Jan. 10, 2011
When Yogi Berra suited up in John J. McGraw’s alleged 1905 World Series jersey for a 1985 Sporting News photo shoot in the Yankee locker room, he was still manager of George Steinbrenner’s ballclub. Writer Bill Madden remembers it as a memorable photograph in his 2010 biography, Steinbrenner: The Last Lion of Baseball, because, “it proved to be the last time Berra would have much interaction with Steinbrenner…” Sixteen games into the 1985 season The Yankee owner fired Yogi and replaced him with Billy Martin.
In memorabilia circles, however, the 1985 Sporting News photograph is now infamous for reasons other than Yogi’s firing by George. Madden also recalls, in his Steinbrenner biography, that Yogi and his players “donned period handlebar mustaches while wearing authentic uniforms of legendary, long ago Hall of Famers Ty Cobb, Cy Young, John McGraw and Pud Galvin.” But it just wasn’t so.
Uniform expert Dave Grob recently deemed the alleged Cy Young jersey worn by John Montefusco in the photo as a forgery and new research shows that the jersey Yogi wore was also bogus. (Madden didn’t mention the “Shoeless Joe” Jackson jersey worn in the photo by Yankee coach Jeff Torborg. This past October, the Hall of Fame admitted to the New York Post that the Jackson jersey was a million-dollar forgery, as well.)
In typical Halper fashion, the collector told Madden an incredible aquisition story for the 1985 Sporting News article about his uniform collection. Madden wrote, “Another example of Halper’s determined detective work was his aquisition of the uniform worn by Hall of Famer John McGraw in the 1905 World Series….The uniform, made of heavy wool like all the uniforms of that era, is black with a white lettered ‘NY’ on the front.” Halper told Madden, “In my readings of Giants history, I recalled how McGraw had been especially close to a black fellow named Macklin who he hired as the Giants’ (assistant) trainer…I traced Macklin’s relatives to Manitoba in Canada. I had been told by this contact that they might have the McGraw uniform, and darned if he wasn’t right.” Quite a detailed account coming from Halper, the Yankee limited partner and world-famous collector, and another extraodinary acquisition story that was never questioned. The tale rolled right off his tongue like the acquisition stories for his 1919 “Shoeless Joe” Jackson jersey and his 1914 Babe Ruth rookie jersey, which also went unquestioned.
In the course of examining Halper’s alleged 1905 New York Giants jersey, we found examples of these uniforms in period photographs that served as the basis for Mark Okkonen’s study of the garments worn by McGraw’s club in 1905 (and 1906). Okkonen’s examples appear in his book , Baseball Uniforms of the 20th Century, and on the Baseball Hall of Fame’s “Dressed to the Nines” online uniform database.
In 1999, Halper included the same alleged 1905 McGraw jersey worn by Yogi as Lot 363 in Sotheby’s Halper Auction. Sotheby’s offered the jersey as a ”1905 John McGraw Giants Player/Manager Jersey.” Sotheby’s further described the garment as a “navy blue flannel collared pullover jersey (with) a four-button front…”McGraw” is stitched on the back left tail…The shirt dates from the days of McGraw’s great early Giants teams.” Nowhere in the description did Sotheby’s mention Halper’s claim that he purchased the jersey from the family of “black fellow named Macklin,” who Halper said was McGraw’s assistant trainer.
When the gavel dropped at Sotheby’s in September of 1999, the winning bidder walked away with Halper’s McGraw jersey for $21,850. The price reflected some of the skeptecism regarding Halper’s uniform collection even at that time. An authentic McGraw 1905 World Series jersey would have been expected to sell in excess of $50,000 or, perhaps, even reach six-figures. The Sotheby’s catalogue noted that, “Grey Flannel has authenticated all uniforms and apparel.” In addition, the auction house also included in their acknowledgements a statement by Grey Flannel thanking Mark Okkonen and the Baseball Hall of Fame’s Librarian, Jim Gates, “for their valuable time and effort assisting in our research as it proved to be invaluable.”
Unfortunately, for the winning bidder of Halper’s alleged 1905 treasure, the truth regarding this McGraw jersey was in Cooperstown all along.
The Hall of Fame’s incredible collection of Major League garments includes an authentic 1905 Spalding World Series jersey once worn by Giants pitcher George “Hooks” Wiltse. The jersey was featured prominently in John Thorn’s 1998 book, Treasures of the Baseball Hall of Fame, as a “black Giant jersey (that) was worn by Hooks Wiltse.” Thorn explained that McGraw’s 1905 uniforms were the product of the manager’s own superstitions and his bitter rivalry with Connie Mack’s A’s of the American League. Wrote Thorn, “When his (McGraw’s) opponent turned out to be Mack’s White Elephants, the superstitious McGraw decided he would take the upper hand by going black against white.”
An examination of Halper’s jersey (and the Sotheby’s catalogue description) reveals that his garment was colored “navy blue,” not black. (No manufacturers tag was noted by Sotheby’s) Additionally, compared to the Hall of Fame’s authentic Wiltse jersey, the “N. Y.” insignia sewn onto the chest area of Halper’s jersey shows contrasting letter alignment and construction. The most damning characteristic, however, is that the letters sewn onto the alleged McGraw jersey are the wrong size. They are not even close, as evidenced in a side-by-side comparison.
In addition, the files at the National Baseball Library in Cooperstown include at least one photograph of John J. McGraw wearing his actual 1905 black jersey. The photo shows that McGraw’s jersey matches Wiltse’s exactly in relation to letter placement and sizing. Halper’s jersey, again, stands in stark contrast.
We consulted with uniform expert Dave Grob for his take on the 1905 McGraw jersey and the Halper uniform sales. Said Grob, “It is beyond obvious that the level of expertise and due diligence leveraged to evaluate the uniforn holdings in the Halper collection were severely lacking. Once again it appears that mystique and not observable traits and metrics carried the day and carried off a great deal of cash as well.”
So where do buyers of bogus items from the Halper sale stand today, twelve years later? According to Marsha Malinowski, Sotheby’s Manuscript specialist and the coordinator of the Halper Auction, their prospects don’t look good. Said Malinowski, ”Our materials that we sell at auction are guaranteed for five years after the sale, and if there are any issues, we ask that they are brought to the floor before the five year authenticity (guarantee).” So, it appears buyers of Halper’s bogus uniforms, including those of Hall of Famers Wilbert Robinson, Hughie Jennings, Jimmy Collins and Reggie Jackson (just to name a few) are out of luck.
In 1999, Sotheby’s asked Yogi Berra to write a short testimonial to Halper for their auction catalogue. In the catalogue Yogi wrote, “I only hope that the new buyers of these items are as dedicated to baseball and ballplayers as Barry has been, and that they are as generous with their collections as Barry always was with his.” In retrospect, we figure these new revelations about Halper’s collection might have caused Yogi to write something like this: “If you see one of Barry Halper’s ”Mugsy” McGraw jerseys on the auction block….Don’t take it!”
UPDATE: After the release of this article we were made aware of a few additional vintage photographs showing Hooks Wiltse and John J. McGraw in their authentic 1905 Giant World Series uniforms, courtesy of the John Rogers Archive’s Sporting News Collection and the Chicago Daily News:
And “Mugsy” McGraw c.1905:
And here’s one we forgot, but was brought to our attention by reader “jere”: From the Boston Public Library’s “McGreevey Collection,” its a photograph of McGraw making a presentation to Lave Cross at home plate of the Columbia Street Grounds, Philadelphia, during the World Series of 1905. McGraw is wearing his black uniform made specially for the Series.