Former Dodgers NL MVP Maury Wills, one-armed outfielder Pete Gray and original San Diego Chicken Ted Giannoulas were the top three vote-getters in the annual election of the Shrine of the Eternals induction for 2011, the Baseball Reliquary’s board of directors have announced.
The three will be formally inducted on Sunday, July 17 at the Pasadena Central Library.
Wills received the greatest percentage of votes (37) followed by Gray (35) and Giannoulas (34) from the 50 eligible candidates. Dizzy Dean (33 percent) just missed, as did Jim “Mudcat” Grant and Luis Tiant (30 percent).
A quick look at this year’s honorees:
== Wills, in his second year on the ballot, received 29 percent of the votes a year ago. He spent nearly 10 years in the minor leagues before coming up to the Dodgers in 1959, then stole 50 bases the next season — the most by an NL player since Max Carey in 1923. Wills lead the league for six straight years in stolen bases, including a single-season record of 104 in 1962, winning the NL MVP award. Retiring in 1972 with 586 steals (and a .281 lifetime average), Wills never made it to the Baseball Hall of Fame despite being credited for changing the way the game was played at the big-league level in the 1960s.
== Gray (1915-2002) lost his right arm in a childhood accident but played semi-pro baseball and finally made it to the minor leagues, hitting .333 for the Memphis Chicks in 1944, and stealing 68 bases. During World War II, he was signed to play with the St. Louis Browns in 1945 — he hit just .218 without a homer in 77 games. But he was inspiring to watch catch balls and throw the back to the infield. Washington Post sports columnist Shirley Povich once said of him: “What Gray might have accomplished in the big leagues if blessed with two arms is something for the imagination to play with. Surely he would have been one of the greatest big leaguers of all time.” A 1986 made-for-TV movie on his life staring Keith Carradine was called “A Winner Never Quits.” Gray had been on the Shrine of the Eternals ballot since the first one 13 years ago in 1999.
== Giannoulas, on the Shrine ballot for the ninth time, created the most famous baseball mascot of the modern era. In 1974, as a student at San Diego State, he took a $2-an-hour job during spring break, wearing a rented chicken suit for local radio station KGB-FM and passing out promotional eggs at the San Diego Zoo. Eventually, the San Diego Padres let him do his routine during their games. In his book, “Big Hair and Plastic Grass: A Funky Ride Through Baseball and America in the Swinging ’70s,” Dan Epstein wrote: “It was love at first cluck between the KGB Chicken and Padres fans, who loudly cheered the Chicken’s every pratfall and prank – especially when the latter came at the expense of the umpires and visiting players.” The Famous Chicken became known as the “Sir Laurence Olivier of mascots,” priding himself on not missing an engagement in over three decades as he tours the country all summer long.
Wills, Gray and Giannoulas will increase the Shrine’s total number to 39. Previous honorees are (in alphabetical order): Jim Abbott, Dick Allen, Roger Angell, Emmett Ashford, Moe Berg, Yogi Berra, Ila Borders, Jim Bouton, Jim Brosnan, Bill Buckner, Roberto Clemente, Steve Dalkowski, Rod Dedeaux, Jim Eisenreich, Dock Ellis, Mark Fidrych, Curt Flood, Josh Gibson, William “Dummy” Hoy, Shoeless Joe Jackson, Bill James, Bill “Spaceman” Lee, Roger Maris, Marvin Miller, Minnie Minoso, Buck O’Neil, Satchel Paige, Jimmy Piersall, Pam Postema, Jackie Robinson, Lester Rodney, Pete Rose, Casey Stengel, Fernando Valenzuela, Bill Veeck, Jr., and Kenichi Zenimura.