TAG | sports art
On July 17, 1998, just past the middle of one of the most magical and captivating seasons in recent baseball memory, I saw one of the two
heroes of that season — the titanic, ginger-haired slugger Mark McGwire — hit two home runs in a home game against the Los Angeles Dodgers. Having grown up a Cardinals fan in Little Rock, Arkansas, and, as such, having made many trips to St. Louis and the friendly confines of the second Busch Stadium, I was naturally very excited to be on hand to witness not just a 4-1 victory for my team, but also a striking individual accomplishment by the season’s main headline-grabber (with all due respect to Sammy Sosa, of course).
It was a hot, dry night at The House That Beer Built, now carpeted with real grass in place of the hard, dangerous AstroTurf of yore. The Dodgers looked a formidable team coming into that four-game series; they had brought up five straight NL Rookies of the Year from 1992 to ’96, and had finished at .500 or better every year from 1993 through that very 1998 season, when they would eventually end up with the same 83-79 record as the Cardinals. In contrast to the Dodgers’ youthful exuberance, the Cards were a team led by power-hitting veterans like McGwire and the outfield trio of Ray Lankford, Brian Jordan, and Ron Gant (though the 1998 season would see them introduce Placido Polanco and the highly-touted J.D. Drew, as well as trade for the promising young third baseman Fernando Tatis).
The Cardinals’ starting pitcher, Juan Acevedo, began the game with a 1-2-3 inning, and Dodgers starter Brian Bohanon looked as though he might do the same when he struck out the first two Cards batters in the bottom of the first. But when the hulking McGwire strode into the batters’ box, he was ready for whatever Bohanon could throw at him; he took Bohanon’s first pitch deep to left field — an absolute moon shot. The ball’s accelerating descent carried it into Big Mac Land, a porch on the third deck of the left-field stands that was specially built prior the 1998 season, after St. Louis’ 1997 trading-deadline deal to acquire McGwire from the Oakland A’s. Big Mac Land was not just a constant corporate tie-in promotion for the ballpark, the fans, McDonald’s (who offered up a free Big Mac to anyone with a ticket stub from that section for any game in which a Cardinals player hit a home run there), and, of course, McGwire. Though he was personally unaffiliated with McDonald’s, “Big Mac” was the redheaded righty’s nickname, and nobody bequeathed more burgers to the citizens of St. Lou that year than McGwire.
McGwire would go on to hit another homer, this time off reliever Antonio Osuna, in the bottom of the eighth. His final line: 2-2 with two walks and two solo home runs — a more or less typical McGwire outing for a season in which he ended up with 70 HR, 147 RBI, 152 hits, 155 strikeouts, and 162 walks in 155 games, all of which contributed to his gargantuan OPS of 1.222. That home run tally, of course, set a new single-season record, shattering Roger Maris’ previous mark of 61 and cementing McGwire’s legend as the greatest slugger of his generation (at least until Barry Bonds bashed 73 dingers in 2001, Mac’s final season in the majors). It also tied McGwire’s name inextricably to that of the St. Louis Cardinals, despite it being his first full season with the ball club. McGwire would retire as a redbird in 2001, after just over four seasons with the team, the final two being blighted by injury. But the relative brevity of his tenure with the team did nothing to diminish the heroic status he enjoyed among the Cards’ fans. Simply by virtue of the fairytale 1998 season — one which reconfirmed baseball’s mantle as America’s Pastime after a decade of labor strife, franchise expansion, and aging ballparks threatened to consign baseball to the lower rungs of the American sporting hierarchy — McGwire will forever be remembered as a Cardinal, in spite of the fact that he played his first 11-plus seasons in Oakland. McGwire walked away from the Cardinals organization, but Big Mac Land remained, even being transported to the third incarnation of Busch Stadium when it opened in 2006, as a constant reminder of McGwire’s deftness with the deep ball.
