Author Dan Epstein teams with Baseball Reliquary to showcase ‘Stars and Strikes: Baseball and America in the Bicentennial Summer of ’76’
By Carl Kozlowski 04/30/2014
For more than two decades, local writer Dan Epstein has made his living writing about rock music as a journalist for a number of magazines, including Rolling Stone. Yet, his real passion lies in something completely different: baseball.
Epstein will be spotlighting that interest Saturday, when he discusses and signs his latest book, “Stars and Strikes: Baseball and America in the Bicentennial Summer of ’76,” at the Allendale Branch of the Pasadena Public Library. Adding to the fun is the fact the event is sponsored by the Baseball Reliquary, a unique and often eccentric collection of baseball memorabilia owned and shared with area libraries by Pasadena resident Terry Cannon, who works as a library assistant at the Allendale Branch.
“We did a program a couple years ago with Dan’s book, called ‘Big Hair and Plastic Grass,’ about 1970s baseball,” says Cannon. “That’s a time period that hadn’t been looked at really, but Dan is a pop culture star with roots in music and tied together what went on in baseball and culturally in terms of music and art. The Reliquary itself is always looking at those connections, which really enrich both. Dan’s books are less interested in the statistics and minutiae of the game and how baseball responds to the war in Vietnam or turmoil in urban streets.”
While this is Epstein’s second book about baseball, he has published tomes on other topics, including a 2000 book called “20th Century Pop Culture” that was eventually turned into a TV series discussing the century’s arts on a decade-by-decade basis. He also entered the digital realm by publishing “The Honky Tonk Tourist,” about his lifelong love of country music.
In “Stars,” he notes that 1976 was the season that two of the most colorful owners in modern sports history, Bill Veeck of the Chicago White Sox and Ted Turner of the Atlanta Braves, first bought their teams. It also was the season in which Oakland A’s owner Chuck Finley tried to make his entire team accept free agency, despite the fact they had just won three straight World Series championships, because he foresaw that his star salaries would soon drive him out of the market.
On the player level, a Detroit Tigers pitcher named Mark Fidrych — aka “The Bird” — emerged from nowhere to become a national sensation within weeks, while slugger Dave Kingman, then of the New York Mets, appeared to be chasing Roger Maris’ all-time home run record and crushed some of the longest homers in history, including one that landed a full block and a half from Chicago’s Wrigley Field.
“What I like about the Reliquary is that it always looks for connections to the outside world of its time, but my books are less interested in the statistics and minutiae of the game,” says Epstein. “I also want to know how baseball responded to the War in Vietnam or turmoil in our own urban streets. How did baseball respond to the urban riots of the ’60s?”
Cannon is a kindred spirit, with plenty of items to consider histories and timeframes from within his collection. He has amassed a collection of more than 300 artifacts, including paintings and artworks and what he claims is a partially smoked cigar and partially eaten hot dog from the legendary Babe Ruth.
“A lot of stuff has been donated to us, whether they’re real or not real is not terribly significant to me, because it’s the story behind the artifacts and the moment of what was going on at that time helps make it resonate,” says Cannon. “Part of what we do in terms of the mission is we serve as a kind of commentary on how people perceive artifacts and memorabilia in terms of baseball.
“There’s an almost insane amount of money that goes into the marketplace for collecting some of these artifacts,” adds Cannon. “Some of our items are a commentary on that. We’re more interested in keeping alive the great stories, while otherwise more and more are being lost.”
Cannon’s premiere event each year is the Shrine of the Eternals ceremony in July, a movement that was started in 1999 to give the Reliquary’s collection a temporary home at the Pasadena Central Library. Each year, Reliquary members elect three people who are famed for their antics or achievements — on the field or in the front office — to be inducted.
“People call it ‘the people’s Hall of Fame,” explains Cannon. “We throw out statistics because we feel they only tell parts of the story. Many who made contributions to the game were not the best athletes but deserved to be recognized.”
Dan Epstein discusses and signs his book “Stars and Strikes: Baseball and America in the Bicentennial Summer of ’76,”at 2 p.m. Saturday at the Pasadena Public Library, Allendale Branch, 1130 S. Marengo Ave., Pasadena. Admission is free. Call (626) 744-7260 or visit pasadenapubliclibrary.net.