The Baseball Reliquary: The "Other" Baseball Hall Of Fame

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John Rosengren

By John Rosengren

Author's note: This is an excerpt from CLASSIC BASEBALL: TIMELESS TALES, IMMORTAL MOMENTS, a collection of baseball articles by John Rosengren. It originally appeared in VICE Sports, August 2015.

Editor’s note: This excerpt has been lightly edited from its original form.

It's hard to say where the Baseball Reliquary began. Maybe it started with a drop of Juan Marichal's sweat or Bill Veeck's autobiography. It might also have been a pubic hair purportedly belonging to St. Nick. Pinpointing its beginnings is as difficult as defining the Reliquary itself.

It's been called "the fans' Hall of Fame," "the antithesis of Cooperstown," and "the motherlode vein leading to the heart and soul of baseball." It calls itself "a nonprofit, educational organization dedicated to fostering an appreciation of American art and culture through the context of baseball history," but that doesn't really capture the Reliquary's unique nature.

"It's hard to categorize," admits Terry Cannon, age 62, a part-time library assistant in Pasadena, Calif., who founded the Reliquary in 1996. "It's an amazing living organism in all of the directions it has moved into, but it retains the vision I started with."

The vision began to take shape in 1963 when Cannon was 10 years old and became enamored with Bill Veeck's autobiography, “Veeck as in Wreck.” Veeck had Cannon from the first chapter, with his description of hiring the 3-foot-7 little person Eddie Gaedel to pinch-hit.

"Eddie Gaedel was an assault on the baseball establishment," says Cannon, a self-confessed nonconformist. "I love that. Veeck's vision in terms of being a gadfly is a little of what I was looking to do with the Reliquary."

Cannon caught a whiff of the impression a good artifact could make three years later, when, at the first exhibition game the California Angels played at their new Anaheim Stadium, he spotted Marichal running sprints in the outfield and asked for an autograph. As Marichal signed Cannon's game program, a bead of sweat dripped from his forehead onto the page. Cannon marveled at how it dried the next day into a brown blotch. "I went around the neighborhood showing other kids -- ‘This is Juan Marichal's sweat,’" Cannon says. "That could have been the beginning of the Reliquary, of gathering artifacts that tell stories."

Or at least it planted the seed, nurtured in later years by the Mardi Gras parties Cannon attended with his wife Mary. They dressed in costume, he as the Pope wearing a Mitre decorated with baseball insignias; they carried bogus Vatican artifacts displayed in elegant boxes, such as the hair once adorning the holy pubis of Saint Nicholas.

"We had a lot of fun with that," he says. "When I was starting the Baseball Reliquary and looking for a name, the way we planned to exhibit early items like a hot dog partially eaten by Babe Ruth didn't seem much of a stretch from what you would find of saints in the basements of Italian churches."

Relics in the collection include baseballs autographed by Mother Teresa, a rubber model of Mordecai Brown's missing finger, Dock Ellis' hair curlers, a Charlie Finley orange baseball, and one of Cannon's favorites -- a hunk of dirt from Elysian Fields, site of the first recorded game of organized baseball, played in 1846. He received it from the great-great-great grandson of James Orr. Orr, a poet, supposedly dug up the soil surreptitiously after being moved by watching a game played there and predicting baseball would become a grand and noble sport.

Three years after founding the Reliquary, Cannon added the Shrine of the Eternals in 1999, honoring those who animated the game and entertained fans with their colorful personalities. Veeck, Ellis, and Curt Flood made up the first class of Eternals.

It has expanded to 51, including established mavericks like Bill Lee, Marvin Miller, Pete Rose, Jim Bouton, and the San Diego Chicken, as well as lesser-knowns such as Steve Dalkowski (the hardest-throwing pitcher never to play in the Major Leagues) and Lester Rodney (the journalist who advocated for integration of organized baseball but was ostracized as a communist).

Ellis, who allegedly pitched a no-hitter while tripping on acid and anonymously spent much of his retirement doing social work, broke down while accepting his award.

"I realized right then and there that we were going to be successful," Cannon says. "Because we were honoring people who hadn't been honored elsewhere."

Postscript: It was a sad day for baseball fans when Terry Cannon passed away on Aug. 1, 2020, from bile duct cancer at age 66.

"Terry Cannon touched the lives of many with his kindness, generosity, humor and a sprinkle of mischievousness," read his obituary in the Pasadena Star-News. "He brought people together from all walks of life, and made the world a richer place."

By the time of Cannon's death, membership in the Shrine of the Eternals had grown to 66 members with 15 inductees since the publication of this article: Billy Beane, Charlie Brown, Bob Costas, Nancy Faust, Lisa Fernandez, Rube Foster, Arnold Hano, Bo Jackson, Tommy John, Don Newcombe, Max Patkin, J.R. Richard, Vin Scully, Rusty Staub, and Bob Uecker.

John Rosengren is the author of ten books about baseball, including Hank Greenberg: The Hero of Heroes and The Fight of their Lives: How Juan Marichal and John Roseboro Turned Baseball's Ugliest Brawl into a Story of Forgiveness and Redemption. His work has appeared in The Atlantic, The Atavist, GQ, The New Yorker, Sports Illustrated, Washington Post Magazine and been nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.

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