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Ted Williams: Fake Autographs Sign of the Times

February 12, 1996

NEW YORK (AP) _ Way before autographs became big business, Ted Williams had no problem letting others sign baseballs for him. That’s how it was done in those days.

Now, with the collectible industry booming and forgeries rampant, the 77-year-old Hall of Famer doesn’t like what he sees.

``I have been had myself in this business a little bit,″ Williams said on CBS’ ``60 Minutes″ broadcast Sunday night.

When he starred for the Boston Red Sox in the 1940s and 1950s, Williams acknowledged he didn’t sign everything that had his name on it.

There are ``a lot of autographs out there that have been signed by the bat boy and the secretary and all the rest of them,″ Williams said.

Asked by reporter Morley Safer whether someone signed for him, he said: ``Yeah, but it wasn’t important then. Because going back 30, 35 years, and the clubhouse boy could sign my name like gangbusters. Yes, sir. And not only me, a lot of the members of the team. He had them all down pretty good.″

The sports collectible industry, particularly autographs, has meant major money in recent years. And it has led to problems on all sides _ many autographs on the market are said to be fakes, and many big-name players such as Pete Rose and Darryl Strawberry and Hall of Famers Duke Snider and Willie McCovey have failed to pay taxes on money made at card shows.

In its story, ``60 Minutes″ said Williams spent $1 million tracking down a forger who had taken advantage of him.

Williams’ son, John Henry, told The Associated Press on Sunday night that, in an effort to learn the dimensions of the problem, he’s spent $15,000 in the last six to eight months on autographed items from more than 20 dealers and companies.

``Of 23 companies, two have sent legitimate stuff,″ he said. ``I probably have 150 to 200 autographs in my office that aren’t real.″

John Henry Williams, who also appeared on the ``60 Minutes″ broadcast, said he’s collecting the fakes as evidence and plans to start revealing the names of dealers and companies that sell them.

``I’m trying to get some public awareness of what’s going on,″ he said in San Diego, where his father will receive an award at a sports banquet Tuesday night. ``That’s the key. If enough people in the industry and enough collectors would realize there are that many fakes out there, they’ll try to buy from a reputable dealer, or at least be aware there is that problem out there. It’s bigger than it seems.″

Williams said a telltale sign of fakes is that his dad stopped signing baseballs after he had a stroke in February 1994, yet his signature has shown up on baseballs imprinted with the names of the new league presidents who took over after that date.

``Something else I’m finding from all these companies I’m buying from is autographs are starting to look alike,″ the younger Williams said. ``They’re either done by the same person or the same machine.″

More and more top-name players have appeared at card shows in the last 10 years. Harlan Warner, an agent who books retired athletes to sign, told ``60 Minutes″ that Joe DiMaggio could make $150,000 a day at a show.

``This opportunity of signing your name and make a little money with it, I think without question, has helped a lot of players,″ Williams said.

One dealer interviewed by ``60 Minutes″ said Williams’ autograph may soon become worth even more. Williams has been in poor health after a stroke.

``Whether they think I going to die or not, I got news for them,″ Williams said. ``I’m going to be around for a while.″

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