Dock Phillip Ellis, Jr.
Born 3/11/45, Los Angeles, California
One of baseball’s most controversial and outspoken players of the 1960s and 1970s was right-handed pitcher Dock Ellis, who spent the majority of his 12-year career (1968-1979) with the Pittsburgh Pirates. He also donned the jerseys of the New York Yankees, Oakland Athletics, Texas Rangers, and New York Mets. In that era, a number of black players, emboldened by the civil rights movement, spoke out publicly against what they perceived as widespread racial prejudice in the game. For manifesting their freedom of speech and speaking their minds regardless of consequence, players such as Dock Ellis, Curt Flood, and Dick Allen were labeled as “militants” by the press, the baseball establishment, and many of the white fans who preferred their players to be “good slaves” — docile, humble, and grateful.
Controversy followed Dock Ellis throughout his baseball career, yet he steadfastly refused to compromise his principles. Dating back to his formative years in Los Angeles, he refused to play baseball at Gardena High School in protest against the coach’s racism. While in the minor leagues in 1964, he went into the stands and swung a leaded bat at a racist heckler in Batavia, New York.
Perhaps the centerpiece of Ellis’ stormy career came with the Pittsburgh Pirates on June 12, 1970, when he threw a no-hitter against the San Diego Padres while under the influence of LSD. “I can only remember bits and pieces of the game,” Ellis said later. “I was psyched. I had a feeling of euphoria. I remember hitting a couple of batters and the bases were loaded two or three times.” He walked a total of eight batters in what might be described as one of the most bizarre no-hitters ever thrown.
The year 1972 found Ellis back in the headlines when he was maced by a security guard at Cincinnati’s Riverfront Stadium who wouldn’t let him into the Pirates clubhouse. (After an investigation, the Cincinnati club apologized to Ellis and fired the security guard.) Another flap ensued in 1973 when he started wearing hair curlers to the ballpark, after Ebony magazine ran a feature on Ellis’ various hair styles. Supposedly an order came from Commissioner Bowie Kuhn’s office to cease and desist wearing curlers on the field.
Perhaps Ellis’ most startling act occurred on May 1, 1974, when he tied a major league record by hitting three batters in a row. In spring training that year, Ellis sensed the Pirates had lost the aggressiveness that drove them to three straight division titles from 1970 to 1972. Furthermore, the team now seemed intimidated by Cincinnati’s “Big Red Machine.” “Cincinnati will bullshit with us and kick our ass and laugh at us,” Ellis said. “They’re the only team that talk about us like a dog.” Ellis single-handedly decided to break the Pirates out of their emotional slump, announcing that “We gonna get down. We gonna do the do. I’m going to hit these motherfuckers.” True to his word, in the first inning of the first regular-season game he pitched against the Reds, Ellis hit leadoff batter Pete Rose in the ribs, then plunked Joe Morgan in the kidney, and loaded the bases by hitting Dan Driessen in the back. Tony Perez, batting cleanup, dodged a succession of Ellis’ pitches to walk and force in a run. The next hitter was Johnny Bench. “I tried to deck him twice,” Ellis recalled. “I threw at his jaw, and he moved. I threw at the back of his head, and he moved.” At this point, Pittsburgh manager Danny Murtaugh removed Ellis from the game. But his strategy worked: the Pirates snapped out of their lethargy to win a division title in 1974, while the Reds failed to win their division for the first time in three years.
Unfortunately, the perception of Dock Ellis as a hostile ballplayer overshadowed many of the largely unpublicized acts of charity and conscience which were the hallmarks of his career. Ellis worked for the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections, helping to rehabilitate black prisoners. In 1971, he and a group of black athletes started the Black Athletes Foundation for Sickle Cell Research, an organization whose purpose was to lobby and raise money for research and treatment of sickle cell anemia. For his loyalty and charitable acts, Ellis, much like Muhammad Ali, earned the respect of the black community. In poet Donald Hall’s gritty and candid 1976 biography, Dock Ellis in the Country of Baseball, fellow ballplayer Willie Crawford expressed his and the black community’s admiration for Ellis: “Dock is the same here as Richie Allen. Because newspapers were trying to make them bad guys in the public’s eyes instead of making them heroes like Jackie Robinson. Jackie Robinson didn’t fight for blacks until he left baseball. Dock made his fight while he has been in baseball even though he put his job in jeopardy. There should be more black athletes doing this.
“At an early age I knew he was searching to really leave his mark in life. He found it in his fight for his people. I know somebody said all the trouble he’s getting into, it really hurt his mother. His mother would talk to me sometimes and say, ‘What’s wrong with Dock?’ I told her he’s fighting for equality for us, for all black people, and the kids that come behind us. That they have the opportunity to express themselves freely. The whole key to success in anything is self-expression.”
