The Sultan of Swap is on the speakerphone. He's haggling with a
guy who wants to sell him Christy Mathewson's New York Giant
uniform from 1900, the great pitcher's first season in the big
leagues. The guy is willing to throw in Mathewson's uniform from
1913, the year he threw a 10-inning shutout in the World Series.
''How much you asking?'' says the Sultan, known outside
dickering circles as Barry Halper.
Halper asks the haggler if he'll trade the Mathewson uniforms
for ones once worn by Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. Halper can
afford it: He already has eight Ruths and seven Gehrigs.
May 21, 1995
The haggler doesn't bite. ''What's the matter?'' he asks. ''You
don't like Christy Mathewson?''
''It's not that,'' says Halper. ''You've got nice pieces, but I
already have Mathewson's minor league uniform from 1899, his
1911 Giant uniform, his monogrammed teapot, three of his
monogrammed handkerchiefs, his wallet, his dinner crystal,
his binoculars, his sterling-silver trophies, his slate
checkerboard, two of his gloves, first editions of all his
baseball novels, his contract and canceled signing-bonus check
from 1902 and his wife's lifetime National League pass.''
Presumably Michael Jackson has Mathewson's bones.
And the Mathewsonabilia is just a small part of a remarkable
cache of baseball artifacts and memorabilia spread through eight
rooms of Halper's house in northern New Jersey. There's a bit of
everything: dozens of mitts, posters, statues, high school
yearbooks, 19th-century photographs; scores of programs and
ticket stubs, including at least one from every World Series and
All-Star Game; hundreds of bats, from Heinie Groh's
bottle-shaped model to Shoeless Joe Jackson's Black Betsy;
thousands of signed balls, from Gabby Hartnett's Homer in the
Gloamin' to Ruth's 500th career dinger; more than a million
cards, including, Halper says, an example of every one ever
printed until Halper lost interest in 1976.
The collection not only rivals that of the Baseball Hall of Fame
in Cooperstown, N.Y., but in many ways surpasses it. Besides
owning the largest trove of uniforms west of the Kremlin, Halper
has the first catcher's mask, worn by Harry Thatcher of the
Harvard Crimson in about 1860; the earliest known player
contract, that of E.B. Sutton of the Boston Base Ball
Association in 1879; and the oldest copy of the rules of
baseball (1846), drawn up by the Knickerbockers of New York, the
first organized club. Suspended in an apothecary jar in a secret
compartment behind a wall of Halper's study is a soft stuffed
sphere dated 1859. ''It could be the oldest baseball in
existence,'' says Halper with the wide-eyed wonder of a boy
approaching 56. Halper also has the signature of every man who
is in the Hall of Fame and of Abner Doubleday, who is not.
''Somewhere I've got a letter signed by Abner Doubleday's
father,'' Halper says. "What's he, the Grandfather of Baseball?''
The Hall of Halper is a lot more intimate than its counterpart
in Cooperstown. Where else could you try on the cleats and
running gloves Rickey Henderson wore while stealing his record
939th base? Or bang the gavel of Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis,
baseball's first commissioner? Or browse through the pages of a
hotel register containing, Halper says, the signatures of every
major leaguer who played in 1894? Or play catch with the ball
Cookie Lavagetto hit to break up Bill Bevens's no-hitter with
two out in the ninth inning of the fourth game of the 1947 World
Series? ''You've gotta understand,'' says Halper, punching his
fist into Gehrig's last glove. ''You're seeing a lot of illness
Halper is not some fatuous middlebrow seeing metaphors instead
of a game. You won't hear him rhapsodizing about geometric
elegance or generational arcs. To Halper baseball is gossip,
daydreams and Dad. Leaning against a bench built of Louisville
Sluggers (with bases as cushions), he opens a notebook bulging
with Carl Mays's private correspondence and wonders why Mays, a
pitcher of the teens and '20s, isn't in the Hall of Fame.
Probably, he says, because Mays's 207 victories were
overshadowed by a pitch he threw in 1920 that resulted in the
only death of a hit batter in big league history. Halper reads
aloud from one of Mays's letters:
Baseball has changed so much that I hardly can recognize the
game anymore. Twice I pitched 12 shutouts in one year, and once
13, and pitched 12 doubleheaders, winning all the games but
one-lost that one 1-0 in 14 innings. Pitched every inning of
both of them. Now they get tired in four or five innings, if
they pitch that long. Too much money, liquor, women and food.
