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Diamond Dreams

In the World of Baseball Memorabilia, it is Best to Keep Your Eyes on the Ball
Ken Shouler
From the Print Edition:
Michael Richards, Sep/Oct 97

(continued from page 4)

While Halper wants to see his collection sold, seeing it go may cause mixed emotions. "As long as I can visit it and be part of the program, I won't have mixed feelings," he says. "But if it's going to California, I would have mixed emotions. 'Aren't you going to shed a tear or two?' people ask. I don't know. I've been doing this for half a century."

Halper is well aware of the pitfalls of the hobby, too, although he thinks the FBI's claim that 50 percent of all autographs are fake is excessive. He thinks the figure is closer to 40 percent. But he maintains that many items are signed with an auto pen, a mechanical device used for the signatures of people who, like the president of the United States, cannot sign every item they receive.

Hand in hand with the swindling involved in collectibles is a good deal of rudeness. Halper has advice for those seeking signatures. For one, players are generally more accessible during spring training. Two, fans should ask players to sign only when they are not busy doing something else. Too often, fans show little regard. They ask for signatures when the players are retrieving their luggage in an airport or enjoying dinner at a restaurant.

In one incident, recounted on the 1991 video "The Ultimate Baseball Memorabilia Collection," (Cabin Fever Entertainment, Greenwich, Connecticut) Mickey Mantle collapsed on an airplane flight from Dallas to New York and paramedics gathered around to see what was wrong. "They thought I was having a heart attack on the plane," Mantle said. "They were taking me off, oxygen in my nose, pinned down to a stretcher, and a guy comes up to me and says, 'Hey, aren't you Mickey Mantle? Would you sign this for me?' As far as he knew I was dying." Can you see the New York Post headline: "Mantle Cheats Death on Plane; Fan Gets One Last Autograph."

Halper has to put his signature on the sale of his entire collection. "I'm not trying to give it away; I want to be compensated fairly for it and let them [the buyers] make the money up on attendance [in a museum]. So that's where we're having the problems. God forbid anything happens to me, and my wife has the aggravation. And if anything happens to her, the children get taxed. Where are they going to get the millions of dollars to pay for this?"

There is no rush. Most memorabilia collections appreciate in value as time goes on. Just 25 years ago, his Honus Wagner card was worth about $30,000. Now it's worth more than 30 times as much. Halper is well aware of the simple truth that every object --even a baseball card--is worth what its purchaser will pay for it.

Ken Shouler, a frequent contributor to Cigar Aficionado from White Plains, New York, is the author of The Experts Pick Basketball's Best 50 Players in the Last 50 Years (AllSport Books, 1997). Figuring Fair from Foul

"I think of collecting as a hobby and not an investment," says Steve Oto, owner of Alternate Realities, a hobby store in Scarsdale, New York. Oto buys items that are aesthetically appealing to him. "If you buy something that you like, it doesn't matter that anyone else doesn't enjoy it," he says. "If it goes up in value, that's like gravy on top. People ask me what the best card is to have, and I say, 'It's what you like.' "

Oto has some sound advice about collecting:

1. "Be cautious in purchasing autographs," he says. "It's a 'buyer beware' kind of hobby. It's generally agreed that more than half of what's out there is forgery. It's so easy to forge. Even certificates of authenticity can be printed out on computers. Even memorabilia is dangerous. There are always stories about a guy who takes a new football jersey and gets it all muddy in the back yard." And then it gets sold as "the jersey he used during the Super Bowl." The same with other equipment; 50 or 100 of a certain "famous" ball or bat end up being sold.

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