Curtis Charles Flood
Born 1/18/38, Houston, Texas
Died 1/20/97, Los Angeles, California
Curt Flood was as crucial to the economic rights of ballplayers as Jackie Robinson was to breaking the color barrier. A three-time All-Star and seven-time winner of the Gold Glove for his defensive prowess in center field, Flood hit more than .300 six times during a 15-year major league career that began in 1956. Twelve of those seasons were spent wearing the uniform of the St. Louis Cardinals. After the 1969 season, the Cardinals attempted to trade Flood, then 31 years of age, to the Philadelphia Phillies, which set in motion his historic challenge of baseball’s infamous “reserve clause.” The reserve clause was that part of the standard player’s contract which bound the player, one year at a time, in perpetuity to the club owning his contract. Flood had no interest in moving to Philadelphia, a city he had always viewed as racist (“the nation’s northernmost southern city”), but more importantly, he objected to being treated as a piece of property and to the restriction of freedom embedded in the reserve clause.
Flood was fully aware of the social relevance of his rebellion against the baseball establishment. Years later, he explained, “I guess you really have to understand who that person, who that Curt Flood was. I’m a child of the sixties, I’m a man of the sixties. During that period of time this country was coming apart at the seams. We were in Southeast Asia. Good men were dying for America and for the Constitution. In the southern part of the United States we were marching for civil rights and Dr. King had been assassinated, and we lost the Kennedys. And to think that merely because I was a professional baseball player, I could ignore what was going on outside the walls of Busch Stadium was truly hypocrisy and now I found that all of those rights that these great Americans were dying for, I didn’t have in my own profession.”
With the backing of the Players Association and with former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Arthur Goldberg arguing on his behalf, Flood pursued the case known as Flood v. Kuhn (Commissioner Bowie Kuhn) from January 1970 to June 1972 at district, circuit, and Supreme Court levels. Although the Supreme Court ultimately ruled against Flood, upholding baseball’s exemption from antitrust statutes, the case set the stage for the 1975 Messersmith-McNally rulings and the advent of free agency.
The financial and emotional costs to Flood as a result of his unprecedented challenge of the reserve clause were enormous. Flood’s major league career (his 1970 salary would have been $100,000) effectively ended with his legal action, and he traveled to Europe, spending much of his time there painting and writing, attempting to deal with the pain and frustration of being away from the game he loved. In 1970, prior to the Supreme Court decision, Flood published his autobiography, The Way It Is, a riveting book which forcefully outlined his moral and legal objections to baseball’s reserve system. Flood’s impassioned literary account of his life is now considered an essential text in the history of the baseball labor movement.
At the memorial service for Curt Flood, who died of throat cancer in 1997 at the age of 59, dozens of former ballplayers gathered at the First African Methodist Episcopal Church in Los Angeles to pay tribute to a man whose sacrifice made him not merely a hero, but a martyr. One mourner compared Flood’s social legacy to that of Rosa Parks, while former player Tito Fuentes wondered why the current generation of baseball’s multi-millionaires did not attend the service to pay their respect. “He was a great man,” Fuentes remarked as he passed by Flood’s casket. “I’m sorry that so many of the young players who made millions, who benefited from his fight, are not here. They should be here.”
Former executive director of the Major League Players Association, Marvin Miller, said, “At the time Curt Flood decided to challenge baseball’s reserve clause, he was perhaps the sport’s premier center fielder. And yet he chose to fight an injustice, knowing that even if by some miracle he won, his career as a professional player would be over. At no time did he waver in his commitment and determination. He had experienced something that was inherently unfair and was determined to right the wrong, not so much for himself, but for those who would come after him. Few praised him for this, then or now. There is no Hall of Fame for people like Curt.”
That is, until now . . . . and the Baseball Reliquary is honored to have Curt Flood in its first class of electees to the Shrine of the Eternals.
William Louis Veeck, Jr.
Born 2/9/14, Chicago, Illinois
Died 1/2/86, Chicago, Illinois
A self-proclaimed “hustler,” Bill Veeck, Jr. was the greatest public relations man and promotional genius the game of baseball has ever seen. The son of former Chicago Cubs president Bill Veeck, Sr., he got his start in the baseball business selling peanuts and hot dogs at Wrigley Field and was fond of saying that he was “the only human being ever raised in a ballpark.” Over the course of a fifty-year love affair with baseball, Veeck would own three major league teams and would establish himself as the game’s most incorrigible maverick.
Upon returning from military duty in World War II, during which he received a severe leg wound that would ultimately require amputation, Veeck bought his first major league team, the Cleveland Indians, in 1946 at the age of 32. Although his reign in Cleveland was a mere three-and-a-half years, neither the Indians nor the game of baseball were quite the same thereafter. In 1947 Veeck hired the American League’s first black player (Larry Doby), and a year later brought Cleveland its first pennant and world championship since 1920, establishing a new major league season attendance record of 2.6 million fans. He introduced fireworks displays after games and signed 42-year-old Negro League pitching legend Satchel Paige to a contract in 1948, making him the oldest rookie ever to play professional baseball. Veeck even staged a night for Joe Earley, after the fan protested that the Indians owner had honored everyone except the average “Joe.”
After selling the Indians, Veeck took on his greatest challenge in 1951: ownership of what he called “a collection of old rags and tags known to baseball historians as the St. Louis Browns.” Veeck operated under the premise that fans should have a good time at the ballpark, even if the home team loses. (And the St. Louis Browns lost often, finishing dead last in the American League in 1951 with a 52-102 record, 46 games out of first place.) Veeck’s most memorable promotion for the Browns was sending 3’7″ midget Eddie Gaedel to the plate, but perhaps even more daring was staging “Grandstand Managers’ Day,” in which the fans determined the team’s actual strategy by holding up large placards marked “YES” on one side and “NO” on the other. Ironically, with the Grandstand Managers deciding whether the team bunted, stole a base, changed pitchers, etc., the Browns broke a four-game losing streak with a 5-3 victory. The fans retired with a 1.000 winning percentage and are still waiting for a visionary owner to hire them again.
Veeck’s final major league team was the Chicago White Sox, which he owned twice, from 1959-1961 and then again from 1976-1980. While at the helm of the Pale Hose, Veeck installed baseball’s first exploding scoreboard at Comiskey Park; introduced the game’s first avant-garde uniform in 1976, consisting of a pullover shirt with a straight bottom to be worn pajama style outside of Bermuda shorts; and orchestrated, with the assistance of his son Mike, the infamous “Disco Demolition Night” in 1979.
Bill Veeck once said that “baseball must be a great game, because the owners haven’t been able to kill it,” a sardonic comment from a man who often infuriated the stuffed shirts in the executive suite. The starched, button-down fraternity of baseball owners (or, as Veeck called them, the “forward-looking fossils who run the game”) viewed his promotions and innovations as undignified “travesties.” Probably the low point of his popularity among fellow owners came in 1972 when he testified on behalf of Curt Flood’s effort to overturn baseball’s reserve clause, which Veeck had always regarded as illegal. (It was not unusual to find Veeck championing liberal and sometimes unpopular causes, both in and out of baseball. Although he had an artificial leg, he participated in the day-long civil rights march in Selma, Alabama in March of 1965, without the use of crutches.)
But as much as his fellow owners abhorred him, Veeck was as passionately respected by his players and by the fans, who found him generous and unpretentious. Larry Doby said he was fortunate to have worked for Veeck and called him “probably the nicest and the greatest man that I ever met. He never showed any prejudice or bigotry or racism within himself. He fought for the little man, the underdog.” Veeck maintained a genuine open-door policy, telling his fans, “You call Comiskey Park (WA4-1000) and ask for Bill Veeck and the switchboard operator isn’t going to ask who you are or what you want; the next voice you hear is going to be mine.”
In his final years Veeck adopted the Chicago Cubs and could often be found sitting, without a shirt, in the bleachers at Wrigley Field, where baseball remained a game played only under the sunlight. Although he carried a lifetime pass in his wallet to any ballpark in the major leagues, he preferred to pay his own way. “I pay for my tickets so I can complain,” he remarked. At Veeck’s funeral in 1986 at the Church of St. Thomas the Apostle in Chicago, it was most appropriate that a lone trumpeter opened the services playing Aaron Copland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man.” That is, after all, precisely how Bill Veeck, Jr. would like to have been remembered.
1999 Induction Day
On Sunday, July 25, 1999, 125 people attended the 1999 Induction Day ceremony of the Shrine of the Eternals, held at the Donald R. Wright Auditorium in the Pasadena Central Library, Pasadena, California.
The festivities began at 2:30 PM (Pacific Standard Time) with a ceremonial bell ringing in memory of Hilda Chester, the raucous Brooklyn Dodgers fan of the 1940s and ‘50s, often called the “First Lady of Flatbush.” The bell that was rung is from the collections of the Baseball Reliquary and is one of the original cowbells which Hilda used to clang in the bleachers at Ebbets Field. Hilda was affectionately remembered by the Reliquary’s founder and Executive Director Terry Cannon, who also served as Master of Ceremonies for the Induction Day festivities, as “a master of the art of cacophony” and one of baseball’s “greatest percussionists.”
