2018 Tony Salin Memorial Award Recipient: Ross Altman

Tony Salin painting, “Mr. Baseball Brand” by artist Ben Sakoguchi, in the collection of Doug Salin.

The Board of Directors of the Baseball Reliquary is pleased to announce that Ross Altman has been selected as the recipient of the 2018 Tony Salin Memorial Award. The award will be formally presented at the Shrine of the Eternals Induction Day on Sunday, July 22, 2018, beginning at 2:00 p.m., at the Donald R. Wright Auditorium in the Pasadena Central Library, Pasadena, California. The festivities will also include the presentation of the 2018 Hilda Award and the induction of the 2018 class of electees to the Baseball Reliquary’s Shrine of the Eternals: Tommy John, Rusty Staub, and Nancy Faust.

Established in 2002 to recognize individuals for their commitment to the preservation of baseball history, the Tony Salin Memorial Award is named in honor of the baseball historian, author, and Reliquarian who passed away in 2001. From the time he was eight years old, Tony was referred to as “Mr. Baseball” by family and friends, whom he regularly astounded with his exhaustive knowledge of facts and trivia related to old-time ballplayers. Over the years, this preoccupation blossomed into a passion for the study and research of unsung players and forgotten aspects of baseball history, which he felt were important to document and keep alive for future generations.

Ross Altman photo courtesy of Jacki Sackheim.

The 2018 Salin Award recipient, ROSS ALTMAN is the first musician to receive the award. With an MA degree in Speech from UC Santa Barbara and a Ph.D. in English from SUNY Binghamton, he began a career as a college professor before deciding to make his living as a troubadour, or, as Ross describes it, he left the classroom for the stage only to turn the stage into a classroom. Calling himself a “singer-songfighter,” Ross sings old labor songs, antiwar songs, civil rights songs, topical/protest songs, traditional songs, love songs, Jewish songs in Yiddish and English, and original songs that carry on that tradition. He grew up on the folk music of Woody Guthrie, Lead Belly, Pete Seeger, Burl Ives, Theodore Bikel, Josh White, Big Bill Broonzy, Billie Holiday, and later on Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Phil Ochs, Tom Paxton, and Malvina Reynolds.

Ross Altman photo courtesy of Jesse Saucedo.

Playing both six- and twelve-string acoustic guitars, a long-neck five-string banjo, and enough harmonicas to fill the toolbox in his guitar case, Ross said, “I have sung for the homebound and homeless, for disabled children and Fulbright scholars, for benefits and fundraisers, funerals and memorial services, retirement parties and birthday celebrations. I have sung for countless political, social, and environmental groups, including left-wing causes of every kind. As Woody Guthrie said, ‘Left wing or chicken wing, if there are people there I’ll sing.’ Additionally, I’ve sung for a myriad of religious denominations: Methodists, Unitarians, Mormons, Baptists, Catholics, Holy Rollers, Jews, Agnostics, Atheists, Humanists, Communists, and FBI Agents (the latter two usually at the same event).”

Ross Altman with 2013 Hilda Award recipient Emma Amaya.

For the past thirty years, Ross has been inspired to pay homage to his own heroes of the national pastime, and has written and performed songs about Lou Gehrig, Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, Sandy Koufax, Mickey Mantle, Phil Niekro, and Roger Clemens, as well as Shrine of the Eternals inductees Jackie Robinson, Jimmy Piersall, Steve Bilko, Vin Scully, and Pete Rose. “It all started with Lou Gehrig, the Iron Horse of baseball,” Ross explained. “He was my first sports hero, indeed my first hero. He held the record – the only unbreakable record, we thought, until Cal Ripken Jr. – for 2,130 consecutive games played. He was the perfect hero for a left-handed, left-wing folksinger – because Lead Belly wound up dying of the same disease that killed Lou Gehrig, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or, as it was popularly known, Lou Gehrig’s disease. I don’t remember whether I discovered Lou Gehrig through Lead Belly’s music and life story or the other way around, but they were always bound up together in my imagination – the Iron Horse and Lead Belly, two physical giants and the strange disease that preyed on such men.”

“The National Pastime” CD (Grey Goose Music, 2016)

In addition to releasing a collection of some of his baseball songs entitled “The National Pastime” (Grey Goose Music, 2016), Ross has performed at many venues, including libraries; induction ceremonies for the Baseball Reliquary’s Shrine of the Eternals; and the John Anson Ford Amphitheatre in Los Angeles, where he was a featured artist in the Baseball Reliquary’s legendary 2004 program, “Legacies: Baseball from Flatbush to the City of Angels.”

Ross is president of the Santa Monica Traditional Folk Music Club, and writes a regular column for FolkWorks magazine, Southern California’s voice for folk music, dance, and related folk arts. In 2016, FolkWorks named Ross as the inaugural recipient of its lifetime achievement award, called the Standing Ovation Award, which recognizes individuals for their contributions to the folk music community.

Ross Altman will attend the Shrine of the Eternals 2018 Induction Day in Pasadena, California to personally accept the Tony Salin Memorial Award.

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