(AP) - A former Major League Baseball umpire and a
New Jersey sports memorabilia dealer admitted selling baseballs
they falsely claimed had been used in memorable games, including
those in which Cal Ripken Jr. tied and broke Lou Gehrig's
consecutive games record.
The umpire, Alan M. Clark, 56, formerly of Trenton and now of
Williamsburg, Va., pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court Monday to
conspiracy to commit mail fraud.
The memorabilia dealer, Richard Graessle Jr., 43, of Millburn,
pleaded guilty to tax evasion for his role in the scheme, which
operated from September 1995 to November 1998.
The pair told U.S. District Court Judge John Bissell that they
sold balls that they falsely claimed had been used in several
historic games, including Dwight Gooden's May 1996 no-hitter for
the New York Yankees; the sudden-death playoff between the Yankees
and Boston Red Sox in October 1978; Nolan Ryan's 300th career
victory in July 1990; and others.
"Most of these baseballs never saw the inside of a Major League
Baseball stadium," U.S. Attorney Christopher Christie said.
Prosecutors said the pair falsely passed off hundreds of
baseballs as having been used in historic games. The defendants
went to great lengths to make the balls appear genuine, including
rubbing them with special mud from a particular creek in Burlington
County that is used to take the gloss off all baseballs used in
major league games.
Clark signed the balls, and he or Graessle wrote up phony
certificates of authenticity. Clark declined to comment as he left
the courtroom, and did not speak during the hearing other than to
answer affirmatively to a series of questions from the judge and
In order to fabricate some particularly valuable baseballs as
having been game-used, Clark used baseballs from his own collection
that contained the stamped signature of then-A.L. President Lee
MacPhail. Those balls were then sold as having been used in the
Oct. 3, 1978 sudden-death playoff game between the Yankees and Red
Sox, which was won by Bucky Dent's home run off Mike Torrez to give
New York the A.L. East title.
Similar ruses were used to pass off balls as having been used in
Ripken's historic games. Graessle purchased from other sports
memorabilia dealers balls that were specially manufactured for the
games in which the Baltimore Orioles shortstop tied and surpassed
Gehrig's streak of 2,130 consecutive games. The balls had orange
stitching, Ripken's uniform number 8, and the numbers 2,130 and
2,131, according to court documents.
Similarly, Graessle bought several balls with Ryan's autograph
from other memorabilia dealers, and passed them off as having been
used in his 300th victory on July 31, 1990.
Other games the pair falsely claimed to have baseballs from
included the last game ever played at Cleveland's Municipal Stadium
on Oct. 3, 1993; former Yankees pitcher Hideki Irabu's first major
league game against the Detroit Tigers on July 10, 1997; the first
interleague game played at Boston's Fenway Park on June 16, 1997
against the Philadelphia Phillies; and special days honoring Jackie
Robinson in Kansas City and Mickey Mantle in New York.
Clark, an American League umpire from 1976 to 2001, remained
free on $50,000 bail. He is to be sentenced June 3. He faces up to
five years in prison and a $250,000 fine, but could be sentenced to
as little as probation.
He also must pay $40,000 restitution to victims of the scheme as
part of his plea agreement. He also could face civil suits from
those victimized, according to Bissell.
Graessle admitted failing to declare nearly $400,000 in income
from the sale of fake and legitimate sports memorabilia from 1996
to 1998. He agreed to make restitution to the Internal Revenue
Service of at least $101,377. He is to be sentenced June 4.
NEWARK, N.J. -- Former major league umpire Al Clark was sentenced to four months in prison Thursday for his part in selling baseballs that he and a memorabilia dealer falsely claimed were used in historic games. The games included the ones when Cal Ripken Jr. tied and broke Lou Gehrig's record for the longest playing streak. After prison, Clark must serve four months under house arrest. Chief U.S. District Judge John W. Bissell fined Clark $10,000 and ordered him to repay $40,000, including $7,920 to a Texas man who paid that amount for one of the bogus balls. "This could not have happened without Mr. Clark," Bissell said. "He was the source of authenticity that allowed this to happen." Clark, 56, an American League umpire between 1976 and 2001, was allowed to remain free on bail until he reports on July 12 to a prison to be determined. He had lived in Trenton and now lives in Williamsburg, Va., and Boca Raton, Fla. He pleaded guilty Feb. 23 to a single count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud. Also pleading guilty then was his friend, memorabilia dealer Richard Graessle Jr., 43, of Millburn, who admitted he sold the balls to other dealers, who sold them to the public. Graessle pleaded guilty to tax evasion for his role in the scheme, which operated between September 1995 and November 1998. He is to be sentenced June 8. At their pleas, they admitted selling balls that they falsely claimed had been used in several historic games, including Dwight Gooden's May 1996 no-hitter for the New York Yankees; the one-game playoff between the Yankees and Boston Red Sox in October 1978; Nolan Ryan's 300th career victory in July 1990; and others. Clark signed the balls, and he or Graessle wrote up phony certificates of authenticity, they admitted. Prosecutors said they sold hundreds of ordinary baseballs as historic. To make the balls appear genuine, they rubbed them to take the gloss off all baseballs used in major league games.