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Tigers G-Men items as valuable as they are rare

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It was an era of violence and romanticism. A time when the outlaw was wrapped in a folk-hero status of sorts. To this day, the old-timers here in Detroit still talk of the "Purple Gang," "The Collingwood Massacre," an the "Wyandotte Whiskey Runners." Prohibition and the era of Dillinger would give birth to a new type of lawman, one who could not be bribed, one who was above corruption; they would become known as the G-Men. And while Melvin Purvis and J. Edgar Hoover are probably the most famous of the group, this article deals with the G-Men who were in the employ of the Detroit Tigers.

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In 1934, the Tigers, under the leadership of Mickey Cochrane, captured the team's fourth pennant. A year later, Detroit would beat the Chicago Cubs in the World Series to secure the team's first championship. Those Tigers' teams of long ago had an arsenal of great players - among them were Charlie Gehringer, Hank Greenberg, and Goose Goslin. They would go down in baseball history as the G-Men of Detroit.

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Charlie Gehringer

 When debating who was the greatest second baseman of all time, any serious list should include Gehringer. A fine defensive fielder who held a lifetime .321 average and won the 1937 American League MVP title, Gehringer would enter the Hall of Fame in 1949.

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Gehringer's signature is probably the finest in all of baseball. It looks more machine-like than anything else. Vintage signatures, as seen in Example 1 (circa 1938) have unmatched eye appeal. Gehringer's hand changed little throughout his life. Example 2 is a recent signature (circa 1990) and while his hand slowed somewhat the signature is still nice.

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With the exception of bank checks, Gehringer is common on most mediums and can be purchased without spending a lot of money. In recent years, since the advent of eBay, prices have actually fallen. There seems to be an endless supply of Gehringer material. The exceptions are black-and-white plaque postcards and letters; both are uncommon but by no means rare. I had the pleasure to speak with Charlie on several occasions; he lived nearby where I grew up. He once said he received around 300 letters a month requesting an autograph or two or three. That translates into a whole lot of Gehringer items available on the market.

Most items can be purchased for less than $20 the less-common items selling for more. A single-signed baseball is worth about $125, while black-and-white Hall of Fame plaques can be purchased for $50-$75. Typed letters sell for $50-75 and handwritten letters go for $100-$150. Checks are rare and generally sell for $500, I have only seen two and both were uncancelled. There are a few 8-by-10 photos signed by Gehringer and shortstop Billy Rogell. These are very tough to find and will likely cost $150-$200.

I think the one sleeper item are those Perez-Steele Masterworks cards. Signed Gehringer cards from this set are uncommon and should rise in value other Gehringer Perez-Steele material is too common and will not see much appreciation.

Leon "Goose" Goslin

 I have often considered Leon "Goose" Goslin one of the most underrated ballplayers of all time. Take a look at his lifetime record and I think you will agree. Goslin compiled a .316 batting average, 2,735 hits, and collected more than 1,600 RBIs yet today the old Tiger warhorse is all but forgotten by everyone except die-hard baseball fans.

Goslin signed in a large flowing hand that results in a signature that is highly legible and has excellent eye appeal. Example 3 is from his playing days (dated 1934) and Example 4 is a more modern signature (circa late 1960s).
Goslin is a highly desirable name and his premium items are considered scarce to rare. Goslin is typically limited to album pages, scorecards, and team-signed balls. Letters in any form are rare as are single signed baseballs and Hall of Fame plaque cards, which he typically signed on the reverse.

Goslin is an easy name to forge and there are a lot of well-executed forgeries in the market today especially on 8-by-10 photographs and Hall of Fame plaques. Toward the last few years of his life, Goslin's hand became a bit unsteady. Old-age signatures tend to be slower and evidence a slight shakiness of hand.

As to a price guide for Goslin material: a signature should sell for $75-$100. Government postcards are uncommon and generally sell in the $150 range. Signed 8-by-10 pictures are desirable and typically start at $350. Typed letters should sell between $225-$250, with handwritten letters at $500. Single-signed baseballs are very rare and should start at $4,000. Goslin loved to sign his 1933 Goudey gum card and there is a surprising number of genuine ones in the market; they are still scarce and will run about $300.

Hank Greenberg

 In 1938, Greenberg hammered out 58 home runs in a challenge that fell just short of Babe Ruth's single-season mark. Although Greenberg lost three of his prime seasons to the war he still managed to hit 331 home runs, which is why he is widely considered one of baseball's greatest sluggers.

Greenberg signed in a nice up-and-down hand. Example 5 is a vintage signature from his playing days. Example 6 is a recent signature that appears more flowing and a bit less choppy. Greenberg is a fairly easy signature to forge and there are many well-executed forgeries in the market especially on single-signed baseballs.

Since his death in 1985 the demand for Greenberg material has gone through the roof. No other recently deceased Hall of Famer has increased in value like Greenberg and it is not likely to stop. Greenberg died just before the era of card shows and private signings, hence the supply of Greenberg material is limited.

Greenberg died of cancer at the age of 75 but it appears the illness did not affect his writing. I have never seen a genuine Greenberg signature that evidences an unsteady hand and if you run across one that appears labored, I suggest you avoid it.

Greenberg material will prove a fine investment in the years to come. Currently, prices are as follows: a signed gold plaque card sells for about $75 with black-and-white plaque cards at about $125-$150. Signed
8-by-10 photographs will start at $125. Single-signed baseballs have very good eye appeal and should sell for $750. A nicely signed Perez-Steele card (typically signed in black Sharpie) will sell for $225-$250. Typed letters sell for about $150 with handwritten letters approaching $300. Signed 8-by-10 photos by both Gehringer and Greenberg are scarce but do exist; these are a treasure and will start at $400.

In keeping up with the latest forgeries, I have noticed that forged Hank Greenberg Perez-Steele art cards have recently entered the market or at least I have recently noticed them. The three I have seen were signed in thin blue Sharpie pen. The forgeries are not bad but to the trained eye they easily stand out. At least one was certified and "slabbed" as genuine in error. Greenberg was fond of using thick black Sharpies to sign just about everything. I believe I have only seen one or two genuinely signed Greenberg Perez-Steele cards accomplished in blue Sharpie, and thick blue sharpie at that. Just about all genuinely signed Greenberg Perez-Steele cards were signed in black Sharpie. If you run across a Greenberg Perez-Steele signed in anything but black sharpie proceed with extreme caution.

Final Thoughts

 A couple of final thoughts. I have never seen a genuine signed item by just these three men. There are many forged book pictures and baseballs "signed" by the G-men so caution is warranted. About the only way that you can obtain this combination is to track down a nice Tigers team ball or signed team sheet from the 1930s.

In the late 1980s someone ran across an old newspaper photo of J. Edgar Hoover, Mickey Cochrane and the G-Men. They are all lined up in finely tailored suits. What makes this picture so great is that they're all wielding Thompson sub-machine guns. Gehringer signed a few of these pictures and if your lucky enough to find one snap it up. It is one of the finest baseball pictures I ever have seen.

The G-men of Detroit are a wonderful link to Depression Era baseball here in Detroit and their signatures will make a fine addition to any vintage baseball library. Like so many famous trios in sports history, we'll not likely forget Gehringer, Greenberg, and Goslin.