Unlike so many recently retired star athletes, who either move into punditry or otherwise attempt to parlay their fame into a second career in the public eye (Jim Bunning, anyone?), McGwire has spent the past eight years in relative seclusion, demanding a high degree of privacy and thereby adding to the mystique and intrigue surrounding his accomplishments. Next season, though, Cards fans won’t have to look toward left field for a memento of McGwire; in fact, they won’t have to look past the dugout, where Big Mac will be sitting with his mentor, Tony La Russa, serving as the team’s new hitting coach. Despite having been hired for the position nearly two months ago, McGwire has yet to be formally introduced by St. Louis, nor has he addressed the media in any capacity. This conspicuous silence and lack of fanfare at the prospect of bringing a Cardinals legend back into the fold smacks of “something to hide,” just like McGwire’s 2005 appearance at a Congressional hearing on steroid abuse in Major League Baseball — a televised hearing in which McGwire told members of the U.S. House of Representatives that he was “not here to talk about the past.” (What, pray tell, did Mac think they wanted to speak with him about? Golf? Foreign policy?)
Interviewed last week at MLB’s winter meetings, La Russa weighed in rather unofficially on McGwire’s reticence, saying that his former player had not yet spoken on the record because he didn’t want to interfere with or overshadow the World Series or baseball’s end-of-season awards. If that’s true, then we can applaud McGwire’s class and reluctance to steal anyone’s spotlight. But La Russa was quick to deflect any question of a date for McGwire’s official introduction to the press, opting instead to tout McGwire’s skills as a hitting instructor and the seriousness with which he’s taking the job. La Russa also claimed that, once spring training begins, whatever McGwire does say to the media is “going to be about coaching.” That’s an unlikely scenario, to be sure, and one which would do nothing to dampen the suspicions that McGwire’s impressive hitting accomplishments were the result of steroid use.
While it is unclear where public opinion comes down on the did-he-or-didn’t-he questions surrounding McGwire’s use of performance-enhancing drugs, the Baseball Writers Association of America has made their stance apparent in light of McGwire’s paltry tally of Hall of Fame votes. While it is unlikely that disgraced sluggers Rafael Palmeiro and Jose Canseco will ever be seriously considered for Hall of Fame induction, it is perhaps even less likely that McGwire will be forgiven for any transgressions — even those which are unconfirmed suspicions — until he publicly addresses them. Big Mac should take a lesson from players like Jason Giambi and Alex Rodriguez, who, having been exposed ex post facto as cheaters, accepted the blame for their actions, lending further credence to the public perception that PED use has been so widespread in professional baseball in recent decades that it’s hardly even a competitive advantage, but rather more of a status quo practice. Giambi, A-Rod, and other active Major Leaguers who have admitted to PED use have more or less enjoyed the public’s forgiveness in light of their confessions, and there is no reason to believe that the same forgiveness shouldn’t be extended to the likes of McGwire and Sosa, whose magnetic personalities and nice-guy public images imparted the magic on that 1998 season every bit as much as their bats did.
Finally, all the hub-bub over McGwire’s hire begs the question: where is MLB in all this? If there is any lingering suspicion that a former player used steroids, and that player refuses to cooperate in any investigation or probe into that topic, why would the commissioner’s office, the owners, or the player’s union want to allow that player to return as a coach? Is the potential perpetuation of PED use not clear to everyone in that scenario? Coaches should be required to prove they are clean and drug-free just like players, in an ongoing effort to keep PEDs out of clubhouses and out of the sport as a whole. Anything MLB does short of that would only be paying lip service to the problem, and McGwire’s attempts to avoid the questions should be scrutinized more heavily by a league looking to restore its image. -E.J. Wolborsky
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About 10 years ago, there he was, wearing his signature white suit, standing in the paddock of Churchill Downs. LeRoy Neiman. Sports art icon from the ABC Sports Olympic broadcast in 1976 in Montreal. The creator of Playboy’s femlin. I hadn’t seen him in 15 years or so. I walked right up to him and said, “Hi, LeRoy” He responded “Hi, Bill, nice to see you again.” I asked him how he was and he replied, “I’m quite famous you know!” That was LeRoy, artist as art object. Andy Warhol got it right.
I had known LeRoy briefly in the late 70’s, after I had opened what I believe to be the world’s first sports art gallery on Manhattan’s 57th Street Gallery Row and I invited LeRoy to participate in some of my sports themed group exhibitions. I didn’t care much for his paintings or serigraphs (except the marketing of them), but I loved his caricatures. Frank Gifford once asked LeRoy if a pizza factory exploded in his studio.
