|10-12-2009, 07:34 AM||#1 (permalink)|
Join Date: Jun 2007
Baseball fighting fakery with a seal of approval
Baseball fighting fakery with a seal of approval
It was a moment of low drama, but in the hands of one Robert "Bobby" Bonds Jr., the humble white sphere at the center of it all was about to become a precious artifact.
Seconds earlier, the object in question had left the hand of Phillies pitcher Cole Hamels, met the bat of Todd Helton, and dribbled all of 30 feet down the first-base line, just far enough to give the Colorado Rockies their first run of the game and first lead of the playoff series.
After the play, the ball boy retrieved the ball and handed it to Bonds, seated in a folding chair next to the Phillies dugout, close enough to manager Charlie Manuel to see the lines on his neck. Bonds set the ball on the ground, unresentfully.
While Bonds is an unashamed and unabashed Phillies fan, this was strictly business. He dutifully placed a Major League Baseball hologram sticker on the ball, certifying that it was the ball used on that particular sequence in the first inning of Game 2 of the 2009 National League division series Thursday.
Later, he aimed a scanner at the sticker to enter it into an MLB database, and remanded the ball to the custody of the Philadelphia Phillies.
Bonds, a Philadelphia police officer and father of three who lives in Germantown with his wife, Dominique, is the Phillies' chief "authenticator" - part notary, part baseball archaeologist.
He or one of the three authenticators he supervises at Citizens Bank Park certify that the memorabilia items that are saved, swapped, given to charities, or sent to the Hall of Fame are, well, authentic. They include balls, broken bats, jerseys, the bases, and the managers' lineup cards.
His job is to watch every pitch, to follow every ball, to witness. This might strike the nonfan as tedium on steroids. But not Bonds.
"I love this, I love this. I have a great time," said Bonds, 43. He is a full-time investigator with Central Detectives, but it was the FBI that had a big role in his part-time ballpark gig.
An FBI investigation in the 1990s found that an estimated 75 percent of all the merchandise in the $1 billion-a-year memorabilia industry was fake.
In response, Major League Baseball, a huge player in the market, set up an authentication program in 2001 for all 30 teams. That first year, about 500 objects were authenticated. Today, that number is more than three million, said Howard Shelton, MLB's program manager.
Wayne McDonnell, a sports-business expert at New York University, is a big fan of the program. "This is a really dirty and shady industry because people prey on emotion," he said.
"I'm a collector, myself. The hologram I'm looking for is Major League Baseball's."
"You're really documenting history," said Shelton, 48, who commutes to MLB's New York offices from Mount Laurel. Having grown up in Willingboro, he, too, is a lifelong Phillies fan.
The universe of authenticated objects is ever-expanding. A sticker was placed on the can of Off that New York Yankees pitcher Joba Chamberlain used to combat an attack of tiny bugs during the 2007 playoffs in Cleveland. (The can was later sold at auction.)
Players often ask Bonds to authenticate individual items. "They're looking for protection," Shelton said.
Trevor Hoffman, the Milwaukee Brewers reliever who is the all-time saves leader, evidently saves more than games. Every time he adds to his record, Shelton said, he adds to his memorabilia collection - and he wants it all authenticated.
"The last time he was here and he got a save, he got his cleats done, his jersey done, and his hat," Bonds said.
When players exchange autographed shirts, they want those authenticated. For example, Jimmy Rollins might ask Derek Jeter to sign his jersey, Bonds said, and he will witness the signing and affix the sticker. Jeter, in turn, will ask Rollins to reciprocate. "Usually, it's a mutual exchange," he said.
Bonds places stickers - tiny, silver, and bullet-shaped - on carefully marked bases used during games. The bases are changed after the third and sixth innings, and Bonds has to watch which groundskeeper has which base so it can be correctly numbered.
Authenticators also witness authorized autograph shows. Bonds recalled attending a Hamels signing in West Chester that went on for nine hours. He said he had used about 4,000 stickers.
Some of the memorabilia is not sold. For example, during Brett Myers' famous walk against the Brewers' C.C. Sabathia in last year's division series, which set up a game-winning grand slam, Myers broke a bat.
The Phillies decided it was too precious to give away, so it was put on display at the Hall of Fame Club at the ballpark, merchandise director Scott Brandreth said.
About half the memorabilia is donated to charities, Brandreth said, and the rest sold, some of it at a ballpark kiosk.
Shelton said it was no concern to Bonds and his colleagues, who technically work for Authenticators Inc., an MLB-created entity, what happened to an item once it was authenticated.
For example, it would be up to the Phillies to decide the fate of the ball commemorating that Rockies run.
If a ball winds up in the stands, it will not be authenticated, Bonds said, with one exception. When a player is near a milestone, such as a 500th career home run, the home-plate umpire will use a supply of specially coded balls during the player's times at bat. If the ball is caught in the stands, Shelton said, the fan is taken to a "secure area" to have the ball authenticated.
Major League Baseball hires current or retired security officers, Shelton said. They attend occasional meetings, he said, but most of the training is on the job. They are given thick procedural manuals that cover everything from stickers to clubhouse etiquette.
"One thing you don't want to do after a close loss," Shelton said, is barge into the clubhouse and say, 'Hey, I want to authenticate this lineup card.' "
Bonds was working the night the Phillies won the World Series last year, but odds are you never saw him. While the celebration was occurring on the mound, another authenticator went to secure the final-out ball, while Bonds took care of the Tampa Bay Rays lineup card.
In fact, although he sits next to the cameramen, Bonds is rarely in the public eye - save for Wednesday. A foul ball went into an elevator shaft next to the Phillies' dugout, and a little girl desperately wanted it. Between innings, Bonds lifted her up and positioned her so she could get it. The TBS cameras caught it.
His wife, a Convention Center honcho, was watching at work and started screaming, "Bobby, Bobby."
"She said her office went crazy," he said.
Memorabilia cop calls 'em as he sees 'em. | Philadelphia Inquirer | 10/11/2009
|10-12-2009, 09:34 AM||#2 (permalink)|
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