The requirement of a clean shirt is understandable when you realize that Bob Breitbard, owner of the San Diego Rockets and the man behind the Hall of Champions, made his money in his family's laundry business. Inspired by Helms in Los Angeles, he and three brothers started the Breitbard Foundation in 1946 as a way of honoring San Diego athletes, and honor them they certainly have, Billy Casper alone having received the foundation's star-of-the-month award 24 times. As a showcase for the foundation, Breitbard opened the Hall of Champions a decade ago in an abandoned stucco building in San Diego's Balboa Park, a 1,400-acre wonderland of lily ponds and mission bells that also contains the famed San Diego Zoo.
Benefiting from traffic generated by the park's other attractions, the Hall of Champions drew 153,000 last year. Its 32 immortals, far removed from the high school athletic directors or Little League stars you might expect, include the likes of Casper, Florence Chadwick (whose induction helped compensate for the time San Diegans gave her a Chevrolet with payments due on it), Ted Williams and Archie Moore. Then there is Larsen, whose year in limbo ended with his inevitable induction in 1964—inevitable because mementos from his perfect game in the 1956 World Series, including his silver-plated shoes and glove, are the museum's most cherished relics.
I left San Diego marveling that anybody could pitch a perfect game in silver-plated shoes and glove and glad that the man who accomplished this feat had been duly enshrined. Of course, San Diego is not alone in insisting on morality, for one can search all the halls of fame in vain for any hint that Grover Alexander ever tasted of the vine or that Jim Brown was interested in any earthly pleasure other than grinding out yet another first down. Where the ancients built temples to their gods and gave them human attributes, the current practice is to honor humans by making them godlike. And in no instance has the apotheosis been quicker or more complete than with Stan Musial in St. Louis, where I stopped on my return east.
There is a large modern statue of Musial outside Busch Memorial Stadium, but homage is even more fulsomely paid him in the St. Louis Sports Hall of Fame located inside. Actually, it is not a true hall of fame—nobody is inducted or anything—so much as it is, simply, a sports museum. Or perhaps it should be called a baseball museum, since little space is devoted to other sports, not even to football, which is played in Busch Stadium, too. But the place really is, finally, a Stan Musial museum, a showcase for memorabilia, on loan from the ex-Cardinal star himself, of the kind that his admirers can also find in Cooperstown and in his St. Louis restaurant, Stan and Biggie's.
There is apparently no shortage of Musialiana in the world, the collection at the St. Louis Sports Hall of Fame including a dazzling array of gold watches and pen and pencil sets; keys to cities from Des Moines to New York; a fan letter from Lyndon Johnson (" America gives you its heart"), plus such odds and ends as the baseball Musial hit for his first home run and, before that, a Donora (Pa.) high school yearbook picturing him as a youthful basketball star.
More than merely honoring Musial, the museum was also supposed to make money for the Civic Center Redevelopment Corporation, which built Busch Stadium five years ago as part of an effort—one symbolized by the soaring Gateway Arch a few blocks away—to revitalize the city's shabby downtown area. The Hall of Fame's contribution to that goal has been singularly modest; instead of making money, its annual attendance of 60,000 is a breakeven figure at best. It is assumed that Musial would never back out of the museum and ask for his relics back—he is on the advisory board—but the reverse is not so certain. Officials of Civic Center Redevelopment said they were considering converting their Hall of Fame into a bar. Yet even if that happens, pilgrims might still find it inspirational to visit Busch Stadium. There is always Musial's statue outside.
"We're struggling to keep our heads above water," said William (Buck) Dawson. The same statement might have been heard at many of the shrines visited, but what made it more appropriate in Dawson's case is that he is director of the International Swimming Hall of Fame, which occupies a splendid white-stucco building in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Dawson is forever using aqueous figures of speech; e.g., when he complains about the proliferation of halls of fame, he spouts, "I don't want the whole thing to get watered down."
There are an Aquatic Hall of Fame of Canada and a Pennsylvania Swimming Hall of Fame, but Dawson might have in mind some terrestrial shrines, too. We already know that Florence Chadwick, one of 104 immortals enshrined in Fort Lauderdale (and a member of the Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame), is similarly honored by the San Diego Hall of Champions, and she is a logical choice for the International Women's Hall of Fame in the World of Sports, a shrine sponsored by a Cleveland theatrical agent whose previous promotions include the Miss Outer Space pageant. Even at that, she would have nothing on Jim Thorpe, who is consecrated at Canton, a couple of Helms halls and, among others, in a shrine in Anadarko, Okla. that calls itself, with splendid redundancy, the National Hall of Fame for Famous American Indians.
Dawson, a high-spirited man in a Moshe Dayan-style eye patch, has flooded (as he might put it) the Swimming Hall of Fame with exhibits not only on swimming but water polo, scuba diving, canoeing, seashells—almost anything to do with water. However, annual attendance is less than 20,000 and water, ironically, is partly to blame; a block away Fort Lauderdale's public beaches beckon. This constitutes enough of a distraction so that Dawson himself sometimes packs his secretary and folding chairs off to the beach for an afternoon's work under the sun.
One occasional visitor to the Hall of Fame is Johnny Weissmuller, who makes his home in Fort Lauderdale and serves as the shrine's honorary chairman, never mind that a room identified by a sign as his office is really a storage closet. Resourceful in many ways, Dawson makes the Hall of Fame available as national headquarters for both the Swim Facility Operators Association and the American Swim Coaches Association, and he has brought several national swim meets to the Olympic-size municipal pool next door.