Some sports memorabilia in estate sale of ex-Detroit Tiger Denny McLain may have been fake

Detroit Free Press

Frank Witsil
 
| Detroit Free Press

On the eve of former Tigers pitcher Denny McLain’s estate sale at his Wixom home, an Arizona collector who belongs to a group that susses out forgeries had his suspicions about a couple of the sports memorabilia items that he had seen photos of online. 

It turns out, he was right to be concerned.

Two photos caught Steve Kahldon’s eye. One was a framed, autographed photo of Ted Williams, who played for the Boston Red Sox, and the other was a photo of Williams and Mickey Mantle, the New York Yankee, together, which also was framed and signed by both players.

Kahldon said the signatures seemed off to him.

Kahldon added that he also alerted the estate sale company of his concerns, but it did not respond to him.

“The problem is when the stuff is listed and sold,” Kahldon, the collector, told the Free Press on Thursday, “the average person who attends this thing is not even going to bother to verify if something is authentic or not because it came from Denny McLain.”

More: Ex-Detroit Tiger Denny McLain is selling off some of his sports collection

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Aaron Siepierski — the owner of Aaron’s Estate Sales, the company that is organizing the sale for McLain — said he never heard from Kahldon, but on Wednesday night, independently came to the same conclusion about the two photos and signatures.

“There are tons of items that have authentication stickers,” Siepierski said. But there also are items that do not, and when going through them with local and out of state experts, the company “found and removed some pieces that didn’t pass the test.”

Moreover, Siepierski said, the sale makes clear that items are sold as-is with no guarantees, and it is generally known among collectors that buyers assume the risk that the memorabilia may be ersatz. The Latin phrase for this practice is caveat emptor, meaning let the buyer beware.

Professional Sports Authenticator, a large third-party organization that certifies memorabilia, points out that forgeries are all too common, and unscrupulous people have taken advantage of the rising popularity and value of celebrity autographs. 

In July, counterfeit sports memorabilia claiming ties to Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, and other baseball legends were part of a forgery factory in Cedar, Michigan, that was raided by the FBI, according to a Sports Collectors Digest report.

In this case, Kahldon said, buyers should be vigilant and learn as much as they can about the memorabilia they are purchasing. A lot of information is now available online, including free advice. The group he belongs to, Autograph Live, offers tips and information at no charge to guard against purchasing forgeries.

While McLain was an outstanding pitcher, his life has been marked by ups and downs.

He was a two-time Cy Young award winner, but also a two-time prison inmate. He has experienced the thrill of pitching a World Series championship, but also the agony of losing his oldest daughter to a drunken-driving crash— and the death of his wife less than a year ago.

Still, Siepierski said, the first of the four-day sale went great, with 25-30 VIP buyers attending the event. The day had been set aside for buyers who paid as much as $400 a ticket to see the collection before every everyone else — and to meet McLain.

The next three days — Friday through Sunday — are open to the public at no charge.

One person, the estate sale company said, was overheard saying to another buyer that even if an item could not be authenticated, the purchase might have been worth it just to meet the famous pitcher and own something that would have a memorable story attached to it.

Contact Frank Witsil: 313-222-5022 or fwitsil@freepress.com.

If you want to go

The estate sale is from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday through Sunday at 53201 Maranatha Lane in Wixom. A preview of some items can be found online at aaronsestatesales.com/sale/2623755. There is no charge, but you must wear a mask.

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