This is the press release from the Baseball Reliquary announcing the inductees into its Shrine of the Eternals:
The Board of Directors of the Baseball Reliquary, a Southern California-based nonprofit organization dedicated to fostering an appreciation of American art and culture through the context of baseball history, is pleased to announce the 2006 class of electees to the Shrine of the Eternals. The Shrine of the Eternals is the national organization's equivalent to the Baseball Hall of Fame. Josh Gibson, Fernando Valenzuela, and Kenichi Zenimura received the highest number of votes in balloting conducted in the month of April by the membership of the Baseball Reliquary. The three electees will be formally inducted into the Shrine of the Eternals in a public ceremony on Sunday, July 23, 2006 at the Pasadena Central Library, Pasadena, California.
Of the fifty eligible candidates on the 2006 ballot, Josh Gibson received the highest voting percentage, being named on 38% of the ballots returned, followed by Fernando Valenzuela with 32% and Kenichi Zenimura with 32%. Runners-up in this year's election included Yogi Berra (31%), Casey Stengel (31%), Effa Manley (25%), Bill Buckner (23%), Dizzy Dean (23%), Pete Gray (23%), Rube Foster (21%), Ted Giannoulas (21%), Bill James (21%), and J.R. Richard (21%).
JOSH GIBSON (1911-1947) was often called "the black Babe Ruth," but Ruth might just as easily have been termed "the white Josh Gibson." During a 17-year career with the Negro League Homestead Grays and Pittsburgh Crawfords, the right-handed hitting catcher was credited with slugging over 900 home runs (although many came against semi-pro and non-league teams). Along with Satchel Paige, Gibson was the biggest drawing card in the history of the Negro Leagues and was the standard against whom other hitters were measured. He was also an excellent defensive catcher with a rifle arm. The fact that every team he played for, including the Homestead Grays, who won nine consecutive Negro National League pennants beginning in 1937, enjoyed tremendous success on the field was yet another testament to his extraordinary talent. Unfortunately, much of the American sports world was deprived of the opportunity to witness the heroics of Josh Gibson, as he was felled by a brain hemorrhage in 1947, just three months before Jackie Robinson's integration of major league baseball.
Phenoms come and phenoms go, but few evolve into legitimate superstars let alone national heroes. And fewer still burst onto the scene in a manner as dramatic and captivating as FERNANDO VALENZUELA. In 1981 the Los Angeles Dodgers introduced the world to the Mexican superstar they had always sought, a chubby young left-hander who, in the space of a few short weeks, launched an international craze Fernandomania and propelled the Dodgers to World Series victory. With his distinctive delivery (eyes rolled heavenward at the apex of his windup), superb control, and virtually untouchable screwball, Fernando (no last name needed, thank you) set the baseball world on its ear, reeling off eight wins in his first eight starts (five of them shutouts) on his way to winning the Cy Young and Rookie of the Year Awards the first player in major league baseball history to accomplish the feat. Fernando was a box-office bonanza, drawing thousands of jubilant Mexican-American fans to every game he pitched, not only in Los Angeles but in all the other National League cities. In Southern California, Fernandomania was an early indicator of both the Latino community's demographic revolution and the cultural and political breakthroughs that would soon be too pronounced to ignore. Fernando became the foundation of the Dodgers' rotation through the 1990 season, after which he became a journeyman pitcher before retiring at the end of the 1997 season with a 173-153 lifetime mark. He currently works as color analyst for the Dodgers' Spanish-language radio broadcasts.
Often called the "father of Japanese-American baseball," KENICHI ZENIMURA (1900-1968) was a pioneering player, coach, manager, and organizer whose contributions and influence spanned the Pacific. Born in Hiroshima, Zenimura acquired a passion for the game in his youth and, after moving to Fresno, California in 1920, he founded the Fresno Athletic Club, a Japanese-American baseball team that lasted more than fifty years and attained national recognition. Despite being only five feet tall and weighing 100 pounds, Zenimura was an intense competitor as a shortstop and catcher, and he organized goodwill tours of Japanese-American teams to Japan in the 1920s and '30s. During World War II, the Zenimura family was sent to internment camps in Fresno and Gila River, Arizona, where under Kenichi's guidance, baseball fields were constructed and teams and leagues were formed behind barbed wire. Huge crowds flocked to the games and baseball was credited with bonding wartime internees, giving them a sense of normalcy and community pride. The late actor Pat Morita, a former Gila River internee, said Zenimura left an indelible mark on that fraternal community in the desert by showing "that with effort and persistence, you can overcome the harshness of adversity." Zenimura returned to Fresno after the war, where he continued playing (he caught his last game at age fifty-five) and coaching until his death in 1968.
Josh Gibson, Fernando Valenzuela, and Kenichi Zenimura join twenty-one other baseball luminaries who have been inducted into the Shrine of the Eternals since elections began in 1999, including, in alphabetical order, Jim Abbott, Dick Allen, Moe Berg, Ila Borders, Jim Bouton, Roberto Clemente, Rod Dedeaux, Dock Ellis, Mark Fidrych, Curt Flood, William "Dummy" Hoy, Shoeless Joe Jackson, Bill "Spaceman" Lee, Marvin Miller, Minnie Minoso, Satchel Paige, Jimmy Piersall, Pam Postema, Jackie Robinson, Lester Rodney, and Bill Veeck, Jr.