Saturday, April 26, 2014


For those who like to keep count, sixteen of the fifty-four  "orange crate art" paintings by Ben Sakoguchi featured in the Baseball Reliquary's "Purpose Pitch" exhibition (still on display through Tuesday, April 29 at the Arcadia Public Library) feature compositions based on team pictures.

That works out to just around thirty percent (30%) of the exhibition.

Just to get a sense of how representative a selection of Sakoguchi's Unauthorized History of Baseball series this exhibition is, we consulted Sakoguchi's web site, where 225 of the paintings are displayed (in somewhat smaller image sizes than we've had the good fortune to use here--our thanks to Jan Sakoguchi for providing them).

By our count, there are a total of 29 paintings in the series that feature team pictures as the primary component in the composition. (Note that we've yet to go back to see how many of Ben's paintings display orange groves...but, hey, it's tempting!).

So for the entire series, the percentage of paintings with team pictures works out to just under thirteen percent (13%).

Does that mean that Terry Cannon (who selected the paintings to be featured in "Purpose Pitch" has some kind of penchant for team photos? While we can't completely rule that out, there's a more logical explanation available.

A sizable portion of the story that the Reliquary wanted to tell in the particular location (southern California) where this exhibit has been housed dealt with history pertinent to what residents sometimes call the "Southland." Much of that history, it turns out, was best conveyed via the team photos for local, non-professional leagues that flourished during the two decades prior to World War II.

Hence a much higher preponderance of paintings with team photos here than in the series as a whole.

We close out our coverage with--you guessed it--one team photo painting (Gabby's Buckaroos Brand) and one that's not (Black Bucs Brand). These two sum up two of the major subject matter areas that appear in the series--the quirky human interest item (Gabby's) and the historic milestone item (Black Bucs). What gives the series its lasting resonance is its combination of these elements (and several others as well) that provide a virtually infinite variety of perspectives on baseball's deep imprint within American life and culture.

Ben's work is thus a visual analogue to the ongoing efforts of the Baseball Reliquary. They go hand in hand, and in a perfect world, there would be a building in which all of those who own paintings in the Unauthorized History of Baseball series would donate those works to what would also be a gathering place for the programs, documents, and artifacts of the Baseball Reliquary.

While the Reliquary continues to explore the possibility of a permanent home for its collection, it's clear that a longer-term (albeit "utopian") solution along the lines of what's described above would be the optimal solution.

The logistics may be impossible, but let's not forget that other "maverick" organizations have achieved similar/analogous goals. For example, twenty-five years ago, we would have thought it impossible to have the depth of historical play-by-play data that is now available to us, thanks to the efforts of the amazing folks at Retrosheet.

Let's start the ball rolling by finding a way for "Purpose Pitch" to be a traveling, national exhibition. Once that happens, the world of baseball (and the world at large) will realize what it really has on its hands with the Baseball Reliquary and its unique symbiosis with Ben Sakoguchi.

If we build it, they will know...and they will come.