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Major League Baseball Authentication Program

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Major League Baseball Authentication Program, or MLB Authentication Program, is a program run by Major League Baseball Properties, the product licensing arm of Major League Baseball, to guarantee the authenticity of baseball merchandise and memorabilia. The centerpiece of the system is a tamper-resistant security tape sticker with an embedded hologram. Each sticker carries a unique alphanumeric code. The sticker is affixed to all game-used merchandise and memorabilia, while information about the item is entered into a computer database. Between 500,000 and 600,000 items are authenticated each season.

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  • Get Authenticated!



Operation Bullpen

Major League Baseball started running an authentication program in 2001 after the FBI "Operation Bullpen" became widely publicized. Phase 1 of Operation Bullpen began in 1999 and uncovered $100 million worth of memorabilia-related forgeries.[1] This operation was related to the earlier Operation Foulball in San Diego, but covered nationwide crimes.[2] The FBI became aware of the scale of the forgery after following up a tip by Tony Gwynn. Gwynn noticed a sloppy forgery at a team store in Encinitas and alerted both Padres team management and MLB security. From there, it grew into a national investigation of forged memorabilia.[3]

During the investigation, it was discovered that 75 percent of autographs purported to be from MLB players and other personnel were fake.[4][5] Among these forgeries were supposed autographs by Mickey Mantle,[6] as well as a baseball with a forged signature from the Catholic saint Mother Teresa.[3] Even official team stores sometimes unknowingly stocked fake merchandise.[7] Operation Bullpen began in the 1990s and focused on basketball before expanding to all sports, including baseball.[8] Gwynn and other ballplayers like Mark McGwire assisted with the investigation by helping to authenticate items and confirm forgeries of their own signatures.[7]

Stage 2 of Operation Bullpen began in 2002 and included forgeries which were sold online.[9] During the investigation the FBI seized large amounts of sports gear with forged signatures, and defaced the signatures to prevent them from fooling members of the public. They then donated the baseballs and bats to local youth baseball leagues,[2] as part of Phase III.[9]

Later incidents

The organization has continued to have a long-running issue with counterfeiting in general, which peaks during the postseason. For example, during the 2011 National League Championship Series between the St Louis Cardinals and the Milwaukee Brewers, MLB officials confiscated over 5,000 counterfeited items, with more than 80 percent being found in the vicinity of Busch Stadium.[10] The largest haul is during the World Series, when thousands of knock-off jerseys, caps, bags, and other items of merchandise are seized.[11]

During the San Francisco Giants2014 World Series race, United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents seized over 2,700 pieces of counterfeit MLB merchandise in the San Francisco Bay Area.[12]

Program description

The authentication system centers on a hologram sticker by OpSec, which carries its own individual alphanumeric code.[10][13][14] The sticker is tamper-resistant: the embedded hologram is ruined if the sticker is removed from the item.[5][15][16][17]

MLB employs approximately 220 authenticators as of 2022,[7] with several being appointed to each team.[4] At least two MLB authenticators are present at every MLB game,[7] as well as the World Baseball Classic and team-specific events.[4] MLB postseason games will have three or more authenticators.[15] The authenticators all have a background in law enforcement and are recommended to the role by their local police departments.[4] The authenticator usually sits in the first base camera well.[15] Every ball that is taken out of play, without leaving the ballpark, is handed to the authenticator, who enters information about that ball into a computer database—such as "the pitcher, batter, inning and the reason the ball came out of play"—and then affixes the hologram.[5][18]

While anything that goes into the stands is generally considered outside their jurisdiction, if there is a batter's milestone occurring, the authenticators will often work with the umpires to mark up baseballs to ensure that even if the milestone ball is hit into the stands, it can be tracked and later authenticated.[19]

Items authenticated

Baseball autographed by Juan Lagares

Usually the MLB Authentication Program authenticates items used during baseball games, with baseballs and baseball bats being the most common. Other game-used items which are authenticated include "player jerseys, locker tags, lineup cards, the pitching rubber, home plate, broken bats", and base pads.[5][10] Any player can request that any item be authenticated, with the request usually being passed to the authenticators by the relevant clubhouse manager.[15]

Any item with an MLB association can be authenticated. One example of this was when the Baltimore Orioles authenticated the remains of a dugout telephone that was smashed by the Boston Red Sox's David Ortiz.[20][21] They then presented the phone to Ortiz during his retirement season.[22][23] After the Houston Astros' Game 7 win in the 2017 World Series at Dodger Stadium, MLB authenticated jars of dirt taken from the field.[4][24]

