Baseball Reliquary NAmes New Class to Shrine of the Eternals

The Board of Directors of the Baseball Reliquary Inc., a Southern California-based nonprofit organization dedicated to fostering an appreciation of American art and culture through the context of baseball history, is pleased to announce the 2011 class of electees to the Shrine of the Eternals. The Shrine of the Eternals is the national organization’s equivalent to the Baseball Hall of Fame.
    Maury Wills, Pete Gray and Ted Giannoulas were elected upon receiving the highest number of votes in balloting conducted during the month of April 2011 by the membership of the Baseball Reliquary. The three electees will be formally inducted into the Shrine of the Eternals in a public ceremony on July 17 at the Donald R. Wright Auditorium in the Pasadena Central Library in Pasadena, Calif.
    maurywills.jpgElected to the Shrine of the Eternals in only his second year on the ballot Wills is universally credited with returning the stolen base as an offensive weapon to the National League in the 1960s and setting the table for future speedsters Lou Brock, Tim Raines and Rickey Henderson.Born in 1932, the Washington, D.C. native spent nearly 10 years in the minor leagues before he got his shot as a rookie with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1959. The fleet, switch-hitting shortstop pilfered 50 bases in 1960, the most ever by an NL player since Max Carey in 1923. The run-starved Dodgers of the 1960s turned Wills loose at every opportunity. Between 1960-65, Wills led the NL in thefts in six consecutive seasons, including a then-record 104 stolen bases in 1962 on his way to copping the NL’s Most Valuable Player Award. Wills’s legs led the Dodgers to three World Series appearances in 1963, 1965, and 1966. He also received many other kudos, including Gold Gloves, All-Star Game nominations, and an All-Star Game MVP.
    Wills finished his playing career in 1972 (which also included stints with the Pirates and Expos), winding up with 586 stolen bases to complement a .281 lifetime batting average. Wills briefly managed the Seattle Mariners in 1980-81, was a baseball analyst for NBC Sports, watched his son Bump mature into a major league infielder, worked as a trainer for numerous MLB teams, and taught the art of base stealing in Osaka, Japan. Wills currently works with a variety of philanthropic organizations, drug abuse programs, and children’s groups. Now in his late 70s, life hasn’t slowed down a whit for Maury Wills – he remains a man on the go, go, go.
    Elected to the Shrine of the Eternals in his 13th appearance on the ballot Gray (1915-2002) remains the lasting symbol of baseball and World War II.  The one-armed outfielder (he lost his right arm in a childhood accident) was a semi-pro star in the coal towns of his native Pennsylvania and with the famed Brooklyn Bushwicks. Gray entered professional baseball in 1942, garnering national attention in 1944 when he batted .333 for the Memphis Chicks, hit five home runs, tied a league record by stealing 68 bases, and was named the Southern Association’s Most Valuable Player. This extraordinary season earned Gray a shot with the St. Louis Browns in 1945. Even with the quality of major league play at an all-time low due to the World War II player shortage, Gray was clearly overmatched at this level, hitting .218 with no home runs in 77 games. Nonetheless, Gray was a wonder to watch, and was a study in agility and dexterity as an outfielder. After catching a fly ball, Gray would tuck his glove under his stump, roll the ball across his chest, and throw, all in one nimble and fluid motion. When baseball returned to full strength in 1946, Gray returned to the minors, and he barnstormed with exhibition teams for several more years until retiring to his hometown of Nanticoke, Pa. Gray’s major league career, albeit brief, was an astonishing and inspirational triumph of will, causing Washington Post sports columnist Shirley Povich to remark, “What Gray might have accomplished in the big leagues if blessed with two arms is something for the imagination to play with.  Surely he would have been one of the greatest big leaguers of all time.”
    Elected to the Shrine of the Eternals in his ninth year on the ballot, Giannoulas is one of baseball’s greatest entertainers as The San Diego Chicken (or The Famous Chicken), the most popular and iconic of the mascots that became staples of major league baseball teams in the 1970s. In 1974, while a student at San Diego State University, Giannoulas took a $2-an-hour job during spring break, wearing a rented chicken suit for local radio station KGB-FM and passing out promotional eggs at the San Diego Zoo. That gig was so successful that he decided to give the act a try at home games of the San Diego Padres, who were so woeful that they were willing to consider just about anything to boost attendance.  In no time at all, the Chicken was running circles around the Padres’ then-mascot, the pudgy and balding Swinging Friar.    
   In his book, Big Hair and Plastic Grass: A Funky Ride Through Baseball and America in the Swinging ‘70s, Dan Epstein notes, “It was love at first cluck between the KGB Chicken and Padres fans, who loudly cheered the Chicken’s every pratfall and prank – especially when the latter came at the expense of the umpires and visiting players.”  The Chicken would soon become an entertainment revolution, with people coming to the ballpark to see him as much as to see the game, maybe more.  To many fans, the Chicken became a virtual folk hero, mocking the ceremonious, parodying the powerful, and cavorting with gleeful irreverence. Even the Federal courts sanctioned the Chicken’s shtick. In 1999, when the creators of Barney the Dinosaur sued Giannoulas for pummeling a Barney lookalike, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in the Chicken’s favor, citing “he was engaged in a sophisticated critique of society’s acceptance of this ubiquitous and insipid creature,” thus giving him the legal go-ahead to continue stomping on the annoying purple dinosaur’s head at ballparks from coast to coast. Giannoulas’s comic and mime abilities, painstaking work ethic, and tolerance for heat stress conditions have earned him the reputation as the “Sir Laurence Olivier of mascots.”  He prides himself in not missing an engagement in over three decades and in developing an extraordinary relationship with the fans; the Chicken is often seen signing autographs at ballparks well past midnight, long after the players have gone home.
 
    In the coming weeks, leading up to the Shrine of the Eternals Induction Day on July 17, 2011, further details will be announced, including the Keynote Speaker and the recipients of the 2011 Hilda Award (named in memory of Hilda Chester and honoring a baseball fan’s exceptional devotion to the game) and the 2011 Tony Salin Memorial Award (presented annually to an individual dedicated to the preservation of baseball history).

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