The letter was written in 1960.
The famous and near-famous occasionally make pilgrimages to
Halper's mecca (which is otherwise not open to the public),
bowing at the altar of Ruth-who, in this case, is a life-sized
wax dummy from Madame Tussaud's in London. Hank Aaron has been
here, as have Goose Gossage, Orel Hershiser, Reggie Jackson,
Tommy Lasorda, Mickey Mantle, Phil Rizzuto and Frank Robinson.
Billy Martin was so impressed that he wound up hosting a
49-minute video about Halper's collection. (Halper claims Yogi
Berra said of the tape, ''Billy must have made it before he
Often Halper's visitors enhance the value of his memorabilia
with written asides. In a room filled with advertising art from
the 1940s and '50s-Dazzy Vance hawking Celo soda, Lefty Gomez
shilling for Country Club malt liquor-hangs a poster of a
half-dozen All-Stars puffing Chesterfields. Over the last 10
years Halper has had four of the Chesterfield boys pen
Ewell Blackwell: Barry-Quit over 10 years ago.
Joe DiMaggio: Barry-Haven't had one in 36 years.
Stan Musial: Barry-Gave them up many years ago.
Ted Williams: Barry-I'm going to give the $ back. $5,000.
DiMaggio is such a frequent guest that Barry's wife, Sharon,
took a cooking course in Italy just to learn how to fix Joltin'
Joe's favorite dishes. Sharon, by the way, may have been
destined for life with Barry: Her father had a brother and a
sister; the three siblings' names were George, Herman and Ruth.
Sharon's husband is an unpretentious suburban squire with a
passion for baseball and millions in assets. He wheels and deals
in baseball memorabilia to maintain those assets.
For those of us interested in such crass things as money, Halper
allows that a dealer sold Honus Wagner's 1909-1911 Sweet Caporal
card for $451,000 in 1991. Back in the 1970s Halper owned four
of the cards. ''My advantage was buying things years before they
became real collectibles,'' says Halper. ''Rockefeller wouldn't
have had enough money to buy these things now.'' The most Halper
ever spent on an item was $17,000, for Casey Stengel's Hall of
Fame ring. ''I used to take heat for paying a thousand bucks for
Gehrig's Columbia University uniform,'' he says. ''Then I read
that some guy spent $165,000 for a pair of Judy Garland's ruby
slippers from The Wizard of Oz. Come on! Garland couldn't even
hit to right.''
When Halper's not working the phones, he's scouring flea
markets, antique stores, street fairs. For five bucks he picked
up the cane of DeWolf Hopper, the actor who made a career of
reciting Casey at the Bat. For $350 he acquired a lock of
General Custer's hair, which he traded for a lock of Ruth's. And
for free he got the entire sequence of letters and telegrams
between New York Yankee owner Jacob Ruppert and Boston Red Sox
owner Harry Frazee regarding the sale of Ruth in 1920.
The papers were part of a collection dumped in Halper's lap in
1983 by a guy in Riverdale, N.Y., who found them in his attic.
''Turned out the house was once owned by Ruppert,'' Halper says.
The gem of the collection is a 1922 document imposing a
$9,017.10 fine on Ruth:
It is understood that the player shall at all times during the
term through the years 1922-1923-1924 and the years 1925 and
1926 refrain and abstain entirely from the use of intoxicating
liquors, and that he shall not during the training and playing
season in each year stay up later than 1 o'clock a.m. on any day
without the permission and consent of the club's manager.