Between 500,000 and 600,000 items are authenticated each season.[5][25] Game-used memorabilia remains the property of each team, which authenticates items for players who have reached certain milestones, for sale to fans at the team store or on the MLB online store, and for sale to retailers and other marketers of authenticated MLB merchandise.[5][15] Occasionally items are sent for inclusion in the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.[15]

In 2001 MLB Properties contracted with the Arthur Andersen accounting firm to oversee and authenticate private autographing sessions for balls, bats, base pads, and other items. The Deloitte & Touche accounting firm took over this role in 2002.[25]


  1. ^ Nelson, Kevin (December 5, 2019). "Operation Bullpen: Authenticators and autograph sellers to watch for". Sports Collectors Digest. Retrieved January 4, 2023.
  2. ^ a b Nelson, Kevin (March 1, 2013). "Operation Bullpen: Fake Autographs Still Out There in Marketplace". Sports Collectors Daily. Retrieved January 4, 2023.
  3. ^ a b Times, Tony Perry Tony Perry is the former San Diego bureau chief for the Los Angeles (April 13, 2000). "Baseball Signed by Mother Teresa Too Good to Be True". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved January 4, 2023.
  4. ^ a b c d e Ryan, Megan (September 9, 2014). "Keeping it real: MLB authenticators ensure legitimacy of game-used memorabilia". Star Tribune. Minneapolis, Minnesota. Retrieved February 26, 2018.
  5. ^ a b c d e f Bates, Greg (September 15, 2014). "An Inside Look at the Major League Baseball Authentication Program". Sports Collectors Digest. Retrieved March 14, 2018.
  6. ^ Times, North County (April 24, 2004). "Operation Bullpen strikes again". San Diego Union-Tribune. Retrieved January 4, 2023.
  7. ^ a b c d Baccellieri, Emma (September 6, 2021). "Is This 'Game-Used' Jersey (or Ball or Urinal) Legit? Consult the Little Silver Sticker". Sports Illustrated. Retrieved December 30, 2022.
  8. ^ "How MLB's robust authentication system certifies everything from corn stalks to Aaron Judge's record home runs". December 13, 2022. Retrieved December 30, 2022.
  9. ^ a b "Operation Bullpen Overview". FBI. Retrieved January 4, 2023.
  10. ^ a b c Springer, Shira (October 26, 2013). "MLB making genuine effort to fight counterfeiting". The Boston Globe. Retrieved March 14, 2018.
  11. ^ Brown, Lisa (October 26, 2013). "MLB scours ballpark area for fake merchandise". St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Retrieved March 14, 2018.
  12. ^ Baldassari, Erin (October 30, 2014). "ICE Agents Seize 2,700 Pieces Of Counterfeit MLB Merchandise". The San Francisco Appeal. Bay City News. Retrieved March 14, 2018.
  13. ^ "MLB Authentication Program Information". Major League Baseball. Retrieved July 21, 2018.
  14. ^ "Licensing". OpSec. January 12, 2016. Retrieved July 21, 2018.
  15. ^ a b c d e f Tinley, Scott (December 17, 2010). "Behind the scenes with Major League Baseball's authentication process". Sports Illustrated. Retrieved February 26, 2018.
  16. ^ "MLB Authentication Program: Hologram Information". Major League Baseball. Retrieved July 21, 2018.
  17. ^ "Security Labels". OpSec. March 30, 2016. Retrieved July 21, 2018.
  18. ^ Sanserino, Michael (October 2, 2014). "MLB's Authentication program leaves its mark on memorabilia". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Retrieved February 26, 2018.
  19. ^ Levith, Will (May 7, 2015). "The Secret Agents at Every Major League Baseball Game". Esquire. Retrieved February 26, 2018.
  20. ^ Coppinger, Mike (September 22, 2016). "Orioles present David Ortiz with dugout phone he destroyed". USA Today. Retrieved February 26, 2018.
  21. ^ Barker, Jeff (October 13, 2014). "Champagne corks, lineup cards, bases – Orioles fans want it all". The Baltimore Sun. Retrieved February 26, 2018.
  22. ^ Lauber, Scott (September 23, 2016). "Hold the phone: David Ortiz's gift from the Orioles is a good call". ESPN. Retrieved February 26, 2018.
  23. ^ "Ortiz honored by Orioles". September 22, 2016. Retrieved February 26, 2018.
  24. ^ Hlavaty, Craig (November 6, 2017). "MLB selling authenticated dirt from the Houston Astros Game 7 World Series win". Houston Chronicle. Retrieved February 26, 2018.
  25. ^ a b Aoki, Naomi (October 28, 2004). "Major League Baseball wants to make sure fans get the real deal". The Boston Globe. Retrieved March 14, 2018.

External links

This page was last edited on 15 April 2024, at 02:50
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