A memorabilia collector to beat them all

The late Barry Halper owned the greatest baseball memorabilia collection outside of Cooperstown.

helfer 88 (photo credit: )
helfer 88
(photo credit: )
More than 500 family members, friends and baseball greats came to Temple B'nai Jeshurun in Short Hills, New Jersey on Tuesday morning to pay their respects and remember the life of Barry Halper. Halper, who died at the age of 66 on Sunday from complications with diabetes, owned what is widely considered the greatest baseball memorabilia collection outside of Cooperstown. Major League Baseball bought some of his collection for several million dollars in 1998, and Halper auctioned off the rest in 1999, collecting $21.8 million. His collection included Ty Cobb's false teeth, the documents signed by the owners of the Red Sox and Yankees to complete the sale of Babe Ruth and a Honus Wagner T-206 - the most valuable baseball card - one of which sold for $1.2 million on eBay in 2000. Halper's son Steven spoke first and recalled the Saturday mornings when his father would wake him up at 5:30 a.m. to go to baseball card shows in New York City. "I was never quite sure who I'd be meeting," Steven said. "Sometimes a Hall of Famer, sometimes a future Hall of Famer. "It was nice to meet these former players, but for me it was more meaningful spending the time with my own Hall of Famer." Halper's other son, Jason, spoke about his father's passion for baseball and his ability to look at the game differently than most people. Jason explained his father's zeal for telling the stories behind each piece of memorabilia in his collection. Evan Katz, Halper's brother-in-law, remembered hearing about when Halper started collecting cards, and his mother threatened to throw them away if he didn't do something with them. Katz also told a personal anecdote about watching a Yankees game from principle owner George Steinbrenner's box during the '80s when Halper was a limited owner of the team. Tal Smith, the general manager of the Houston Astros at the time, was also attending the Yankees game as a guest of Steinbrenner. Smith and Halper hit it off quickly and were talking for the duration of the game. "I have never in my life, in my four years of baseball, met anyone who knows the game like you," Smith said to Halper at the end of the game. Halper's friend and neighbor, Marvin Goldklang, also spoke at the funeral. His first encounter with Halper was when he came running out of his house carrying his baseball glove and asked to join in the catch that Goldklang was having with his son. "When was the last time you heard of having a catch with another adult?" Goldklang said Tuesday. "You should try it sometime." Goldklang then spoke about the pleasure that Halper got from inviting Goldklang to dine with his childhood idol, Joe DiMaggio. "In Judaism there's the idea of a shem tov - a good name," Goldklang said. "Barry had it." Following the service, when the mood was lighter, Yankees general manager Brian Cashman was overheard talking with Mets manager Willie Randolph about offseason acquisitions. Randolph joked that Cashman and the Yankees signed all of the available middle relief pitchers. Yankee great Yoggi Berra was also in attendance.