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Wednesday, August 07, 2002

Baseball?s Hall of Memory

Baseball Reliquary’s Shrine of the Eternals 2002 induction ceremony

Minnie, Mark, and Joe Join the Baseball Reliquary?s ?Shrine of the Eternals?  

The   Renaissance philosopher Giordano Bruno was burned at the stake in 1600   for heresy, signaling the harshness of the Church?s last stand against the   onslaught of modern science. Known most for his proclamation of an ?infinite   universe,? Bruno?s most intriguing invention might well have been a great   ?wheel of memory? that attempted to capture the full sum of human knowledge.   The mnemonist, or ?memory expert,? would, in Bruno?s scheme, hold the key   to the universe.

                 
   
Minnie Minoso
   

Terry Cannon and his unique organization, the Baseball   Reliquary, comprise baseball?s analogue to the expansive vision of Bruno.   The work of the Reliquary is to provide a home for the memory of a game that   has always been rooted in the past?and to do so in a way that includes both   the quotidian and the grandiloquent. Focusing on baseball?s rich connection   with American culture, the Baseball Reliquary has begun an alternative to   the Cooperstown Hall of Fame   that exemplifies this expansive approach to the game.

With its fourth ?Shrine of the Eternals? induction ceremony (held on July   28th in Pasadena, The Baseball Reliquary demonstrated   its courage, imagination, and sense of fun by adding to its eclectic slate   of ?Eternals? the following troika:

?Orestes (Minnie)   Minoso, the first great Cuban player to play in the American major leagues;

?Mark (the   Bird) Fidrych, whose brief, incandescent career streaked across the sky   like a wayward comet in search of another galaxy to inhabit;

?(Shoeless)   Joe Jackson, one of baseball?s greatest hitters forever caught up in its   greatest moment of shame.

Jackson represents the courage of the Reliquary voters, to look history and   tradition squarely in the eye and defy the judgment of those who have seen   fit to keep Joe on the outside looking in.

Fidrych   represents their sense of fun; by honoring a player whose career was far too   short to qualify for the institutional Hall of Fame, the voters stated plainly   that quality and personality outweigh statistics and career length requirements.

Minoso represents the voters? imagination. Long overlooked by the institutional   Hall, but given new hope by a revamped Veterans? Committee, Minoso was an   overwhelming choice by the Reliquary voters?a selection that may be as prescient   as it is pleasing.

                 
   
Peter Golenbock
   

 

What made   the induction ceremony especially memorable was that Minoso, now 79, was on   hand in person to accept his induction into the Reliquary?s Shrine of the   Eternals. Looking at least a decade younger than his actual age, Minoso was   clearly moved by the audience?s sustained applause, and delivered an affectionate,   ambling acceptance speech, one that might well be a warm-up for similar honors   in 2003.

It was not lost on those in attendance that Minoso, who was described by   Orlando Cepeda   as ?being to Latin players what Jackie   Robinson was the black ballplayers,? was inducted into the Shrine of the   Eternals in Pasadena, Robinson?s hometown. The beauty of the game is in its   details, and such a juxtaposition was especially felicitous.

Try as hard as they might, however, the Reliquarians could not quite escape   the ghost of baseball present, as keynote speaker Peter Golenbock provided   a passionate clarion call for a reversal of the values that continue to divide   the game and threaten its legacy and well-being. A champion of baseball?s   most woeful underdog?the Tampa Bay Devil Rays?Golenbock exemplified the spirit   of the true believer as he took pride in every halting step made by the Rays,   often described (wrongly) as the worst expansion team ever.

Golenbock?s   harshest words were reserved not for Bud Selig, but for fellow Tampan   George Steinbrenner, whom he termed ?the most malevolent force in baseball.?   Pointing out that George was a convicted felon, Golenbock wondered (for rhetorical   effect, of course) why such facts were so easily overlooked.