Let’s go back to the 1976 Montreal Olympics for a minute. I was a Pop Art print dealer and my wife was a lawyer at ABC Sports (the first female sports executive ever at any network). She was working the Olympics and I was a guest. We had all access passes and were running free in the studio. And there it was: the painting that LeRoy was painting live, on air representing his impressions of the Games. By the way, to watch Roone Arledge line-produce an Olympics from the production truck (which I did) was an unparalleled treat of seeing the inner machinations of a genius at work.
I had an epiphany there. I knew on the spot that I was forever to be a sports art dealer, gallery owner and publisher. Roone made it clear, by having this painting painted on live TV, that sports art is on its way. Popular culture propagated by TV (sound familiar?) And serendipity would soon have its way with me. Shortly after the Olympics we were having dinner in NYC with Jay Michaels (Al’s father) and Howard Katz (later of ESPN and now NFL Films). Jay was President of IMG Mark McCormack’s TWI which held the rights to Wimbledon. Howard was his lieutenant.
Jay had this crazy idea about engaging some of the world’s best known artists to create a tennis art portfolio of limited edition prints celebrating 100 years of Wimbledon. He needed someone in the art business to spearhead the project. Was I interested? Was I interested! I couldn’t stop thinking about it. It was all I wanted to do.
When I later presented Jay with my proposal he said the numbers didn’t work and he immediately lost interest. On to the next for him. But not me. When I soon came to the realization that I couldn’t privately finance the project, I looked at my the results of my efforts to date- a file full of extant tennis art- and thought to myself, “I have enough work here to stage an exhibition.”
Not everybody has a mother with an art gallery in the Hamptons, but I did. I approached her with my idea of having a tennis art exhibition in season, coinciding with the 100th anniversary of Wimbledon using the art of some really good, well-respect artists. Game on. That’s when the fun began. As I reached out to the art community digging for tennis art for my show, all sorts of other sports art surfaced. It was viral. “Hey, there is this guy (me) looking for sports art. Got anything in your studio relating to sports?” Things started coming out of the woodwork. I built a file of art on many different sports. And that is when I realized I had to rent a gallery space and start staging exhibitions. It would be 2 years later that I would begin publishing.
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Stadium and Jim Abbott, born with one arm, pitched a no-hitter against one of the best hitting teams in baseball. Nobody ever seems to talk about it.
As a hoot in about the 4th inning I said to my son, “Abbott hasn’t allowed a hit yet, but let’s not jinx him.” So instead of talking about it I suggested we wink every time he got an out. Wink wink wink wink wink wink wink wink… When Carlos Baerga, who hit .321 that year, grounded out to short to end the game, the place went nuts. When we got home, my wife said to our son, “I don’t ever want to hear you say, ‘I can’t.'”
It was the second no-hitter I attended. On my 18th birthday, June 4, 1964, I went with
a friend to Connie Mack Stadium to see my beloved Phillies play the Dodgers. Sandy Koufax against Chris Short (remember the 1964 Phillies: Short and Bunning and then start running- collapse). Koufax was damn near perfect that day. He faced the minimum. He walked Dick Allen who was promptly erased by a double play, and he never allowed another runner.
Someone else shared both of those no-hitters with me, Frank Howard. Howard had won the game for Koufax with a 3 run homer in the 6th, the only runs of the game. He was also the the first base coach for the Yankees in 1993. Me and Frank Howard. Frank Howard and me. However, back to Jim Abbott.
Does anyone care to comment on a greater athletic feat than Jim Abbott’s no-hitter?
|No Hitter Box Score
June 4, 1964
Connie Mack Stadium
Hitting & Fielding Notes
Doubles: Tracewski, Parker.
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Baseball cards. Topps and Fleer. That was it for brand availability when I began buying them in 1962. My newspaper route took me past the 3 neighborhood stores that sold the cards. A nickel a pack, a penny a card, and a stick of bubblegum included. Topps broke their 600 or so cards down into seven series of cards released at intervals throughout the season. Fleer, a small company based in Philadelphia, couldn’t compete with Topps for an every year product so they made special sets.
