The Baseball Reliquary Inc. has announced its list of 50 eligible candidates for the 2012 election of the Shrine of the Eternals, the membership organization’s equivalent to the Baseball Hall of Fame. This year marks the 14 annual election of the Shrine, a major national component of the Baseball Reliquary, a Southern California-based organization dedicated to fostering an appreciation of American art and culture through the context of baseball history.
The 39 individuals previously elected to the Shrine of the Eternals are, in alphabetical order: Jim Abbott, Dick Allen, Roger Angell, Emmett Ashford, Moe Berg, Yogi Berra, Ila Borders, Jim Bouton, Jim Brosnan, Bill Buckner, Roberto Clemente, Steve Dalkowski, Rod Dedeaux, Jim Eisenreich, Dock Ellis, Mark Fidrych, Curt Flood, Ted Giannoulas, Josh Gibson, Pete Gray, William “Dummy” Hoy, Shoeless Joe Jackson, Bill James, Bill “Spaceman” Lee, Roger Maris, Marvin Miller, Minnie Minoso, Buck O’Neil, Satchel Paige, Jimmy Piersall, Pam Postema, Jackie Robinson, Lester Rodney, Pete Rose, Casey Stengel, Fernando Valenzuela, Bill Veeck Jr., Maury Wills and Kenichi Zenimura.
The Shrine of the Eternals is similar in concept to the annual elections held at the Baseball Hall of Fame, but differs philosophically in that statistical accomplishment is not a criterion for election. Rather, the Shrine’s annual ballot is comprised of individuals – from the obscure to the well-known – who have altered the baseball world in ways that supersede statistics.
On a procedural level, the Shrine of the Eternals differs significantly from the Baseball Hall of Fame in the manner by which electees are chosen. While the Baseball Hall of Fame’s electees are chosen in voting conducted by a select group of sportswriters or committees, the Baseball Reliquary chooses its enshrinees by a vote open to the public. A screening committee appointed by the Reliquary’s Board of Directors prepares a ballot consisting of 50 candidates, on which the membership votes annually. The three candidates receiving the highest percentage of votes gain automatic election.
Among the 50 eligible candidates for 2012, 10 individuals appear on the Shrine of the Eternals ballot for the first time. The newcomers and returnees, in alphabetical order, are:
GARY BELL (b. 1936)—Immortalized in the pages of Jim Bouton’s Ball Four as a charter member of the beer-pounding, beaver-shooting Seattle Pilots, the good-natured, wise-cracking Bell (inevitably nicknamed “Ding Dong”) came up with Cleveland in 1958 as a “can’t-miss” pitching prospect, part of a strong staff that eventually included Mudcat Grant, Sam McDowell, and Luis Tiant. Bell posted solid if unspectacular numbers with the Indians for a decade until a trade to the Red Sox in 1967 placed him in the midst of their “Impossible Dream” pennant-winning season. The cheerful Texan is the answer to the perennially-asked trivia question: “Who was the winning pitcher in the Pilots’ first home game?”
BILL BERGEN (1878‒1943)—Whoever first offered the canard, “I don’t care what my catcher hits; he’s in there for defense,” must have been thinking of Bill Bergen, a defensively superb dead-ball era catcher who would have been forgotten entirely if not for the fact that he holds the most dubious record in baseball history: Lowest batting average ever –.170 – for a player with 2,500 or more at-bats; a record that makes latter-day lightweights like Ray Oyler and Mario Mendoza look like Ty Cobb.
STEVE BILKO (1928‒1978)—Moon-faced first baseman who wrapped a so-so major league career around a legendary stint in the Pacific Coast League, where he paced the circuit in home runs for three consecutive seasons (1955-57), and won the PCL’s Triple Crown in 1956 with a phenomenal display of slugging for the Los Angeles Angels. Astutely drafted by the expansion Angels of the American League in 1961, the extraordinarily popular Bilko made further inroads into pop culture immortality as the source for the name of the Phil Silvers’ character, Sgt. Bilko, on the actor’s television program.
BERT CAMPANERIS (b. 1942)—Speedy, durable shortstop for the Kansas City-Oakland franchise of the 1960s and ̒70s whose flash and flair embodied the spirit of the Swingin’ A’s. A six-time All Star who once played all nine positions in a single game, “Campy” in his prime was arguably the best shortstop between the Luis Aparicio and Dave Concepcion eras.
JOSE CANSECO (b. 1964)—Wayward Cuban-born slugger of prodigious gifts and blasé demeanor who, with fellow “Bash Brother” Mark McGwire, led the Oakland A’s back to respectability in the late 1980s. His open admission of steroid use throughout his career, documented in several tell-all books, made him a pariah in MLB circles after his retirement.
CHARLES “VICTORY” FAUST (1880‒1915)—Few baseball tales are as odd – or ultimately, sad – as the story of Charlie “Victory” Faust, a gawky stringbean of a man who in 1911 managed to convince New York Giants manager John McGraw that he, Faust, was destined to pitch the team to a World Series championship, and furthermore had the talent to jinx opposing teams (“put the whommy on ‘em,” as Casey Stengel might have said). With Faust adopted by McGraw as team mascot/good luck charm, the Giants did indeed win the 1911 series, and Faust did indeed pitch in two meaningless games. Faust faded into oblivion after the 1912 season, dying in a Washington sanitarium in 1915, until his story was resurrected a half-century later by historian Larry Ritter.
