This is an update of a "Street Sweeper" column that originally ran on June 29, 2012
According to a federal prosecutors, on January 12, 2012, Irving Scheib, 50, of Bonsall, CA went onto eBay and paid $750 for an item listed as an "1890's Full Web Workman Baseball Mitt." In some sense, that purchase was merely the weakly hit ground-ball that started a double-play of criminal proportions.
Once in possession of this 19th Century bit of baseball memorabilia, Scheib apparently came upon the idea of selling the glove as one used by none other than Babe Ruth. Which, okay, if we're talking mathematical possibilities or statistical probabilities, sure, maybe, just maybe, the glove might have belonged to the Bambino, but, in reality, Scheib was never told that and apparently didn't have an iota of proof suggesting such a fantastical connection.
Getting To First Base
Buy, hey, a lot of folks don't let proof get in the way of a good story or spiel. And Scheib seemed to have been just such a hustler. According to the feds, Scheib got in touch with a Nevada sports memorabilia broker and presented the baseball mitt as a family heirloom obtained directly from the Babe - more to the point, Scheib allegedly said that deceased Hollywood actor Robert Young, to whom Scheib is related by marriage, obtained the glove from Ruth.
Baby Boomer Side Bar: Robert Young? Omigod, ya gotta be kidding me. Robert Young - as in the beloved "Jim Anderson" of the"Father Knows Best" sitcom. Robert Young - as in "Marcus Welby, MD." Say it ain't so Robert!
Anyway, apparently content to drag bunt the good name of Mr. Anderson and Dr. Welby through the infield mud, Scheib sent fake documents to the memorabilia dealer (and to an interested buyer) corroborating this fabricated provenance, and falsely claimed in a letter that the glove;
was gifted to Babe Ruth's personal friend and Golden Era Star Robert Young in 1944. . .[and that Ruth] he was so affectionate towards this glove that he slept with it under his pillow at the orphanage.
The very mitt that the Bambino used under his orphanage pillow! Could there be a more holier grail in all of baseballdom? And talk about an expensive bit of leather - the feds alleged that Scheib was asking about $200,000.
After paying for the glove, the buyer asked Scheib and Scheib's wife (who was Robert Young's granddaughter) to notarize one of the letters of provenance. Scheib balked at the request and the buyer returned the mitt. That old fake the throw to third base and then catch the runner at first base rarely, if ever, works. Scheib was still on the mound with a flaky glove and runners in scoring position.
The Set-Up Man
Despite just having had his last pitch hit back into his face, Scheib decided to throw another spitter to someone he thought was another buyer, a fellow in New York City. Ah yes, the Big Apple, the home of the House that Ruthbuilt, that is, before they tore that house down and replaced it with anotherYankee Stadium.
Alas, someone was stealing Scheib's signs because the latest buyer was an undercover investigator from the U.S. Attorney's Office. Yer not throwin' a spitball on Preet Bharara's turf!
Having been shelled by the Murderers' Row of the FBI and the Manhattan US Attorney's office, on June 28, 2012, Scheib pleaded guilty to anInformation of one count of wire fraud in Manhattan federal court. As he made his lonely walk to the showers, Scheib faced a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison on the one count of wire fraud.
US Attorney Bharara and FBI Assistant Director-in-charge Janice K. Fedarcyk, both felt it necessary to get some post-game publicity:
Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said: "Irving Scheib wove a fantastical tale in an attempt to exploit the iconic status of a legendary figure in the world of baseball, Babe Ruth, to make a quick buck. The peddling of counterfeit goods is a crime, and his plea today makes clear that it is a crime we will prosecute."
FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge Janice K. Fedarcyk said: "Unlike a work of art or other rare collectible, an item of sports memorabilia derives its value from its context. A baseball bat or glove is not inherently valuable; a bat or glove used by a famous athlete is. What the defendant attempted to sell was in fact a baseball glove. That the glove ever belonged to Babe Ruth was a complete and elaborately constructed fiction."
It's nice that the feds have time to go after folks telling fibs about baseball gloves that didn't belong to Babe Ruth and never belonged to Robert Young. I appreciate it when Bharara says that he wants to make it "clear that it is a crime we will prosecute." Maybe ESPN will add a sports crime show? Might I suggest "Personal Foul" or "Stolen Signs"?
On December 20, 2012, Scheib was sentenced to two years probation and ordered to pay a $25,000 fine. Oh, and for good measure, he forfeited the glove to the United States.
I mean, seriously? We incurred the cost of an undercover FBI operation for a $750 baseball glove, and the bang-bang play at home plate with two out in the bottom of the ninth in the seventh game of the World Series is probation, a fine, and the People of the United States now own a glove that likely never graced the hand of the Bambino?
I'd love to know what it cost us in terms of dollars and the FBI's and the Department of Justice's time to prosecute this case. You think the probation and $25,000 will come close to covering the bill? Yeah, right. And who the hell has the glove?