We have been collecting for over 25 years, have handled more than a thousand Red Sox bats, and looked at probably hundreds of more in auctions and online. At the time we started, there was no such thing as photo matching or video matching and of course no MLB authentication.
The hobby has lurched into the present and now you can screen shot from MLB HD and scour Getty images to photo match bats. But we also very much enjoy the more traditional discussions of authentication that revolve around player use characteristics, trying to determine whether a bat is authentic by studying how a player prepared his bats.
Recently, we have encountered discussions that suggest a "players handwriting" is reflected by the numbers on the knobs, and some limited suggestion that bats without knob numbers written a certain way were "fake" or "fraudulent." Player characteristics are a vital part of authentication, especially for the very valuable high end bat. One might not buy a bat that does not have the typical player characteristics, but this does not necessarily mean the bat is fake or fraudulent. Further, the modern bat faker is likely bright enough to research player characteristics, (yes this actually happens, but that is a story for a different day).
Why choose Boggs for this discussion? Well he is one of our favorite Red Sox players, his game used bats have always been in high demand and we have seen extensive discussion by collectors and authenticators in the hobby about his habits and the way that numbers were written on the knobs of his bats. A review of Getty Images is replete with pictures that show his typical Red Sox knob numbering like the below:
This has led some people to conclude that Boggs sat in his locker and wrote the knob numbers his bats. Such conversations often turn to discussions of "Boggs' handwriting." We concede that we have no special insight into what he actually did while a Red Sox, we were not in the locker room, and he could have been the one who wrote all the knob numbers. He certainly had that level of attention to detail when it came to hitting. However, that is unlikely, at least not in every instance. As evidence we offer a group of numbers written on the knobs of several Red Sox bats, tell me which ones are Boggs written 2s.
Answer is None, as you probably guessed, but they look quite close to the purported Boggs handwriting and we could give you dozens more examples.
A review of Boggs online images also reveals tons of images with the more common Boggs numbering, but also several instances of knob numbers that are not the typical numbering style. And these are pictures from approximately 100 at bats of the thousands of at bats he had.
Even PSA has apparently concluded that the knob numbering is not the be all and end all of a Boggs gamer, repeatedly giving Boggs bats with varied knob numbers some of the highest possible grades.
Even bats that have one style of numbering on the knob, have been found to have a different style of numbering on the top of the barrel.
A recent dealer acquisition of Boggs bats sealed this for us, or unsealed it as the case may be. It was a set of early 90s Boggs Red Sox bats, autographed as "game used" by Boggs. However, the knobs reflect no less than three different numbering styles
The reality is that bats come into the clubhouse and are shipped and handled in many ways. Could they have been shipped with other bats for spring training and numbered before Boggs got to Fenway or Winter Haven? Possibly. Could they have been mixed and brought on the road necessitating clubhouse staff to number up the knobs? There is a chance. So what is the point here? Bat authentication by player characteristic (particularly the absence of a player characteristic) is an art and not a science. To be clear, there are many game used bats we have passed on because they lacked player characteristics, and if shopping for a Boggs, the more common number would be part of an analysis of fair value, but be cautious before a calling out a bat as fake or fraudulent for lacking those characteristics. Good luck with your collecting!