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Celebrating Baseball's 'Shrine of the Eternals'
2005-03-25 12:00
by Jon Weisman

Thanks largely to its Shrine of the Eternals – essentially, a baseball Hall of Fame for the soul - the Baseball Reliquary has become an increasingly beloved part of the sport's culture.

Small Bouton.jpgThe Shrine of the Eternals honors those who have had a meaningful impact on baseball history, even if they haven't had traditional Hall of Fame statistics. In six years, the 18-member Shrine has honored Jim Abbott, Dick Allen, Moe Berg, Ila Borders, Jim Bouton (pictured here delivering his 2001 acceptance speech), Roberto Clemente, Dock Ellis, Mark Fidrych, Curt Flood, William “Dummy” Hoy, Shoeless Joe Jackson, Bill “Spaceman” Lee, Marvin Miller, Minnie Minoso, Satchel Paige, Jimmy Piersall, Pam Postema, and Bill Veeck, Jr. To further illustrate the range of candidates, Willard Mullin, who drew the famous cartoon Brooklyn Bum, is among the first-timers on this year's ballot.

Tuesday night at the Hollywood Improv on Melrose Avenue, comedians Fred Willard, Jack Riley, George Wendt, Ronnie Schell, Greg Proops, Dom Irrera, John Caponera, John Mendoza, Andy Kindler, Wayne Federman and Tom Tully – baseball fans all - are scheduled to perform at a special comedy fundraiser benefiting the Baseball Reliquary – just the latest indication of how far this grassroots organization has come since its founding in 1996.

"I think we get better known with each passing year," Baseball Reliquary founder and executive director Terry Cannon said in an e-mail interview with Dodger Thoughts this week. "The Shrine of the Eternals Induction Day now receives more national publicity, and our membership ranks have shown gradual increases over the last several years. More than anything, we've been very persistent and have developed our vision very slowly and methodically."

Membership in the organization is approaching 200 members, who are lured by a passionate love for baseball as well as the special benefit of being allowed to vote on candidates for the Shrine of the Eternals. No Baseball Writers of America Association elitism here.

Cannon added that while the baseball establishment hasn't exactly laid out the welcome mat for the Reliquary, there are pockets of enthusiasm for its efforts. A recent example came in 2004, when Dick Allen, whom Cannon called "a very charming and gracious man," flew out from Pennsylvania with family members to personally accept his induction.

"The Reliquary is very much a 'grassroots' organization," Cannon said, "and we really have not been 'accepted' by Major League Baseball in the sense that we have never had any formal communication. The first three or four years, we extended formal invitations to Bud Selig to attend our annual Shrine of the Eternals Induction Day, and every year he would send back the same form letter saying he was too busy to attend.

"We have been enthusiastically received by many former players whom we have inducted into the Shrine, and I've been pleasantly surprised how little effort it has taken to assure these players that our organization is credible and the honor is sincere. And even some of our inductees knew about the Reliquary when I contacted them to advise them of their election to the Shrine. Jim Bouton referred to the Reliquary as the 'People's Hall of Fame' and Marvin Miller called us the 'Antiestablishment Hall of Fame.' "

In addition to the momentum coming from baseball legends here and there, the Baseball Reliquary benefits from an ardent following from the entertainment community. Jack Riley (pictured below), perhaps most famous for his role as Elliot Carlin on The Bob Newhart Show, provided a key connection.

Small Riley.jpg"Several years ago I was introduced to Jack Riley," Cannon said, "and we talked about the possibility of doing an annual baseball comedy event to support the Reliquary's nonprofit activities. Jack assured me that there were a lot of comedians in the Los Angeles area who loved baseball and often incorporated baseball material in their routines. To my knowledge, this is the only baseball comedy event of its kind in the United States, and, now in its fourth year, it's become a much-anticipated kickoff to the Major League Baseball season."

Tom Tully, a member of long-running Los Angeles improv group Off the Wall, also plays a significant role, donating time and energy not only to performing, but helping Riley contact comedians and arrange for their appearance at the benefit.

The nights of comedy provide a nice counterpoint to some of the Reliquary's more serious endeavors. Cannon, for example, is working with Cal State Los Angeles on a special project, "Mexican-American Baseball in Los Angeles: From the Barrios to the Big Leagues," which will involve traveling exhibitions as well as the gathering of oral histories. Launching with a kickoff event April 9, the project is scheduled to evolve over several years, as much a research project about local communities as it is about baseball.

"Our mission statement is to foster an appreciation of American art and culture through baseball history, and we do this with a regular series of exhibitions at public libraries and community centers throughout the Los Angeles area," Cannon said.

Others who help the Reliquary fulfill its goals include archivist and historian Albert Kilchesty, development director and grantwriter Anne Oncken (to help fund its $15,000 annual budget, the Reliquary has received a small grant for the past four years from the Los Angeles County Arts Commission) and Cannon's wife, Mary, who is the artistic director.

