It’s a “media year” for the Baseball Reliquary’s Shrine of the Eternals.
The Pasadena-based “antidote to Cooperstown” just keeps hitting them out of the park, selecting three individuals per year for 19 years now, getting them even with Heinz’ 57 varieties (if only for this one haunted, hellacious year we’re living through).
And, as is so often the case, the voting membership generates an entirely new version of its tripartite serendipity out of thin air, giving the stalwart fan—whether garbed in academic tweeds or New Era populism—a poetic, almost mystical undercurrent to ponder.
Year 19 brings more lung power to the Shrine’s dais than ever before—hell, the combined eloquence of these three –Dodgers legend Vin Scully, “front row” wiseacre Bob Uecker, and “round-headed” lovable loser Charlie Brown — actually has a fighting chance to neutralize executive director Terry Cannon and his cowbell. (Okay, probably not: Cannon is getting more emphatic—and more deafening—with his trademark opening salvo every year…)
Study those 57 names. Keep in mind that the structure of the Shrine induction process continues to be driven by a set of principles—adversity, extremity, otherness—where at least one of these forces is at work in the life stories of the honorees. As we live through an era that seems to embody all of the negative characteristics of these attributes, it’s important—no, it’s vital—that we see how they operate as constructive forces in life, filtered through the prism of baseball.
Do Reliquary voters—still preponderantly a Southern California contingent—tend to favor their home town? Scully, a fixture in Los Angeles for nearly 60 years, joins a group of local heroes in the Shrine. The answer to this question is yes—and no. The Bronx-born broadcaster, a Giants fan until he literally came of age in the Ebbets Field broadcast booth, jumped to the top of the class when the Dodgers left Brooklyn. Highly praised in the ’60s, he transcended geography in the late 1970s—and was finally overexposed during the following decade.
But then—as was also the case for the man who, out of his own likeness, created Charlie Brown—Scully settled into a kind of Zen mastery of his art form. His earlier tendency toward an extremity of eloquence was smoothed over by an aging process that resembled what happens to a first-growth Bordeaux. He entered into otherness while somehow managing to remain the same—an experience that, as one listened to him in his later years, was beyond uncanny.
In a ballot process that permits what Reliquary historian Albert Kilchesty calls “a virtually infinite egress of egregious self-expression,” Scully shattered the record for highest percentage of votes cast for any Shrine inductee. Think global, vote local.
And let’s thank freakin’ Godzilla for Bob Uecker, who solves one of the Shrine’s most vexing “alphabet problems.” The letter U is not so problematic in Scrabble, but it’s a downright slog in the Baseball Encyclopedia (or whatever they’re calling it these days). Alpha characters (per the chart above) still on the schneid for the Shrine: I, K, Q, X and Y.
Uecker’s lifetime batting average (146-for-731, .1997) happily rounded up to exactly .200, giving him a comedy riff with instant round-number recall. With that, he proceeded to defy F. Scott Fitzgerald’s famous dictum (“there are no second acts in American lives”). In fact, the seeds for his future transformation had been sown during the 1964 World Series, where he took illegal possession of a college marching band’s tuba and mugged mercilessly with it, even going so far as to attempt to shag fly balls with it.
The rest, of course, is history. His effortless juggling of adversity (bad player on the cusp of extinction), extremity (spinning outrageous, often apocryphal yarns with barely a twitch of his mouth), and otherness (40-plus years as a down-home, straight-laced play-by-play broadcaster) makes him one of the Shrine’s true triple threats.
Defying natural law, of course, is what happens to Charlie Brown when he is repeatedly undressed by a vicious line drive hurtling past him on the pitcher’s mound. During the 50 years that Charles M. Schulz concocted his legendary comic strip Peanuts, “Chuck” (as he’s known to a wild-haired girl who has a better fastball than he does…) was stripped to his shorts at least a hundred times. Miraculously, he was hit by a line drive only once—which, when it happened, was characterized by a certain loud-mouthed female right fielder (who was a bit weak on fly balls…) as “the only thing that could knock some sense into him.” (It didn’t.)
Schulz knew how to use Charlie and his hapless teammates to milk extremity above, below, and beyond the Mendoza line. Linus’ recital of one season’s numerical indignities provoked an acidic response from the usually mild-mannered manager manqué: “Tell your statistics to shut up.” The ongoing melodrama of mediocrity-gone-maudit was ratcheted into farcical hysteria as Charlie lamented his biggest loss yet: “SIX HUNDRED TO NOTHING!” After one agonizing loss (in which the final score must have been somewhat closer), he uttered the classic line of American exceptionalism’s long-lost innocence: “How can we lose when we’re so SINCERE?” (Vietnam was just around the corner.)
Charlie and his charges kept swinging (and mostly missing) for five decades. Schulz made sure that the “round-headed kid” (his own dog, a creature of magic realism, whose thoughts were significantly more complex than many surrounding him, including the present occupant of the White House, could never remember his name), was a victim of constant adversity (read: lack of talent). He also partook of extremity (as in extreme lack of talent). But it was his otherness (a willingness to persevere despite the adverse condition of extreme lack of talent) that made him into a universal figure, and—now, against all odds—an Eternal.
So behind the usual Reliquary themes this year, you will find these: longevity, perseverance, survival. Perfect words describing the needed response to the perfect storm brewing in the nation right now, buoyed by these inductees—who’ve all used words to energize and entertain, educate and enlighten. This Sunday, July 16, at the Pasadena Public Library’s Donald Wright Auditorium, there will be no salvos launched at the current state of America (as you’ve been three times subjected to, herein, by your still-truculent, unapologetic author). Instead, optimism—of the Eternal kind—will reign.
And perhaps such an afternoon of benevolent irreverence will be enough to lead us through the wilderness. For despite (or, perhaps, because of) everything—even in times of folly and woe—the Shrine shines on, raucous cowbell in tow, retracing its steps along its innocent road of excess, with the palace of wisdom still over the horizon…but not—not yet, at least—out of reach.
The Baseball Reliquary’s Shrine of the Eternals ceremony (No. 19) begins at 2 p.m. on Sunday. For more information, including detailed directions to the Pasadena Public Library, please visit baseballreliquary.org.