My father was a baseball nut, loved the game from a both an amateur players standpoint and a fans standpoint. Baseball cards were always around the house, as far
back as I can remember. Being a Red Sox fan, he had collected the entire set of Ted Williams cards that Fleer produced for 1959 and went to pains to explain to me how Williams represented everything great about America, as both a patriot and a ballplayer. And that began my love of cardboard pictures of players and the stats that defined their careers.
The 1st cards I remember purchasing were the ’62 Topps, the set with that wooden grained border that looked like the picture was peeling up in the bottom right corner
to reveal the players name and team. Series 1 featured Roger Maris as card number 1, a fitting spot for the new home run king. Sandy Koufax was card number 5 and “Bob” Clemente was number 10. (“Bob” Clemente?) Ernie Banks was #20, Casey Stengel, manager of the Mets (!) was #29, Eddie Matthews #30. But for every one of these star cards, I’d end up with 5 Norm Larkers and 3 Johnny Temples along with several Vada Pinsons and a handful of Hobie Landruth cards . Players that changed teams would be shown with the logos painted out of their hats or hatless and, in the earliest series, rookies were given their own cards with a star in the top corner, announcing them as stars of the future. Howie Bedell? Ted Savage? League leaders were always a part of Series 1, in ’62 they were disembodied heads placed on colored backdrops with their names and stats below. Series 2 featured a Babe Ruth set of 10 cards, from his childhood in Baltimore to his farewell speech at Yankee Stadium. Series 3 featured the ‘61 World Series between the Cincinnati Reds and the Yankees. Series 4
had the action cards, multiple panel cards such as “Ford Tosses A Curve”, “The Switch Hitter Connects” and “Spahn Shows No-Hit Form”. Series 5 had the National League Sporting News All Stars and Series 6 had the American League version. Series 7 had the “Rookie Parade” another set of bodyless heads, 4 or 5 to a card, that featured rookies that had played their way onto the Major League rosters in Spring Training and had not been a part of the original set (Bob Uecker, Jim Bouton, Sam McDowell and Rod Kanehl among 37 players). Certain Hall of Famers and players that led the leagues in different categories were given the “rounded numbers”, Stan Musial was 50, Warren Spahn was 100, Al Kaline 150, Mickey Mantle 200, Norm Cash 250, Willie Mays was 300, Frank Robinson 350, Elston Howard 400, Jim O’Toole 450, Duke Snider 500.
Multiple player cards, some from different teams, were popular, too. How come I have 15 Cuno Barragan cards and can’t get a single “Managers Dream” (Mantle and Mays) card? Or an “AL and NL Homer Kings? (Maris and Orlando Cepeda)? What the heck is this? “Redbird Rippers” – Lindy McDaniel and Larry Jackson? Huh? ” Tribe Trio” – Barry Latman, Dick Stigman and Jim Perry? Why? “Pride Of The A’s” – Norm Siebern, Hank Bauer and Jerry Lumpe? What’s this, a Yankees retrospective? They were scattered among the different series along with team cards and managers cards.
I spent quite a bit of my paper route cash collecting these cards and ended up with a full set eventually. And I’d continue to do so throughout the succeeding years. But, in addition to investing my hard earned money, I invested my heart and soul into this wonderful game of baseball through collecting these cardboard icons.
And then, like a lot of other people, after moving out of the house in my early twenties and leaving my childhood toys behind, my mother threw them away! Just the cards, not the memories.
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When it is time to come up big with that special gift for that important occasion (Birthday, Fathers Day, Christmas-perhaps a baseball calendar-, Hannukah), consider the gift of sports art. Everyone has a favorite baseball team (how about the NY Yankees, the team everyone either loves or loves to hate), favorite player or ballpark. What better way to solve a gift problem that with the gift of baseball art lithographs, postcard type art card sets or posters or maybe golf art lithographs from Bill Goff Inc / goodsportsart.com.
