My friend and occasional contributor here, Rory Paap got his first link from Rob Neyer of ESPN.com on Friday. Neyer had proposed a new addition to Cooperstown he called the Wing of Amazing, “for players who really don’t belong in the Hall of Fame because they weren’t good enough, but did some things that do deserve to be celebrated.” Rory nominated Billy Wagner, writing that he wasn’t sure if the recently-retired closer deserves a regular spot in Cooperstown, but:
What I do know is that a young boy who is born right handed, breaks his arm, learns to throw lefty given the injury, only grows to 5’9″ and yet still manages an average fastball of over 96 miles per hour — from 2002 on, as available from Fangraphs — with incredible control and consistency, is amazing.
For sure. Neyer said he would have to be sure Wagner is “the only pitcher his size who’s ever thrown that hard (and been successful).” That may or may not be true, as 5’6″ 139-pound Bobby Shantz had 152 strikeouts in 1952, and 5’7″ 138-pound Bob Caruthers was one of the top strikeout artists of the American Association of the 1880s. All the same, the general idea got me thinking.
I write about whether people belong in the Hall of Fame every week, and what eight months of doing this has shown me is that there are many more good, if not great players than will probably ever get into Cooperstown. There are also lots of players who made memorable contributions to baseball or are at least worth remembering for some other reason, even if their careers weren’t Hall-worthy.
I like Neyer’s idea, though it’s worth noting: Such a place exists. The Baseball Reliquary in Southern California honors “individuals– from the obscure to the well-known– who have altered the baseball world in ways that supersede statistics.” In fact, stats do not play a role in determining whether a player gets into what Baseball Reliquary calls its Shrine of the Eternals.
Thirty-six people have been en-Shrined thus far, and they range from a one-armed pitcher to a catcher/CIA operative to baseball’s first deaf star, among others. In alphabetical order, the honorees are:
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, Josh Gibson, 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., and Kenichi Zenimura.
The 2011 ballot is out for this, the 13th annual election that will occur in April, with an induction ceremony to follow the third weekend in July in Pasadena, California. The new ballot has 50 people on it, namely:
Eliot Asinof, Frank C. Bancroft, Steve Blass, Chet Brewer, Charlie Brown, Jefferson Burdick, Glenn Burke, Helen Callaghan, Charles M. Conlon, L. Robert Davids, Dizzy Dean, Ed Delahanty, Bucky Dent, Hector Espino, Donald Fehr, Eddie Feigner, Lisa Fernandez, Rube Foster, Ted Giannoulas, Eddie Grant, Jim “Mudcat” Grant, Pete Gray, Ernie Harwell, Charlie Hollocher, Bob Hope (a publicity director, not the famed actor), Dr. Frank Jobe, Charles “Pop” Kelchner, Effa Manley, Conrado Marrero, Dr. Mike Marshall, Tug McGraw, Fred Merkle, Manny Mota, Phil Pote, Vic Power, Curtis Pride, Dan Quisenberry, J.R. Richard, Annie Savoy, Rusty Staub, Chuck Stevens, Luis Tiant, Fay Vincent, Rube Waddell, John Montgomery Ward, David Wells, J.L. Wilkinson, Maury Wills, Wilbur Wood, Don Zimmer
I look forward to casting my ballot, and if anyone reading is interested in voting, please feel free to email me. I’ll forward any requests for ballots on to the executive director of Baseball Reliquary, Terry Cannon.
All this being said, my ballot may include some write-ins. As the Shrine of the Eternals is still relatively new, I’m guessing dozens of worthy candidates haven’t been honored. It was this way with the Hall of Fame for about its first 30 years, up through the mid-1960s when the Veterans Committee finally ran out of non-enshrined players with 300 wins or close to 3,000 hits, men like Tim Keefe and Sam Crawford. Here are 10 of their equivalents for Baseball Reliquary to consider:
Jose Canseco: Call him an opportunist, call him a cheat, call him stupid. No matter, Canseco’s Juiced stands as the most important expose of the Steroid Era next to Game of Shadows and easily the most entertaining. It helped spur Congressional hearings and landmark reforms in baseball. Canseco would be a hit at the induction ceremony, too.
