Diamond Visions: Baseball’s Greatest Illustration Art, Part 2

Dan Brouthers, N162

Dan Brouthers, N162

This series commenced yesterday in this space. In my survey of baseball’s illustration I landed upon many wonderful portraits of real-life players, many of them on cigarette cards I confess to a special fondness for those of the 1880s–Allen & Ginter, Gypsy Queen, and W.S. Kimball. I even like the rough-hewn, amateurish depictions of Buchner Gold Coin cards and, later, the cartoonish strip cards of the 1920s and the social-realist style of the 1930s Goudey cards. (for more about this subject, see “Rhapsody in Cardboard,” at http://ourgame.mlblogs.com/2012/06/06/rhapsody-in-cardboard/). Such images are, like old photographs, the spur to memory–not your own, unless you are a centenarian, but to the collective memory that forms the national pastime’s very foundation.

The beautiful image speaks unaided, but the ungainly one that, for historic reasons, won its place in my little pantheon may call for a bit of backstory. Some of the woodcuts featured in this series cannot be described as beautiful, even by the most flexible standards, but they do qualify as great. If you disagree, you could send me a note by wire, or whatever it is the kids do these days.

[Clicking on a photo below will enlarge it.]

6. Chicago scorecard, 1948, Otis Shepard

6. Chicago scorecard, 1948, Otis Shepard

I could easily have filled this series with twenty-five cover designs by Otis Shepard. From the 1930s to 1960s, he and his wife Dorothy designed uniforms, programs, and logos for the Chicago Cubs., and the logo and base uniform for the All American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL). This image for me evokes Magritte and is my ultimate Shepard. A recent book, Dorothy and Otis: Designing the American Dream is a splendid tribute (http://www.dorothyandotis.com/).

Temple Cup game at Polo Grounds, 1894, by Henry Sandham

Temple Cup game at Polo Grounds, 1894, by Henry Sandham

There is an aquatint version, too, but I prefer the uncolored. Henry Sandham‘s 1894 painting, on which this 1896 print was based, seems to have been lost. It depicts, we think, a Temple Cup contest between Baltimore and host New York. The Boston Evening Transcript announced, on March 13, 1896, the availability of a limited edition of 250: “Henry Sandham has painted a picture of a game in progress on the grounds of the New York League Club, and the painting has been finely reproduced in the form of a Goupilgravure.” For a full appreciation of the print, I recommend downloading the 143-meg tiff: http://cdn.loc.gov/master/pnp/ppmsca/18800/18838u.tif

8. Little Pretty Pocket Book 1787, Isaiah Thomas; American version of 1744 book by John Newbery

8. From Little Pretty Pocket Book 1787, Isaiah Thomas; American version of 1744 book by John Newbery

David Block, author of Baseball Before We Knew It, writes of this image at Our Game (http://ourgame.mlblogs.com/2011/07/16/little-pretty-pocket-book/):

Our earliest evidence for English “base-ball” dates from 1744, when the iconic children’s book A Little Pretty Pocket-Book was first issued. Publisher John Newbery devoted a full page of his pioneering juvenile work to the game, giving us our first clues of how it looked and how it was played. Newbery’s page includes a simple engraving of the pastime that depicts three young gents at play, one holding a ball in his hand and another waiting to strike it with his bare hand. The bases, three of them, are shown as posts in the ground. An accompanying snippet of verse reads as follows:

The Ball once struck off,

Away flies the Boy

To the next destin’d Post,

And then Home with Joy.

This is followed by a “MORAL”:

Thus Britons, for Lucre,

Fly over the Main,

But, with Pleasure transported,

Return back again.

In the American edition, as shown above, the word “Britons” in the second stanza is replaced by “seamen.”

Oil on canvas for Baseball Magazine cover, Joseph Francis Kernan (1878-1958)

9. Oil on canvas for Baseball Magazine cover, Joseph Francis Kernan (1878-1958)

Quoting a passage from my post on the art of Baseball Magazine: “In the golden age of magazines, the period 1880-1920, the newsstands were bedecked with general-interest and literary publications: the weeklies included such fare as The Saturday Evening Post, Collier’s, Frank Leslie’s Popular Magazine, and Harper’s; the monthlies boasted, among others, Atlantic, Munsey’s, McClure’s Magazine, and Century Illustrated Monthly Magazine. Competition for rack space was fierce, as was the competition for the eye (and pocketbook) of the browser; the fees that top writers routinely received in 1920 exceed those available today, when the dollar buys so much less; and artists whose work graced magazine covers, like James Montgomery Flagg, Edward Penfield, Maxfield Parrish, and J. C. Leyendecker, became truly wealthy. But first-class cover art had never been viewed as a necessary competitive edge for an all-sports publication until the advent of Baseball Magazine.” For more, see: http://ourgame.mlblogs.com/2013/05/01/baseball-magazine/

John Francis Kernan provided cover art for many numbers of Baseball Magazine in its glory years, 1908 (the year of its founding) to 1920. A prolific illustrator, he specialized in images of home, family, and outdoor recreation. His paintings of football, fishing, and hunting frequently graced the covers of the Saturday Evening Post in the 1920s and ’30s.

Live Oak Polka, 1860.

Live Oak Polka, 1860.

This is the first baseball illustration printed in color. The “Live Oak Polka” was published in sheet-music form in 1860, only two years after the first in the genre, “The Baseball Polka.” by J.R. Blodgett of Buffalo. While the composer of this tribute to the Live Oak Base Ball Club of Rochester, New York was J. H. Kalbfleisch, and the publisher was Joseph P. Shaw, it is the artist we care about, and he or she is unknown. The lithographer was the durable firm of Endicott & Company, founded in New York City in 1831 and active until 1886.

Illustrations 11-15 tomorrow!


A very enjoyable read with great baseball eye candy.

Or as George Carlin put it in his baseball-football monologue, “In baseball, you go home. Safe at home!”

Excellent, with an Otis Shepard beauty!

I love the close in position of the short stop in the Live Oak picture. Thanks for sharing these.

Another great article John. Thank you!

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