It was appropriate that the ceremony commenced with a dedication to one of the game’s legendary fans, because the notion of baseball history as the province of its fans was a motif which appeared, both directly and indirectly, throughout the day’s speeches.
First off was Richard Amromin, Chairperson of the Board of Directors of the Baseball Reliquary, who provided brief sketches of the people behind the organization. He asked the audience to note that nine of the ten Board members and officers of the Reliquary have backgrounds in the arts. (The lone exception is 89-year-old Wendy Brougalman, a self-described baseball spinster who, Amromin remarked, “still bemoans the passing of her beloved Hollywood Stars, for whom she held season tickets for many years.”)
Amromin further illustrated the affinity between baseball and art: “This is especially true of the avant-garde, where art is not pre-defined, where the freedom to make aesthetic, social, and moral decisions, and face the consequences of those decisions, is the essence of art. And this is where today’s honorees are all true artists. Like the greats of almost any field, they have transcended their chosen craft and exercised the freedom to make the same kinds of aesthetic, social, and moral decisions made by the greatest artists. Their courageous actions, along with their skills in the game, whether as players or administrators, have altered both the perception and the reality of the game and enriched our lives.”
The keynote address was delivered by the Baseball Reliquary’s Historian, Albert Kilchesty, who is employed as an archivist at the Richard B. Russell Library for Political Research and Studies at the University of Georgia in Athens. Kilchesty described the Baseball Reliquary as “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 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.”
Kilchesty explained that the present Major League Baseball ownership has mistreated its fans: “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.”
The keynote address was followed by the introduction of the historic first class of inductees to the Shrine of the Eternals and the presentation of the inductee plaques. Two identical plaques, designed by Reliquary board member William Scaff and made of multi-colored acrylic plastics, were created in honor of each inductee. One plaque was presented to the inductee and/or the inductee’s family, while the other becomes part of the permanent collections of the Baseball Reliquary. The plaques were displayed on a table next to the speaker’s podium, and each was dramatically unveiled as the inductees approached the stage to deliver their acceptance speeches.
The first plaque was presented to Dock Ellis. The former Pittsburgh Pirates right-hander attended the ceremony from his home in Fort Worth, Texas, where he is currently employed as the Director of Communications and Manager of Human Resources for a manufacturing firm. Ellis was introduced by Terry Cannon as one of a group of players in the 1960s and ‘70s, including Dick Allen and Curt Flood, who “had shattered the complacency of the baseball establishment and were willing to publicly discuss racial slights and slurs, while confronting management with charges of discrimination, especially with regard to the lack of black managers and front office personnel.”
“Dock Ellis was no mere footnote to this transitional period in baseball history,” Cannon added. “Rather, his insistence on speaking his mind without regard to consequence and his commitment to conscience over salary made him one of that era’s most important advocates for change in our National Pastime.”
During an emotional acceptance speech, which saw him on the verge of tears several times, Ellis recalled receiving a letter from Jackie Robinson, urging him to continue advocating for change in professional baseball. Ellis remarked, “Jackie Robinson might have said it all. He said, ‘You might want to give up.’ But I never did, and I never will.”
Ellis thanked his mother, who was in the audience, for giving him the stubbornness and courage to speak his mind without regard to consequence. “Life is not a bundle of joy,” Ellis said. “Especially if you care about people. You can get hurt because a lot of people take that for a weakness.”
Despite being told by Jackie Robinson that his courage and honesty would result in honors bypassing him that should rightfully be his, Ellis said he had always hoped to be recognized for his contributions to the game and thanked the Baseball Reliquary for doing exactly that.
In the spirit of the Reliquary’s collections of baseball curiosities, Ellis concluded by announcing that he would donate to the organization the hair curlers which he wore on the ballfield in 1973 after Ebony magazine ran a feature on his “Superfly” hairstyle. Ellis would later receive a letter from Commissioner Bowie Kuhn ordering him to cease and desist wearing curlers on the field.
A brief biographical profile of the next inductee, the late Curt Flood, was presented by Albert Kilchesty. A lifelong fan of the Philadelphia Phillies, Kilchesty reminisced about how in 1969 he was devastated when his boyhood idol, Dick Allen, was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals for Curt Flood. Of course, Flood refused to report to Philadelphia and it was that deal that would change the economic structure of the game.
Kilchesty further noted that Flood was 31 years of age at the time of the trade, and his historic legal challenge of baseball’s reserve clause caused him to forfeit the remainder of his playing career and the opportunity to continue compiling the statistics that probably would have resulted in his admission to the Hall of Fame.
