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 years.
Halper had Mantle annotate: Hey Babe! You was right. Roger did it.
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 29⅔ 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 shaken 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: