Saturday, October 12, 2013

161a. Joe Styborski: Researching a Mystery

Last week I spent a pleasant morning with Mike Shannon, editor of Spitball Magazine. He was interviewing me about my art for a baseball card and memorabilia magazine (when it gets printed I'll post a link) and one of the things we covered was my creative process. I had handy a file of research for an illustration I was currently working on and shared it with him. A few days later, with the drawing and story completed, I was about to throw it all out  when I thought it might make an interesting side topic before I post the card and story that came from it all.

I get my ideas from many places, conversations I had with my Pop years ago, books I read, tangents I come across while researching other stories and from just general screwing around on the internet. That's how I came across Joe Styborski.

One of my favorite websites I visit is Net54, the venerable pre-war baseball card site. Outside SABR, Net54 must have the highest concentration of baseball history experts in the world. While I usually just stop by to look at the cool looking old cards and memorabilia, sometimes a thread contains the kernel of an story idea. In a topic about collecting the autographs of the 1927 Yankees, someone mentioned that not only would a "true completist" have to collect all the guys who appeared in a regular 1927 season game, but signatures of the trainer, bat boy, batting practice pitchers, bullpen catcher, scouts, executives... and so on. Then someone mentioned Don Miller. He appeared in a few photos of the '27 team but never played a game. He's sometimes called the "mystery man" of the greatest team of all time. But then someone upped the ante with an even more mysterious and unknown guy, a man who until recently wasn't even identified (or mis-identified) on the official team picture, Joe Styborski.

Of course I knew he had to be part of the Infinite Baseball Card Set and promptly made a note of him in my sketchbook. Over the course of a few months I added onto the original note when I found out more about Styborski until I felt it was time to turn on the research.

Off to the library I went, grabbing all the books I could on the 1920's Yankees. Luckily I live right across the river from downtown Cincinnati which boast the best library system in the country. I've always found that if the downtown library doesn't have something (and that's a rare occasion), the Northern Kentucky University, Xavier University, Kenton or Campbell County Libraries do.

After tearing through all the Murderer's Row books in the Ohio River Valley, I moved onto the internet to do contemporary newspaper research. Box scores and game-day news articles popped up, filling out the life of a long forgotten ballplayer. The next stop was While I miss my old 1982 edition of "The Baseball Encyclopedia", Baseball-Reference made stats so much easier to access. Plus, their minor league statistical database it indispensable for the kind of players I like to write about. One of the things I pride myself on is the accuracy of the uniforms and equipment I illustrate. In Styborski's instance the Yankees uniforn he will be depicted in is easy. The biggest thing to find out about is what length he liked his sleeves on his jersey - some liked them long, others shortened. I also looked into what kind of glove Styborski would have been using in '27. Old Spalding catalogsues are a great source for them as well as the collectors who share their prized items on Net54. Over the course of a few weeks I made copies of everything I could find and tossed them into my trusty "STYBORSKI" folder.

Now, to find out what Joe Styborski looked like.

I was able to locate two photographs of Styborski; one was the famous 1927 Official team photo that started the whole thing, and the other was a 1927 spring training shot taken in St. Petersburg. While the team photo gives a mugshot-like idea of what our man looked like, the spring training photograph gives me a better clue what his body language was, how he stood, wore his uniform and even what his glove looked like. All these I use when I do my illustration because unlike most baseball artists, I don't like to just reproduce photos you've seen before - I like to create a whole new image of a ballplayer that doesn't exist anywhere else.

For the drawing itself, I knew I wanted to depict Joe Styborski on the mound at Yankee Stadium. Though he never pitched a game there, I felt that after 86 years Joe deserved a shot on the mound in the Bronx. A quick pencil sketch executed while waiting for my pal Todd at the coffee shop one morning became the framework of the illustration I developed. While many times the original sketch varied wildly from what the final card looks like, with Styborski I had a clear idea of what it would be.

Satisfied with the sketch, I then do a few larger ink sketches, about 10" tall. Once I'm happy with the results I work up a hard black ink outline drawing which will then be scanned into the computer to have color added. Sometimes I like to see other variations of the illustration, and in Styborski's case I tried out the idea of depicting him in a Yankees road jersey since his only appearances with the team was during exhibition games on the road. It was an alright drawing, but I decided to go with my original idea and show him in the Stadium. It just seemed right to me.

Now with the illustration completed, I write up the short biographical story for the back of the card. While space is limited on the backs, the small story gives me a basic outline from which I write the longer stories you see on the website. 

Which reminds me, now I have to put the finishing touches on my Styborski story - check back in a day or so for Joe Styborski: The Mystery 1927 Yankee.

1 comment:

  1. Absolutely love this "behind the scenes" look at how you do things!