The Hall of Fame for the Rest of Us: Baseball Reliquary announces new electees
by Bob Timmermann
The Board of Directors of the Baseball Reliquary, the Festivus of baseball museums compared to the National Baseball Hall of Fame, announced its three electees for this year: Buck O'Neil, Bill Buckner, and Emmett Ashford. The induction ceremony will be on July 20 in Pasadena. Full details after the jump.
The Board of Directors of the Baseball Reliquary, Inc., 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 2008 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.
Buck O’Neil, Emmett Ashford, and Bill Buckner were elected upon receiving 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 20, 2008 at the Pasadena Central Library, Pasadena, California.
Of the fifty eligible candidates on the 2008 ballot, Buck O’Neil received the highest voting percentage, being named on 53% of the ballots returned. The 53% ties O’Neil for the highest voting percentage since the annual Shrine of the Eternals elections were inaugurated in 1999. (Bill “Spaceman” Lee received 53% of the vote in 2000.) Following O’Neil were Emmett Ashford with 31% and Bill Buckner with 29%. Runners-up in this year’s election included Casey Stengel (28%), Dizzy Dean (25%), Don Zimmer (25%), Effa Manley (24%), Steve Dalkowski (23%), Jim Eisenreich (22%), Eddie Feigner (22%), Pete Gray (22%), and Roger Maris (21%).
The playing career of BUCK O’NEIL (1911-2006) was in decline by the time Jackie Robinson debuted with the Dodgers in 1947, and while he never had the chance to play in the Major Leagues, he was recognized as the slickest first baseman in the Negro Leagues. Born John Jordan O’Neil, Buck picked up his nickname during a short stint with the Zulu Cannibal Giants, a novelty barnstorming act. He found a home eventually in Kansas City in 1938 where he starred with the fabled Kansas City Monarchs, a team he later managed as well. He played in the Negro League All-Star Game three times, won the Negro American League batting title in 1946, and led the Monarchs to numerous pennants. After the Negro Leagues dissolved following integration, Buck was named as a coach for the Chicago Cubs in 1962, the first black coach in Major League Baseball. With the Cubs he mentored players such as Ernie Banks, sweet-swinging Billy Williams, and young Oscar Gamble. He wrote and spoke incessantly about the Negro Leagues and its players, doing more to keep their memories alive than anyone. When the idea came about for establishing a Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City, Buck was the consensus choice as spokesman/organizer. He cemented his position as the premier oral historian of the Negro Leagues with a captivating series of interviews in Ken Burns’ PBS documentary, Baseball, entrancing generations of fans with his folksy narrative style and effervescent smile. He kept a grueling schedule of personal appearances and speaking engagements at ballparks and in small communities throughout the country well into his nineties, before his passing at the age of 94 in 2006.
EMMETT ASHFORD (1914-1980) holds the distinction of being the first African-American umpire to officiate in both Minor and Major League Baseball. Born in Los Angeles, Ashford took a job with the Post Office prior to World War II, where he became involved in umpiring Post Office games in an independent league. After service in the Navy during the war, Ashford returned to a world suddenly fraught with new possibilities for a black man interested in umpiring: Jackie Robinson had integrated the Major Leagues in 1947. Roles for black umpires couldn’t be far behind. Ashford began umpiring in the Minors in 1951, eventually working his way up to the Pacific Coast League, where he was named Umpire in Chief. Recognizing the social changes happening around the country, the American League bought Ashford’s PCL contract, and beginning in 1966, he became the most visible and easily the best dressed umpire in the Major Leagues. Ashford’s relatively small size (he was roughly 5’7” and 180 pounds) and personality caused him to develop an animated style, where he was often described as dancing with great agility around the plate. He indulged in extra physicality and animation, and often made his voice boom to gain attention. Ashford was a tremendous showman, a styler. He was also a very sharp dresser, a reputation that would follow him throughout his career. Ashford worked the 1967 All-Star Game and the 1970 World Series. After his mandatory retirement in 1970, Ashford kept his hand in baseball as a special assistant to Commissioner Bowie Kuhn and also found work as a performer in the entertainment industry, including a role as the plate umpire in The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars & Motor Kings, the 1976 comedic film about a team of enterprising Negro League ballplayers in the era of racial segregation. This baseball pioneer died from a heart attack in 1980.
Born in 1949, BILL BUCKNER is living proof that history is not always kind or just. He resides in that infamous fraternity of former players, including the likes of Fred Merkle, Fred Snodgrass, and Mickey Owen, who have been stigmatized by one momentous misplay. In the case of Buckner, the harsh shadow cast by his notorious miscue has prevented a fair and reasoned assessment of his career. Despite chronic and crippling injuries, Buckner produced impressive numbers in twenty-two Major League seasons (1969-1990), mostly with the Los Angeles Dodgers, Chicago Cubs, and Boston Red Sox. He finished with 2,715 hits, won a batting title in 1980, and is among a select few to have recorded 200-hit seasons in both the American and National Leagues. Yet on October 25, 1986, the first baseman’s legacy would be tarnished, particularly in the minds of many Boston fans, by booting Mookie Wilson’s grounder and enabling the New York Mets to climax an incredible come-from-behind victory against the Red Sox in the tenth inning of the sixth game of the 1986 World Series. Although Buckner has endured the brunt of the responsibility for the Red Sox’ failure, there were others who could easily share some of the blame, including pitchers Calvin Schiraldi and Bob Stanley, who failed to hold the lead in the bottom of the tenth inning. While Buckner’s unfortunate error continues to fascinate the baseball public over two decades later (the ball that rolled between his legs was purchased by actor Charlie Sheen for $93,500 in a 1992 auction), he has now largely forgiven the media for the anguish that they put he and his family through. A successful businessman in Idaho, Buckner returned to Boston this year to throw out the ceremonial first pitch at the Red Sox home opener, where he received a lengthy standing ovation from the Fenway faithful.
Buck O’Neil, Emmett Ashford, and Bill Buckner will join twenty-seven 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, Yogi Berra, Ila Borders, Jim Bouton, Jim Brosnan, Roberto Clemente, Rod Dedeaux, Dock Ellis, Mark Fidrych, Curt Flood, Josh Gibson, William “Dummy” Hoy, Shoeless Joe Jackson, Bill James, Bill “Spaceman” Lee, Marvin Miller, Minnie Minoso, Satchel Paige, Jimmy Piersall, Pam Postema, Jackie Robinson, Lester Rodney, Fernando Valenzuela, Bill Veeck Jr., and Kenichi Zenimura.
For additional information on the Shrine of the Eternals, visit the Baseball Reliquary Web site at www.baseballreliquary.org, or contact Terry Cannon, Executive Director, by phone at (626) 791-7647 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.