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The BASEBALL RELIQUARY Inc.


KEYNOTE ADDRESS FOR SHRINE OF THE ETERNALS
2009 INDUCTION DAY, July 19, 2009
By Don Malcolm

Let me begin with a question for you to ponder awhile as I talk—one that I’ll answer a bit later. That question is: how many hitters in baseball history have hit 100 or more home runs over the span of two consecutive seasons? Think that over, and we’ll get back to it.

I’d like to thank the Baseball Reliquary’s brain trust, Terry Cannon and Albert Kilchesty, for yet another example of their supreme fearlessness in permitting yours truly, Don Malcolm, to deliver the keynote address for the eleventh annual Shrine of the Eternals Induction Ceremony.

It is clearly an act of incredible bravery to do so, for my reputation has been in or near the gutter for almost as long as I have had a reputation. The most immediately accessible example of my infamy, the seven editions of The Big Bad Baseball Annual, was received with increasing apprehension as the series evolved. As a matter of fact, one particularly eloquent reviewer suggested that the 2000 edition of The Big Bad Baseball Annual was a literary and cultural Rubicon of cataclysmic proportions.

“Mr. Malcolm,” the reviewer suggested, “in creating a dense, daunting thicket of briny ‘Baseball Babylon,’ has done something that, for anyone else, would have seemed utterly impossible—he has managed to turn the word ‘bad’ into a four-letter word.”

And that was the most POSITIVE review.

So you can understand my incredulity and—frankly—my concern when Terry and Buddy indicated that they wanted me to deliver this address. Don’t get me wrong: I’m flattered and honored; all that being said, it still somehow seemed to signify the presence of a highly developed death wish.

But then I thought back to the many Baseball Reliquary induction ceremonies that I’ve attended over the years, and I realized that such seemingly offbeat, reckless, and downright imponderable decisions are part of the overriding fabric of this unique organization and the very singular individuals who helm it. To make the type of analogy that caused many readers of The Big Bad Baseball Annual to hurl the book across the room in frustration:

—If Branch Rickey’s precept “luck is the residue of design” allowed the Mahatma to conquer the baseball mountain, then the Reliquary’s concept that “extreme risk is the hallmark of dangerous delight” is precisely what has permitted them to operate like a high-wire act without a net for the past eleven years—and not only live to tell about it, but to thrive while doing so.

This has been the Reliquary way since its inception, and by doing so I’d argue—and anyone who knows me knows how much I like to argue—that such an approach has produced a more authentic framework for examining and celebrating baseball and its place in American culture.

The Reliquary, with its Shrine of the Eternals, is the Hall of Fame for the rest of us—those who have long since pushed past vanilla in the frozen dairy case. The organization’s pursuit of baseball’s cultural diversity and its often stranger-than-fiction traditions manages to retain a child-like sense of wonder even as it exposes myths and explores dimensions of the game often omitted in its “official” history.

And, as most of you know already, the Reliquary does not engage in ordinary hero-worship. When today’s ceremony is concluded, there will be thirty-three inductees in its Shrine of the Eternals; as a group they represent extraordinary individuals who are not lit with the bright lamp of myth, but those who have all known some mark of the shadow as part of their life experience.

First and foremost, they are honored here for their very real connection to the rest of us. These are not “baseball Gods” but men and women connected to our more mundane struggles. Their extreme circumstances, their singular personalities, and their battles against adversity make them worthy of special recognition.

This is how it has been for the Baseball Reliquary and its voting membership over the past eleven years. During that time, they’ve proven to have an uncanny, almost mystical skill in selecting a yearly slate of inductees who complement each other thematically. And this might be the most amazing aspect of the organization and the unspoken faith it embodies. Every year, in a random election process that produces three inductees, we find that the results produce—against all odds—a blending of qualities and themes that unite the process into a seamless celebration of what I would characterize as “baseball otherness.”

All of the inductees in the Shrine of the Eternals possess this singular quality. Today’s inductees are no exception. Their stories are in no way sugar-coated. Each has his warts, and those warts remain visible to us.