"Our exhibitions regularly incorporate humor, art, and scholarship, and we are always looking for new ways of interpreting baseball history. It is interesting how our organizations and exhibitions appeal to the most devoted of fans and those who have only a marginal interest in the game."

Still, the Reliquary remains most famous for its Shrine of the Eternals. Cannon, as you can imagine, had some trouble picking a single favorite memory out of the many great moments over the past several years.

"One of my favorites deals with Jimmy Piersall, who was elected to the Shrine in 2001, along with Jim Bouton and Satchel Paige," Cannon said. "The plaques that we present to the inductees are very nontraditional and incorporate a multi-colored acrylic plastic design. Piersall's plaque incorporated a lot of pink. He was not able to personally attend the induction ceremony due to another commitment, but his son, who is a screenwriter and movie producer in Los Angeles, accepted on his behalf. His son later told me that when he delivered the plaque to Jimmy and took it out of its box, the first words out of Jimmy's mouth were, 'IT'S F------- PINK!' But his son later told me that Jimmy did warm up to the plaque and has it on display in his bathroom, where he keeps his most prized awards for visitors to enjoy.

"The only other former player who keeps their plaque in a more interesting location is Bill 'Spaceman' Lee, who reportedly has his hanging in his chicken coop!"

Cannon also treasures the words of Mike Veeck, the son of Shrine honoree Bill Veeck.

"I often say that Bill Veeck is a kind of 'spiritual mentor' to the Reliquary," Cannon said, "and so I was really thrilled that he was elected in 1999 in the first class. His son, Mike Veeck, said at that time that if his Dad started a baseball museum, it would be very much like the Reliquary. I considered that a very high compliment."

As one scrolls the list of 2005 nominees, one finds a wide range of names, from Eight Men Out author Eliot Asinof to baseball punching bag Don Zimmer, from Negro League pitcher Ted "Double Duty" Radcliffe to one-armed Pete Gray. But you also see beloved members of Cooperstown's Hall of Fame like Yogi Berra and Jackie Robinson in their seventh year of Shrine of the Eternals candidacy – a point of intrigue for those who follow the elections.

"Typically, one needs to be named on at least 32 to 35 percent of the ballots to be elected, or about one in every three ballots," Cannon said. "Last year Berra got 30 percent, Robinson 25 percent and Gray 23 percent. And these voting percentages have been pretty typical for them in the last few years. What we usually do is if a candidate draws 10 percent or less for a couple or three years, we will remove them from the ballot, and give someone else a chance. There is no rule, however, prohibiting a player who has been removed from the ballot from reappearing at a later time.

"Of the 50 candidates who appear on the ballot each year, there is a sprinkling of Hall-of-Famers. However, of the 18 individuals who have been elected to the Shrine as of 2004, only three have been elected to Cooperstown -- Bill Veeck, Satchel Paige, and Roberto Clemente. I do know that there are quite a few Reliquary members who on principle will not vote for someone who is in the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, feeling that the Reliquary should honor the accomplishments of those who have largely gone unrecognized in the traditional 'halls of fame.' "

Ah, controversy – where would a Hall or Shrine be without it? In any case, while the Shrine of the Eternals won't ever replace the Baseball Hall of Fame, don't be surprised if it becomes something truly cherished by more and more people in the baseball world.

Photos: Larry Goren

2005-03-25 13:55:21
1.   molokai
Jon, thanks for the info. I've never heard of the Baseball Reliquary until now and they sound like an organization after my own heart. Hope to make the fundraiser on Tuesday night.
2005-03-25 18:17:33
2.   Suffering Bruin
Wonderful story, wonderful topic. Were it not for this blog, I don't think I ever would've found out about the Baseball Reliquary and I will try to join Molokai Tuesday night.

Great stuff, Jon. Thanks.

2005-03-26 11:30:53
3.   Doug N
Thanks for sharing the story; it's my first time hearing about it.
I particularly like the work such as the Mexican-American Baseball project. There's a lot of history that cuts across various aspects of culture and I love to see it archived.

Any plans to take the Reliquary on tour to garner interest outside of the LA area?

2005-03-26 14:40:41
4.   Rich Lederer
Thanks, Jon. That's the first I've heard of the group and the event. Shall we buy a table?
2005-03-27 19:25:02
5.   Jon Weisman
Sadly, I'm unable to attend - though I really want to. Does anyone who's going want to report back on the event?
2005-03-31 15:56:55
6.   theperfectpitch
I heard of the Baseball Reliquary through Roger Owens, the Famous Peanut Man at Dodger Stadium. Terry is a friend of his and even kindly allowed us to do book signings at some of the events, including one last year at the Ice House in Pasadena and one at the Ford Theater. They often have Roger on program and have had his uniforms and memorabilia on showcase. I've also sat in on the comedy and got to meet one of the long time regulars of "Whose Line Is It Anyways" and shot the breeze with John Mendoza at the ice house green room. Good job, Jon, with someone finally giving some credit to the Baseball Reliquary.


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