Last November the baseball commissioner's office paid a reported $75 million for about a fifth of Halper's stash of 100,000 items and donated those pieces to the Hall of Fame. Included were Shoeless Joe Jackson's Black Betsy bat, George Brett's infamous can of pine tar, Babe Ruth's 500th-home-run ball, the contract finalizing Ruth's 1920 sale by the Boston Red Sox to the Yankees and uniforms formerly belonging to, among others, Ty Cobb, Satchel Paige and Cy Young. About 80,000 other keepsakes from Halper's collection will be auctioned by Sotheby's in New York in September. Among the treasures up for grabs: the first catcher's mask (worn by James Tyng of Harvard in the 1870s); two tickets from the first modern World Series, in 1903; the $52,000 contract Babe Ruth signed with the Yanks in '23 ("Ruth always dreamed of making a grand a week," says Halper); Lou Gehrig's '27 uniform; Joe DiMaggio's first pro jersey (San Francisco Seals, '33) and '51 World Series ring; Mickey Mande's Triple Crown trophy from '56; and a store of Cobb-abilia that ranges from the Georgia Peach's dentures to the shotgun his mother used to shoot his father.
The 59-year-old Halper decided to unload everything after suffering a stroke two years ago. "I started worrying about estate taxes and what would happen to all this if I died," he says. His wife, Sharon, and three kids have no interest in keeping his collection. "So I decided to disperse it while I was still alive. The collecting world has been foaming at the mouth to get a crack at this stuff. Let the best collector win."
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