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The BASEBALL RELIQUARY Inc.


Tomas Benitez

Tomas Benitez delivers keynote address at the Induction Day ceremony of the Shrine of the Eternals.

 

MOE BERG

        The formal induction proceedings began with Moe Berg. Prior to his introduction of Jon Blank, who was accepting Berg’s induction, Albert Kilchesty, the Reliquary’s Archivist/Historian, noted that in last year’s keynote address, "I spoke at some length about the difference between baseball fact and baseball fiction and the precarious position that the Baseball Reliquary occupies between these two poles. It isn’t at all surprising to me, then, that I have been asked to introduce our first inductee this year. After all, Morris ‘Moe’ Berg made a career out of blurring the distinctions between fact and fiction in his personal life. Additionally, his wide ranging interests, his esoteric and encyclopedic knowledge, and his unlikely career as a catcher and a spy make Berg, at least in my opinion, the quintessential Reliquarian. To paraphrase another writer speaking about another American original, if Moe Berg hadn’t really existed, it would be necessary for us to invent him. Thankfully Moe Berg did exist, for I doubt that even the most imaginative and talented among us would be able to conjure a character as inscrutable, enigmatic, and contradictory as Berg. In fact, being asked to introduce Moe Berg, I feel as though I have been asked to explain the Sphinx or to describe the meaning of Mona Lisa’s smile in less than two minutes.

        "In the figure of Moe Berg, we find a very comfortable and near perfect fusion of what we artist types like to call high and low culture. He could converse as easily with diplomats, scholars, and nuclear physicists as well as with unschooled teammates, hack sportswriters, and fans. He could handle a fastball from Lefty Grove as well as a difficult assignment from OSS chief ‘Wild Bill’ Donovan. There is no either/or quality to Moe Berg’s life, nothing that indicates that he had to pursue one vocation rather than another. He was not afflicted with the disease of the specialist. Berg was a scholar and a lawyer; a linguist and a radio show personality; a convivial conversationalist and an utter cipher; an intensely private man and a citizen of the world; a third-string catcher and, if you choose to believe all the reports, a first-rate atomic spy. He is the only person to have both an entry in the Baseball Encyclopedia and the Encyclopedia of Espionage."

        After providing some biographical details pertaining to Berg’s life, Kilchesty concluded by saying, "On his deathbed in 1972, Berg is said to have asked his nurse, ‘How did the Mets do today?’ These are the purported last words of a man whose intelligence, audacity, knowledge, and multiple careers and talents would seem at odds with the grand old game’s simplicity. Yet Moe Berg nevertheless managed to maintain, to the befuddlement of many, a profound interest in the game, its rituals, and its personalities until the moment of his death. The Baseball Reliquary is pleased to recognize the singular contributions that Mr. Morris ‘Moe’ Berg made to American culture by inducting him into the Shrine of the Eternals’ class of 2000." Jon Blank

Jon Blank accepts the induction of Moe Berg into the Shrine of the Eternals.

        Berg’s induction was accepted by Jon Blank, Director of the Jewish Baseball Western Wall of Fame, a peripatetic museum dedicated to preserving the memory of Jewish major league players and instructing the public about the contributions those players have made to American culture. Blank provided additional biographical insight into Berg’s extraordinary life. He considered it a great tribute to Berg that there were those who urged him to think seriously about the position of Supreme Court Justice, while others felt he would make an excellent Commissioner of Baseball. There have been seven books published on the subject of Moe Berg, yet, as Blank remarked, "The question which lingers to this day is what motivated him?   In 1940, while Hitler was consuming Europe and burning books, Moe made a speech at a Boston book fair. He said what Montaigne wrote about Paris describes how he feels about America: ‘I love her so tenderly that even her spots, her blemishes, are dear unto me.’"    

         At the conclusion of his acceptance speech, Blank presented the Baseball Reliquary with a copy of Moe Berg’s declassified OSS file, obtained from the CIA and consisting of several hundred pages of documents.  

 

BILL LEE

        The second inductee, Bill Lee, was introduced by filmmaker Ron Shelton, whose credits include Bull Durham, Cobb, White Men Can’t Jump, Tin Cup, and Play It to The Bone, among others. Shelton, who played minor league ball in the Baltimore Orioles farm system from 1967 to 1971, spoke about growing up straddling the seemingly disparate cultures of sports and radical politics: "During the ‘60s and ‘70s when I played high school and college baseball in Southern California and began my professional career, I discovered I had to live in two different worlds and step back and forth between those worlds as gracefully as possible. One was the world of baseball, of sports and competition, of discipline and preparation for the sheer joy of men playing boys’ games. It was a gift to be able to make your living playing a game, traveling around America by bus with your peers, and being nervous eight months a year having to perform every night, rarely with a day off. Baseball got me a college education, taught me how to read and do math. I could figure out my batting average while rounding first at the age of eight. It taught me all the things that matter: the long season, the need to take your cuts, the hope of waiting till next year. Every cliché in baseball is a religious truth.

