PASADENA, Calif. - There is a cigar stub Babe Ruth left at a brothel and the shorn locks of an outfielder — the “Bearded Babe Ruth” — who played for a barnstorming religious sect that preached celibacy.
There is Bill Veeck’s wooden leg.
There is a melted 45 of KC and the Sunshine Band’s “I’m Your Boogie Man.”
There is a box of baseballs, each bearing the forged signature of Mother Teresa.
There is a desiccated hot dog half-eaten by the great Bambino.
And there are the other “oddities” not included in the exhibit at the stately Pasadena Central Library, left out because they were judged too risque for the everyday masses.
The jockstrap worn by baseball midget Eddie Gaedel.
The thong panties the superstitious Wade Boggs demanded his mistress continue wearing throughout a weeklong road trip, during which he hit .652.
The package of prophylactics depicting an uncanny likeness to Ted Williams
The skin fragment surgically removed from Abner Doubleday.
“We cover a wide spectrum,” said Terry Cannon, president of the Baseball Reliquary, a California-based organization that trumpets itself as a “traveling museum of baseball curiosities and wonderments.” “It’s kind of a baseball museum that really doesn’t have a classification.”
Cannon, a 54-year-old high school librarian, founded the Reliquary in 1996 to celebrate the sport in a way that the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown does not — in non-traditional forms with a heavy emphasis on “fun.” He started out with a collection of his own “artifacts and ephemera” and began adding to it in subsequent years.
SEEING IS BELIEVING screams the Reliquary’s placard.
The influence of Veeck, baseball’s P.T. Barnum, is evident throughout the Reliquary. It was the peg-legged Veeck who sent the 3-foot-7-inch Gaedel to the plate in 1951 for the St. Louis Browns, and it was Veeck who sponsored Disco Demolition Night, a stunt that sparked a riot between games of a doubleheader at Comiskey Park in 1979.
“Ball Four” author Jim Bouton has called the Reliquary “the people’s Hall of Fame.” Dock Ellis, a renegade pitcher from the 1960s and early ‘70s who was inducted into the Reliquary’s “Shrine of the Eternals,” broke down in tears while making his acceptance speech a few years ago, then added to the museum’s collection of artifacts by contributing the hair curlers he once wore during batting practice.
The Reliquary does not have Joe Pepitone’s toupee.
“But we have his hair dryer,” Cannon said proudly.
Marvin Miller, the hard-charging labor leader who strengthened the players’ union and is, according to legendary broadcaster Red Barber, “one of the two or three most important men in baseball history” along with Ruth and Jackie Robinson, has never received the votes to make it into Cooperstown.
But the 200 members of the Reliquary, which “salutes the game’s rebels, radicals and reprobates” welcomed him with open arms.
“A lot of things they do, the real Hall of Fame in Cooperstown should copy,” sniffed Miller, a 2003 inductee. “(The Reliquary) picks non-establishment people and I don’t consider myself an establishment person.”
Along with Miller, Bouton and Ellis, others enshrined by the Reliquary include Bill “Spaceman” Lee, Mark “The Bird” Fidrych,” Curt Flood, Shoeless Joe Jackson, and Pam Postema, the first professional female umpire.
“She set the all-time record for most times dropping the F-bomb in an acceptance speech,” Cannon said. “It was pretty amusing.”
Bill Buckner, Buck O’Neil and Emmett Ashford will be enshrined during induction ceremonies on Sunday while John Adams, who has been pounding a bass drum at Cleveland Indians games for 35 years, will receive the Hilda Chester Award, given annually to a deserving fan.
Part of the ceremony will include an on-stage reading by a poet, who has written a tribute to Buckner, best known for his error in the ‘86 World Series.
“There probably won’t be more than a handful of people at the ceremony who have ever been to a poetry slam or encountered a performance poet, so it’s great to bring these kinds of new experiences to our audience,” Cannon said.
Cannon is quick to point out that the Reliquary is not strictly a menagerie of oddities and eccentrics, but a museum designed along the lines of those found in the 17th and 18th centuries.
“You’d see scientific specimens next to artworks,” Cannon said. “Many museums today don’t operate like that. The key idea is we’re trying to keep alive a lot of the baseball folklore and traditions, but at the same time creating a sense of wonderment to people who come to see the exhibits.”
So, for example, the Reliquary’s exhibits include the “orange crate” art of Ben Sakoguchi, a series of more than 100 paintings depicting what he terms the “unauthorized history of baseball.” The exhibit also features an award-winning project that examines Mexican-American baseball in Los Angeles.
“Not only do we appreciate the humorous and the irreverent, but we also have an affinity for scholarship and history,” Cannon said. “”To some extent, it’s unfortunate that, usually, people who have written about the Reliquary focus on the unusual. But I’m also convinced that one of the reasons for that is because so much of the fun is gone from baseball, and people are thirsting to bring back the fun. Just being able to smile and laugh about the game, we’re trying to keep that alive.”
The museum remains the provenance of Southern California, but Cannon would like for that to change eventually. Cannon envisions driving the exhibits to minor league parks around the country in a barnstorming bus.
In the meantime, he said the museum will continue looking for new items to add to its unique collection.
The frozen head of Ted Williams, perhaps?
“From what I’ve heard, the head was dropped and has cracks all over it,” Cannon said. “But, yeah, that would be pretty exciting.”