CHARLIE FINLEY (1918‒1996)—A man of great vision and even greater vindictiveness, Charles Oscar Finley parlayed his self-made man act into ownership of the struggling Kansas City Athletics, moved the franchise to Oakland, and singlehandedly (literally, for his neuroses allowed him to trust no one) resurrected the team’s fortunes. Forever willing to employ newfangled ideas (orange baseballs, mix-and-match uniforms, night games during the World Series, etc.), his tangles with everyone, from baseball commissioner to the lowliest replacement-level player, are legendary for their crassness, yet many of his innovations have become so commonplace as to be entirely unremarkable today.
ANNABELLE LEE (1922‒2008)—The poetically named southpaw pitched with four different teams in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL) from 1944 through 1950 and is credited with hurling the first perfect game in league history in 1944, adding a no-hitter to her credentials the following season. A Los Angeles native whose father played in the Pacific Coast League and whose nephew Bill Lee was a Red Sox legend, Annabelle Lee is part of the AAGPBL permanent display at the Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.
HIDEO NOMO (b. 1968)—Credited with opening the door to Major League Baseball for native Japanese players, right-handed pitcher Hideo Nomo established himself as a star early in his career with the Kinetsu Buffaloes (1990‒94) before taking advantage of a contractual loophole to sign with the L.A. Dodgers. Using an exaggerated, jerky windmill motion (the genesis of his nickname “The Tornado”), Nomo became an overnight sensation in the U.S., ushering in the era of “Nomomania” while winning the NL Rookie of the Year Award in 1995. He became an itinerant pitcher after a few seasons with the Dodgers, and never really captured the nation’s enthusiasm again after his rookie campaign. By then U.S. fans had other Japanese stars to cheer for – Ichiro, Matsui, Hasegawa, Matsuzaka, and many others.
LEFTY O’DOUL (1897‒1969)—A man of many hats – most of them green, to match his favorite color of suit – the legacy of Francis “Lefty” O’Doul is so varied and accomplished as to defy neat description: a San Francisco native, still revered as a favorite son of the city (his sports bar is still a civic landmark), O’Doul began his big-league career as a relief pitcher, but re-emerged as a slugger after a reclamation stint in the Pacific Coast League. He terrorized NL pitchers during the late 1920s and early 1930s, won two batting titles, nearly hit .400 in 1929, and retired with the fourth-best career average of .349 in 1934. Returning to the PCL, he managed the San Francisco Seals through one of their most productive periods, mentored the young Joe DiMaggio, and established a reputation as one of the greatest hitting coaches in history. He also found time to work as a baseball ambassador to Japan, giving the professional game a leg up in that country. He is in everyone’s Hall of Fame except for the one that counts: Cooperstown.
JOE PEPITONE (b. 1940)—Among baseball’s legendary fuck-ups and problem children, few can surpass the reputation of Brooklyn’s own Joe Pepitone, a swinger in more ways than one, whose best years in baseball (1963-66) dovetail neatly with the decline of the mighty Yankee franchise. An acknowledged fashion plate, “Pepi” consistently amazed with his collection of designer hairpieces, sharply tailored suits, and shark-suited “friends” – after a disappointing stint with the Yakult Atoms his name entered the Japanese vernacular as a synonym for “screw-up.”
TONI STONE (1931‒1996)—Born Marcenia Lyle Alberga, Toni Stone played baseball from the moment she could walk, a standout player among local boy’s teams, American Legion squads, and black semi-pro outfits through the WWII era. Barred from play in the segregated AAGPBL, she was signed in 1953 by the Indianapolis Clowns of the Negro American League to play second base, a position recently vacated by Henry Aaron. She had her greatest thrill in baseball with the Clowns: a chance to bat against Satchel Paige. A victim of the sexism prevalent among all races during the era, her skills as an athlete were overshadowed by her value as a publicity tool, and after a stint with the fabled Kansas City Monarchs in 1954, she retired. She was inducted into the Women’s Sports Hall of Fame in 1993, and is memorialized in two separate permanent displays at the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Election packets, containing ballots and biographical profiles of all candidates, will be mailed to Baseball Reliquary members on April 1. To be eligible to vote, all persons must have their minimum $25 annual membership dues paid as of March 31.
The three new inductees will be announced in May, with the Induction Day ceremony scheduled for July 15 in Pasadena, Calif. In addition to the presentation of plaques to the 2012 inductees, this year’s ceremony will honor the recipients of the 2012 Hilda Award (named in memory of Hilda Chester and acknowledging a baseball fan’s exceptional devotion to the game) and the 2012 Tony Salin Memorial Award (presented annually to an individual dedicated to the preservation of baseball history).
For additional information on the Shrine of the Eternals, contact Terry Cannon, Executive Director of the Baseball Reliquary, at P.O. Box 1850, Monrovia, CA 91017; by phone at (626) 791-7647; or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.