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 it.
"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 number⅛, 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?"