Monday, April 21, 2014


You probably haven't thought about the connection between the Mandlebrot set and Oscar Gamble's afro, but we're here to tell you that...

...Ben Sakoguchi hasn't either.

But by now you know that he could have, anytime he wanted to.

We are now entering the half-world of pure baseball extremity, where crackpots and visionaries merge in the gloaming that Gabby Hartnett wrought, where improbable products become niche industries that thrive despite all odds, altering surfaces even as they seep into the pores of the half-conscious mind.

Hair Ball Brand brings us one highly singular Shrine of the Eternals inductee (Dock Ellis) and two matter-of-fact masters of "alternative natural apparel" (Oscar Gamble, who is rumored to have once blown a bubble gum bubble that matched the circumference of his hairdo; and Johnny Damon, who should have donated his hair to the Jimmy Fund when he cut it all off after abandoning Boston for New York).

Did Oscar start hitting homers when he grew that Afro? Possibly, but the real reason might have been his switch to the American League. He really liked hitting in Yankee Stadium (.969 OPS). Gamble was arguably the last great platoon superstar to play for the Bronx Bombers. Interestingly, he also hit like a madman when he played against the Yankees (.992 OPS).

By contrast, Johnny Damon simply had the Caveman look (aided immeasurably by those Geico® commercials that first aired during his tenure with the Red Sox). He was a much more orthodox ballplayer than Gamble, despite the freewheeling image. He could hit and field and run, with his only vice being his ongoing delusion that if he amassed 3000 hits, he'd wind up in the Hall of Fame. He wound up 231 hits shy of that mark, and he's likely more of a lugnut than a Cooperstown plaque recipient.

Perhaps Johnny would have found a way to get over the hump had he only been given the opportunity to "take the cure." You know, that all-over rejuvenation on display in Mudville Brand. While also bringing us in contact with Shrine inductee Jim (Mudcat) Grant, Ben's painting celebrates the many uses of mud in the little world of baseball.

And that means Lena Blackburne's mysterious concoction, the so-called "secret sauce" of baseball, where the sheen of the ball is smoothed and molded via the "goop" from Blackburne's personal swamp.   Nearly three-quarters of a century later, this concoction from the Jersey side of the Delaware River is still the only game in town for MLB.

So while Mighty Casey may have brought natural air conditioning to Mudville with his epic whiff, there's joy to found in the land of slop after all. After all--much more so than hope, mud springs eternal.