Monday, January 7, 2013


The timing of the Baseball Reliquary's annual announcement of their Shrine of the Eternals ballot could not be better and worse (Charles Dickens fans, take note...), what with the massive waxy buildup over the "incipient Cooperstown fiasco" still agglomeratin' as we write this.

But Terry Cannon and Albert (Buddy) Kilchesty prefer to remain blissfully ignorant about the goings-on outside their beneficent bubble of baseball history, a paradise filled with wonder, one-liners, and a perfect combination of seriousness and whimsy. For fourteen years, they've served up a list of fifty candidates that celebrate the marvelous margins of the game and of America. Forty-two of these folk are ensconced in the Shrine of the Eternals, a pantheon that we've come to term "the Hall of Fame for the rest of us." While we praise the lord and refrain from passing the ammunition as we celebrate that fact, let's note quickly that Terry and Buddy shut us completely out of their selection process, leaving all ten of our candidate suggestions back in July off their new list.

But we aren't upset...not at all. While we still believe in our "ten for eternity," we respect the marvelous and mysterious thinking process that informs the ballotmeistering duo's efforts--and, indeed, with one masterstroke of synthesis, Terry and Buddy have shown all of us the way to the core connection between baseball and history, by bringing to the 2013 ballot a highly significant yet almost completely forgotten American hero.

Who's that, you ask? The name of this forgotten individual is Octavius Valentine Catto. (That's Catto, not Cotto.) In this bold new world of mega-information, you can read about Catto in some detail at his Wikipedia entry. The Reliquary write-up, while possibly a bit too succinct for such an astonishing historical discovery, will give you the flavor of his qualifications:

Octavius V. Catto (1839-1871) - African-American scholar, educator, community activist, political organizer, and baseball player, Catto founded and managed the all-black Philadelphia Pythian Baseball Club shortly after the end of the Civil War. In 1869 Catto's Pythians played the first recorded interracial baseball game, taking on an all-white nine comprised of Philadelphia newspapermen. His growing prominence in local and national Republican Party affairs made him an increasing threat to White Democrats; he was assassinated on his doorstep in 1871 as he returned from voting.

Yes, you'll have to get your head wrapped around the party reversal--yes, the Republicans used to be the "good guys"--but here in a nutshell is a mostly unknown and forgotten chapter of American history--what authors Daniel Biddle and Murray Dubin term "the first Civil Rights movement."

Catto is an extraordinary figure, and his relevance to the intersection of baseball and American history is undeniable. He is a perfect fit for the Reliquary's sub-group of "pioneers" within their group of Eternals.

We will stop short of any further proselytizing, for fear of allegations of "tampering." But we urge all readers (not just Reliquarians) to invest some time in reading more about Catto--his Wikipedia page, for certain, and then on to Biddle and Dubin's exemplary socio-biography, Tasting Freedom: Octavius Catto and the Battle for Equality in Civil War America. Here is the story of a true American hero, a man of unique courage and vision. No matter how the voting results turn out in 2013, the Baseball Reliquary deserves kudos for "walking the walk" in its quest to fully integrate baseball into the overall fabric of American history.

Nobody does it better--heck, nobody else even comes close.

For a look at the full 2013 Shrine of the Eternals ballot, visit the Reliquary web site. For more context about interracial baseball and the early civil rights movement, also visit John Thorn's indispensible "Our Game" blog, where Randall Brown's pioneering essay, "Blood and Base Ball," is reprinted in five installments.