They’re some of the most sought-after pieces of baseball memorabilia hunted down by collectors: vintage bats. But it can be very difficult to check the authenticity of one of these aged game-used collector’s items. But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. The following tips from expert Bob Bertrand can help ensure you get an authentic vintage bat, and not a well-done imposter.
If it’s too good to be true…
If it sounds too good to be true, odds are it is. This rule applies especially in the world of sports memorabilia, and vintage game-used bats. Baseball teams and players use numerous bats, something shady dealers take advantage of. Forgers can use self-made letters of authenticity or certificates of authenticity which, combined with a believable back story, can be enough to convince some buyers that a bat was indeed used in a professional baseball game and not elsewhere.
However, there are only two primary authenticators that provide trustworthy letters and certificates of authority. They are Professional Sports Authenticators and Memorabilia Evaluation and Research Services.
These companies will take the following steps as they determine the authenticity of a bat:
- Checking the bat’s manufacturer labelling to see if it matches the time period
- Reviewing the bat’s wood grain for finish, alterations and cracks
- Length and weight measurements
- Compare with known examples of bats used by the athlete
- Examining it for in-game use traits such as ball marks, pine-tar use, tape and player number markings
One thing to keep in mind is that bat authenticators only provide a research-based opinion based on the bat’s labelling and in-game traits. Only an affidavit from the player and a highly detailed picture of the player using the bat can offer a bombproof guarantee of authenticity.
Photo comparisons are one of the most relied upon ways of checking authenticity. However, it has some pitfalls – namely that pictures from decades ago don’t carry the same high level of visual information that photographs from modern cameras do.
For example, take this two-tone bat said to be game-used by Cal Ripkin Jr. in the early 1980s.
It appears to have all the game-use traits, labelling and individual player characteristics.
But comparing it with photographs from the era reveals Ripkin seemed to prefer a solid-colour bat. This raises concerns.
What’s more, the allegedly authentic bat doesn’t have Ripkin’s player number, which these two authenticated bats of his do have.
Also notice those bats don’t use tape, as the purported authentic bat does, but pine tar.
Of course, these differences may in fact be chalked up to Ripkin’s bat-style habits changing over time, they do raise red flags, and are a good example of the critical thinking and double-checking you should be doing before laying down cash on an “authentic” vintage bat.