Three more for eternityby Don Malcolm
May 16, 2013
The results are in.
As wars wind down, as stocks go up in a dizzying cycle, and as another baseball season brings out the best and worst in all of us (on-field, in the front office, and those who ceaselessly jockey for position in baseball’s numbers wars), the Baseball Reliquary stays on course, with an occasional wobble if only to wrest your attention from whatever trifling matter you’re obsessing about.
The Reliquary voters—those anonymous personages who are occasionally compared with the vast legion of the “dis-registered” who used to line the Cook County ballot rolls (and might still constitute a throwback to the old “ghost in the machine” that, among other things, “made this country great”)—have sent in their choices the old-fashioned way.
And, with not even the slightest breath of scandal, or hint of tantrum, or a single reference to Jack Morris, three new members of the Reliquary’s Shrine of the Eternals have been magically, mysteriously selected.
Never has the mystical been so matter-of-fact—or vice-versa.
Oh, you want to know whom they actually selected?? Sorry, that will cost you extra—a few more mugging feints and dodgy delay tactics from yours truly, who asks only that you throw a few spare coins in the direction of his hollowed-out typewriter, the wan relic of a former golden age.
Besides, anyone who’s followed the Reliquary will already know that the members manage, against great and increasing odds, to keep intact the oddly devotional whimsy and loopy, laser-like points of connection that make its version of the Hall of Fame into something above mere excellence and beyond the reach of metaphor, where the trios selected for induction in any year somehow permit those who observe the process to see the forest and the trees at the same time, with pattern and interrelationship between them shifting in a kaleidoscope of wonder.
(That quality—mystical, yet down-to-earth—is what doesn’t quite come across in Jon Leonoudakis’s documentary about the Baseball Reliquary Not Exactly Cooperstown—see the accompanying review for more details.) It is the Shrine of the Eternals that elevates what would otherwise be the prankish put-ons of two precocious schoolkids (executive director Terry Cannon and his mysterious alter ego Albert “Buddy" Kilchesty, who still answer to that description well into their middle years…) into a visionary anti-organization that comes closest to capturing the soul of the game and the strange-but-true exaltation that its most devout practitioners—the Eternals—manage to bring to it.)
But enough forced-air eloquence: it’s time to put aside the puffery. The three new Eternals are, in ascending order of voting percentage received…
- Eddie Feigner, the “King” of fast-pitch softball, whose 50-plus years of barnstorming across America produced a .900+ winning percentage despite playing at a more than two-to-one numerical disadvantage on the playing field;
- Lefty O’Doul, late-blooming hitting star (.349 lifetime batting average, mostly compiled after the age of 30) who went on to be the Commodore Perry of Japanese baseball, bringing the game to its shores in the 1930s and returning after World War II to assist in using the game to help rebuild the former Japanese empire into a nation that put baseball on an equal footing with Buddhism;
- Manny Mota, the greatest pinch-hitter in baseball history, who (as we note in our lengthier essay about him over at the Big Bad Baseball blog) was quite probably the only bench player to receive regular standing ovations by merely making an appearance in the on-deck circle.
As is always the case with those elected into the Reliquary’s Shrine of the Eternals, each man brings something unique to the game and to life itself. Like their fellow inductees, they are transformative individuals, each and all capable of “containing multitudes” (as Walt Whitman, poet and early baseball fan, once noted about himself, in a moment of candor and bravado)—but also able to give some of that “multitudinousness” freely to others, via their actions and their achievements.
Those who’ve taken the time to keep a close watch on the Shrine of the Eternals project know that every new election contains a seed of doubt, a kernel of vertigo that seems to leer darkly from the center of the Reliquary’s spider web of baseball shamanism. We fret and furrow our brows, trying not to contemplate the possibility that this project, in its almost aleatory execution, will somehow be swayed by an unknown Circean force to then crash against the rocks and capsize—or, to put it in post-postmodern parlance, simply “jump the shark.”
But somehow, some way, it never happens. And this is the yearly miracle that makes all of the other accumulated agonies of life remain barely bearable; the high-wire act in a windstorm that wobbles but never topples over, somehow remaining upright yet down home, encompassing mirth and reverence, critical distance and the rapture of being alive and in the moment. The Baseball Reliquary is all this, and so much less—but so much more at the same time. Via their vertiginous sleight-of-hand, they manage to make Harry Houdini look like a piker, and they do it without so much as breaking a sweat.
If you come, they will build it. And when you leave, it will melt into air. But the memory of something uncanny and unique will settle into the space behind your eyes, the place where things can be seen for what they really are, and you will never forget the feeling that this mysterious project, this mirthful pilgrimage, this ritual of transformation bestows upon those who experience it.
The 15th Shrine of the Eternals ceremony will be held at 2:30 pm on Sunday, July 21 at the Pasadena Central Library. For more information visit the Baseball Reliquary website.
Don Malcolm edited and published the Big Bad Baseball Annual from 1995-2001, and has just recently been granted a full pardon. He has been editor-in-chief of Noir City, a magazine published by the Film Noir Foundation, since 2006. His ongoing writings about baseball can be found at bigbadbaseball.blogspot.com.