Art and baseball are the two great passions of Terry Cannon’s life. An inveterate jokester who loves to mock anything he finds pretentious, the longtime Pasadena resident combined all those interests in 1996 to create the Baseball Reliquary, one of the most unique museums in America.
Among the hundreds of offbeat items in its collections are a mosaic portrait of famed slugger Dave Winfield made out of thousands of pieces of chewed bubble gum, and a partially digested hot dog that was allegedly eaten by Babe Ruth. The Reliquary also hosts an induction ceremony each year called the Shrine of the Eternals, which pays tribute to memorable figures whom the Baseball Hall of Fame has overlooked or banned, ranging from Pete Rose to Ted Giannoulas, the man who played the San Diego Chicken.
This Sunday, July 16, Cannon will host the Reliquary’s 18th annual Shrine ceremony in the Donald R. Wright Auditorium at the Pasadena Central Library. As always, the event will induct three colorful figures who were voted upon from a field of 50 candidates by Reliquary members, with broadcasters Vin Scully and Bob Uecker joined by baseball-loving cartoon legend Charlie Brown in this year’s class of honorees.
“It’ll be a great two hours of baseball, starting with nearly 200 people ringing cowbells in a perfect cacophony of sound,” says Cannon, who leads the ringing each year in honor of the late Brooklyn Dodgers fan Hilda Chester, who became famous for the noisemaking tricks she employed during games.
“Folk singer Ross Altman will debut a song about Vin Scully, and a band called the Symphomaniax will do the most outrageous version of ‘Take Me Out to the Ballgame’ you’ve ever heard,” Cannon says.
The ceremony will also feature some serious moments, including honoring super-fan Cam Perron for his work in helping former Negro League players gain pensions from Major League Baseball. Another honor, the Tony Salin Memorial Award, will recognize California State University professor Dr. Richard Santillan for his extensive work in preserving the history of Latino baseball in America.
That mix of the sublimely silly and the extremely serious is emblematic of both the Reliquary and Cannon himself. Born in Detroit in 1953, he and his family followed his father’s career from the Ford Motor Co. to Boeing in Seattle before joining NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory during Cannon’s teen years.
Cannon has been here ever since, a colorful figure on the local scene who made his mark as the founder of the experimental-film society Filmforum and publisher of a now-defunct Pasadena newspaper called Follies. Ultimately, he was inspired by his years of serving on the board of the famously odd Museum of Jurassic Technology in Venice to create a one-of-a-kind home combining baseball and art. He based the name “Reliquary” after the Roman Catholic name for a receptacle for sacred items.
“I was interested in the things that other museums weren’t interested in collecting, like if they wanted bats and gloves, I wanted things that kept famous stories alive,” explains Cannon. “It was more interesting to find a desiccated hot dog that Babe Ruth partially digested than a signed baseball or bat. Other people donated things that they knew a lot of museums would not take, and once I started doing exhibits, the word really got out among people with unique collections.”
There is no actual physical location for the Reliquary, since Cannon’s former publishing career and current job as a library assistant at Pasadena’s Allendale Branch Library did not afford him the means to maintain a full institution. Instead, he has largely displayed his collection in four to five exhibitions per year inside libraries across Los Angeles County.
The Pasadena Central Library has been his favorite location for the displays, including his current exhibit “Game Changers,” which honors overlooked yet pivotal figures such as Emmett Ashford, the first African-American umpire in pro baseball.
“Game” runs through July 30 and also features several unique Babe Ruth items, including the aforementioned hot dog and the sacristy box used to perform last rites on Ruth in a New York hospital. Another centerpiece is a group of 18 black and white prints by photographer Tom Hagerty, depicting the colorful fans who attended games at Tigers Stadium in Detroit during the 1970s.
Mirror to Society
Cannon had kept all his collections in storage units for most of the Reliquary’s two decades, but in 2015 he was offered the chance to have a more traditional home for his collections at Whittier College. The college was known for having three top professors who each taught occasional courses involving baseball, and Cannon jumped at the chance to join them in creating the Institute for Baseball Studies.
