Wednesday, December 2, 2015
Joy In Mudville: Bringing the Mudville 9 to life
A few months ago I received an email from The National Pastime Museum. If you haven't been to their website you should because it's a virtual treasure trove of baseball artifacts and writing by the best baseball historians around. Their collection is always expanding and it's worth it to stop by regularly to see what's new. So when the email came to me I was already familiar with their organization. That's why it was great honor when the message was inquiring about me doing an illustration for their permanent collection. My piece was to be a part of a series in which a varied group of baseball artists visually interpret the poem "Casey at the Bat."
Every baseball fan knows Ernest Thayer's famous 1888 poem and I've seen many artistic interpretations over the years, most recently a neat little volume by Willard Mullin given to me by my literary agent Jake Elwell. So I thought about what I could do to create a unique Casey at the Bat illustration. I didn't want to do a single drawing of Casey striking out or striding to the plate or any other single moment in the poem. I wanted to do something bigger. Re-reading the poem I jotted down the names of the other Mudville 9 players: there was Casey, Cooney, Barrows, Flynn and Blake. That left four others who were anonymous. Always looking for the obscure angle, I wondered who the other players were and what they looked like. And there I found my idea for the commission: a team portrait of the Mudville 9. Since the poem takes place in 1888 I immediately thought of those beautiful Victorian team composites that had once hung in every bar and tavern back then. So that's exactly what I did.
Of course Casey was front and center, jauntily leaning on his bat. It wouldn't be an interpretation of "Casey at the Bat" without that. The fun part was designing the Mudville uniforms. I always liked the striped shirts many teams wore back then and it looked visually appealing when paired with similarly striped socks. I created a custom "M" to represent Mudville" and topped off the whole outfit with a red and white striped pillbox cap. Uniforms complete, now came the time to bring the rest of Mudville's 9 to life. The four players to the left of Casey are based on real ball players of the era and their names are the ones used in Thayer's poem. To the right of Casey I used four of my friends as models. Here's a close up showing the detail of the piece and some of the "other" Mudville players.
The entire piece measures 24" x 24" and is pretty impressive if I do say so myself. To keep from becoming "stale", I try to challenge myself artistically when possible, and creating a Victorian baseball composite of a whole team was a nice work out. Best of all, the work will be part of The National Pastime Museum's permanent collection where a wide audience will be able to enjoy it.
The Museum also commissioned me to do two additional portraits of Hall of Famers and in the next few days I'll show them as well, but for now I hope you enjoy my take on "Casey at the Bat"!
Those who have met me in person know I'm not the kind of guy to toot my own horn. In fact, much to my detriment, I'm lousy about promoting myself. That's why it's hard for me to ask this, but this is something that needs to be done: if you bought a copy of The League of Outsider Baseball, can you please take the time to write a review of it on Amazon, Barnes and Noble or Good Reads? It would mean a lot to me and most importantly give future publishers an idea of what the book reading public thinks of my work. Almost all of the existing reader's reviews have been flattering, but every once in a while some crackpot writes a clunker out of jealousy or boredom. I for one often look at the reviews on those sites before I spend my money on a book. Reviews aren't the only thing I rely on in my purchasing process but it's certainly a factor, and that's why I'm asking you to please take the time to write your thoughts about my work.