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 died.")
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 antismoking postscripts.
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."