On a day when the Yanks made one whopping acquisition, it’s fitting to take a moment to remember the man who was baseball’s greatest collector (not to mention a Yankee minority owner): Barry Halper. Cards, uniforms, equipment, ephemera—if it was somehow connected to baseball, Halper collected it, no matter how odd. Mantle was his idol, and he was relentless in chasing down memorabilia from the Mick. (Mantle quipped, after having his liver removed, that Halper had probably purchased it.) In 1999 Halper auctioned his collection through Sotheby’s; it brought some $21 million in receipts. Today, that material is probably worth considerably more, thought there is no hope of bringing it all together again. (For the record, the Hall got first crack at whatever it wanted.) Many of the prize items at the auctions we periodically report on in our “Price of History” column come with a Halper provenance. The wonderfully illustrated catalog, from that sale is one of our favorite references, and is well worth the low price for which it can easily be found.
Halper’s collection was spectacular, but he was a fairly nondescript fellow from Jersey. Back in the late 80s, when I was interning for a local NY television station, I trecked out as part of 3-person crew (talent, camera guy, me) to interview him at his place of business—he sold paper products—in a generic Jersey industrial park. He had some of his gems sitting around the office, but what I remember most from that day was his daughter, a spectacularly beautiful brunette who flitted in and out of the office. To me, she seemed a lot more interesting than Yogi’s 1956 World Series glove. Barry Halper, I suppose, had it all. My sincere condolences to her, and to the rest of the Halper family.