July 1, 2011
Nearly two years ago, on July 5, 2009, late Detroit Tiger broadcaster Ernie Harwell was the first to report in the Detroit Free-Press the controversy about the Baseball Hall of Fame’s alleged Ty Cobb diary. After interviewing noted baseball autograph expert Ron Keurajian and Hall of Fame officials, Harwell revealed that the supposed 1946 handwritten Cobb diary, once displayed at the Hall of Fame, was a forgery. Harwell wrote, “The Cobb diary is a fake and will forever be relegated to the archival basement in Cooperstown.”
The diary was included in a group of items that were purchased from collector and New York Yankees minority owner Barry Halper by Major League Baseball. Reports in 1998 indicated that MLB purchased two hundred artifacts from Halper for approximately $7 million and subsequently donated all of those items to the museum in Cooperstown, including the bogus Cobb diary.
Ron Keurajian first notified the Hall of Fame of his concerns that the Cobb diary was a forgery in 2007 after the diary was featured in an article, Dear Diary: Ty Cobb’s Love Affair with Golf, which was published in the Hall’s Memories and Dreams magazine. When Keurajian asked the Hall for a copy of the diary he remembers being told it could not be photocopied because it was fragile and “priceless.” Keurajian says he responded by indicating the diary was not priceless. He told a Hall of Fame employee that the diary was, “Worthless because it is a forgery and an amateurish one at that.” The Hall of Fame did not respond further to Keurajian and afterwards President Dale Petrosky also failed to return his phone calls. Keurajian told Harwell in a letter dated May 31, 2009, that he felt he was ”persona-non-grata after (he) pronounced the diary as spurious.”
Early in 2009, Keurajian contacted the Hall of Fame again and asked head curator Ted Spencer to remove the diary from public display. Keurajian told Harwell, “Spencer was much more receptive and stated he would send the diary to the FBI for analysis.”
On April 24, 2009, over a decade after the Cobb diary was purchased from Barry Halper, Spencer called an FBI agent in the Questioned Documents Unit and afterwards sent the FBI the diary and four photocopied genuine Cobb letters from their collection. Spencer noted that the Hall was requesting a “non criminal review of the diary.”
Almost a month later, the FBI’s Questioned Document Unit in Quantico, Virginia, sent the Hall of Fame their report which supported Keurajian’s opinion that the entire diary was a forgery. Haulsofshame.com recently obtained a copy of that FBI report.
The documents show that investigators at the FBI laboratory determined that the handwritten entries in the 1946 diary were ”not consistent with the natural writing style of Tyrus R. Cobb.”
Harwell ended his 2009 article asking the questions, “Who was the forger?” and “How did he con Halper into buying the diary?”
Last August Ron Cobb wrote a stellar paper for the Society for American Baseball Research entitled, The Georgia Peach: Stumped by the Storyteller, which answered Harwell’s questions. In his award-winning article Cobb’s investigation illustrated how several items Barry Halper had acquired from Cobb’s biographer, Al Stump, were forgeries. The most blatant was a shotgun alleged to have been used by Cobb’s mother to shoot and kill his father. Researching period police records, Ron Cobb proved that Ty Cobb’s father was actually shot with a pistol.
The shotgun was originally slated for sale at the 1999 Sotheby’s auction of the Halper Collection, but Ron Cobb was told by Sotheby’s lead consultant Rob Lifson that “it had been rejected because the only provenance was Al Stump’s statement.” In addition, Ron wrote that Lifson told him, “All Stump items in the Halper Collection became suspect after it was proven that a Ty Cobb game-used bat that Stump supplied to Halper was not authentic.”
However, although Sotheby’s and Halper had this advance knowledge of problems with Stump’s materials, they still chose to sell many of the items originally acquired from him. Sotheby’s sold Ty Cobb’s alleged dentures, fishing hat, poker chips, smoking jacket and other items in excess of $40,000, even though Ron Cobb states, “Of the large number of Ty Cobb documents from Stump that came to Sotheby’s, practically all were judged by Lifson to be fraudulent.”
Ron Cobb also illustrated how both the FBI and Halper were aware of the problems with Stump’s materials years before the 1999 sale. Based on an interview with Josh Evans, of Lelands, Cobb wrote, “Evans was so distressed by the fake Stump material that (Mike) Gutierrez continued to sell, that he first told Barry Halper of his suspicions and then contacted the FBI in an attempt to get an official investigation of Al Stump started.” Based upon the evidence he gathered, Ron Cobb determined that the forgeries were executed by Stump, himself. In his 2010 article, Cobb called Stump a “proven liar” and a “proven forger.”
