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— Where BTF's Members Investigate the Grand Old Game
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.
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.
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.
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.
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