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Baseball reliquary survives and is ‘better than real’

LOS ANGELES — It is now on display at the Los Angeles Central Library through November in an exhibit titled “Something in Common.” There’s a San Diego Chicken uniform, a half-smoked cigar from Babe Ruth that probably — maybe? probably? — came from a Philadelphia brothel in 1924 and a baseball signed by Mother Teresa. The real Mother Teresa? Well… maybe not.

The items are on loan from the Baseball Reliquary, an actual organization that combines wonder and whimsy with deep reverence. Its vibe lands somewhere near the intersection of Cooperstown and Ripley’s Believe It or Not.

The stories these gems tell belong to the ages – as now, sadly, does Terry Cannon, the cheerful, thoughtful, masterful agent whose curiosity, energy and passion for his projects were boundless. The non-profit Reliquary was Cannon’s brainchild in 1996. Then came the Shrine of the Eternals, a kind of distant and naughty cousin of the Baseball Hall of Fame, in 1999.

The last few years have been difficult. The pandemic hit, followed by Cannon’s death from cancer in August 2020. Then, a seismic retrofit indefinitely closed the Pasadena Central Library, where Reliquary members and fans gathered each year to pay tribute to inductees as large and diverse as Jim Bouton (2001). Shoeless Joe Jackson (2002), Buck O’Neil (2008), Marvin Miller (2003) and Charlie Brown (2017).

In this baseball summer where the All-Stars played at Dodger Stadium and past greats like Gil Hodges, Tony Oliva, Jim Kaat, Minnie Miñoso and O’Neil were honored in Cooperstown, the recent silence has fueled concern that the Shrine of Eternals might have been silent forever. .

“Absolutely not,” said Mary Cannon, Terry’s widow and co-conspirator, marking the beginning of a shocking comeback. “It’s very much in the works.”

The site, dark since January due to technical difficulties, reappeared in early July. And the Shrine’s 2020 class will be inducted Nov. 5 in a public ceremony at the Los Angeles Central Library’s Taper Auditorium to coincide with the closing of the six-month exhibit the following day. This class — broadcaster Bob Costas. Rube Foster, known as the father of Black Baseball. and Max Patkin, the “Clown Prince of Baseball” — has been on hiatus for nearly two years.

“Fantastic,” said Kostas, who, like many others, assumed the Reliquary had been lost to the pandemic. “But I’d better show up, because I’m the only one still alive. This is the Sanctuary of the Eternals, and the other two are already in eternity.”

The Baseball Reliquary emphasizes the art, culture and characters of the game over statistics and is funded in part by a grant from the Los Angeles County Arts Commission. The thousands of books, journals, periodicals, historical journals, artifacts, original paintings and correspondence are now housed at Whittier College’s Institute for Baseball Studies.

“Terry and I conceived it, understood it and pushed it forward,” said Joe Price, who accepted a request from Cannon before his death to take charge and steer the Reliquary forward. With his infectious enthusiasm and cheeky smile, Price seems like a natural choice.

Now a professor emeritus in religious studies at Whittier, Price, along with Charles Adams, retired Whittier English professor, spent the pandemic organizing and cataloging the collection of more than 4,000 books to Library of Congress standards.

Inside is where history and historical fiction playfully intermingle. It’s where Moe Berg, the ex-con who later served as a spy for the Office of Strategic Services during World War II, crosses paths with Chicago’s 1979 Disco Demolition Night — with memorabilia from each in the archives. Unfortunately, the yukata jacket that Berg “may” have worn in Japan and a partially melted vinyl record “supposedly” from Comiskey Park appear to have lost their certificates of authenticity over the years.

“The movie stars always win the Academy Awards, but everyone who carries their water and makes them look good — the character actors are more interesting than the movie stars,” said Ron Shelton, who wrote and directed the film. Bull Durham. Shelton inducted Steve Dalkowski, the inspiration for the film’s Nuke LaLoosh character, into the Shrine in 2009. “In a way, the Hall of Fame honors movie stars, even though many of them are dishonorable characters. The Reliquary is about everything that isn’t a movie star.”

Shelton and Cannon met when each was involved in experimental film crews in the Los Angeles area in the 1970s.