        "Then there was the world of politics and social activism and literature and protest and, well . . . all of the things that made the ‘60s great. This was a world you generally didn’t discuss with your baseball comrades; in fact, you wouldn’t say comrade with a fellow baseball player. And when you tried to discuss baseball with your political colleagues, they invariably labeled you a reactionary dilettante who was a puppet symbol of free market capitalism with all its ills. So I sort of couldn’t figure out what my peer group was. In fact, for decades I felt part of an unidentified political party. It’s actually sort of a part conservative social values and democratically socialistic one, except when it’s not, and then it is a party of liberal social values and free market political ones. You get the point — it’s hard to find someone to vote for. There were few public figures during this time who stood for this marriage of values. Bill Lee was one of them. This is a marriage that seemed to make perfect sense to me: playing baseball and marching against the war in Vietnam. There were many people who had trouble with that combination. And as more and more people reject the simplistic platforms of our two major political parties, Bill Lee’s organic mixture of social and political values feels more and more appropriate."

        Shelton then let Bill Lee be his own introduction, by reading a selection of Lee’s humorous and thought- provoking quotes, several of which were excerpted from the pitcher’s autobiography, The Wrong Stuff. Shelton joked, "Of course, this wouldn’t be the first time I’ve quoted Bill. I stole at least one of his lines for Bull Durham — the one where Crash Davis goes to the mound to lecture his pitcher Nuke Laloosh that he’s throwing too hard: ‘Quit trying to strike everybody out. It’s fascist. Throw some ground balls. It’s more democratic.’ There you are folks, politics and baseball again."

        Shelton concluded his remarks by emphasizing that with all the interest in Bill Lee’s off-the-field activities, we should not forget that he was an exceptional athlete: "There’s one more thing I want to let the record show. I believe in statistics. By the way, a great fielding .243 catcher [Moe Berg] would make about five million a year today. Bill Lee won 119 games in his 14-year major league career. Very few pitchers have won that many games. He pitched on pennant winners, pennant contenders, and in the World Series. His lifetime earned run average was 3.62, an ERA which today is worth about seven million dollars a year. Let it be known that Bill Lee pitched a game last night in Maine, and might have pitched a doubleheader, but he had a ‘red eye’ he wanted to catch. So ladies and gentlemen, the winning pitcher from last night’s Red Sox Legends victory over the Brunswick Police Department, Bill Lee." Ron Shelton

Ron Shelton introduces  Bill Lee at the Induction Day ceremony of the Shrine of the Eternals.         Lee came to the podium still wearing his baseball uniform from the previous night. His acceptance speech was, as might be expected, unconventional. Lee’s monologue, nearly thirty minutes in duration, ran the gamut from political and social commentary to baseball coaching methodologies to stand-up comedy, and he kept the audience laughing throughout. Commenting on everybody from Billy Martin and George Steinbrenner to Don Zimmer and Ted Kaczinski, Lee saved his most acerbic barbs for the Boston Red Sox, his former employer: "People want to know why I haven’t been nominated for the Red Sox Hall of Fame. I work for a group called Save Fenway Park. I’m costing the Red Sox 382 million dollars in taxpayers’ money. The only way I’m going in is posthumously. And if I go in, I want to go in face down so they can kiss my ass. You can see how I got in trouble. I’m bad. My dad said if you’re gonna go anywhere, ask questions. Question authority. He really didn’t mean that and he wished he had never said it."

       Lee ridiculed former batterymate Carlton Fisk, who would be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame the following week: "He was a great guy who’s turned into a surly son-of-a-bitch. He was nasty. He was a catcher. All catchers are nasty. It’s like the guy said, Will Rogers never met a man he didn’t like. He never met Jerry Grote. Catchers are like that. But every ballplayer’s life is a game of getting knocked down. You get hit but you get patched back together. [Lee pulls his shirt down over his shoulder to show the audience a scar from a 1976 brawl at Yankee Stadium.] I’ve had my teeth knocked out six times. You know what Stan Williams said? ‘You don’t play with your face, tiger.’" Bill Lee

Bill Lee accepts his induction into the Shrine of the Eternals.

        He spoke admiringly of Rod Dedeaux and Annabelle Lee, who were in the audience. Lee called himself a disciple of Dedeaux, his baseball coach at the University of Southern California, and said his aunt, Annabelle, who pitched in the All-American Girls Baseball League, taught him how to throw a screwball. He also suggested that one of the reasons major league pitching is so poor today is because "it’s taught by guys like Joe Kerrigan [Red Sox pitching coach], who never threw nine innings in his life." Lee argued that pitching mechanics are screwed up because coaches no longer teach pitchers to wind up properly and, with a nod of the cap to Buckminster Fuller’s philosophy, cautioned baseball that "overspecialization breeds extinction."

