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The Bad Boy and the Bambino

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What's the link between Babe Ruth and the latest celebrity meltdown? (AP)

I've chosen to take a pass on Charllie Sheen's recent public self-immolation, but what did catch my attention amid his tale of woe was Friday's Deadspin piece concerning a memento the troubled star showed off via the Internet:

As part of his relentless media odyssey this week, Charlie Sheen introduced himself to Twitter with a message that had a Chappelle-esque, "Kiss the rings, bitches" quality to it. It was an image of Sheen's shimmering 1927 World Series ring that was once worn by another winner with an equally insatiable appetite for showgirls and booze: Babe Ruth.

Sheen, a noted baseball relic collector for decades, is the former owner of some of the hobby's most storied items, including the 1986 World Series' "Mookie Ball" and Bill Buckner's glove that missed it. Reports had Sheen beating out baseball nerd Keith Olbermann for the Mookie Ball at auction with a bid of 85 grand. At the time, Sheen told the New York Daily News, "I was (only) going to go to $50,000, but my ego got in the way."

...Industry experts estimate that the ring's value would approach half a million dollars if it ever hit the auction market. In 1999, Sotheby's sold what was believed to be Lou Gehrig's 1927 ring for $96,000. The ring originated from the then-famous collection of super-collector (and Yankees limited partner) Barry Halper.

Just as interesting to these eyes was the byline on the piece: one Pete Nash, a Society of American Baseball Researcher member since he was 12, but better known as former 3rd Bass rapper Pete Nice.

In the article, Nash traces the provenance of Sheen's ring and suggests that it's quite possible it was originally stolen from Ruth's family upon his passing. The actor acquired the ring from Halper, who amassed such a collection of cards, signed balls, bats, uniforms, documents and other artifacts — over 80,000 at one point — that his house was dubbed "Cooperstown South" by Bill Madden. In 1999, Halper auctioned the bulk of his collection via Sotheby's and collected a cool $21.8 million; the two-volume catalog for the auction itself is coffee-table material, full of sumptuous color photos and descriptions of each item.

Alas, since his 2005 death, Halper has been implicated as having trafficked in counterfeit and stolen artifacts — and he's not the only one. Nash himself was involved in litigation and discovered to have committed fraud pertaining to memorabilia. Lately he's devoted his energy to exposing the seamy underbelly of the collecting world via his Hauls of Shame website, uncovering thefts of artifacts from the New York and Boston public libraries, and the Hall of Fame itself, pointing out frauds that have made it all the way to Cooperstown's display cases and working on a Hauls of Shame book. Among other things, his site lists The Halper "HOT 100": The Top 100 Stolen Baseball Memorabilia Items Once Owned By Collector Barry Halper.

Nash weaves a fascinating tale about the Ruth ring, citing published accounts of Babe Ruth's daughter (Dorothy Ruth Pirone), interviewing Ruth's granddaughter (Linda Ruth Tosetti) and experts in the memorabilia field, raising the question of the ring's authenticity, and suggesting that Halper plied the widows of Ruth and Lou Gehrig with booze in order to get them to fork over heirlooms. It's hard to know exactly how seriously to take the allegations, particularly given Nash's own track record and his failure to disclose his tangled legal history with a key character in his account, Rob Lifson of Robert Edward Auctions. Nonetheless, via his website, it looks as though he's cooperating with the FBI in his investigations — always a sign that stuff got real, yo. In any case, the Deadspin piece, the Hauls of Shame site, and the articles about Nash's travails make for some compelling (if unsettling) reading while providing a giant caveat emptor to anyone with a yen to collect big-ticket baseball memorabilia.