Nations: Baseball Reliquary giving Mota his due

By Jeff Nations

Manny Mota is finally getting his due.

Just in case it went unnoticed, the Baseball Reliquary announced its 15th class of electees to the Shrine of the Eternals earlier this month.

You might be asking (OK, probably) what the heck is the Baseball Reliquary and the Shrine of the Eternals, and who’s Manny Mota, for that matter?

All valid questions, for any but the most hard-core (and older) baseball fans among us.

Let’s start with the Baseball Reliquary, which is a California-based non-profit 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.”

Still with me? Good. The Shrine of the Eternals, a wonderful name you have to admit, is the Baseball Reliquary’s answer to Cooperstown, N.Y., and the Baseball Hall of Fame. Whereas Cooperstown is a statistic-driven election process conducted by a select few voters, the Shrine of the Eternals could be considered, if not an opposite approach, then certainly a vastly different way of looking at those who’ve made a lasting impact on the game of baseball. Voting is open to all Baseball Reliquary (www.baseballreliquary.org) members, with an annual membership starting as low as $25.

And Mota, the greatest pinch-hitter baseball has ever seen, joins Lefty O’Doul and Eddie Feigner as this year’s three-person class scheduled for induction in July. Who the heck are these guys, other than Mota? I had no idea, but I sure was interested in finding out after hearing of their newly-minted status as Eternals.

First Mota, though, who movie buffs might remember for a mention in that classic 1980s flick “Airplane!” I don’t know if Mota in fact ever pinch hit for Pedro Borbon, but he made a remarkable career out of excelling in that most difficult of assignments.

Mota wasn’t always a pinch hitter, of course, having put together a decent career as a platoon outfielder and occasional starter. Mota fell into the pinch-hitting gig with the Los Angeles Dodgers late in his career — or it seemed late, at the time. Starting at age 36, Mota served almost exclusively as a bat off the bench. Never a power threat, Mota’s forte was the timely single. His best years were among his last — in 1977 as a 39-year-old, Mota appeared in 49 games and totaled 50 plate appearances, batting .395. In 37 games the next year he logged 37 plate appearances and hit .303. At 41 in 1979, Mota got 47 plate appearances in 47 games and hit .357. That was the swan song, mostly. Mota got just seven pinch-hit chances in 1980 (in seven games) and despite hitting .429 was released in October. He made one more cameo — at 44 — with one pinch-hit at bat for the Dodgers in 1982, and that was it for Mota.

I rely on the Baseball Reliquary’s website for background on the other Eternals, but each is just as interesting in their own way. O’Doul, considered one of the greatest managers in minor league baseball history, is considered a key player in the development of professional baseball in Japan.

Feigner, known as “The King,” led a barnstorming four-man softball team — “The King and His Court” — that took on full nine- and 10-player town squads across the country for 60 years. Feigner, who died in 2007, piled up pitching stats hard to fathom — 140,000 strikeouts, 9,700 wins, 930 no-hitters and 238 perfect games.

This illustrious trio joins the likes of longtime back-up catcher — and noted wartime spy — Moe Berg. Bill “Spaceman” Lee is in there, as is Fernando Valenzuela, Bo Jackson, Mark “The Bird” Fidrych and so many unforgettable others. It’s an eclectic, fantastic group of players and personalities who’ve shaped the game. It might not match Cooperstown for excellence, but the Shrine of the Eternals has every bit the star power of Baseball’s Hall of Fame. I can’t wait to see who joins the club next year.

Contact Sports Editor Jeff Nations at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or jnations@nvdaily.com>