        Finally, Lee acknowledged a few organizations that he feels are attempting to bring sanity to the game: "It’s the Baseball Reliquary, SABR [Society for American Baseball Research], the MSBL [Men’s Senior Baseball League], the Roy Hobbs Baseball League — these are all people that love baseball and tolerate professional baseball. Because it’s an addiction that we can’t get rid of. But the game is supposed to be played on nice fields, in flannels, with wooden bats,no designated hitter. It’s supposed to be played on afternoons with your father and grandfather. . . . And how come Bill Klem didn’t get a vote? I just thought of that. It was a bad year for umpires. I guess Pam must have taken them all."

 

PAM POSTEMA

        The day’s third and final inductee, Pam Postema, was introduced by Susan Braig, a member of the Board of Directors of the Baseball Reliquary. Braig began, "To paraphrase George Bernard Shaw, there are two great disappointments in a person’s lifetime: the dream that never comes true, and the dream that does. So, in each of our fields of dreams, the sweetest satisfaction comes from the milestones we achieve along the way. For Pam Postema, who persevered with the utmost professionalism during a 13-year marathon of tobacco spit and snide remarks, the journey to the outskirts of major league baseball was rich with milestones."

        After recounting Postema’s achievements, Braig added, "But as much as this is a testament to Pam’s exemplary performance and commitment, it is also a disgraceful commentary of the sexism and shortsightedness in professional baseball’s Hall of Shame. Women have become astronauts, prime ministers, surgeons, police officers, Supreme Court Justices, and even professional basketball and soccer referees. But major league baseball, even in this new millennium, continues to let untapped talent slip away. If Pam had been a man instead of a woman, she would have gotten a major league contract by 1988, if not sooner!"

        Speaking on behalf of the Board of Directors, Braig said that the Baseball Reliquary was "delighted, in this new millennium, to turn over a new leaf in baseball by electing Pam Postema as the first woman to be inducted into the Shrine of the Eternals. We present Pam with this award with two main intentions: to further ensure Pam’s place in the history books for her amazing accomplishments in spite of the most uncomfortable obstacles; and to open the door a little farther for future generations of women who aspire to a professional baseball career."

        Postema, who earlier in the day donated to the Reliquary her National League umpire’s shirt which she wore while calling spring training games in 1988, delivered a very moving acceptance speech: "Twenty-three years ago I probably became an umpire because someone told me I couldn’t. And for 13 years I endured the great calls, the not-so-great calls, the ‘she’s a major league umpire’ opinion, the ‘she should be home cooking’ sentiment. I think umpiring mirrors life: some days you can’t do anything wrong and other days, well . . . you’d like a hole to crawl in. So for 13 years I had the greatest highs and the greatest lows, and I don’t regret a single minute of it. I don’t know, maybe I could’ve been the greatest umpire in the big leagues, or maybe I would’ve been the worst. But it’s all conjecture now anyway, because it didn’t happen."

        Pam Postema

Pam Postema accepts her induction into the Shrine of the Eternals.

        On the subject of will there ever be a woman in the major leagues, Postema offered this opinion: "The world is changing constantly, everything is moving, growing, learning. That’s what life is. And baseball will eventually grow and change. There will be women umpires and women ballplayers, too, in fact. There is no doubt in my mind. It may take a while, but it will happen." Postema then brought the crowd to laughter with her reflection that "It’s been 11 years since my umpire career ended, but there’s some things from baseball that I still cling to. I still say ‘fuck’ way too much. But for 13 years it was the most prevailing word in my vocabulary."

        Postema concluded: "I want to say I’m really honored to be inducted in your Shrine of the Eternals. I love what this organization is all about. I’ve been called ‘horseshit’ or ‘the greatest’ so much in my career that I don’t go by accolades anymore. But this organization realizes and recognizes my contribution to baseball. We just can’t name what it is. Just maybe I was there — an aberration, an anomaly, an oddity. I was no gimmick." Postema left the podium and stage to a standing ovation.

 

CONCLUSION

        The 2000 Induction Day ceremony ended with a whimsical benediction by Chef Guillaume (a.k.a. William Scaff). The chef announced that what was to follow was "either a tribute to Ogden Nash or an apology." Then he proceeded to read his poem entitled "Line-up for Today: An ABC of Baseball 2000," an updated version of Nash’s "Line-up for Yesterday: An ABC of Baseball Immortals," which originally appeared in Sport magazine in 1949 and has been reprinted in numerous anthologies over the years.

        While the audience enjoyed refreshments and talked informally with the new inductees, Anne Oncken performed a sampling of baseball songs on the piano. Her presentation included music written between 1874 and 1965. A few of the titles featured were "Cubs on Parade" (1907), "Let’s Get the Umpire’s Goat" (1909), "The Marquard Glide" (1912), "Jake! Jake! (The Yiddisha Ball Player)" (1913), "I Love Mickey" (1956), and "Meet the Mets" (1961).

 

(Induction Day photographs courtesy of Larry Goren)


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