When the Hall of Fame had first choice of approximately 200 artifacts to purchase from Halper before the Sotheby’s sale, the bogus 1946 Cobb diary was chosen by the curators and subsequently displayed prominently in the Hall’s “Barry Halper: Memories of a Lifetime” exhibition. The diary was replicated for visitors so they could turn the pages and read the forged entries, which included references to Cobb’s alcoholism, divorce and a disdain for Babe Ruth.
Following Harwell’s and Keurajian’s revelations about the counterfeit Cobb diary, Haulsofshame.com released a report in August of 2010 showing that another major item the Hall of Fame purchased from Halper was a forgery. The report revealed that an alleged 1919 Black Sox jersey of “Shoeless” Joe Jackson was the wrong uniform style and also made by the wrong manufacturer. Months later, the Hall of Fame confirmed for the New York Post that the garment was constructed with materials that were not in existence until the 1940s. Halper told Hall of Fame officials that he had purchased the jersey from Jackson’s widow in her home in the 1950s. Based on the jersey being a forgery, other Halper items attributed to Jackson in the sale, including his “Black Betsy” bat, 1919 World Series gold pocket-watch and glove, are also believed to be bogus. Another big-ticket forgery the Hall purchased from Halper was Mickey Mantle’s alleged 1951 Yankee road jersey with the number “6.” The jersey was featured in the Hall of Fame’s official brochure for the Halper exhibit and in MLB’s official press release. But that same jersey somehow made its way into a 2007 auction featuring consignments from Halper’s widow. The Yankee road jersey Halper held out as Mantle’s rookie was sold for a few thousand dollars as a “replica jersey.”
Several other items that were part of the Halper transaction are suspected to be problematic and are currently being investigated by Haulsofshame.com. Suspect items include: Babe Ruth’s polo coat and 500th Home Run ball, Buck Leonard’s Homestead Grays jersey, Cy Young’s 1908 Red Sox jersey and others.
Although it was announced by Major League Baseball that they had made the Halper purchase, it was actually the Baseball Hall of Fame that cut the check with funds contributed to the museum by MLB. The Hall of Fame’s 1998 tax return includes an entry noting payment to Barry Halper Enterprises and a fair market value of the collection at $7,068,888.
Although Hall of Fame officials told the FBI they “for years (had) suspicions that the Ty Cobb diary it own(ed) might be partially or fully fraudulent,” they featured the manuscript in their own magazine as late as 2007. When Harwell’s story broke, Hall of Fame spokesperson, Brad Horn, stated “the document has not been on display at the Museum since 2001, but will remain a part of our library collection.”
Horn gave no explanation as to why the Hall of Fame would retain a counterfeit document in its collection. In addition, despite the Hall of Fame’s new admissions that other Halper items are fraudulent, it appears that they have also made no attempts for restitution from the estate of the deceased Yankee partner. Halper’s son, Jason Halper, recently told a SABR committee newsletter, ”My family has not received any communications from the Baseball Hall of Fame questioning the authentication of the Joe Jackson uniform jersey, or any other item that was formerly part of my father’s collection.”
Evidence regarding Halper’s sale to MLB and the Hall of Fame suggests that both parties were the victims of an elaborate fraud totalling over $1 million. Why MLB and the Hall of Fame have not pursued restitution from the Halper estate are unknown. Halper’s widow, Sharon Halper, inherited her husband’s 2% stake in the Yankee limited partnership upon his death in 2005.
Baseball Hall of Fame spokesperson, Brad Horn, did not return calls to his Cooperstown office for comment.
When asked what the Commisioners office stance was on the Hall of Fame’s apparent refusal to pursue reimbursement from the Halper estate, MLB spokesperson Matt Bourne declined comment.
The FBI report about the alleged Ty Cobb diary issued to the Hall of Fame in 2009 was obtained by Ron Cobb who filed a request to the FBI through the Freedom of Information Act. Ron told Haulsofshame.com, “Readers might be interested to know that I was at first sent a canned package from the FBI file on Ty Cobb that contained nothing about the Hall of Fame so I had to appeal the case and after almost a year, I finally got the report.”
When he was told that the Hall of Fame has not pursued Halper’s estate Cobb said, “It’s surprising that the Hall of Fame would not seek restitution for items they purchased from Halper that were fake, particularly for those items where there is some evidence that Halper knew the items were fake when he sold them.”
Cobb, the winner of a 2010 McFarland-SABR research award for his investigative article, is also disappointed that the Hall has kept the diary in their collection. “That diary contains fabricated facts about Ty Cobb and fantasy ideas attributed to him, some of which have found their way into the history books. The Hall would do a great service to baseball memorabilia collectors and baseball fans as well if they would do a prominent display of all the fake and forged stuff they have. I find that most fans don’t know that the fakery is so prevalent.”