Burglars walked away with hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of autographed baseballs after a brazen, early morning smash-and-grab at Don & Charlie’s restaurant March 27 – weeks before it is set to close to make way for a new hotel.
The restaurant, scheduled to close on April 10, has catered to sports fans, athletes, media personalities and locals for decades since it opened in the early 1980s.
The walls are littered with memorabilia from every sport imaginable, much of it collected by owner Don Carson, who became close friends with the countless athletes who would frequent the restaurant, especially during spring training.
Much of the memorabilia was collected by Carson on-site when visiting athletes, retired superstars and others would sign balls, magazine covers and other items for display in the restaurant.
During a 2018 interview with the Progress, Carson estimated 700 balls lined the walls at Don & Charlie’s.
Thirty-four of those balls – many signed by Major League Baseball legends – are now in the wind.
Scottsdale Police Department received a burglary alarm call at 2 a.m. March 27 and found the front glass door smashed and 34 autographed baseballs missing.
The haul, valued at between $200,000 and $600,000, included balls autographed by Hall of Famers like Frank Robinson, Hank Aaron, Yogi Berra, Willie Mays, Ted Williams, Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle, Bob Gibson, Joe DiMaggio and Stan Musial.
Balls autographed by Ruth have sold at auction for as much as $388,000 in recent years, according to ESPN.
Scottsdale Police is not releasing any additional information at this time because the case is still under investigation.
But they are seeking the public’s help in tracking down the stolen goods. Anyone who comes across a suspected stolen item can call the department at 480-312-5000. Anonymous tips can be made through Silent Witness at 480-948-6377 or by visiting silentwitness.org.
Don & Charlie’s owner Don Carson, who briefly spoke with the Progress, declined comment and sounded shaken by the ordeal over the phone.
Private investigator Kevin Barrows, a former special agent with the FBI who is not involved in the investigation, said burglaries like this are not rare because of the value of high-end memorabilia.
“Memorabilia in some ways is as valuable as – or more so – than art,” Barrows said. “The value of it has skyrocketed and, as you know, when you get something that valuable and there (will be) rings that specialize in sports memorabilia.”
A 2016 burglary at the Roger Maris Museum at the West Acres Mall in Fargo, N.D., shares several similarities with the Don & Charlie’s break in.
A burglar dressed as a security guard shattered a door and stole a 1960 American League MVP Award and other goods, according to the Star Tribune.
That burglary, too, triggered an alarm, but the burglar escaped before security arrived.
In 2018, the FBI began investigating a string of burglaries at five sports memorabilia stores in the Twin Cities area of Minnesota, according to ABC 5 in Saint Paul, Minn.
Those burglaries reportedly accounted for over $250,000 in stolen goods.
In that case, law enforcement suspected some stolen items were being sold on eBay, according to a search warrant obtained by ABC 5.
Barrows said the Don & Charlie’s heist was likely connected to the restaurant’s pending closure.
“I am sure that is what sort of was the impetus to do this now before it was too late,” Barrows said.
Barrows, who attempts to track down missing sports memorabilia on the Smithsonian Channel show Sports Detectives, said the restaurant’s reputation as a sports mecca may have also made it a target.
“To me, I wouldn’t be surprised if it were someone who frequented the place or knew about the place and said, ‘Hey look, I will hire you guys to go and get these for me; Grab what you can grab and here’s what I will pay you per ball,” Barrows said.
It is difficult to say where the stolen baseballs will end up, but unlikely that the balls will show up for sale at a local memorabilia shop.
“It’s not necessarily stolen for resale on the open market,” Barrows said. “That is really difficult to do in instances of theft that are publicly disclosed and reported on.”
Barrows said there are a number of more likely scenarios.
“One is they pretty much grabbed them for a particular collector who’s already arranged to purchase,” Barrows said.
Another possibility is the balls will end up in the thief’s own collection.
Barrows said there is also a chance that the balls could end up in resale markets overseas if the perpetrators can get them out of the country.
The chance that law enforcement will recover the balls and return them to Carson depends on how quickly the case develops.
“It’s a little bit like a kidnapping in that the longer it goes the less likely they are to recover it, although it’s not impossible,” Barrows said.
Barrows also said it is unlikely the whole haul will be recovered because the burglars are unlikely to hold onto all the balls for very long.
“My guess is they had some sort of an exit strategy right away when they took it,” Barrows said. “I don’t think someone is sticking it all in their trunk, but, look, there are people who have done stupid things like that, don’t get me wrong, but I don’t think that’s the likeliest scenario.”
Barrows said law enforcement’s best chance to track down the missing balls is to receive a tip from the local sports memorabilia collecting community and/or track down one of the alleged perpetrators.
“If you get one of the guys who did the snatch and grab, now you can potentially grab it all back, because you know where it went,” Barrows said.
The burglary has cast a pall over what is already a somber end to what could be Don & Charlie’s last Spring Training.
For Don & Charlie’s and, more importantly, for Don Carson himself, Scottsdale residents and baseball fans alike are likely holding their breath waiting for that big break in the case.
In a response to the Progress’ report on the robbery on Twitter, Scottsdale City Councilmember Virginia Korte succinctly summed up those feelings.
“What a shame,” she wrote. “Don is a friend and his restaurant iconic. No way to go out.”
Editor's Note: The story originally stated that the restaurant is scheduled to close April 12. The date has been changed to April 10.