Halper is a fan of the Yankees in general (he is a limited
partner of the team) and of Ruth in particular. Barry and the
Babe even look somewhat alike: stocky and dark-haired, with lots
of beef in their jowls. Halper's trove of Ruthiana runs from the
Bambino's personal spittoon to his key to the city of Passaic,
N.J. He also has the Babe's 1932 Yankee contract-the one that
paid him more than President Herbert Hoover earned-and his '25
separation agreement with his wife Helen. (She got the farm, the
Packard and $100,000.) And there is page upon page of
correspondence bearing the letterhead babe ruth, new york. In a
letter dated Feb. 8, 1941, Ruth muses on whether his home run
records will ever be broken:
All it will take is a good homerun hitter to be followed by
another good homerun hitter like I was with Gehrig for all those
Halper had Mantle annotate: Hey Babe! You was right. Roger did
Ruth went on to list the three records he felt would never be
broken: Gehrig's streak of 2,130 consecutive games played, Ty
Cobb's .367 lifetime batting average, and his own World Series
pitching standard of 292√ö3 straight scoreless innings. Halper
induced Whitey Ford, who eclipsed Ruth's mark in 1961, to add
this marginalia: Babe, Two out of three wasn't bad.
Equally Ruthian is Halper's store of Cobbabilia. Halper has the
Georgia Peach's straightedge razor, shaving cup, shaving strop,
bathrobe, diaries, dentures, fishing hat, corncob pipe, pocket
flask and even the shotgun Cobb's mother used to blow away his
father. Halper wheedled all this out of Al Stump, who
collaborated with Cobb on his autobiography and who also
provided stacks of Cobb's corrosive correspondence. One note
begins, Hit it hard in my book that I did not sharpen my spikes
and cut players. Some did get hurt when they weren't after me.
Those I damaged asked for it.
Of the Babe, Cobb writes, I needled the hell out of him, but hit
only .326 off his pitching. I never saw a man who could drink
alky like Ruth-one bottle just warmed him up. Once I had two
doubles and a triple off him and he called me a -- and a -- and
much more. Then sent me a jug of Scotch.
Cobb's own taste for hooch is documented on a brown shopping
list reposing in a notebook on a shelf in Halper's office. Cobb
scribbled the list for Stump in 1960 while they were cooped up
together in a Lake Tahoe lodge:
1 smoked ham
6 tins sardines (Norw.)
2 French bread
2 lbs. coffee (Col.)
bananas (good condition)
crap paper (8 rolls, best)
half case Old Forrester
red wine (6, best port)
3 Glenlivet Scotch (12 years old)
2 Seagrams gin
also, last 2 weeks Sporting News.
Where the hell are my copies?
On a shelf in another room Halper keeps Cobb's 1946 diary. Among
the nastiest entries are the following.
Jan. 3: Saw lawyer re. divorce. She wants $5,000 per month. Will
settle for less. And no $60,000 cash alimony. Extra problems
keeping this out of the headlines.
Jan. 22: If I had bought the Cincinnati club in 1930 at
$300,000, would have lost my shirt. Team drew under 500,000 ten
years.... Horse-- town today.
Jan. 27: UPI named me 'player of the half-century.' Many phone
calls from friends and old enemies. Best thing was I beat out
Ruth in vote.
Ruth died in 1948, the same year Halper began collecting. Halper
grew up in Newark, a few blocks from Ruppert Stadium, home of
the Newark Bears, then the Yankees' top farm club. At age eight
he began hanging out at the players' entrance to pester his
favorite Bears for autographs. One day slugger Lou (the Mad
Russian) Novikoff snapped, ''You here again? I signed yesterday.''
''That was yesterday,'' Halper said. ''This is today. Sign.
''What do you do with all these balls?''
''I don't know. Just keep them, I guess. I have every one you
ever gave me.''
''Be here tomorrow, kid, and I'll give you something to stop
bothering me for autographs.''
The next day Novikoff handed Halper a grocery bag. Inside was
the Detroit Tiger road uniform that Barney McCosky had worn in
1940. Soon word got around the International League that a kid
in Newark was stockpiling uniforms. Visiting players began
making donations. By the time Halper graduated from high school,
his inventory of baseball haberdashery had reached 75 uniforms.
He kept his urge to collect in relative check until 1974, when
he attended a baseball-card show in Manhattan. He went straight
from there to his mom's house, where he gathered up his old
cards, programs and uniforms. And he began to accumulate an
amazing amount of ... stuff.
Much of the stuff is handsomely mounted on the walls. Some of
it-the glove and spikes Bill Buckner wore when Mookie Wilson's
grounder rolled between his legs in the sixth game of the 1986
World Series-is displayed in convex glass reliquaries like the
bones of a saint.