“There’s a serious side to this also, because I’m a big fan of baseball history,” says Cannon. “Baseball has so many wonderful relationships between the history of baseball and culture, politics and gender issues. I try to draw parallels between how you can view what was going on with baseball, and the society at large.
“Racial issues and dynamics were very big in Pasadena due to Jackie Robinson,” he continues. “Baseball served as a mirror to what was going on with racial politics in the US. It’s either ahead of or just behind the curve. Now the debate is over women playing, and with a lot of our exhibits, the subject is issues. A lot of people who come to see the exhibits are not even into baseball, but they liked how we point out its effects on society.”
“Fan comes from the word fanatic, and the people who go to the Reliquary probably disagree about politics, religion and moral issues, but what they share is a profound and prophetic love of baseball,” says Peter Dreier, professor of politics at Occidental College and author of “The 100 Greatest Americans of the 20th Century: A Social Justice Hall of Fame,” which includes a chapter on Jackie Robinson.
“Most of us are skeptical of the powers in baseball, but we admire the mavericks and rebels and the non-conformists who made baseball interesting and have swum against the tide of the corporatization of baseball,” says Dreier, who calls himself “an enthusiastic admirer” of Cannon and the Reliquary.
Dreier also noted the stark differences in Cannon’s project and the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York.
“During the Bush administration, the Cooperstown Hall of Fame had scheduled an event to celebrate the movie ‘Bull Durham’ so they invited Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins to come and talk about the movie,” Dreier recalls. “After they criticized the war in Iraq, they disinvited them to go to Cooperstown. It’s outrageous. The Reliquary is a people’s Hall of Fame, not a corporate-dominated Hall of Fame like the one in Cooperstown.”
Ron Shelton, who wrote and directed “Bull Durham,” is a member of the Reliquary and on the advisory board of the Institute for Baseball Studies. He says “more than any other game, baseball is a game of the imagination, a game of and for storytellers.
“There is something about playing every day from February to October, riding busses together, failing so publicly and often, that is liberating among men. There’s no place to hide, you are quite literally completely exposed, and somehow that unleashes humor and BS in a daily profane confessional that is a coping mechanism, a way to pass the time, and a method of dealing with imminent failure which the game provides.
“The Reliquary,” Shelton says, “lives in that space. Baseball is often called the game of statistics, but the Reliquary is more about remembering the magic than the numbers.”
No Funds, Just Passion
The Institute is open to the general public on Friday afternoons, and to scholars who need other days by appointment. It holds thousands of books about the game and its history, as well as rooms filled with collections of decades of photos of Dodgers, team programs and schedules in multiple languages, and a complete collection of the legendary newspaper The Sporting News.
Yet the eye-catching focus is on the fun stuff, including Cuban baseball jerseys from before the Cuban Revolution, and unusual artworks. Cabinets and shelves are filled with strange collections, including thousands of index cards referencing every trade or other team-switch made by every major league player over the course of 50 years.
“That was the life’s work of one man on the East Coast who basically was a savant for baseball trivia,” says Cannon. “When he died and his friends found the cards, they heard about us and sent the entire collection.”
In 2007, Cannon’s efforts to preserve Latino baseball history in an exhibit that is now archived at Cal State San Bernardino resulted in the Reliquary winning the prestigious Schwartz Prize for Outstanding Public Funded Humanities Project in the United States. As he won over 49 other nominees, one from each state, Cannon recalls that people were surprised to learn how much of a do-it-yourself operation the Reliquary is.
“Most of the people who were there thought the project was funded for tens of thousands of dollars, but it was funded by a $5,000 Los Angeles County arts grant,” says Cannon. “It looked like a project with hundreds of thousands behind it, but that’s because I’m used to working with no money. It’s the one gift I have. We didn’t have the funds, just the passion, and I always say if you have the passion, not the money, you can still do a lot.”
The Shrine of the Eternals ceremony takes place at 2 p.m. Sunday at the Donald R. Wright Auditorium of the Pasadena Central Library, 285 E. Walnut St., Pasadena. Admission is free.
The Institute for Baseball Studies is located at 13406 E. Philadelphia St., Suite 310, Whittier. Hours are 1 to 5 p.m. Fridays, otherwise by appointment. Call (626) 791-7647 or visit baseballreliquary.org.