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The BASEBALL RELIQUARY Inc.


SHRINE OF THE ETERNALS

1999 INDUCTION DAY KEYNOTE ADDRESS

by Albert Kilchesty

Archivist/Historian, The Baseball Reliquary

 

A long time ago, a couple of Greek fellows, Herodotus and Thucydides (neither of whom were, as far as I know, baseball players*), decided it would be a nifty idea to write down the great deeds performed by their kings and queens and generals so that a chronicle of these events would exist for the instruction and enjoyment of future generations. Their writings, which are the first extant examples in the West of a form of literature we now call History, established a formula which would affect the writing of future histories for many years to follow. History, as most of us were taught the subject as children, was made principally by members of the social elite: potentates and presidents, both munificent and despotic; generals, both brilliant and inept; and the rich, usually just plain greedy. History paid very little attention, if any, to the common folk — housewives, serfs, children, laborers, slaves — whose role was confined to serving those who made History, not making it themselves.

Over the past fifty or so years a new conception of History has developed, an idea of History which would successfully challenge the prevailing centuries-old model and which would result in a significant paradigm shift (as professional historians and other people who are paid to think would call it). This shift in thinking proposes that History is rightfully the province of the common folk or, if you will pardon the use of an unfashionable term, the masses, and that the best way to study this History is through an investigation into the grassroots forms of expression that the folk developed — folk songs and poetry; pamphlets, broadsides, and alternative newspapers; works of art in various media; and games. Games such as baseball.

The Baseball Reliquary is about as grassroots a form of cultural expression as there is. And while the Reliquary will always be difficult to define and thus will always represent different things to different people, it is for me primarily an entity that has been created by baseball fans (the folk) for the delight of baseball fans in order to provide, through thought-provoking exhibits and artifacts, a version of baseball history as filtered through the imagination of the fan. To do so effectively, the Baseball Reliquary often finds itself at odds with the official history of baseball as it has been passed down in its sanctioned and frequently sanitized form by the lords of baseball and which has been perpetuated over the past sixty years by their propaganda division, the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, New York.

Some of the people here today who haven’t had the pleasure of viewing our exhibits may ask, "What makes the Baseball Reliquary different from the Hall of Fame?" Well, first of all, the Reliquary is not in any fashion affiliated with Major League Baseball or its various subsidiaries, as you will have noticed by the absence of baseball functionaries, corporate sponsors, and massive media presence at this event. Second, whereas the Hall of Fame owes its founding to a fiction — baseball’s Great Creation Myth, i.e., the manufacturing from thin air of the game by Union General Abner Doubleday (one of those "important" people from History) one fine day in 1839 in Cooperstown, New York — the Baseball Reliquary is founded solidly on fact. The fact that the Hall of Fame was founded on a fiction! The Hall of Fame, founded on a fabrication, takes great pains to exhibit only certifiably genuine and authenticated artifacts. The Baseball Reliquary, founded on fact (based on fiction), does not generally require documents of unstinting authenticity to accompany its artifacts, although we do try our best to determine the validity of our artifacts. Third, unlike the Hall of Fame, the Reliquary does not make statistics the sole criterion for election into its pantheon of the game’s immortals, the Shrine of the Eternals. Although our culture has an unfortunate tendency to equate success and personal worth with quantifiable results — how much money a person earns or, in this case, how good a player’s statistics are — the Reliquary recognizes that excellence comes in many forms, a good many of them having nothing to do with numbers. Last, but most important, the Reliquary places its artifacts at the service of the imagination and does not, as does the Hall of Fame, place the imagination at the service of the artifacts. Or, to put it another way, the Hall of Fame utilizes artifacts to trigger the imagination while the Baseball Reliquary uses the imagination to trigger the artifact.

For fans old enough to possess a stockpile of baseball memories, the game of baseball as it is conjured in the imagination often takes precedence over the game as it is played daily on the field. For example, how many of you go to sleep each night and dream of striking out the side or getting a clutch hit to win a game in the bottom of the ninth? How many enjoy concocting "what-might-have-been" and "what-if" scenarios? This ability to refashion the game so richly in the mind separates baseball from nearly every other sport. Games such as football, hockey, or basketball, for example, do not lend themselves so freely to the imagination. So it’s not surprising that baseball has become such an attractive subject for so many artists. Painters, poets, sculptors, writers, and filmmakers have contributed an enormous body of baseball-inspired work to American culture. The individual and collective imagination have helped make baseball the most endearing and enduring sport in the Americas. How unfortunate it is, then, that professional baseball — with all its millions, its copyrighted-this and officially licensed-that, its fabulously storied history and supremely talented players — currently suffers from such a severe lack of the very quality which has made the game so popular. Imagination. Vision. A sense of joy. Fun. These are all qualities missing from professional baseball today. It is the Baseball Reliquary’s mission to return imagination to the game and to the people who support it: the fans. The fans who support it through strikes and lockouts; who support it despite the rampant greed which surrounds the game; who support it despite having been manipulated — ruthlessly and systematically — by the owners of the game; and who continue to support it despite being excluded from input into rules changes, Hall of Fame elections, divisional realignment, the playoff structure, and that old bugbear, the DH.

To lure customers, Major League Baseball has always been fond of using slogans like, "Baseball: A Game for the Fans," or "Baseball: the Game for All America." That’s pure poppycock. Baseball is no more a game for the fans than I am the reincarnation of Abner Doubleday. Major League Baseball has always been a game for the owners, for the privileged. We at the Baseball Reliquary would like to change that. We want to return the game to the fans. To the folk. And I firmly believe that the Reliquary will succeed in accomplishing this. Why? Because History is now on our side.

Thank you.

 

* Although there is no evidence that the ancient Greeks played any form of primitive baseball, recent research by University of Chicago archaeologist Dr. Howard Phipps indicates strongly that the residents of Crete did enjoy a game involving sticks and projectiles as far back as the 3rd century BC. While it has long been assumed that the island of Crete had been deforested to provide timber for shipbuilding, Dr. Phipps’ research (published in the Spring, 1997 issue of the Journal of American Archaeology) provides conclusive evidence that a good portion of the timber was used for the manufacturing of baseball bats. Phipps also hypothesizes that the great labyrinth of Crete was erected on the site of a former playing field by King Minos who, having lost a heavy wager on an important contest, banned further playing of the sport and threatened violators with a one-way ticket to the labyrinth. The Reliquary has secured a petrified wood splinter from an early Cretan bat and will add this exceptional artifact to our permanent collections next year.


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