LOS ANGELES When Gary Cypres' sports memorabilia collection reached 10,000 pieces and threatened to overflow their house, his wife told him to get it out. The man who made his money in the finance, mortgage and travel agency businesses did just that, developing the Sports Museum of Los Angeles.
It opens Friday in a nondescript building Cypres owns in an off-the-beaten path area just west of downtown Los Angeles and located blocks from Staples Center.
Inside is 32,000-square-feet of American sports history, with an emphasis on baseball, football, basketball, golf, cycling, bowling and rowing.
Cypres' collection is valued at more than $30 million, with his priciest pieces being a T206 Honus Wagner baseball card worth more than $2 million and a uniform Babe Ruth wore in Japan valued in the millions.
Born in the Bronx, Cypres grew up as a Yankee fan and has been collecting for 25 years. He spent $1 million bringing the building up to city code during five years of developing the museum.
"I'm an excessive guy, I love to collect," the 65-year-old father of five said. "It gives me great joy. It's not necessarily the most expensive items that give you the greatest joy."
The museum has galleries dedicated to the New York Yankees (Brooklyn-born Cypres' favorite team), the Boston Red Sox, the Dodgers of Brooklyn and Los Angeles, Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio, and baseball cards from their beginnings in 1887.
"This is more of a history museum," Cypres said. "I try to show how things progressed. Today most kids don't have any sense of history. They don't understand the importance of Jackie Robinson in baseball or Bill Russell in basketball and what they went through. It's good to go back in time."
The museum traces the evolution of sports as entertainment, with sports-themed arcade and board games dating from the late 1800s and giant posters from sports-focused movies.
Ruth's gallery includes his passion for hunting, with his shotgun and long raccoon coat on display. The Babe's 1934 tour of Japan is featured, including his uniform -- the only one known to exist, Cypres claims -- and a black-and-white photo of Ruth in the outfield holding a glove in his right hand and a parasol in his left.
"This is a cultural gem," said Jan Perry, a Los Angeles city councilwoman whose district includes the museum. "What I like about this museum is the human interest. Gary knows the backstory on everything."
Cypres has an extensive DiMaggio collection, including the ball that extended the Yankee Clipper's hitting streak to a record 56 games.
Cypres relishes the background of everything in his collection, so he also owns the ball that would have been DiMaggio's 57th consecutive hit -- snared by Cleveland infielder Ken Keltner -- and what would have been No. 58, which started a 12-game hitting streak by DiMaggio.
Home run king Barry Bonds rates a brief mention, with the signed jersey and bat from home run No. 534 on display, along with the ball from No. 755 that tied Hank Aaron's record.
Younger visitors might be surprised to see posters and baseball cards from the era when smoking was closely tied to baseball, with players like Lloyd Waner of the Pittsburgh Pirates boasting in a Lucky Strike ad, "Luckies fine flavor is enjoyable ... and they never cut my wind."
Cypres loves models, so he has detailed versions of Chicago's Comiskey Park, Brooklyn's Ebbets Field and New York's Polo Grounds.
Other exhibits show how sports uniforms and equipment have evolved over the years, with early examples of antique football helmets, tennis rackets, bicycles, gray wool baseball uniforms that eventually gave way to today's bright colors, and baskets with bottoms that required a ladder to retrieve the ball.
Los Angeles Lakers fans won't see Kobe Bryant, but a life-size version of Shaquille O'Neal in his old Lakers uniform -- including a 'Man of Steel' tattoo on his bulging left arm -- dominates the gallery on the NBA's best centers. Yao Ming's Houston Rockets uniform -- nearly the size of a flag -- hangs from the wall.