When I left Iola on the morning of April 17 on my way to the Premier Collectible Conference and Exhibition in Rosemont, Ill., the last phone call I thought I’d receive was someone telling me that one of the hobby’s founding fathers of authentication was retiring from his passion of verifying game-used equipment.
Troy Kinunen, lead authenticator at MEARS, was the person on the line with me that day, and to my surprise, he told me that Dave Bushing has “had enough,” and that when I arrive at the show I should interview him to get his thoughts. So that’s exactly what I did.
“I will never again write a letter of opinion on anything again,” said Bushing when I spoke with him. “I will never be a third-party authenticator again. I’m not remotely interested. There isn’t enough money in the world for me to authenticate anything again.”
Bushing, who has authenticated material for more than 20 years, and until now was the co-lead authenticator for MEARS, said the final straw in his decision was when participants on online hobby message boards began raising questions about a Lew Krausse game-worn jersey that MEARS consigned to Robert Edward Auctions’ current sale.
Some hobby critics believe there is a major conflict of interest involved when a third-party authenticator is also a dealer. MEARS buys and sell sports memorabilia. It is, however, MEARS’ policy to disclose when an item has been graded by the third-party grading company and also sold by its authenticators.
“Three years ago we decided to address this,” said Bushing. “If I authenticate something that I have any financial interest in, we’re going to disclose it. So, if you have a problem and think that I might give a better grade to something I may own to make more money on it, don’t bid on it.”
The Krausse shirt in question was graded an A10 by MEARS, the highest possible grade according to its grading scale. A member of Game Used Universe’s Game Used Forum pointed out a stain on the front of the jersey and said it should not have been graded that high. According to Kinunen, the stain was consistent with game use and not non-game use, such as paint, ink, etc., and that is why it was given an A10 and not a lower grade, initially. After further review and some lengthy discussion, MEARS ended up reanalyzing the jersey and gave it an A9.5.
“Message board members scream about conflict, yet Game Used Forum has a for-profit auction house that allows a smoke screen of anonymous members and ‘sticky’ threads attacking their competition and then courts the very customers that are now working with their competition,” said Bushing. “They (the Game Used Forum) have authenticators that are dealers as well. Isn’t it a major conflict that a supposed public information site allows personal attacks at every other auction house and then runs their own auction but there is no outcry of conflict? The Game Used Forum site should not be running a for-profit auction and advertising site, and the moderators allow blogs to ‘stick’ about their competition.”
Chris Cavalier, owner of Game Used Universe, was actually a bit surprised to hear about Bushing’s decision to step away from authenticating. However, he said that he thinks the issue Bushing has is not really with Game Used Universe but the fact that the industry is moving in a direction where everyone is having to become more accountable.
“The forum we operate is a public forum where collectors come to share information and help educate one another,” said Cavalier. “Members are required to register with full names so they are not anonymous. Anyone can find the posters’ names in our member directory, and they are accountable for their posts as stated in the forum rules. They ask questions that they believe deserve answers. The forum is unequivocally designed to help collectors.
“Along those lines, Game Used Universe as a company holds itself to the same accountability that collectors on our site are now asking of other entities,” said Cavalier. “In fact, it can be easily argued that we hold ourselves to an even higher level of accountability because we encourage it. For example, we have built custom software for our auctions where questions can publicly be asked about any item we have for sale and those questions – and responses – can be viewed by everyone so they can make informed decisions about what they are buying. Up until now, I don’t think either sellers or authenticators have had to provide such transparency nor were their opinions publicly questioned.
“The fact of the matter is, consistent with making the industry more accountable, Game Used Universe’s auctions provide an unprecedented ability for collectors to ask questions and get information prior to making a purchase decision. We have had people ask us tough questions, including questions about items in our auction, and we answer them. We have pulled items from our auctions when collectors have helped us determine the item may not have been correctly assessed. We welcome their feedback and are willing to admit our mistakes because we want to create a marketplace that collectors can trust in terms of finding legitimate merchandise. We believe that type of accountability is good for collectors and will make the hobby better. And, to suggest we can control a public forum’s questions and comments is, well, difficult to comprehend,” said Cavalier.
Bushing also pointed out that he’s not frustrated with the criticism he receives, but he is more frustrated with the way he’s been treated.
“There’s a way to be professional when pointing out a bad item on a message board and not to always assume that the seller is a scumbag, a thief; it’s a conspiracy,” said Bushing. “Their attitude is that everybody’s out to [expletive] everybody. They don’t give us any credit for all the good we do. They sit there like spiders. The day an auction comes online, they aren’t there saying, ‘Look at that great Gehrig.’ They’re there to point out the negative and that’s it.”
Bushing wonders why he is such a target and why message board participants fail to mention that other authenticators also authenticate and conduct business as a dealer.
“I’m the one the bloggers always point out as having a conflict of interest for third-party authenticators,” said Bushing. “They don’t point out John Taube or any of the other guys. For 20 years prior, everybody knew I bought the stuff. I sold the stuff and authenticated. There’s letters of mine floating around from the late 1980s with a money-back guarantee for life. I have yet to ever make good on it because we never sold bad stuff. There was never any issue with it. Nobody cared.”
Bushing is also frustrated with the lack of credibility message board participants have.
“I’m just so sick of the double standards,” said Bushing. “The members of the message boards that always are complaining that Lou Lampson doesn’t even exist, he (the members) won’t give his name, address, nobody knows who the hell he is. Who’s the phantom here? I never saw these guys get on and say, ‘Hey, there’s a really nice 1938 Lou Gehrig jersey in that auction,’ or ‘A really nice Luke Appling shirt is in that Robert Edward sale.’ Their posts are all focused on the negatives.”
When asked why he doesn’t ignore online hobby message boards, Bushing said he can’t because his clients read them.
“I was here in the beginning,” Bushing added. “I was writing about this [expletive] when people didn’t know a store bat from a game bat, and to have all your work and all your dedication to a business in a hobby smeared by six or seven guys who don’t know you, who won’t tell you who they are and don’t have a basis for what they’re talking about … I get all this negative feedback but get no positive, so what’s the point? I’m not making any money doing it (authenticating). So why bother doing it? I hate it, I literally hate it. It’s so frustrating, I don’t even need the aggravation any more.”
Kinunen views the departure of Bushing from MEARS’ authentication division as a positive one because now Bushing can focus more strongly on buying and selling for the company.
“Now Dave can concentrate on what he loves and that’s getting the best memorabilia in the business,” said Kinunen. “Whether it be at the flea markets, at the shows, calling his old customers, now he will have more time to get those great game-used jerseys and bats that he’s known for.
“All colleges have a good professor, and our professor did a good job of teaching us. Dave Bushing didn’t die, he’s just not authenticating anymore. His expertise is still only a phone call away.”