Terry Cannon, Creator of an Alternative to Cooperstown, Dies at 66
- by NewYorkTimes
- Aug. 9, 2020
Terry Cannon, who created a waggish alternative to the Baseball Hall of Fame with artifacts like a cigar partly smoked by Babe Ruth and inductees like Dock Ellis, who claimed to have pitched a no-hitter on LSD, died on Aug. 1 at his home in Pasadena, Calif. He was 66.
His wife, Mary (McKenzie) Cannon, said the cause was bile duct cancer.
In the mid-1990s, Mr. Cannon turned his love of baseball into the Baseball Reliquary, a nonprofit organization that comprises a disarming collection of unusual objects and includes the Shrine of the Eternals — individuals elected annually more for their unique characters and achievements than for their statistics or their official place in baseball’s history.
“Terry guided the reliquary into existence by reaching out to fans who looked beyond big names and ballooning salaries and saw the game as a rich cultural stew,” John Schulian, a screenwriter and former sports columnist, wrote in a tribute on The Stacks Reader, a journalism website.
A puckish historian, Mr. Cannon opened every shrine induction ceremony by leading the audience in a Pasadena library in the banging of cowbells, in tribute to Hilda Chester, the leather-lunged Brooklyn Dodger fan known for pounding a cowbell at Ebbets Field. The reliquary’s Hilda Award is given to distinguished fans.
“That just gets better every year,” he said in 2017, as the ringing subsided.
The first induction, in 1999, exemplified the shrine’s type of inductee: Curt Flood, who helped pave the way for free agency by challenging baseball’s reserve clause, which tied a player to his team year after year unless an owner traded or released him; Bill Veeck, the maverick owner of several teams; and Ellis, a thoughtful, idiosyncratic Black pitcher, mostly for the Pittsburgh Pirates, who spoke out on racial issues.
Ellis attended his induction ceremony and wept, saying that Major League Baseball had never honored him. He recalled receiving a letter from Jackie Robinson (a 2005 shrine inductee) urging him to continue to push for change in baseball.
“He was crying his eyes out,” Ms. Cannon, who is also the reliquary’s artistic director, said in an interview. “I had to go over and pat his hand to bring him back.”
Other inductees — elected by the reliquary’s almost 300 members, who pay $25 annual dues — include Jim Bouton, the pitcher who scandalized baseball with his book, “Ball Four”; Emmett Ashford, the first Black umpire in Major League Baseball; Pam Postema, a minor league umpire thwarted in her quest to reach the big leagues; and Marvin Miller, the transformational leader of the players’ union, who had been rejected for induction several times by Hall of Fame voters but was voted in posthumously this year. He joined the shrine in 2003.
That honor “puzzled me at first,” Mr. Miller told The New York Times in 2007. About Mr. Cannon, he said, “Despite the fact that he likes to have fun, he’s a serious individual and an intelligent one, and he deserves to be taken seriously.”
Mr. Cannon was, indeed, a serious scholar, but the artifacts he collected invariably prompted a smile — as did his use, at his wife’s suggestion, of the word “reliquary,” which means a container for holy relics.
There is the jockstrap worn by the 3-foot-7 Eddie Gaedel, who appeared as a pinch-hitter for the St. Louis Browns in 1951 in a stunt conceived by Mr. Veeck. And there is the sacristy box that a priest used in 1948 to give the last rites to Babe Ruth, who died nearly a month later.
Then there are the curlers that Ellis wore on the field during batting practice at Three Rivers Stadium after Ebony magazine wrote about his hairstyle.
“I was interested in things that other museums weren’t interested in collecting,” Mr. Cannon told Pasadena Weekly in 2017. “Like, if they wanted bats and gloves, I wanted things to keep famous stories alive. It was more interesting to find a desiccated hot dog that Babe Ruth partially digested than a signed baseball or bat.”
Mr. Cannon had no physical museum to display the reliquary’s artifacts. He kept them at home (a life-size cardboard cutout of the former Detroit Tigers manager Sparky Anderson still stands by his bed) and in a storage unit. He showed his wares at exhibitions he curated at local libraries. But this year Whittier College in Whittier, Calif., agreed to become the collection’s new home.
In 2015, Whittier became the home of the Institute for Baseball Studies, a center for research containing books, artwork, periodicals and historians’ papers about the national pastime, donated by Mr. Cannon and many other sources.
Mr. Cannon was a director of the institute, and he recently asked his co-director, Joseph L. Price, an emeritus professor of religious studies at Whittier who has also taught sports courses, to succeed him as executive director of the reliquary. Professor Price’s appointment needs the approval of the reliquary’s board.
“If I’m elected, I’ll feel a bit like Didi Gregorius replacing Derek Jeter, confident but not the same,” he said, referring to the Yankees’ change of shortstops in 2015.
Terry Alan Cannon was born on Aug. 31, 1953, in Dearborn, Mich. His father, William, was an engineer at Ford, McDonnell Douglas and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and a consultant to NASA. His mother, Charlotte (Haas) Cannon, was a homemaker.
As a youngster, Terry collected baseball cards but kept them in shoe boxes rather than mutilate them in the spokes of his bicycle wheels. When he was 12 he met Juan Marichal, the San Francisco Giants pitcher, at an exhibition game at Anaheim Stadium and got him to sign the game program. Marichal also perspired on the program, creating an odd artifact.
For days afterward, he told The Orange County Register in 2011, he ran around the neighborhood excitedly saying, “Look, I’ve got Juan Marichal’s sweat!”
After graduating from San Francisco State University in 1974, Mr. Cannon went to work for his father, who had retired, at Skinned Knuckles, a monthly publication for vintage and antique automotive restorers. (His father collected prewar Studebakers.) He stayed there for nearly 30 years.
While there, Mr. Cannon also founded Pasadena Filmforum (now Los Angeles Filmforum), which exhibits experimental films. After stepping down in 1983, he published Spiral, a journal about experimental film, from 1984 to 1986. In the 1980s, he also published an underground arts newspaper, Gosh!
By the time Mr. Cannon started the reliquary in 1996, his baseball collecting had shifted from the trading cards of his youth to more sophisticated artifacts and ephemera. The Shrine of the Eternals began in 1999.
He worked at the car magazine until 2005, when he sold it for $1.
He moved to a new day job, as a library technician at Alhambra High School, for five years, and later worked as a library assistant at the Allendale branch of the Pasadena Public Library.
In addition to his wife, Mr. Cannon is survived by his sisters, Barbara and Nancy, and his brother, Philip.
When Mr. Cannon was close to death, his wife said, she wanted to send him off by invoking the names of deceased men who symbolized his passions for baseball and jazz.
One was Jim Bouton, who once called the reliquary the “people’s hall of fame.”
The other was Sun Ra, the avant-garde pianist and bandleader.
“In an excited voice, as if I were seeing them,” Ms. Cannon recalled, “I said: ‘Terry — wow!— Sun Ra and Jim Bouton are right over there and they’re waiting for you.’ And out of his near-death state, he raised his eyebrows up and down twice, curled his lip and squeezed my hand. Three breaths later he was gone.”