Flood’s widow, Mrs. Judy Pace Flood, accepted the induction plaque on behalf of her husband and described him as a man of “great vision.” Mrs. Flood commented, “He changed the way they do business in the world of sports. He freed everyone.”Although the honors are belated, Mrs. Flood said her husband is finally being recognized for his pioneering efforts on behalf of baseball reform. She cited as examples his induction today into the Shrine of the Eternals and last year’s unanimous Congressional approval of the Curt Flood Act, a law which overturned part of baseball’s 70-year-old antitrust exemption, putting baseball on a par with other professional sports on labor matters.
Mrs. Flood announced that her husband had recently been named one of the ten most influential athletes of the 20th century by Time magazine (June 14, 1999 issue), and concluded her acceptance by reading a very moving poem dedicated to Curt Flood and written by his brother-in-law, Oscar Brown, Jr.
The day’s third, and final, inductee was the late Bill Veeck, Jr. In his introduction, Terry Cannon spoke about how the Baseball Reliquary is imbued with the spirit of adventure and nonconformity, and at times irreverence, which were the hallmarks of the career of Bill Veeck. Some of the Reliquary’s most honored artifacts came directly from Veeck’s legendary promotions, and Cannon speculated that “if Bill Veeck were still with us, and had the crazy notion to start a baseball museum, it would be similar in concept to the Reliquary.”
Mike Veeck, Bill’s son and former Senior Vice President of Sales and Marketing for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, was unable to attend the ceremony; however, in the week prior on a television broadcast on the Fox network, he announced that his family intends to donate one of his father’s prosthetic devices — a wooden leg — to the Baseball Reliquary.
The Veeck family asked James D. Loebl to accept the induction of Bill Veeck into the Shrine of the Eternals on their behalf. Loebl was formerly Deputy Attorney General of the State of California from 1953-58 and Director of the California Department of Professional and Vocational Standards (now known as the Department of Consumer Affairs) from 1961-63. He has practiced law in Ventura County, California since 1963.
Loebl was a close personal friend of Veeck’s since 1941, and was one of his first customers when Veeck bought the Milwaukee Brewers of the American Association. Veeck used this minor league franchise as a proving ground for his promotional genius. Loebl entertained the audience with wonderful stories and anecdotes about Veeck, and noted that he was the only baseball owner to testify on behalf of Curt Flood’s effort to overturn the infamous reserve clause.
“Veeck would have been delighted to be here,” Loebl concluded. “It was the fans for whom Bill worked.”
The ceremony ended with a whimsical baseball benediction, “How Does God Fit In To Baseball?,” written for the occasion and read by William Scaff (aka Chef Guillaume). An informal reception followed with hot dogs, peanuts, and Cracker Jack courtesy of Chef Guillaume, and the audience was able to obtain autographs from the inductees and their families. Dock Ellis was a particularly gracious signer, autographing photos and baseballs as well as commemorative programs and envelopes.
Unlike the Hall of Fame’s ceremony, held earlier in the day in Cooperstown, New York, the Shrine of the Eternals induction had no corporate sponsorship and received little media coverage. But it was nonetheless a successful event for the Baseball Reliquary, and it showcased the unique mix of artistry and scholarship that has become the hallmark of the organization in its formative years.
Furthermore, as Albert Kilchesty noted in his keynote address, the Induction Day ceremony was an important step in fulfilling one of the Reliquary’s missions: “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.”
(Induction Day photos courtesy of Larry Goren)
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.
* 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.
1999 Induction Day Benediction by William Scaff
Member, Board of Directors, The Baseball Reliquary
How does god fit in to baseball?
If you have spent any time with the game of inches
you may eventually ponder this question
How does God fit in to baseball?
Does God manipulate players and situations in order to effect
the outcome of the game?
Is God a fan of a particular team?
Does God even care who wins the World Series?
How does God fit in to baseball?
She makes herself real small
and gets into the cushion cork center where She will be well
protected by the wool and cotton winding and the cowhide cover
She’s ready for a
roller coaster ride.
God wants to FEEL the arc of a curve ball.
God wants to BE a hard slider.
God wants to be clocked at 95 MPH on the radar gun.
God wants to be blistered down the third base line
picking up chalk along the way.
God wants to be bobbled, booted, bunted, balked, blooped,
God wants to be . . .
And once you’ve become aware that God is residing inside
the baseball . . .
the highest respect you can give to God
is with one big swing of the bat
T H W A C K !
THIS GOD IS G-O-O-O-ONE! ! !