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That World Series Fever--Taking a Chance on L.A. : Championship Souvenirs: They're a Risky Business

October 21, 1988|DAVID LARSEN | Times Staff Writer

It happened during the City of Los Angeles Marathon and after the Lakers won their second consecutive championship.

Now because of the Dodgers, Los Angeles can brace for deja blue, as those ever-familiar vendors magically materialize on street corners to sell souvenir caps and T-shirts.

Not all of the goods will be welcomed--especially by Major League Baseball, which controls the big money licenses for products using its teams' names and logos.

"We are out in force in both Los Angeles and Oakland," warned Jim Small, Major League's media rep. "Our undercover people seized counterfeit goods around Dodger Stadium during Games 1 and 2, and we will be on the streets after the World Series ends."

To placate dealers angered by sales of bootleg goods, the league a few years ago "started beefing up our policing," Small said. "We estimated it was costing us millions of dollars. . . ."

The major leagues have received court permission to seize counterfeit World Series mementos and to seek legal remedies against offenders.

But producing products tied to championships can be a risky business even for authorized manufacturers, as Jim and Bob Warsaw, owners of Sports Specialties in Irvine, know.

The firm, which says it is the nation's largest licensed sellers of sports caps, must make an "investment" to produce products for "26 major league baseball teams," Jim Warsaw noted. "The unlicensed cap bootleggers are concerned with only two teams."

For days, the Warsaws have been surrounded by tens of thousands of cartons of baseball caps. Some are emblazoned "Dodgers, Champions, Los Angeles, 1988"; the rest proclaim "Athletics, Champions, Oakland, 1988."

Because millions of caps with logos take time to produce, Jim Warsaw said his firm must decide well in advance which teams to embroider playoff caps for.

"We were working on the designs as early as May," he said. "In September, because of the tight race in the American League East, we had to go into production with caps for Boston, Detroit, Milwaukee and the Yankees.

"Then we had to donate everything except for the four teams in the playoffs. And right now, a lot of hospitals are getting caps that say Mets and Red Sox.

"No matter what, we always become very charitable at this time of the year," he said. "We donate the caps of the losers to childrens' hospitals. The kids love them."

The size of a team's area has little effect on the dicey decisions his 60-year-old company must make, he said, adding: "Last year, you had a situation where there was just about 100% commitment in Minnesota to the Twins. In Los Angeles, where there are a lot of transplants, you have various loyalties."

While some fast-buck vendors locally may have their own equipment to make T-shirts, mugs and other souvenir items, they likely get bootleg products produced on the sly by existing manufacturers, a Los Angeles Police Department spokesman said.

While he emphatically doesn't engage in such shenanigans, Andy Faunch, manager of Apple Shirt Screen Printing in Mar Vista, estimated "the minimum investment would be $5,000" for someone trying, say, to instant-produce T-shirts.

Considering prices of such gear to victory-drunk fans ($15-$25 for Lakers items earlier this year), Faunch said the risk can pay off for some two-day entrepreneurs.

A one-color T-shirt is "relatively easy" to produce through screening, a printing technique in which a piece of art or a photograph is copied onto a polyester mesh stencil through which ink is pushed onto blank shirts, Faunch said, adding, "A person could imprint thousands of shirts from one such stencil."

Los Angeles has been flooded with unlicensed souvenirs before--and authorities have grown less tolerant of the practice. Before the annual running of the City of Los Angeles Marathon, commemorative goods were sold this year at an expo at a hotel near Los Angeles International Airport.

In one booth, two men brazenly sold unauthorized T-shirts lacking the approved event logo. It didn't take long for a competing vendor to notify Los Angeles police.

"Two of us went there in plainclothes, and we made a purchase of one of the unauthorized shirts," said Officer Kelly Shea. "We then confiscated 98 sweat shirts, which were selling for $25 apiece, and 73 T-shirts selling for $15 apiece, and one of the men was arrested."

For the Warsaws, these are busy times. Their championship model caps usually stay in Irvine--unless the deciding game is lopsided at an early stage--until the pennant is clinched. Then the gear gets shipped for sale, $20 for the authentic wool type, $15 for the cotton twill.

"We really get busy," Bob Warsaw said. "We will be working day and night to fill the orders that were placed in advance, both locally and nationally."

But by then, it also will be safe to say the bootleggers--as Orel Hershiser does--will be working the corners, with their specialties.

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