Tuesday, June 17, 2003 Updated: June 18, 5:33 PM ET
Confidential information pulled from online auction
By Darren Rovell ESPN.com
Hundreds of player-agent agreements that offered sensitive personal information on now-retired Major League Baseball players were removed from the popular online auction site eBay late Tuesday.
The closely guarded documents -- original copies of which were given to the player, his agent, the players' union, the league office and the Office of the Commissioner -- would have provided collectors with baseball memorabilia that was meant to be locked away for eternity.
Mike Schmidt's player-agent agreement was among the 377 similar documents available on eBay.
But it also offered personal data, including Social Security numbers, for some of baseball's most prominent players of the 1980s.
A gold mine for anyone with criminal intent, the confidential information included on the 377 contracts -- put up for bid this week -- could have easily been used to turn the players into victims of identity theft. At least one player whose contract was included in the auction complained.
After discussions between MLB officials and the seller, Scott Gaynor, a sports memorabilia dealer in Dennis, Mass., who says he sells about 13,000 items a year on eBay, the documents were removed from the site. Baseball officials argued that the seller did not have the rights to sell the documents.
"I'm shocked to find out how easy it is for people to get their hands on files like these," said Bob Tufts, who appeared in 27 games for the San Francisco Giants and Kansas City Royals in the early '80s and whose player-agent agreement was part of a 12-letter lot of former Royals players. "You would hope items like these would be adequately stored or properly disposed of. If this wasn't properly taken care of, hundreds of former players could have been affected."
Some of the documents had the "Office of the Commissioner of Baseball" highlighted on them. Major League Baseball spokesman Pat Courtney said he was uncertain whether the player-agent agreements came from baseball's offices. A Major League Baseball Players' Association official said the union still has possession of its copies of the documents.
"We don't know how long these forms have been missing," Courtney said. "Our first priority was to get them taken off the site. We have since made contact with the seller who has agreed to return them to us."
Gaynor said an employee of his memorabilia store purchased the documents at a collectibles show in Fort Washington, Pa., last March. He said he does not know how it got into the hands of the previous seller or who that seller was.
"It's not uncommon to see things like this," Gaynor said. "Once they become outdated, they often hit the trash can and someone picks them up realizing they have some value." Gaynor said the contracts of former Cleveland Indians and Cleveland Browns players, as well as bat contracts with Hillerich & Bradsby, the maker of the Louisville Slugger, are commonly available on the market.
Identity theft is one of the fastest growing crimes in the United States and Social Security numbers are among the most coveted pieces of personal information sought by identity thieves. Winning bidders on the online auction could have obtained the personal identification numbers of Hall of Famers such as Jim Palmer, Tony Perez, Gaylord Perry, Mike Schmidt, Ozzie Smith and Don Sutton.
Other players whose agent representation forms were in the auctions included Dante Bichette, Dennis Eckersley, Kent Hrbek, Howard Johnson, Mike Scott and Lou Whitaker. The contracts of at least one current major-league player, San Francisco Giants catcher Benito Santiago, as well as Anaheim Angels manager Mike Scioscia, were included in the auction.
Gaylord Perry's Social Security number would have been revealed to the highest bidder.
Courtney said the commissioner's office will investigate how the forms were released to the public.
The largest lot being offered was a group of 44 documents signed by Philadelphia Phillies players, including Darren Daulton, Von Hayes and Juan Samuel. The high bid for that auction had topped $200 by the time it was pulled.
Agent Tom Reich, whose name appears on the player-agent contracts of John Candelaria and Kent Tekulve, declined to comment, as did Randy Hendricks, who represented many players whose contracts were up for bid.
"If they have a Social Security number and they have an idea where a player lived, they are well on their way to taking over and draining a bank account," said Dennis Behrman, a research analyst for Financial Insights, which estimates identity theft will cost businesses $4.4 billion and individuals $189 million this year.
The seller complied with eBay rules by concealing the Social Security numbers of the players on the images of the documents included in the auction's description, eBay spokesman Kevin Pursglove said.
"Selling documents with someone else's personal information is technically permitted," Pursglove said. "We just don't want people posting personal information for the sake of posting it."
"We obviously did our best to protect the numbers, since it's not like we want the whole world to know them," said Gaynor, who said he has sold contracts with Social Security numbers on them in the past. "But it's not illegal to sell a contract like this. Social Security numbers are not classified information. If someone wants to get them, they can get them. We're not going to pull the item off based on the fact that it has a Social Security number on it."
An official of a competing sports auction site said his company has never had a problem with sports memorabilia items containing personal information.
"To my knowledge, we've never auctioned something exposing an athlete's Social Security number," said Dean Faragi, director of operations for Grey Flannel Auctions. "But Hollywood actors -- including Sharon Stone and Madonna -- have in the past asked auction houses to remove an item because it had their social security number on it."
Darren Rovell, who covers sports business for ESPN.com, can be reached at Darren.firstname.lastname@example.org