REA Auctions will be liquidating the last of the voluminous Barry Halper Collection in an auction early next year. As might have been expected, sifting through the Halper Estate yielded a host of unique items, not the least of which was a group of 30 baseballs bearing a Pete Rose Ballpark Collectibles hologram and the intriguing inscription, "I'm sorry I bet on baseball," along with an apparent "Pete Rose" signature.
Adding to the intrigue, the balls from the Halper Estate include an inscription edition number out of a total of 303 (Rose's lifetime batting average).
"Everything tells me these are a hot potato," Lifson said in describing the initial reaction to the "find." The veteran auctioneer said the balls, all virtually identical and with edition numbers from around 240 to the 260s, will ultimately be sent to James Spence Authentication prior to the spring sale. All 30 of the balls in the Halper Estate are Bud Selig MLB balls.
For his part, Spence said he has seen and authenticated nearly a dozen similar balls in the past.
The edition numbering becomes important, because the few hobby insiders willing to talk about the baseballs have almost uniformly suggested that Rose only did "a couple of dozen" of the inscription baseballs. The estimate, of course, dramatically conflicts with the numbering on the Halper Estate balls, assuming there was no skip numbering.
Rose's agent, Warren Greene, who works for Mounted Memories/Field of Dreams, which holds the exclusive on Rose signings, said Rose told him the items were signed for a specific party. "Pete told me he signed a couple of dozen as a favor to the guys in Cooperstown, Tom Catal and Andrew Vilacky," Greene said, adding that Rose had stayed at their private residences in Cooperstown.
Catal is a well-known hobby name from Tom Catal's Mickey Mantle Museum in Cooperstown, and a longtime friend of Mantle's who brought the Hall of Famer to autograph shows as far back as the late 1970s, according to his website. Vilacky was the owner of Pete Rose Collectibles, which was also on Main Street in Cooperstown, before legal difficulties forced him out of business.
Greene insisted that the news of the existence of the baseballs fell well short of being a legitimate news story.
"It would be a story if he signed the balls prior to his admission," Greene continued, referring to the public admission by Rose in 2004 about betting on baseball, following 15 years of spirited denials. "I can guarantee you that they were not signed before the admission."
Greene painted a picture of an impromptu signing in Cooperstown with Rose, Catal and Vilacky, noting that Catal "has thousands of Mickey Mantle balls with off-color inscriptions," a revelation that would hardly come as a surprise to hobby insiders, who have known for years about Mantle's legendary penchant for creating unique collectibles.
"One of the stories is that Pete needed money and made a deal for these baseballs, with Barry's promise that he would not sell the balls in his lifetime," said Lifson.
The question of how many such baseballs are out there remains central to the whole debate, along with the details of whether or not each ball carries the hologram and/or the edition numbering.
Greene also said he has no explanation about why there would be baseballs numbered into the 240s-260s when he had been assured by Rose that the former ballplayer and manager had only signed a couple dozen. Greene also said about a dozen of the balls were sold on the Steiner Sports website, noting that "they got big dollars," quoting a figure of $600 each.
Greene also pointed out that while there has never been an official Mounted Memories signing with that inscription, he didn't rule out the possibility that it might be undertaken at some point, adding that three or four memorabilia companies have already made overtures to him about doing such a signing.
"I think it's a great inscription," he continued, noting that if they ever did such a signing, it would likely hurt the value of the existing signed balls.