In the world of professional baseball memorabilia, pedigree matters. A bat held by Yasiel Puig will always eclipse the value of one that merely carries his name.
So the interest of a top lawyer for the Los Angeles Dodgers was piqued when, while browsing EBay, he spotted the type of memorabilia that fans and collectors covet but usually can't find in the Dodgers' store: actual equipment, such as bats and jerseys, that players used in games, according to an affidavit filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court.
One ad listed official game-issue bats for center fielder Joc Pederson, according to court papers. Another ad showed a 2011 game jersey belonging to former manager Don Mattingly.
The equipment came from the same EBay username, so the team's lawyer, Chad Gunderson, sent an email inquiring about the items' authenticity.
Under the moniker "Swinghard33," the seller replied with a boast about the Mattingly gear: "This jersey was pulled off the rack from Dodgers Stadium last week," he wrote, declining to provide more details, according to the affidavit.
When the lawyer asked if the Pederson bats had identification stickers, verifying their authenticity, the seller said the stickers were in the box but never attached by team staff, according to court papers.
"My contact works at the stadium," the seller said, according to the affidavit. "They were intercepted before making it down to the clubhouse."
Thus began an internal investigation by the Dodgers into possible theft within the walls of Dodger Stadium, by the team's own employees. The Los Angeles Police Department was later alerted to the case, and it reached a climax last month.
The homes of two longtime security guards, Juan Prada and Fernando Sierra, were raided, along with their lockers at the stadium. The alleged EBay seller, Jesse Dagnesses, also had his home raided.
All three were arrested on suspicion of burglary and later charged with conspiracy to commit a crime, according to court records. At an arraignment on March 3, all three pleaded not guilty.
A Dodgers spokesman declined to comment.
To nab the thieves, Dodgers staff installed secret cameras. Shortly before 11:30 p.m. on Dec. 4, a man in dark clothes, a mask and a headlamp entered the equipment room and left 25 minutes later with a full bag. Police identified him as Sierra.
More than two weeks later, police say, another camera captured Prada attempting to remove one of the cameras near the equipment room. Police collected more video evidence from various nights in December.
Records obtained by investigators confirmed that Dagnesses held the EBay account that had allegedly sold dozens of Major League baseballs, players' jerseys and players' used hats since late 2013.
Attorney Jacob Glucksman, who represents Dagnesses, said his client "strongly denies any criminal involvement with the case."
"Any evidence that he knew or did any act in furtherance of this conspiracy is extremely weak and based on inferences made by investigators," Glucksman said.
Police recovered baseball bats and gloves. In Prada's car, they found a handgun. In Sierra's Honda, they found a headlamp.
Some of the gear recovered by investigators was returned to the Dodgers' equipment manager, with the approval of Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Michael Pastor: two of Corey Seager's jerseys, bearing the No. 5; two bats belonging to Clayton Kershaw; and 17 dozen official baseballs made by equipment manufacturer Rawlings.