The actual can of Oriole Pine Tar from which George Brett took
the glop he smeared on his notorious pine tar bat in 1983 is in
a case along with the pine tar ball Brett hit into the
rightfield stands of Yankee Stadium, as well as the ticket stub
of the fan who caught it and the signed business card of Orest
V. Maresca, the magistrate who made the initial ruling in the
ensuing controversy. Halper had the pine tar bat, too, but Brett
wanted it back. So the Sultan swapped it for Brett's pine tar
uniform and the bat he wielded to hit three homers for the
Kansas City Royals against the Yanks during Game 3 of the '78
American League playoffs. (K.C. fans will be pleased to learn
that Gossage inscribed the pine tar ball, Barry, I threw the
Whenever possible Halper has players authenticate his
collectibles. He has piles of index cards with handwritten
testimonials, such as, To my pal Barry-This is the uniform I
wore on June 18, 1947 when I pitched a no-hitter against Boston.
Proud to have it in your collection. Ewell Blackwell.
Some comments are almost touching. On the back of Pete Rose's
1984 lifetime donor's pass to Cooperstown, the tarnished star
wrote, Barry, I shouldn't need this pass to get into the Hall of
Sometimes the material arrives preauthenticated. The lock of
Ruth's hair, for example, came with a signed letter to one of
his admirers: In all my years in baseball, I have received many
requests for autographs, bats, balls and equipment, but you are
the first person to ask me for some of my hair. Therefore I feel
I am obliged to comply with such a request at least once.
Of course, once is rarely enough for Halper, as Cy Young
discovered at a 1955 Old-Timers' Game in Yankee Stadium. The
14-year-old Halper was standing outside the ballpark when he
spotted two elderly gentlemen emerge from a car. One of them was
Young, then a spry 88. Crawling under a police barricade, Halper
brandished a ball and said, ''Mr. Young, would you please
autograph this for me?''
Young braced the ball against the boy's left shoulder and signed
it. But while Young was bending over, his meerschaum pipe fell
out of his vest pocket and cracked on the pavement. ''This
pipe's no use to me anymore, kid,'' Young said. ''You can have
''Thanks,'' said Halper. ''Now will you autograph the pipe, too?''
Young did, and he advised Halper to get the autograph of the
old-timer he rode in with.
Halper produced another ball. The old-timer scratched out moose
mccormick, then produced a little rubber stamp and imprinted a
moose on the cowhide. Halper looked the ball over.
''Ever heard of me?'' asked the Moose.
''No,'' said Halper.
Chagrined, McCormick grabbed the ball and added
GIANTS-1904-1914. Since then Halper has added the signatures of
Moose Dropo, Moose Haas, Moose Moryn, Moose Skowron and Moose
Stubing to the McCormick ball. About the only moose missing is
The Moose ball is one of about two dozen Halper-created souvenir
balls that ring his office. Each ball is held aloft in its own
mitt-shaped silver holder. One ball bears the John Hancock of
every player nicknamed Dummy. A second has the autograph of
every major leaguer to have made an unassisted triple play. A
third is inscribed by the Yankee Clipper and his then wife,
Norma Jean DiMaggio. Another is signed by the pitcher who gave
up Ruth's first big league homer (Jack Warhop), his 60th homer
of 1927 (Tom Zachary) and his final three dingers (Red Lucas and
Guy Bush). Another ball-the one Young signed in '55-is
emblazoned with the signature of nearly every Cy Young Award
Then there are Halper's World Series balls: the one signed by
every pitcher to win three games in a World Series, the one
signed by every pitcher to lose three, the one signed by Ruth
and Reggie Jackson. Halper had tossed Jackson one of his Ruth
balls at a banquet after the 1977 World Series. ''Why am I
signing this?'' asked Jackson.
''You and Ruth are the only two players to hit three homers in a
''How much is a Ruth ball worth?''
Jackson signed and flipped the ball back. ''Well, Barry,'' he
said slyly, ''you've now got a $5,000 ball.''
The mother lode is in Halper's den. By pushing a button on a
remote control, he lowers a wall panel bearing a large framed
cigarette poster of Ruth. Behind the panel is a rotating dry
cleaner's rack. Give Halper a name and uniform upon
grass-stained uniform passes in review as he searches for the
one you've ordered up. Nine hundred sixty-four uniforms,
unwashed for decades: Ruth's rookie uniform. Cobb's last.