“He was freakishly brilliant,” said Shelton, whose book about the making of Bull Durham, “The Church of Baseball,” was released this month. “I use weird in the most positive way. Not only did he have his own drummer, he also had a kind of vision to go with it. The Reliquary is truly a work of imagination. The record lives in your mind and sometimes in your heart.”

The inaugural class of The Shrine in 1999 included Curt Flood, who took MLB to court to challenge the reserve clause preventing player movement. Doc Ellis, perhaps best known for claiming to have thrown a no-hitter while high on LSD, but was also a civil rights activist. and Bill Veeck, the hapless owner who was a master showman.

At the ceremony, Cannon read a letter Ellis had received from Jackie Robinson praising his civil rights work that warned him that people inside and outside the game would eventually turn against him. Ellis was moved to tears. He then donated a set of his hair straighteners.

These are authentic, as is the burlap peanut bag that contained the peanuts “packaged for Gaylord Perry’s peanut farm.” The shrine said to have been used by a priest at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City to perform last rites on a dying Babe Ruth in 1948? The jock strap “allegedly” worn by Eddie Gaedel, the smallest person to appear in an MLB game at 3 feet 7 inches? Eyes flickering, Price allows that the provenance of some of these objects “is certainly questionable.”

“You know what was really hard to find was a kid’s jock strap,” said Mary Cannon, who added a few touches to make it look like it came from St. Louis Browns 1951. “We went to so many stores to find this thing.”

By definition, the word “reliquary” means “a container for sacred relics.” For Terry Cannon and his students, more important than the actual authenticity of these “holy relics” is the idea from them.

A sight as simple as produce from a grocery store can be a powerful force to spark the imagination. As a prank when he was at Class AA Williamsport in 1987, catcher Dave Bresnahan pinched a potato in left field during a fake pickoff throw to trick an opponent into running from third base to an out home plate. A distant nephew of Hall of Famer Roger Bresnahan, Dave was waiting for the runner with the ball at home. He was immediately released and never played again. In remembrance, Mary Cannon carved two potatoes — at least one of which lives on in the archives here in a Mason jar.

“We didn’t realize that formaldehyde would turn them dark brown,” he said, adding, “There are all these great stories but nothing there, so we tried to create tangible things for people to see.”

Even in the baseball industry, some are unfamiliar with the Reliquary. Nancy Faust, the retired Chicago White Sox organist who created walkout music, had to look it up when she got the call for induction in 2018.

“My husband, Joe, said, ‘What is this, some kind of joke? Baseball aquarium?’ said Faust. “I said, ‘There’s nothing crazy about that.’ When I found out who was going with me, I thought, ‘Wow! This is a really good group.’ I was honored to be remembered.”

Faust was inducted in 2018, along with Tommy John and Rusty Staub.

“Rusty Staub is perfect, right?” said Kostas. “He’s not quite a Hall of Famer, but he’s an important player. There are other players who aren’t as important, but you put Rusty Staub before you put Chet Lemon because Rusty Staub is “Le Grande Orange.”

Dr. Frank Jobe, the inventor of Tommy John surgery, preceded the pitcher to the Shrine in 2012. There is a Spaceman (Bill Lee, 2000) and a Bird (Mark Fidrych, 2002). There is also rich diversity in Jackie Robinson (2005) and his widow, Rachel (2014), the first female umpire, Pam Postema (2000) and several representatives of Negro leagues.

Bouton once referred to the Shrine as “the people’s Hall of Fame, and inductions traditionally began with Terry Cannon leading the audience in ringing the bells in tribute to Hilda Chester, perhaps the most famous fan in history.

As Cannon noted at the 2018 ceremony, Chester’s reputation began to fade when the Dodgers left Brooklyn for Los Angeles, and “while she may have died in relative obscurity in 1978, in our fan community, Hilda is royalty . And through our annual commemoration, we can be sure that the final bell has not yet rung for Hilda Chester.”

Nor, as it turns out, has it for the Reliquary. In Shelton’s memory, it was the poet WD Snodgrass who, when speaking, often told his audience that whenever he tells a story, it is true.

“Then it would stop,” Shelton said. “And say, ‘I don’t know if it’s true, but it’s better than real.’ That’s what the arts do. It’s better than real. And that’s where the Reliquary resides.”

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