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My maternal grandfather bought me a
Yankee hat when I was about 3. He was a Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Phil Rizzuto, dyed-in-the-pinstripe- wool, Yankee fan. That was the beginning of my baseball education and the start of a life-long love affair with the sport. I don’t exactly remember what happened immediately after the “hat incident” but it couldn’t have been pretty. My dad and his side of the family were diehard Red Sox fans. The lived and died (mostly died at that point in time) for the Boston team, Ted Williams in particular. My father, born in 1929, had come of age rooting for the Boston teams of the 40’s and 50’s. Johnny Pesky, Joe Cronin, Ted Williams, Bobby Doerr, Mel Parnell – those were some of the icons of his sporting past.
Growing up in western Connecticut, the easiest place to visit for a game was Yankee Stadium, Boston and Fenway being too long a trek in the early 60’s. I went to my initial game at the age of 7 or 8, seeing Yogi Berra hit 2 home runs during a Sunday doubleheader. My 1st sight of the field, coming up through the darkness of the ramps at old Yankee Stadium, to the main level, is something that is still very vivid in my mind 48 years later. The bright green grass, the rich brown dirt, the majestic sight of the monuments in center field. We’d eventually make the pilgrimage to Fenway, sitting in the left field rooftop box, which was equally impressive but my most memorable times in my formative years were spent going to games in the Bronx cathedral with my father, the Cub Scouts and my friends.
I have a lifelong friend, Claude, who’s dad would bring us to the Stadium some days when he was going to visit the ponies at Yonkers Raceway. He’d drop us off early on a Saturday morning, we’d get in the Stadium for batting practice (gates would open at 10 am back then for 1 pm Saturday matinees) and Mr Wallace would pick us up later, after the ponies ran and the ballgame was finished. Claude and I, with other friends, would go to many games over the years, ticking off the teams and players we’d see, trying to see all of the stars of the day. Watching batting practice was a treat. I’d always have my Willie Mays style glove with me, hoping to catch a foul ball. (Never did.) We’d get to see all the other teams stars and watch them as they prepared to play that day’s game. Al Kaline, Norm Cash, Rocky Colavito and the Detroit Tigers. Luis Aparacio, Brooks Robinson and Frank Robinson of the Baltimore Orioles. Carl Yastrzemski, Tony Conigliaro and Jim Lonborg with the Red Sox. Harmon Killebrew, Tony Oliva and Camilo Pascual with the Minnesota Twins, just after they moved from Washington DC. The White Sox with ageless Hoyt Wilhelm, Tommy John and Nellie Fox. The Kansas City A’s, formerly the Philadelphia Athletics, with their roster of former and future Yankees. The new Washington Senators with crazy Jimmie Piersall and Minnie Minoso (once asked who was the greatest player in the game, he pointed to himself and said “me know so”). The Indians with Jim “Mudcat” Grant, “Sudden” Sam McDowell and Tito Francona. And the expansion Los Angeles Angels with Dean Chance, Bo Belinsky and “little” Albie Pearson. The New York Yankees, at the beginning of the 60’s, were an all star team – Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, Whitey Ford, Yogi, the list goes on and on. At the end of the decade, they were a bottom of the standings team, featuring players like Jerry Kenney and Roger Repoz and the unforgettable Horace Clarke.
I did make 1 trip to New York with my dad to see the National League play. We went to see the New York Mets play the Los Angeles Dodgers at the Polo Grounds, 2 years before Shea Stadium opened. The Casey Stengel led Mets were the doormat of the NL back them, trying to thrive with former all stars such as Gil Hodges , who’d been a star with the Brooklyn Dodgers, Richie Ashburn, a Whiz Kid from Philadelphia and big Frank Thomas. The LA Dodgers, who’d become the World Champions the next year, were led by Sandy Koufax, Johnny Podres, Don Drysdale, stolen base champ Maury Wills and Duke Snider.
Baseball was a sport back then, something that these talented players did for 6 months each year before returning to their off season jobs and lives. We actually met many of these visiting players during batting practice, they’d come over to the stands and sign autographs or just talk to the kids that were there early. They didn’t “big-time” you, they actually took the time to speak to you, kid with you and make you happy that you played the same game that they excelled at.
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