The thing I love about baseball is that it honors the history of the game and never forgets as it evolves. Yes, history remembers the winners, but there are also some colorful (and unsung) characters that have shaped my love for the game.
My partner at the Beer Baseball Blog, Kevin Lyon, shares my vision to celebrate these individuals that might not get the spotlight in baseball’s Hall of Fame, but have just as much (if not more) influence on why we love baseball as much as we do.
Luckily for us, the Baseball Reliquary, a nonprofit, educational organization “dedicated to fostering an appreciation of American art and culture through the context of baseball history”, shares this same passion as we do.
The highest honor afforded an individual at the Reliquary is an election to the ‘Shrine of the Eternals’.
According to the website: “Criteria for election shall be: the distinctiveness of play (good or bad); the uniqueness of character and personality; and the imprint that the individual has made on the baseball landscape. Electees, both on and off the diamond, shall have been responsible for developing baseball in one or more of the following ways: through athletic and/or business achievements; in terms of it’s larger cultural and sociological impact as mass entertainment, and as an arena for the human imagination”.
The past honorees include Jim Abbott, Dick Allen, Roger Angell, Emmett Ashford, Moe Berg, Sy Berger, Yogi Berra, Steve Bilko, Ila Borders, Jim Bouton, Jim Brosnan, Charlie Brown (yes, the Peanuts character), Bill Buckner, Glenn Burke, Roberto Clemente, Steve Dalkowski, Dizzy Dean Rod Dedeaux, Jim Eisenreich, Dock Ellis, Eddie Feigner, Mark Fidrych, Curt Flood, Ted Giannoulas, Josh Gibson, Jim “Mudcat” Grant, Pete Gray, Arnold Hano, William “Dummy” Hoy, Bo Jackson, Shoeless Joe Jackson, Bill James, Dr. Frank Jobe, Bill “Spaceman” Lee, Roger Maris, Marvin Miller, Minnie Minoso, Manny Mota, Don Newcombe, Lefty O’Doul, Buck O’Neil, Satchel Paige, Jimmy Piersall, Pam Postema, Jackie Robinson, Rachel Robinson, Lester Rodney, Pete Rose, Vin Scully, Casey Stengel, Luis Tiant, Bob Uecker, Fernando Valenzuela, Bill Veeck, Jr., Maury Wills, Kenichi Zenimura, and Don Zimmer.
This was my first time attending the Induction ceremony, but the Reliquary inducted its first three members in 1999.
Before the event, Kevin and I hit the 110-year-old Los Angeles landmark, Philippe The Original (map) for some signature French dip sandwiches and some quick mid-day craft beer tasters at Highland Park Brewery (map). Both are right off the Union Station and Chinatown stops on the Metro Gold Line.
But this day was truly all about the 3 new inductees to the Shrine: Nancy Faust, the late Rusty Staub, and Tommy John.
Entering after her fourth year on the ballot, she is without question the most famous ballpark organist of the past half-century. From her days with the Chicago White Sox between 1970-2010 to her days with the NHL Chicago Blackhawks and the NBA Chicago Bulls, her organ playing takes us back to a simpler time in live sporting events. She added the soundtrack to a game’s most important moments (like a rally or creating excitement) or transitional moments (like a pitching change, mound visit, or inning change). The organ version of Steam’s ‘Na Na Hey Hey (Kiss Him Goodbye)’ in 1969 was a long time favorite on a pitching change or player ejection.
Nancy was actually on-hand today playing her signature organ (see below) which was an unexpected treat.
After a trade to the expansion Montreal Expos before the 1969 season, he became one of Canada’s popular baseball players. Named “Le Grand Orange” for his red hair, Montreal and the baseball community embraced this larger-than-life man as one of their own. He played for 23 years (1963-1985) and was the first player to have 500 hits with four different teams. A more likable character of the game you could not find. Unfortunately, Rusty passed away in March of 2018.
First-year ballot nominee Tommy John won 288 games in his 26-year career. He was a 20 game-winner three times, appeared in 3 World Series, and was on four All-Star teams. But he will more famously be known for the career-saving (but then experimental) surgery that saved his career in 1974.
After a severe injury to his pitching arm, Dodgers physician Dr. Frank Jobe convinced John in a new type of surgery that replaced a ligament from another part of the body to replace the damaged ligament. This would be later known as Tommy John Surgery after the incredible success and renewed vitality experienced. Once revolutionary, this procedure is now commonplace in baseball and has resurrected careers that may have been washed away.
To add a nice touch of nostalgia to this day, the Keynote Address was made by Dan Epstein, author of the books “Big Hair and Plastic Grass: A Funky Ride Through Baseball and America in the Swinging ’70s” and “Stars and Strikes: Baseball and America in the Bicentennial Summer of ‘76”.
But the real geek out moment for Kevin and I was the appearance of the original San Diego Chicken!! In full costume (and never breaking character) Ted Giannoulas was a guest speaker talking about his early original days as the KGB Radio mascot. If you are unfamiliar with the San Diego Chicken then please bask in his glory:
All in all, a great Sunday of beer and baseball. Thank you for taking the time to read and let me know your thoughts in the comments. Cheers!!
Michael Mondragon – Beer Baseball Blog
PS – Here are some local Craft Beer spots around (or a Gold Line Metro train ride away) the Pasadena Public Library:
Highland Park Brewery (Chinatown) – 1220 N Spring St, Los Angeles, CA 90012
Stone Company Store – Pasadena – 220 S Raymond Ave #103, Pasadena, CA 91105
Congregation Ale House – 300 S Raymond Ave, Pasadena, CA 91105
Lucky Baldwin’s Pub – 17 S Raymond Ave, Pasadena, CA 91105