Sunday, May 6, 2012


We are never surprised at our astonishment when the month of May rolls around and the latest trio of inductees for the Baseball Reliquary's Shrine of the Eternals is announced.

Terry Cannon and Albert "Buddy" Kilchesty are among the most creative and insightful baseball historians anywhere, and their "anti-institution" continues to grow in stature even as it defiantly refuses to create a home for itself more permanent than a post office box.

This year (#14 for those who like to count such things) is no exception--or is it? On first glance, the Reliquary voters have designated three wide-ranging individuals (Dr. Frank Jobe, Jim "Mudcat" Grant, and Luis Tiant) who personify one of the three elements we've identified as the hallmarks of a Shrine of the Eternals inductee.

Extremity--The mild-mannered Dr. Jobe, now 87, pioneered a radical tendon replacement surgery that was named after Tommy John (who was its first recipient). As Dr. Jobe himself admitted (in an interview with Tom Hoffarth of the L.A. Daily News), the original concept seemed so extreme at the time that he was initially reluctant to propose it to John. While such surgery (and many others) are now commonplace, this was a moment of radical innovation equaled only by a scant few since the invention of the game itself.

Adversity--After reaching his peak in 1965 with a 21-win season for the Minnesota Twins, Jim "Mudcat Grant" has fashioned a second career around the issues of equality and opportunity for African-Americans. While steeped in the rural traditions of black culture, Grant's horizons were expanded upon his 1958 arrival in Cleveland--under the guidance of Larry Doby and Satchel Paige. His book, The Black Aces, focuses on the rarest of all feats achieved by African-Americans since the integration of baseball in 1947: 20+-win seasons by black pitchers. (There have been only fourteen...they are listed below.)

Otherness--No one will ever mistake anyone else for Luis Tiant. Blunt, brash, infinitely colorful with or without his cigar, El Tiante was an electrifying presence on the mound. Even now, at 71, he still shoots from the hip in a way that reminds you of his indelible "peek-a-boo" delivery that is part of baseball legend. He is still a wayward character, inscrutable and layered beneath his smirky bravado, whose career fits his personality--often brilliant, sometimes wretched, but never ordinary. Mark Armour's SABR bio does a fine job of capturing these facts, and touches upon Tiant's status as a Cuban exile--a subject that is more fully addressed in Jonathan Hock's compelling documentary about him, The Lost Son of Havana

So why the hint of a qualification? It has nothing to do with the inductees themselves: the uncanny ability of the Reliquary voters to join together three distinct individuals who embody the dominant themes that drive the Shrine's selection criteria is fully intact. They are 14-for-14 in that respect.

The only sign of trouble is, possibly, amongst two of the inductees. It's located in a fundamental difference of opinion about a matter of race that's surfaced with respect to Grant's book (The Black Aces). Tiant, shooting from the hip a few years back, indicated his disappointment in Grant's decision not to include Latin pitchers in his book. (For the record, there are as many Mexican, Cuban and other West Indies-based pitchers who've won 20 or more games in a season as there are African-Americans...see below.)

We'd all like to see both Grant and Tiant in Pasadena this July for the Shrine of the Eternals ceremony. Terry Cannon is aware of the issue, and if anyone can find a way to soothe any lingering ruffled feathers that may exist over this matter, he's the man to do it. The Reliquary has a great opportunity here to bring all three inductees to the dais this year--something that an organization so steeped in the history and lore of the game is rarely in a position to achieve. It's never happened before.

That's why we're holding our breath. Bring 'em home, Terry!

[BLACK ACES: Don Newcombe, San Jones, Bob Gibson, Jim "Mudcat" Grant, Earl Wilson, Ferguson Jenkins, Vida Blue, Al Downing, Mike Norris, Dwight Gooden, Dave Stewart, Dontrelle Willis, C.C. Sabathia]

[LATIN ACES: Dolf Luque, Camilo Pascual, Juan Marichal, Luis Tiant, Mike Cuellar, Ed Figueroa, Joaquin Andujar, Fernando Valenzuela, Teddy Higuera, Ramon Martinez, Jose Lima, Pedro Martinez, Esteban Loaiza, Bartolo Colon, Johan Santana]