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Jim Thome, who played parts of four seasons for the White Sox, was rightfully inducted into baseball's Hall of Fame on last week along with his 612 career home runs. You even can get a Jim Thome bobblehead if you show up early enough at The Grate on Saturday.
However, another member of the White Sox organization, one who spent 41 years on the South Side, entered a far more esoteric hallowed hall a week earlier minus the fanfare and publicity that accompanied Thome. That would be Nancy Faust, who entertained fans with her organ playing at Comiskey Park and then across 35th Street from 1970 through the 2010 season.
Most fans, including this reporter, have never heard of the Shrine of the Eternals of The Baseball Reliquary. For openers, what in the world is a reliquary?
For the uninformed, it's "a container for holy relics," according to my online dictionary. And the Shrine of the Eternals is not located in a cemetery or, politely, any memorial garden. No, the Shrine has inducted three deserving candidates each year beginning in 1999 when the Reliquary was founded.
The organization's website explains, "The Baseball Reliquary is a nonprofit, educational organization dedicated to fostering an appreciation of American art and culture through the context of baseball history and to exploring the national pastime's unparalleled creative possibilities."
We'll get to Nancy in a moment, but the annual induction ceremony is located far from Cooperstown, in Pasadena, California - in the public library to be exact. Borrowing from the website, election to the Shrine is the "highest honor afforded an individual." Each year there are 50 nominees who are voted upon by the Reliquary membership. The top three are inducted.
"[S]tatistical accomplishment is not the principal criterion for election. Criteria for election shall be: the distinctiveness of play (good and bad); the uniqueness of character and personality; and the imprint that the individual has made on the baseball landscape."
Past inductees have included the White Sox' Shoeless Joe Jackson, who hit .375 in the infamous 1919 World Series yet received a lifetime ban from baseball for his perceived role in the scandal. Despite a .356 lifetime average, Jackson never will make the Hall of Fame, but the Reliquary reasoned that he "has been punished long enough."
Other honorees include umpire Pam Postema for advancing to the Triple-A Pacific Coast League in the 1980s. Although she was recognized as one of the circuit's top umpires in the six years she spent there, gender bias prohibited her promotion to the major leagues.
The San Diego Chicken, Ted Giannoulas, was a trend-setter for setting the standard for baseball mascots. He gained entrance to the Reliquary in 2011.
Jackie Robinson arguably should have been an original member of this unique group, but it wasn't until 2005 that major league baseball's first black player was voted in.
Joining Nancy in the Class of 2018 were Rusty Staub, who died last March, and Tommy John, who gained entry as much for the surgery in his name as his 26-year career and 288 wins. This trio beat out Leo Durocher and Bob Costas to round out the top five.
Happenstance caused Nancy's and my paths to cross last Thursday when I had the opportunity to visit with her at her home in northwestern Lake County. Nancy and her husband Joe live on five pristine acres surrounded by nature with their two donkeys - you read that correctly - in a pasture outside the back door.
A few weeks ago my friend Ryan Glasspiegel, a writer and interviewer for The Big Lead, and his dad went to a Brewers' game and wound up with two extra tickets for seats next to them. Working the line of walk-ups, Ryan found a couple of fans who were willing to cough up the purchase price, beers for each of the Glasspiegels.
I've known Ryan since he was a little guy and a camper in northern Wisconsin at Camp Nebagamon, where my wife and I were directors. Turns out that buying the tickets from Ryan in Milwaukee was Eric Jenkins, Nancy's son. Discovering who Eric's mother is, it didn't take long for Ryan to arrange a podcast, and he invited me to tag along.
The 49-minute conversation covers 41 seasons of White Sox history from the beginning when team president Stu Holcomb first hired Nancy after hearing her play. She continued through the ownerships of John Allyn, Bill Veeck and, of course, Jerry Reinsdorf.
Veeck, a member of the Reliquary's initial class of 1999, eight years after he was inducted into the Hall in Cooperstown, once attempted to give away a door prize of a real, live donkey. Predictably the "winner" failed to show up. Veeck had an agreement with Adventureland, which had donated the donkey, to return the animal in the event no one appeared to take home the prize.
That's when Nancy stepped up and inquired whether she could have the docile and lovable animal. She's had donkeys as pets ever since because "they're very sociable, friendly, and they're smart," she said.
Nancy's White Sox career began somberly since the team lost a franchise record 106 games in 1970 - that mark currently is being threatened - and she entertained an average of a few more than 6,000 fans per game.
However, things picked up rapidly as Harry Caray came to town in 1971 followed by Dick Allen a year later as the Sox rebounded quickly and became contenders. It was the 1977 season when Nancy initiated Steam's "Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Good Bye" into her repertoire every time the opposition's pitcher took a trip to the showers. Comiskey Park was rocking. Then Veeck came up with the idea of Harry singing "Take Me Out to the Ball Game," and he (Harry) and Nancy developed this rapport that thrust each into Sox lore forever.
Orchestrated, piped-in hip hop, country and rock dominate ballparks today, aided by enormous video boards that attempt to be the focus even more than the game itself. Organ music, which was first introduced to major league baseball in 1941 at Wrigley Field, has taken a back seat. We're fortunate that there's a reliquary to preserve this slice of history.
Roger & Her
Meanwhile, the White Sox used a very simple formula last week to run off four straight wins - three by one run and another by two runs - their longest streak this season.
Starting pitchers Reynaldo Lopez, Lucas Giolito, Carlos Rodon and James Shields pitched like, well, starting pitchers are supposed to pitch. They covered 26 innings on a yield of just 15 hits and five earned runs for a 1.73 ERA over the quartet of victories. They each turned the game over to a very shaky bullpen, which bent but didn't break, handling the other 11 innings with a 4.91 ERA.
Thanks also to some timely hitting by Jose Abreu (8-for-16 in the four games with three homers and four RBI), Avisail Garcia (two homers Sunday in the 8-7 win in Tampa), and Daniel Palka's game winning two-run bomb on Sunday after striking out his first four at-bats, the Sox were able to sweep the Rays, who had won 20 of their previous 24 home games.
Lest we become giddy at this recent success, consider that the Yankees and Indians will be visiting The Grate this week. Tonight Dylan Covey will try to emulate his four starting brethren, although in his last eight starts Covey has an 8.68 ERA.
And the Eloy Watch continues as general manager Rick Hahn remains vague about keeping a .376 hitter (eight homers in 109 at-bats) down on the farm in Charlotte while the Sox faithful await this next chapter in the team's history.
It's time for Eloy Jimenez to say Hey Hey Good Bye to minor league baseball and join the big boys.
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