Shoeless Joe's jersey from 1919, the year the Black Sox threw
the World Series. A uniform of every Hall of Fame player. Well,
almost every one. Halper is still looking for Eppa Rixey's
uniform. The Hall of Fame has a Rixey. Halper offered a Cobb for
''We can't do it,'' they said.
''I'll throw in a Gehrig.''
''Sorry, it can't be done.''
Halper tries to take it philosophically. ''I'll just have to go
through life missing an Eppa Rixey,'' he says with a small shrug.
The other uniform Halper covets belonged to Eddie Gaedel, the
3'7" midget whom St. Louis Brown owner Bill Veeck put into a
game on Aug. 19, 1951. Gaedel, wearing number 1√ö8, walked on
four pitches, was removed for a pinch runner and left baseball
forever. Every six months Halper calls Bill DeWitt Jr., son of
a St. Louis Brown executive and the onetime batboy whose
slightly altered jersey Gaedel briefly inhabited. Alas, the item
is on loan to the Hall of Fame, and DeWitt has resisted Halper's
entreaties to sell.
Usually Halper prevails. His biggest coup came at the 1983
All-Star Game at Comiskey Park in Chicago. It was the 50th
anniversary of the spectacle, and every living All-Star and Hall
of Famer was on hand. Halper came to the hotel with boxes and
suitcases of uniforms, caps, gloves, cards. The only prey not
bagged was former Cleveland Indian outfielder Earl Averill.
Halper spotted him one night in the Hyatt lobby, shuffling
weakly next to his wife. ''Don't bother him now,'' Sharon told
Barry. ''Wait until morning.''
''He might not make it!'' Halper whispered, and he ran after
Averill, shouting, ''The Earl of Snohomish! Will you sign a cap,
program, photograph and bat?''
The Earl stared impassively. ''Maybe in the morning,'' said his
Halper ignored her. ''I can come to your room right now,'' he
It was too late. Halper had already left for his room to fetch
some Averilliana. The Averills reached their room about the same
time as Halper. The Sultan got his autographs.
The next morning Halper noticed a commotion in the lobby. An
ambulance had taken away one of the old-timers. ''Which one?''
Halper asked a bellman.
Averill had slipped into a coma from which he would never slip
out. Six weeks later he was dead. Halper thinks he did Averill a
favor: ''I gave him one last glorious moment of being asked for
Not all ballplayers have been appreciative. When cornered by
Halper a few years back, Leo Durocher snapped, ''You people are
''Well, you're so normal,'' Halper replied.
Durocher searched Halper's face and asked, ''Where have I seen
''In Chicago. At the Hyatt. In 1983. After you had your cataract
''Oh, yeah!'' fumed the Lip. ''You're the guy who kept turning
on the light, and I kept saying, 'Shut that thing off!'''
Halper got an even frostier reception from Pete Vuckovich, who
was the American League's 1982 Cy Young winner while pitching
for the Milwaukee Brewers. Halper caught up with him in the
visitors' locker room at Yankee Stadium in 1983.
''Would you please sign my Cy Young ball?'' asked Halper.
''Cy Young don't mean -- to me,'' growled Vuckovich, and he
bounced the ball off the clubhouse cement. As Halper sullenly
headed for the door, Vuke's teammate Robin Yount pulled him aside.
''Pete gets kind of moody,'' Yount counseled. ''Leave him alone,
and he'll eventually cooperate.''
A year later Halper tried again. This time he gave Vuckovich a
ball with Vuke's face painted on it. Vuckovich eyed the ball and
said, ''You brought this for me?''
''Yeah,'' said Halper.
''O.K.,'' he said at last. ''I'll sign your other one. Where is
''In my car.''
Halper got it, and Vuckovich signed. ''But wouldn't you know,''
says Halper with a laugh that makes his shoulders rattle, ''he
signed his first name Peter just to yank my chain a little.''
Some people just don't get Halper. Sandy Koufax told him,
''Barry, I have to ask you one question: Why?''
''Why what?'' Halper said.
''Why would you want all this junk in your house? I lived the
game, and I'm not interested in collecting memorabilia.''
''I haven't lived it,'' said Halper. ''Maybe that's the