Operation Bullpen

Two years ago, Bay Area-based writer Kevin Nelson published The Golden Game: The Story of California Baseball (Heyday Books). The book was (and is) an excellent source on a little-mined subject, detailing events from the 19th Century (the first publication of Ernest Thayer's "Casey at the Bat," in William Randolph Hearst's Examiner) to Jackie Robinson's career at Pasadena Junior College to the final years of the Hollywood Stars and Los Angeles Angels in the Pacific Coast League.

Nelson is back with his latest work, Operation Bullpen: The Inside Story of the Biggest Forgery Scam in American History (Southampton Books). The book is a raucous romp inside the operations of the so-called "flip-flop mafia" – a crew of autograph forgers and counterfeit sports memorabilia dealers based in Southern California who, as the big money rolled in, became ever bolder with their scams. How's about a baseball signed by Mother Teresa? Presto. Autographed boxing gloves from Muhammad Ali? Easy. How about selling millions of dollars worth of fake stuff on one of those television shopping networks? You got it.

The FBI spent three years investigating the operation before the big bust went down in 1999. Writes Nelson: "In all, say government investigators, the Bullpen ring ripped off American consumers for more than $100 million." (In an interesting twist, they received help from slugger Mark McGwire, now living in baseball exile because of his alleged steroid use.) The book is due out any day; you can read an excerpt –- including the section describing how the crew manufactured a Babe Ruth "autographed" ball worth thousands –- on the web-site for the book. No word yet as to author appearances and/or book signings (with Nelson's authentic signature, we presume) in SoCal.

October 10, 2006 8:42 PM • Native Intelligence • Email the editor

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