Here are some snips –
When “Shoeless” Joe Jackson’s 1919 White Sox jersey was donated to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum by Major League Baseball in 1998, it was the crown jewel of the newly-acquired collection of artifacts from the famed Barry Halper Collection. MLB paid close to $8 million for 175 items from Halper and subsequently sent those treasures off to Cooperstown as a donation to be exhibited in the Hall’s “Barry Halper Gallery.” Halper’s “Shoeless Joe” jersey was displayed in an exhibition called “Memories of a Lifetime,” along with the agreement that sold Babe Ruth to the Yankees and a rare T-206 Honus Wagner tobacco card. On behalf of MLB, Commissioner Bud Selig proudly proclaimed, “This important collection belongs in the Hall of Fame and that is where it will be for all time.”
A year-long investigation conducted by Haulsofshame.com has confirmed that the jersey purported to be Jackson’s from 1919 isn’t even an authentic White Sox jersey from the period, let alone Shoeless Joe’s own. The jersey purchased by MLB in 1998 was billed as a 1919 White Sox jersey made by A. G. Spalding & Bros. with Jackson’s name chain-stitched in the collar. The problem is that all White Sox uniforms from 1916 through the early 1920s were manufactured by Thos. E. Wilson & Co. and the Western Sporting Goods Mfg. Co., not Spalding. In 1925, these two Chicago companies merged to form what is today called Wilson Sporting Goods. Jackson played for the White Sox from 1915 through 1920.
When White Sox owner Charles Comiskey provided a testimonial in a Wilson advertisement published in the Chicago Tribune on May 4, 1919, he confirmed that Wilson had outfitted his White Sox since 1916. In that ad, Comiskey stated that since Wilson’s uniforms were so well done in the past, they “merited (his) reordering them from (Wilson) again…” for the 1919 season. (Wilson also made the Chicago Cubs uniforms that year). How then, could Barry Halper’s jersey, made by Spalding, be Shoeless Joe’s historic laundry from the Black Sox era? It’s just not possible. When Halper died in 2005, so did any chance to get an explanation from the man Sports Illustrated once called the “Sultan of Swap.”
The Halper uniform collection has been a source of controversy ever since the Hall of Fame received their donation from MLB in 1998. In 1999, Halper sold the remainder of his massive collection, including many uniforms of questioned authenticity, through Sotheby’s for more than $25 million. In 2005, the New York Daily News reported that when officials were selecting items for the MLB donation in 1998, “..the Hall of Fame passed on several jerseys because it deemed them fake.” One questionable Halper jersey was an alleged 1914 Babe Ruth Red Sox jersey made by Spalding. Halper described his acquisition of the jersey “like something out of TV or the movies,” and Hall-of-Famer George Brett appeared modeling the Bambino’s shirt in a 1985 Sporting News feature that called the jersey “an incredible find.” However, it is well documented that Spalding didn’t make the Red Sox jerseys of that era, either. Boston’s uniforms were supplied by “Wright and Ditson” and “Horace Partridge & Co.” The alleged Ruth Red Sox jersey, which was once considered one of Halper’s most prized possessions, never made it into the Sotheby’s sale.
The 1919 Jackson jersey isn’t the Hall’s first brush with fakery related to the Halper Collection. Last summer legendary Detroit broadcaster, the late Ernie Harwell, reported in the Detroit Free-Press that an MLB-donated 1946 diary attributed to Ty Cobb was a forgery. The Hall was first made aware of the problem after scrutiny of the item by Cobb expert Ron Keurajian, and an investigation by the FBI confirmed their concerns . Harwell commended the Hall for “admitting that the Cobb diary was an unreliable source,” but the FBI did not divulge details of its analysis to officials at Cooperstown. The Hall of Fame confirms that the diary has since been “moved into storage.” This past month SABR member Ron Cobb published an investigative paper in The National Pastime that proved the Halper-Cobb diary was forged by Cobb biographer Al Stump. Cobb also illustrated that Halper knew of the authenticity issues related to his Stump items well before he sold those items at Sotheby’s in 1999.
Halper’s collection is also the focus of another FBI investigation into items stolen from the New York Public Library’s famous A. G. Spalding Baseball Collection. According to reports in the New York Times and the Boston Herald last summer, several lots in the 1999 Halper auction have been identified as stolen from institutional collections. In 2006, Halper’s widow consigned items to Robert Edward Auctions that were later found to have been stolen from the Boston Public Library and New York Public Library. Both institutions confirm that the Halper items have been returned to them. Hall of Fame officials have verified that they are aware of the ongoing federal investigation into Halper’s collection. Special Agent Jim Margolin of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s media office in New York City also confirmed that the probe into the thefts at the New York Public Library and Halper’s collection were on-going.
Reports indicate that the Hall’s Chairman, Jane Forbes Clark, was instrumental in convincing the owners to contribute to the Halper purchase. At the time, the New York Daily News reported, “There is no telling what would have happened to all of this priceless lore, which belongs in the Hall of Fame, had Ms. Clark not been able to prevail upon the Steinbrenners, Seligs, Disney’s et al. to make the purchase and donation and keep it out of the hands of the hucksters.” Daily News columnist Bill Madden added, “It took $8 million of baseball’s central fund booty, or roughly $266,000 per club, to make this merger possible. But for the price of a minimum-salaried utility infielder, baseball now gives to its fans Shoeless Joe Jackson’s 1919 “Black Sox” uniform…”
While the Daily News reported that Jane Forbes Clark had talked George Steinbrenner and his fellow MLB owners into buying material from Halper’s collection in the first place, additional reporting in the Cooperstown Crier revealed that Clark was also involved in the negotiations between Halper and Major League Baseball. It is unclear what recourse the Hall of Fame or MLB may have against the Halper estate. Halper’s widow, Sharon, inherited her husband’s 2% minority ownership stake in the New York Yankees, and is currently listed as one of the club’s limited partners.
This whole thing is sort of a bummer for me. I plan on going to Cooperstown next month – it will be my fourth time in the last seven years. And, a major part of the draw for me is the museum collection. In fact, I would say it was the collection first, followed by the quaintness of the town, and then the actual “Hall” which keeps bringing me back to Cooperstown. It’s a shame that we may now have to question some of the exhibits in the museum that were not donated directly by the person they pertain to, etc.