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Wednesday, August 08, 2001

Baseball Eternity, Reliquary Style

The Game?s Evolving ‘Museum of the Mind’ Creates Its Own Shrine of the Eternals

In   a world that made sense, the Baseball Reliquary would already be as important   as the Baseball Hall of Fame. While Cooperstown works well as an umbrella   organization for baseball history, it has become more and more commercialized   in recent years, and the flavor of the game and its myriad connections to American   culture is less evident in the museum?s efforts.

That?s where the Reliquary comes in. Eschewing the increasingly slick visual   imagery that has begun to dominate baseball?s interaction with its fan base,   the Reliquary?s Executive Director Terry Cannon and his minions seek   out a more natural and authentic creative inspiration in the artifacts and presentations   they provide. Instead of aspiring merely to a field of dreams, Cannon is after   something deeper, a kind of rapid eye movement capable of making unusual juxtapositions.

This notion of unusual and linked interconnection is exemplified by the selections   made by the voting members of the Baseball Reliquary for their version of the   Hall of Fame?what they call their Shrine of the Eternals. The three players   selected in 2001 and inducted July 29th in a ceremony held in Pasadena, CA (the   third such induction since the Baseball Reliquary was founded in 1999)?Satchel   Paige, Jimmy Piersall, and Jim Bouton?are just such unusual   characters, taken together or separately.

Each   of these men, despite the differences in their on-field achievements, represent   the kind of singular relationship to baseball that the Reliquary holds most   dear. Paige was the game?s most enduring showman; Piersall was the game?s first   recovering madman; Bouton was the best (and funniest) of its clubhouse lawyers.

Each of these men also transcended the stereotypical descriptions I?ve just employed, and each was able to shine a light into an area of baseball and American society that was badly in need of illumination.

It?s no accident that all three men wrote books about their experiences, and each was uncompromising in their devotion to looking under the veil in order to reveal deeper, more complex truths.

But   lest you think that the Shrine of the Eternals and its attendant ceremony is   some kind of dark paean to ?Baseball Babylon,? consider their most recent award,   created in honor of the greatest (and loudest) fan in Brooklyn, Hilda Chester   (she of the cowbell and the air-drill voice).

The first-ever Hilda Award?a cowbell encased in hard plastic?was awarded to Rea Wilson, a woman who adds an epic cast to the term ?baseball widow.? After the death of her husband, Mrs. Wilson completed a baseball odyssey that involved traveling 18,000 miles and visiting all 30 major league ballparks.

Adding immeasurably to the ceremony was the presence of songwriter-singer Dave Frishberg, whose connection to baseball was immortalized in his evocative song ?Van Lingle Mungo,? the lyrics of which are comprised solely of vintage ballplayer names. Frishberg brought down the house when he told the story of meeting with the ?30s Dodgers? hurler shortly after the song had become famous.

After appearing with him on the Dick Cavett Show, Mungo took Frishberg aside and told him how much he liked the song. Then he asked, ?So?when I am going to start seeing some money from this, anyway??

Frishberg remembers being worried at that point, because although the song had become a success d?estime, it wasn?t exactly leaping up the record charts. He was also worried that Mungo, a big man, would get mad at the truth and send the skinny songwriter reeling with a punch.

So Frishberg chose his words carefully?very carefully?and, although Mungo was clearly disappointed, he didn?t deck him.

As Mungo walked away, he turned back and said, ?Aw, that?s OK, kid?I still like the song anyway.?

The   highlight of the proceedings, however, was Jim Bouton, who has become   more acerbic (and even funnier) as he has grown older. After the obligatory   (but no less heartfelt) tributes to those who gave him opportunities both on   and off the field, Bouton warmed to the task of providing a mordantly hilarious   critique of the modern game of baseball and how the search for a new sense of   authenticity could lead baseball?and society at large?into some strange new   directions.

The entirety of Bouton?s thoroughly entertaining address will soon be available as part of a videotape of the Reliquary?s 2001 Shrine of the Eternals ceremony. Those with minds receptive to the absurd aspects of baseball and modern existence will find it to be essential viewing.

The always-gregarious Bouton remained long after the close of the ceremony and engaged in conversation with any and all of the more than 300 people in attendance (at the Pasadena Central Library just east of downtown LA, where the Baseball Reliquary has an installation in place through August 31, and where they will be holding a fascinating series of programs in a series called The Interior Diamond: Baseball and the Arts).

Click on the link and read more about this series at their web site, where you?ll find lots more information about this distinctive ?alternate shrine? for baseball, where the game?s deep roots are being nurtured and renewed.

You?ll be hearing a lot more from this group in the next few years, as they continue to develop intriguing and unusual perspectives centered around baseball?s relationship to culture and the arts. Those with even a soupcon of interest in such matters are encouraged to support?and participate in?their efforts. As my old friend Al Franken would say if he were here (and who?s to say he?s not?), you?ll be glad you did.


(Photo of Jim Bouton at Shrine of the Eternals 2001 Induction Day by Larry Goren)

Don Malcolm Posted: August 08, 2001 at 06:00 AM | 1 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
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   1. Josh Posted: August 08, 2001 at 12:10 AM (#604055)
Wow, I didn't know anybody used the word "paean" anymore. Dorothy Sayers would be proud.

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