Steve Dalkowski is a reminder that sometimes a talent can be too extreme to be sustained. He is quite possibly the greatest of the great outliers, a legend literally larger than life, and the burden of his unfulfilled promise is both heavy and poignant. By honoring him today we recognize this elemental aspect of baseball as it connects to life itself—the “what if?” scenario in all its conundrums and contradictions.

Jim Eisenreich is the embodiment of those who face down imponderable and unexpected impediments. It appeared that his career would end just as it was beginning, derailed by the onset of a baffling condition that threatened to bar him permanently from the playing field. We honor him today for finding the courage and resolve to beat those odds.

Roger Maris is the poster boy for baseball’s often myopic view of its own history. And he is related to the question I posed at the start of these remarks. How many of you have the answer to the question? How many players have hit 100 or more home runs over the course of two consecutive seasons?

That’s right, the answer is: twelve. You’ll find the complete list in the handouts being circulated. When Maris hit his 61st round-tripper on October 1, 1961, it meant he’d hit exactly 100 homers in 1960 and 1961—and at that time it made him only the fourth player to have done so. Despite the recent flurry of new additions to this long-ball fraternity, it remains a very exclusive club.

As we all know, Maris’ feat was not greeted with universal acclaim. There’s been a lingering tendency to view it as a kind of fluke. Maris’ career was shortened almost as much by the negative reaction to his astonishing peak performance as it was to injury.

I want to call your attention to the diagram on the reverse side of the list that was just passed out—it presents a timeline for this 100+ homer feat. When you examine it, you’ll see that the gap between Maris in 1961 and the beginning of the “juice era” is more than thirty-five years.

That means that for the first 120 years of baseball history, and the first 75 years of what we call the “live ball era,” only four hitters had managed this feat.

There is nothing “cheap” about Maris’s achievement, and it’s to the credit of the Reliquary voters that they’ve sensed how significant the feat really was.

Adversity, extremity, otherness: these are the qualities that predominate in the Shrine of the Eternals. The Reliquary voters have seized on a precept greater than mere excellence in those they wish to honor, and while that quality can bend in several directions, the voting results over the past eleven years have proven that it will not break.

This is why Terry and Buddy can throw caution to the winds, and design a ceremony that brazenly flirts with anarchy. To do otherwise would clearly go against the spirit of their enterprise. They’ve given themselves over to this mysterious, unfathomable process, which is akin to two mischievous young boys deciding to simultaneously let go of their balloons with the crazed certainty that those capricious, lighter-than-air will-o’-the-wisps will manage to return to their grasp as if foreordained.

Clearly, it is the airiest of all possible architectures.

Such is the house of baseball cards that they’ve created on the seashore of our imaginations.

They have built it—and we have come.

Feel free to let go of your balloons.

Thank you very much.

 

HITTERS WITH 100+ HOME RUNS OVER
TWO CONSECUTIVE SEASONS

1. Babe Ruth (4 times)
1920-21: 54/59 (113); 1926-27: 47/60 (107); 1927-28: 60/54 (114); 1928-29: 54/46 (100)

2. Jimmie Foxx
1932-33: 58/48 (106)

3. Ralph Kiner
1949-50: 54/47 (101)

4. Roger Maris
1960-61: 39/61 (100)

5. Mark McGwire (3 times)
1996-97: 52/58 (110); 1997-98: 58/70 (128); 1998-99: 70/65 (135)

6. Ken Griffey Jr. (3 times)
1996-97: 49/56 (105); 1997-98: 56/56 (112); 1998-99: 56/48 (104)

7. Sammy Sosa (5 times)
1997-98: 36/66 (102); 1998-99: 66/63 (129); 1999-2000: 63/50 (113); 2000-01: 50/64 (114); 2001-02: 64/49 (113)

8. Barry Bonds (2 times)
2000-01: 49/73 (122); 2001-02: 73/46 (119)

9. Alex Rodriguez (2 times)
2001-02: 52/57 (109); 2002-03: 57/47 (104)

10. Jim Thome
2001-02: 49/52 (101)

11. David Ortiz
2005-06: 47/54 (101)

12. Ryan Howard
2006-07: 58/47 (105)


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