road when you realize you didn't ask the proper questions."

Like I said, it's all about the authenticators and their egos.

For those of you who aren't versed in Latin like Spence, caveat emptor is Latin for "let the buyer beware."

Oh, and for the record, there are plenty of real problems with autograph authentication. There's no need to fabricate new ones to make people feel sorry for you.

Is this article over yet?

Steve Grad of PSA/DNA and Spence provided authentication for several now-single-signed baseballs in the newest MastroNet.com auction catalog, and the LOAs and auction descriptions clearly state that autographs have been removed from the side panels. Spence said the process of autograph removal is not new. "There are a lot of people who do this type of work, but to my knowledge, they're not successful at getting it by us," Spence said. "This has been going on for years."

Right now, I'm banging my head on my keyboard. NO ONE IS TRYING TO GET IT BY YOU. OK? Berman just said "We never tried to deceive anybody or say they were truly single-signed balls." So why do you keep bringing that up? Could it be that you have no real argument against what Berman is doing but are too close minded to accept it?

And if this has been going on for years, why is Berman garnering so much attention? I know why – because you refuse to give Berman credit for coming up with an innovative process and want to belittle him by making him feel that everyone's been doing it. From what I've read, it's not the signature removal that's unique; it's the restoration that he does so much better than everyone else. So give the guy a little credit. If everyone was doing it, he wouldn't be getting the publicity that he has.

Spence said most authenticators aren't going to shoot down a single-signed ball that has a real signature on it simply because autographs have been removed. At the same time, he's concerned that less-discerning authenticators might miss the removals and authenticate the items as single-signed.

"When we authenticate a ball that has signatures removed, it's disclosed, our letter would fully state that there was a removal," Spence said. "I wouldn't say that I'm comfortable with this. However, with the multitude of things being out there with removed autographs, and the single signature being valid, there's really nothing else that can be done."

Again, NO ONE IS TRYING TO FOOL YOU, so telling everyone that "our letter would fully state that there was a removal" does absolutely nothing for your case. Do all authenticators share a central brain?

Why aren't you "comfortable" with it? I thought that "this has been going on for years" and that people weren't "successful at getting it by" you so what are you worried about?

I absolutely love the "there's really nothing else that can be done." Do you know why Mr. Spence? Because Berman is doing NOTHING WRONG. The remaining autograph is real, and believe it or not, people will buy the balls for a reduced price to save money. There is a market for it. So deal with it.

Spence said he also sees balls which people covered signatures on the side panels with stamped or painted logos or pictures. "It's just another example of changing a multi-signed item into a single-signed one, which increases the perceived value in the marketplace," he said. "The only thing you can do is mention it in the LOA."

Worthless paragraph. The next one is a beauty.

"It's still a piece of marketable memorabilia. If there's a full disclosure…well, still, I don't want to collect an item that's been tampered with. If you want to buy a poor man's Ruth-signed baseball, this is a way of getting one. Take it whatever way you want."

It's like he had finally convinced himself that he was OK with it and then the central brain that all authenticators share took control and he completely reversed course, mid quote.

His argument against it is that HE doesn't like it. Why can't these guys understand that NO ONE CARES that you don't like it. Some collectors like it. As long as there are consumers willing to pay for it and a business willing to provide it, you are going to have to authenticate these balls.

Berman said the fact that MastroNet auctions are selling balls with autographs removed legitimizes the process. He said the company will be setting up at Tristar shows in Houston in January and San Francisco in February so "collectors can come and see for themselves the quality of the work that we do."

Finally this article is over. Now that you've got all of the information, you form your opinion.

Ten years ago, this rebuttal never would have seen the light of day. It would have crossed an editors desk and been thrown in the garbage. The sports collectibles industry will learn, as many other industries already have, that you can't publish garbage. People won't put up with it any more. It takes five minutes for someone to set up a blogging account on Blogger.com today and instantly they have a voice.

See, the internet is the great equalizer. Large corporations can no longer silence individual consumers. All things are created equal. The businesses that survive (and ultimately thrive) will be the ones that interact with, listen to, and respond to their consumers. Welcome to the 21st century, sports collectibles.