The Mickey Mantle that Never Was

And the secret of the simplified Chinese character

Published in 2018 Southern California Super Lawyers — February 2018

I was retained as an expert witness by an insurance company to look at a baseball card claim. They knew I’m addicted to baseball; it’s pretty much my religion. They said, “We just got this $400,000-plus claim on a move from New York to Florida and it smells a bit.” 

First of all, if you’ve got the cards that this person claimed, you wouldn’t be entrusting them to a moving and storage company; you’d be doing it yourself. Basically he had the laundry list of the most desirable cards Topps made from 1952 to 1965. 

But there was an item on the list that piqued my interest: a 1955 Topps Mickey Mantle card. I did a follow-up with the person [filing the claim] and asked him some questions. Upon receipt of those responses, I basically told the insurance company that the claim was a fraud and should be denied. 

Because that card doesn’t exist. There was no 1954 Topps card of Mantle and no ’55 Topps Mickey Mantle. He wasn’t under contract with Topps for those two years. 

Predictably, nothing was heard of this guy from that point forward. It was indicative that the claim was a fraud. If you’ve got a $415,000 baseball card claim and they write with a complete denial of the claim and you don’t say a word back ... I think he realized the jig was up. 

I’ve been collecting baseball cards since Aug. 9, 1974. At my birthday party, my next-door neighbor gave me a couple of packs as a present, and I immediately became hooked. Every time I made $3.60, I’d run down to our corner liquor store and buy a whole box of them. I learned the history of baseball basically through collecting baseball cards. When it was time to go to law school, I sold about half my collection to pay for my non-tuition expenses.

My kids have taken on my hobby. My 13-year-old is pretty close to a baseball savant. He talks about current players, but he knows old stuff like it’s nobody’s business. “Dad, do you know who Lipman Pike is? He was the first professional baseball player back in 1866. He was the first person to ever be paid.” I’m a single parent—I lost my wife in 2012—and every morning I look up to the heavens and thank God I’ve got boys that like baseball and fishing. Otherwise, I don’t know what I’d be doing. 

 

I had a matter that involved a holographic will—a handwritten will as opposed to a typed document that’s witnessed. This particular document was written in Chinese.

The decedent was born in China, emigrated to Taiwan during the communist takeover, went to medical school in Taiwan, and came to the U.S. in ’49. He had been married for 50 years. Then his wife died and he remarried someone who was, in essence, a caregiver to him. He’d always had his estate plan documents done by attorneys, but after he passed away up pops this holographic Chinese will [giving everything to] the caregiver and the caregiver’s niece. It was dated later than the other documents. With estate plan documents, the last one rules. 

I was representing the son, who had his father’s comprehensive estate plan documents. 

Now, when document examiners look at handwriting, they look at different samples. Does it look like it’s a tracing? Is it just simply not someone’s handwriting? Some characters in the will didn’t look consistent with the decedent’s handwriting. 

There was also an issue of misspellings. He had been a professor at the University of Pennsylvania—he was a radiologist—and in a supporting document, he referred to the University of Pennsylvania as “University of Philadelphia.”

Our client’s wife noticed the use of simplified characters. When the communists took over China, they simplified a few characters that had, like, 15 or 16 strokes. They created a shorthand. However, my decedent had moved to Taiwan before the communists came to power; he never learned simplified Chinese. The caregiver/wife had been raised in Mainland China during this period. Her niece as well. 

In court, we used the forensic document examiner in combination with the translator. The courtrooms have overhead projectors—Elmos—built in to counsel tables, and we used that, and pointed out the simplified versus traditional, the typos, the reference to the University of Philadelphia.

The court tossed the will. And for a brief period of time I could recognize some Chinese characters. 

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