The fascination with autographing a baseball has always appealed to the non-player. From rock musicians to astronauts to heads of state, everyone loves to sign a baseball. But, apparently, Mother Teresa may have been an exception.
In April of 2000, the FBI announced that 26 Southern Californians had been indicted in what the law enforcement agency called the largest, most lucrative, and most brazen fraud ring ever busted for trafficking in phony sports and celebrity autographs and memorabilia. In a case dubbed “Operation Bullpen,” the FBI seized merchandise in California, Nevada, and other states that was designed to be sold for ten million dollars, including forged autographs of Marilyn Monroe, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, the Marx Brothers, and Albert Einstein. The operation even produced a box of one dozen baseballs bearing the signature of Mother Teresa. “I think that pretty much says it all,” said William Gore, special agent overseeing the FBI case. U.S. Attorney General Gregory Vaga seemed particularly appalled by the sacrilegious implications of the Mother Teresa forgeries, as he told reporters, “To so crassly exploit Mother Teresa, a woman the world has anointed as a saint and who spent a life of heroic virtue, is unconscionable.”
“Operation Bullpen” involved undercover informants, a dummy company, wiretaps, and sixty search warrants. In just one month, the ring provided phony signatures on more than 10,000 baseballs. On the wiretaps, defendants were heard joking that Mickey Mantle and Mother Teresa had “one arm out of their graves” signing their names.
In a 72-page indictment, officials said that 50% to 90% of the one-billion-dollar-a-year memorabilia market is based on fraudulent goods. At the request of the Baseball Reliquary, federal law enforcement authorities donated to the organization the box of one dozen baseballs bearing Mother Teresa’s forged signature to be used for exhibition purposes in order to alert consumers to the large amount of inauthentic memorabilia in the marketplace and to warn them to be cautious when purchasing autographed items.