Jim Creighton: Baseball’s first superstar, Creighton shined briefly before he swung so hard in a game in 1862 that he ruptured his appendix and died a few days later at 21.
Charles Victory Faust: Faust arrived at a road game for the New York Giants 100 years ago this spring and announced he would pitch the team to the pennant. It remains one of the oddest stories in baseball history. A fortune teller told Faust he would star for the Giants, and while his play in an informal tryout with John McGraw was laughable, McGraw kept Faust on as a mascot out of superstition. Faust even played in two games. The Giants won the pennant in 1911 but lost in the World Series, and Faust was let go after the season and later institutionalized. He died in an asylum in 1915 at 34. There’s never been anyone else like him in baseball.
Charlie Finley: If Bill Veeck is in this shrine, Finley should be too. Both were innovative owners who built championship clubs in small markets and were master showmen. Where Veeck had exploding scoreboards, midget pinch hitters, and the ambitious but ill-fated Disco Demolition Night, Finley let 59-year-old Satchel Paige pitch in 1965, had his shortstop Bert Campaneris play all nine positions in a game that same year, and offered his players bonuses to grow mustaches. This honor could mean more for the late Finley. Unlike Veeck, Finley isn’t in the Hall of Fame.
Kenesaw Mountain Landis: Baseball’s first commissioner, Landis is remembered today as the former federal judge who gave lifetime bans to the eight members of the Chicago White Sox who threw the 1919 World Series. Landis also banned a number of other players and effectively vanquished gambling, a major problem in baseball in the first two decades of the 20th century. He served as commissioner until his death in 1944, and none of the men who’ve had the job since have impacted baseball nearly as much.
Hideo Nomo: Major League Baseball’s first Japanese star, Nomo retired from playing in Japan in the mid-1990s so he could come to the US. His hurricane windup baffled hitters stateside and made Nomo a hit with the Dodgers his first few years before hitters caught on. There’d be no Ichiro Suzuki or Hideki Matsui or Daisuke Matsuzaka in the majors today had Nomo not paved the way. And even in decline, Nomo remained popular in Japan. I covered one of Nomo’s rehab starts in Triple-A in 2004. I sat near three Japanese reporters in the press box, and they all left shortly after Nomo’s two innings were up.
Lefty O’Doul: Just as there would have been no Ichiro without Nomo, neither man would have had a start in professional Japanese ball if O’Doul hadn’t helped launch it in the 1930s. He went so far as naming the Tokyo Giants and also was an instructor in Japan before and after World War II. I believe O’Doul, like Buck O’Neil, belongs in the Hall of Fame as an ambassador to baseball. And if O’Neil has a spot in the Shrine of the Eternals, O’Doul should too.
Branch Rickey: There’s never been a more important baseball executive than Branch Rickey. The general manager for the St. Louis Cardinals, Brooklyn Dodgers, and Pittsburgh Pirates, Rickey invented the farm system for teams to develop their own players, signed the first black player in the modern era, and laid the foundation for success with all three teams he worked for. Bobby Bragan said in his autobiography, “To me, he was one of the greatest baseball minds ever, and I don’t think you’d be wrong if you took out the word ‘baseball.'”
Lawrence Ritter: Spurred by the death of Ty Cobb in 1961, Ritter decided to write a book comprised of interviews with old-time players. Five years and 75,000 miles on his car later, Ritter had The Glory of Their Times, quite possibly the best baseball book anyone’s written and certainly one of my favorites. It could also be the most influential, as four of the interviewed players got into the Hall of Fame in the years following the book’s publication in 1966: Rube Marquard, Stan Coveleski, Harry Hooper, and Goose Goslin.
Ernest Lawrence Thayer: Thayer received $5 in 1888 to write a poem for his college friend William Randolph Hearst and his newspaper, the San Francisco Examiner. Thayer wasn’t proud of the poem, and it had a small effect, if any at first. Years later, a vaudeville actor incorporated Casey at the Bat into his act, and the rest is history. A century after its original publication, the poem remains popular, and a baseball-themed episode of The Simpsons in 1992 even bore the title, “Homer at the Bat.”