Wednesday, April 2, 2014


Voters for the Baseball Reliquary's Shrine of the Eternals have had a series of interesting decisions to make over the years. While their choices are circumscribed by the Reliquary brain trust (Terry Cannon and Albert "Buddy" Kilchesty, who decide who will stand for possible induction), there are still cases where the voters have to decide (even subliminally) if their Shrine is going to overlap with Cooperstown.

The two personages who are pictorialized here (Ben Sakoguchi again rising to the occasion) would seem to define the slender thread of connection between the institutional and the world of the "floating crap game" that is sometimes used to describe the homeless, "state of mind" existence that has characterized the Reliquary for its first two decades of existence. (Note that this is likely to change somewhat in the future, by the way.)

These two characters (for they have both become as much creatures of legend as they were--and are--historical individuals) are also linked by their mutual success.

They added the woozy, surreal comedy to what was otherwise a relentless, machine-like domination of the American League for ten of the twelve seasons they were together. Thank God, or goodness, or whatever epithet or sobriquet seems appropriate, for without them the success of their team (the New York Yankees from 1949-1960) would be nothing less than totalitarian in nature.

They are Casey and Yogi--no last names required--and not much more needs to be said after so much ink has been spilled about them over the years.

Leavening the Yankees' achievements with a talent for malapropisms and one-liners, this unlikely duo made the world safe for mugging while their team brutalized the American League, often manifested in the less-than-equitable trading practices of their general manager, George Weiss. (The excuse raised for some of these excesses, including a legendary skein of trades with the Kansas City A's, was that Commissioner Ford Frick, having been President of the National League for many years before ascending what Jim Bouton would later call "the golden stairs," was simply unaware of the American League's existence.)

Casey and Yogi made up for a multitude of sins. An old codger and a dumpy lumpen from St. Louis formed the basis of a dervish-like dynasty that relied on Mickey Mantle, Whitey Ford and an ever-changing cast of youngsters, greybeards, and the kind of complex platooning that represented the peak of over-managing as manifested in mid-century baseball.

Casey feigned obliviousness and Yogi mumbled koan-like non-sequiturs that soon become fodder for the press from Maine to California. It didn't hurt that Casey and his wife Edna (who never had a grey hair in her entire life) were from what Chuck Berry (another dynastic character of the 50s) called "the Promised Land," homespun Glendale, CA.

Ben is at or near his peak here, capturing Casey and Yogi in ways that are encyclopedic and metaphorical. Casey at the Bat Brand opts for the former, cataloguing all of the myriad guises that the "Ol' Professor" donned during his wayward career.

Yogi Brand is where metaphor goes into overdrive, as Ben creates the type of over-the-top juxtaposition that works both ways. Connecting East and West with the wildly disparate but disturbingly similar body poses, he connects the inarticulate with the inarticulable, the inchoate wisdom of the seers with the wise-cracking inchoateness of the toothy seer of St. Louis.

Berra probably won a couple of extra MVP awards due to his personality, but his stat splits (now available to us thanks to Retrosheet) show that he was demonstrably a clutch hitter, with elevated performance in most situations that meet that definition. And it might not be surprising to note that when he had the chance to play in his home town (from 1946-53, while the St. Louis Browns existed...), he was an absolute terror (.335 BA, .942 OPS).

Like Ben Sakoguchi, Yogi knew how to rise to the occasion. Like Casey, Ben knows how to get out of the way and let the creative flow just, well, flow. Unlike those two, however, Ben doesn't want to talk about it--he lets the pictures do that. And they do...they really do.