Friday, April 18, 2014


Keep in mind that the Baseball Reliquary "brain trust" (Terry Cannon and Albert "Buddy" Kilchesty) are as savvy about aesthetics as they are about history.

That's one reason why the works on display for "Purpose Pitch," their special exhibition of selected works from Ben Sakoguchi's Unauthorized History of Baseball series (now winding down its run at the Arcadia Public Library) blend these two attributes.

Which explains why these three larger-than-life compositions have been included in the series.

The deep roots of pre-integration African-American baseball are exemplified here--and the variations in personality amongst the individuals who represent the spirit of those times.

There is freewheeling, self-propagating legend in Satchel Paige. Ben captures the languid lankiness of Paige, that self-possessed meta-meditativeness which "littery men" (Mark Twain again, always looking askance at those who won't rise up from the cavilries of journalism like to call "preternatural cool."

Ben blurs it, just enough to leach out the photo-realism, but he doesn't soften the image by doing so. Satch looks tired, resigned, but also determined and proud.

There is the communitarian element in the African-American subculture of those times, as shown in the circle of youth paying rapt attention to Josh Gibson--the centerpiece of the Homestead Grays, the New York Yankees of the Negro Leagues.

Josh looks weathered (it's the shadowing effect that Ben employs...) but he is bringing hope and pride to young boys who will soon be given a chance that never came his way--an opportunity (however cloaked in difficulty) to play major league baseball.

And that brings us, once again, to Jackie Robinson. (Just a few days ago, MLB continued its tradition of honoring Jackie's entry into the majors with a day where all players wear his #42--it's one of the few unalloyed successes in the Bud Selig era.)

You could call this one "the three stages of Jackie." There's the junior college basketball star; the electrifying running back for UCLA; and the established superstar on the most successful franchise in the National League during the 1950s.

We wouldn't be surprised to discover that this painting of Jackie is Terry Cannon's favorite. It's bold, direct, and simple. It covers a great deal of ground in a minimum amount of time. The expression on Jackie's face is one of deep but vigilant pride, a self-realization captured in the glint of an eye, revealing to us that  the man knows he embodies adversity, extremity and otherness all at once, each force coursing through both his mind and his bloodstream in an equal but oscillating measure.

It shows how a man can reflect on the forces in his life that propel him toward his destiny.