                 
   
Seth Hawkins
   

However,   Golenbock may well have had the show stolen from him by Dr. Seth Hawkins,   the winner of the Reliquary?s Hilda Chester Award (named for the Dodgers?   fanatical cowbell lady who was a fixture at Ebbets Field for nearly three   decades). Hawkins? credentials for such an award are impressive: he?s seen   every game where a batter made his 3,000th hit since 1959, was in attendance   when Hank Aaron hit #715 and when Pete Rose collected hit #4192, and has seen   regular season games in 66 different stadiums.

Hawkins,   a retired speech professor, was the best speaker of the day, with several   memorable ripostes. Perhaps the best of the lot was his recollection of the   time that he ?was caught engaging in suspicious behavior at Dodger Stadium.?   What was the exact nature of this dire action? Why, remaining in attendance   until the bottom of the 9th inning, of course.

Such moments   are plentiful at Reliquary events, which are just beginning to sneak into   baseball lore in their own right. Good fun blends with a truly compassionate   view of the game and its connections with daily life. Perhaps the greatest   strength of Terry Cannon?s organizational mission lies in its assemblage of   these unpretentiously privileged moments; art, music and lore are mixed together   in a celebration of memory as an ever-expanding path headed toward epiphany.

Cannon?s   encyclopedic command of baseball literary references served the ceremony well   when he chose the following passage from a letter written by Thomas Wolfe   to sportswriter Albert Mann, in which Wolfe is waxing eloquent (as   usual) about his love of the game and its connection with spring:

?I think I may have told you that one reason I have always loved baseball   so much is that it has been not merely ‘the great national game,’ but really   a part of the whole weather of our lives, of the thing that is our own, of   the whole fabric, the million memories of America. For example, in the memory   of almost every one of us, is there anything that can evoke spring?the first   fine days of April?better than the sound of the ball smacking into the pocket   of the big mitt, the sound of the bat as it hits the horse hide: for me, at   any rate, and I am being literal and not rhetorical?almost everything I know   about spring is in it?the first leaf, the jonquil, the maple tree, the smell   of grass upon your hands and knees, the coming into flower of April.? And   is there anything that can tell more about an American summer than, say, the   smell of wooden bleachers in a small town baseball park, that resinous, sultry,   and exciting smell of old dry wood."

The ?whole   weather of our lives? is once again brewing some ominous storm clouds as the   winds of a potential work stoppage begin to reach gale force proportions,   but the lesson of the Baseball Reliquary and its particular gift for connecting   the dots between baseball and the not-quite-lost heart of America is in its   insistence on the rights?and the rites?of memory. It is memory that will win   out in the end, for only it can enrich history with its truly human touch.   From the gangly good times of Mark Fidrych, to the graceful breathlessness   of Minnie Minoso, to the entwined glory and shame of Joe Jackson, the Baseball   Reliquary, like baseball lover Walt Whitman, encompasses multitudes.

Multitudes?and   animal crackers. Yes, that?s right. As the ceremony came to a close, the audience   moved into the next phase of the occasion?the refreshments. In memory of Shoeless   Joe, there were animal crackers; it so happens that one of Joe?s favorite   things to do while he was on the road was to climb into bed at night, and   eat animal crackers?while washing them down with corn liquor.

Shoeless Joe?s hitting secret revealed at last! These are the revelations   that make the Reliquary the Hall of Fame for the world we live in, not the   one we are forced to inhabit.


All photos courtesy of Larry Goren.

 

Don Malcolm Posted: August 07, 2002 at 06:00 AM | 3 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
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   1. GregD Posted: August 07, 2002 at 12:39 AM (#605767)
Anybody have a text or decent paraphrase of Minoso's comments? I'd love to read them. I've approached him a few times here in Chicago and always found him to be unimaginably gracious. He spoke to me for more than 30 minutes one time, and people I know say they've talked to him for as long as an hour.
   2. Eugene Freedman Posted: August 07, 2002 at 12:39 AM (#605771)
I bet there was some anxiety with Gwynn and Boggs both coming up to 3000 hits at the same time. Weren't they only days apart? Couldn't he have missed one to see the other?
   3. Marc Posted: August 26, 2002 at 12:43 AM (#606019)
The suspense is killing me. Surely somebody is going to tell us who was inducted into the Reliquary in the first three turns!?

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