Thursday, March 20, 2014


Further adventures in Display Case #2 of the Baseball Reliquary's "Purpose Pitch" exhibition of selected works from Ben Sakoguchi's Unauthorized History of Baseball (Arcadia Public Library, through April 29)...

What is it with some baseball folk and short pants? Someone needs to write a definitive history of this strange obsession. Hollywood Fashion Plate Brand documents one manifestation of this, while also paying tribute to L.A.'s eternally alluring lost franchise of yore, the Hollywood Stars.

Even more significant, however, is the highlighting of singular first baseman Chuck Stevens, a fixture at Hollywood's Gilmore Field from 1948-54. The Stars won three PCL pennants during Stevens' tenure in Hollywood. One of Chuck's claims to fame is that he was the first man to face Satchel Paige when the legendary Negro League star made his major-league debut. Stevens, nearing the end of his brief big league career, stroked a single to left on Satch's second pitch.

Ben's painting, however, immortalizes Stevens for something a bit more frivolous. In 1950, the Stars decided that the team should alter its uniforms to T-shirts and shorts. (Branch Rickey, sometimes cited as the father of sabermetrics, was especially keen on this idea, apparently attracted to the arcane aerodynamic benefits that the lighter garb would provide.) Mark Armour (in his fine SABR biography of Stevens) picks up the tale:

Stevens was the first man to bat in the new uniforms, leading off the first inning of an April contests with an infield single. Fred Haney, coaching at first base, yelled to the crowd: "He wouldn't have made it with the old unis!"

While Bill Veeck (always a maverick) brought the look to the big leagues briefly in the late 70s during his second tenure with the White Sox, it's safe to say that the Hollywood Stars did not pioneer anything remotely resembling a frenzied fashion trend. That's precisely the point that Ben makes in Hollywood Fashion Plate, clearly overlaying his third-person omniscient perspective on the matter. This is clearly one area where Sakoguchi sides with the traditionalists!

After retiring as a ballplayer, Chuck Stevens would become secretary of the Association of Professional Baseball Players of America (APBPA), a charitable assistance organization. He would serve in that capacity for thirty-eight years (1960-98). Still with us today at age 95, Stevens remains one of the most beloved figures in insider circles for his tireless work on behalf of the lesser-known members of the baseball community.

Place name update: Ben's notation of "Short, California" is more than his usual obscure puzzler...there is actually no place with that name. The place he may be referring to, however, is "Short Place, CA," yet another unincorporated community located near a pizza joint along Highway 50 between Placerville and Lake Tahoe. (Perhaps Ben will see fit to create a new series of "orange crate" landscapes commemorating all of the "infinitesimal communities" that he references in the Unauthorized History of Baseball series. )