Sunday, March 16, 2014


It was definitely that brief, upward turn of the eyes that made Fernando Valenzuela into such a singular phenomenon.

Yes, of course, it would never have become what it became without the spectacular early success that he achieved in 1981--topped off by a World Series win, an achievement denied to Dodgers fans since the heyday of another special southpaw, Sandy Koufax.

But what kept "Fernandomania" in play was the cumulative details of his own humanity.

He was not a cool, efficient robot who mowed down opposing batters with overpowering stuff.

He was not a glib, handsome, matinee idol of an athlete with either all-American good looks or a crooked, bad-boy smile.

He was a portly, persistent, crafty left-handed pitcher from an impossibly small town in Mexico who seemed to be someone you could be sitting next to on a bus and never notice.

As a result, he became one of baseball's most enduring crossover heroes.

The voting membership of the Baseball Reliquary made no mistake when they inducted Fernando into their Shrine of the Eternals. Even though his career was derailed and curtailed by the ultra-heavy usage he received at the hands of the Dodgers, Fernando continued to find a way to pitch, staging a surprising (albeit short-lived) comeback with the San Diego Padres--the only team closer to the border region he'd always inhabited.

As always, Ben Sakoguchi captures the salient details. The aforementioned upward glance--reinforced in the center of the painting, just to make sure you don't miss it. The dual nationalities. The slow spring in his first step on the mound. It is a busy design, but Ben blends and clashes color and shape, figure and ground in ways that make this one of his greatest and most deeply felt works in the entire series.

In the end, it's the blend that matters. And no one blended two cultures with more matter-of-fact grace than Fernando.