Needing forgiveness, O's should call on Keeler

April 24, 1995|By JOHN STEADMAN

Throwing out the first pitch for the baseball season is a decision reserved for the owner of the home team, in this case Peter Angelos, who paid for the right by spending $173 million (not all in one payment) for the Baltimore Orioles.

Hopefully, in this year of troubled times for baseball, Angelos, out of deference to the audience, won't inflict the presence of another public official upon the crowd. Baltimore, for its Opening Day celebration, has had the usual assortment of mayors, governors, presidents and even a vice president, Richard M. Nixon, who handled the honors in 1954 after his boss, president Dwight D. Eisenhower, preferred to play golf at Augusta National rather than make the initial toss at Memorial Stadium.

So Nixon, coming in from theoval office bullpen, an appropriate place for a politician, inherited the starting assignment. That's the only time in the history of the republic that the president sent a backup to a baseball inaugural.

It was, indeed, a momentous moment for Baltimore, that April afternoon when the Orioles returned to the major leagues after being confined to the minors for a purgatory of 51 years. The city deserved Eisenhower but he had made the Presidential Pitch two days earlier in Washington and his arm was tired. Thus, it was understandable why Nixon took his turn. Enough for the past.

When the Orioles next open their home season on May 1, it'll be of interest to see who makes the ceremonial opening delivery. Will it be Bud Selig, acting commissioner of baseball; Don Fehr, ++ chief executive of the players association; or mediator William J. Usery? What a terrible sequence of thought.

Angelos is smart enough to let bygones fade away rather than to keep re-introducing the past. Put Selig, Fehr and Usery out beyond left field, where they belong. Baseball is trying to recover from the unrest and bitterness caused by the strike that wiped out the pennant race of 1994 and the World Series.

The game is in dire need of hope and faith. Not charity. Perhaps even prayer. So in what direction does Angelos go? Does he select himself to make the pitch? He didn't want to do it last year as a rookie owner and his resulting poor performance from the mound, along with author and co-Opening Day pitcher Tom Clancy, wouldn't have cut it in Bluefield or even Patterson Park.

Since the call belongs to Angelos, he's in position to make a decision that could do much good for the game. It could possibly help in a spiritual way, apart from all the mixed cheering and booing that accompanies the introduction of a boring political figure at a sports attraction.

What he might consider doing is calling on a cardinal for the honor. No, not Stan Musial, Enos Slaughter, Red Schoendienst or Bob Gibson of the St. Louis Cardinals but a much respected cardinal from Baltimore, a member of the College of Cardinals. This one doesn't swing a bat but he wears red.

So it would certainly be appropriate for Angelos to invite the kind, compassionate and noted Baltimore churchman William Henry Keeler, who happens to have the same name as one of the most illustrious of all Orioles -- the Keeler known as Wee Willie.

Incidentally, the cardinal can't say for sure if he's any kin to the bantam Orioles hero of the 1890s but if you probe deeply enough into their Irish roots there will be a connection. All the Irish are related, one way or another.

What Cardinal Keeler means to the Baltimore community, and beyond, separates him from the rest of the flock. The cardinal has impressed men and women of the Protestant and Jewish faiths that he is truly interested in furthering the cause of brotherhood. He has made and will continue to make an ecumenical impact, which merits applause.

It's indeed through the urging of Cardinal Keeler that the pope is scheduled to come to Baltimore later in the year to officiate in ecclesiastical ceremonies at the same ballpark where the Orioles play their games. So, in effect, Angelos would be opening the American League season with a cardinal and closing it with a pope.

There's precedent in other places, such as Boston where Richard Cardinal Cushing used to throw out the opening ball for the Red Sox and in New York, where Francis Cardinal Spellman performed the same rite. If his eminence, Cardinal Keeler, only the third cardinal in Baltimore history, wanted to bring along a relief pitcher he could designate Archbishop William Newman, once an outstanding baseball prospect.

If you don't think so remember that Newman captained Calvert Hall and played on Baltimore's national championship Boys' Brigade team in 1946.

At the time, Nick Shinkoff, a prominent scout for the New York Giants, said, "This season I've been from Maine to Florida and the first baseman is the best looking young player I've seen."

But he was told Newman had enrolled in the seminary to fulfill his vocation, ultimately being ordained. So if the cardinal needed to have his grip adjusted on the ball he'd only need turn to the archbishop for guidance.

Now pitching for the Baltimore Orioles . . . a cardinal . . . William H. Keeler, who exemplifies love for all humanity.

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