Tuesday, April 15, 2014


Sometimes there are simply no words necessary to describe artistic output or achievement.

That would certainly be the case with this pair of Ben Sakoguchi "orange crate art" paintings, two of his very greatest in the Unauthorized History of Baseball series.

The level of inspiration reaches Olympian heights here. And there's really no mystery why that's the case.

Ben simply is at his best when he is dealing with controversy. The hotter it is in the kitchen, the better he likes it.

And it's no coincidence that the two subjects here, Shoeless Joe Jackson and Pete Rose, have managed to occupy the most controversial, most infamous, and most timelessly unresolvable niches in baseball history.

They will likely forever be on the outside looking in with respect to baseball's mainstream meritocracy, as represented by the Hall of Fame. It's a virtual certainty that their twinned status as the game's accursed will make it impossible for either to be "rehabilitated" without the other one being granted the same reprieve from eternal judgement.

And, given that, they will remain in that special limbo reserved for players whose on-field greatness is more than necessary for enshrinement, but whose lapses in judgment were so egregious that they cannot be countenanced even in an honorarium with racists, sociopaths, and whitewashed cheaters.

The Baseball Reliquary's voters, however, are free to make a meta-commentary on this painted-into-a-corner circumstance. They don't have to condone what Jackson and Rose did, they only have to put it into a different historical context.

They can say that these two deeply controversial characters, who possess differing amounts and types of pathos with respect to the situation in which they find themselves, are deserving of recognition in spite of (and possibly even because) their infamy.

That argument may not convince the moral purists. But an anti-institution is free to prick the bubble of overstuffed morality, and when the voters for the Shrine of the Eternals were given their opportunity to weigh in on the cases of Shoeless Joe and Charlie Hustle, they wasted no time in enshrining these two outlaws.

For Ben Sakoguchi, it was an opportunity to take narrative and composition to levels beyond the merely indelible. Shoeless Joe is captured in the burnished, wistful colors of the past, as a figure of legend. The arc of Pete Rose's story and his innate aggression is on display in what might be Ben's wittiest and most caustic juxtaposition of images.

It will soon be twenty-five years and counting for Rose, and shortly thereafter, an entire century for Jackson: their exile and disgrace is one of the game's most public and problematic signposts. The Reliquary voters (and Ben Sakoguchi) have doubled down on the proposition that it will remain just this way for--if not forever, then for a long, long time.

Which means that the power and pugnacious poignancy of these works is unlikely to fade anytime soon.