7 Amazing Rickey Henderson Stolen Base Facts

Rickey Henderson was the best leadoff hitter in the history of the game and also one of the most exciting. Here are seven things Rickey did that will likely never be done again.

1:

From 1970 through 1989, Rickey stole 283 more bases than anyone in baseball. He didn’t make his debut until 1979.

Despite giving the rest of baseball more than an eight-year head start, Rickey stole more bases than anyone for the period of 1970 through 1989.

2:

Rickey Henderson stole 838 bases in the ’80s, which is more than the leader for the ’30s, ’40 and ’50 combined. By more than 100 SBs.

3:

Rickey’s 838 stolen bases in the ’80s alone would place him 4th in the all-time stolen base leaderboard. He played for another 14 seasons.

4:

Rickey stole 66 bases in his age-39 season.

At a time when many players stop running, Rickey kept going, swiping 66 bags in 1998 and getting thrown out only 13 times.

5:

After turning 40, Rickey stole 109 more bases.

At a time when many players have retired, Rickey kept going. He stole 109 bases after turning 40. Davey Lopes is 2nd on the list with 74.

6:

Rickey stole 33 bases in July of 1983. He was thrown out once. Once. Rick Dempsey got him on July 11th, 1983.

7:

Rickey stole four or more bases in a game 19 different times.

 

From the moment he made his debut in 1979 until his last at-bat in 2003, Rickey was fun to watch.

 

 

 

The Trade

Ryne Sandberg was expendable in January of 1982.

With the benefit of hindsight, the Phillies trade of Sandberg and Larry Bowa to the Cubs for Ivan DeJesus was awful. But a deep dive into what was going on with the Phillies at the time provides a fascinating look at a team desperately trying to hold on to glory. That doesn’t justify trading a future Hall of Famer, but it helps put the deal in perspective. It was an offseason of trades and turmoil at The Vet that culminated in the Phillies making one of the worst trades in franchise history. Here’s how it all went down:

Ryne Sandberg
Sandberg had a big year at Reading in1980

At the conclusion of the 1980 season, Ryne Sandberg was coming off a season in which he had hit .310 with 11 homers and 72 RBI along with 32 stolen bases for the Phillies AA team in Reading. He’d also made 79 errors at shortstop over three minor-league seasons. The manager Dallas Green’s end-of-year scouting report read, “Offensively, one of the better years in the organization. Good kid, works hard. A shortstop now who may move to another position.”

The Phillies had Bowa at shortstop at the major league level and they had another young SS prospect named Julio Franco, who was right behind Sandberg, as well as Luis Aguayo, whom they also liked. They didn’t need a shortstop, but they did need pitching. After a disappointing 1981 season, the Phillies needed to make some changes. A Philadelphia Daily News headline trumpeted, “Phillies Must Trade Youth for Pitching.”

The team was coming off a postseason ouster courtesy of the Montreal Expos, but there was still hope that a top of the rotation arm could give them the boost they needed to get back to the World Series.

The youth they had to entice such a deal included Keith Morland, Len Matuszek, Lonnie Smith, Bob Dernier, Franco, Sandberg, and Aguayo. The winter meetings were coming and general manager Paul “Pope” Owens would be a busy man.

November 20, 1981

The first domino fell because, in addition to starting pitching, the Phillies also needed a strong defensive catcher. Bob Boone was nearing the end of his career (so thought the Phillies brass) and opponents had run wild on the Phillies in 1981. Teams attempted 165 stolen bases and were caught just 45 times, roughly a third of which were Steve Carlton pickoffs.

Bo Diaz
Acquiring Bo Diaz was the first of many moves

Owens wanted Pittsburgh catcher Ed Ott, but his price tag was too high, so he got in touch with the Cleveland Indians and dangled the speedy outfielder Smith. Unfortunately for Owens, Cleveland general manager Gabe Paul contacted Whitey Herzog in St. Louis and arranged a three-way deal. Philadelphia got Bo Diaz, the defense-first catcher they needed, but instead of trading Smith to the American League East, where he wouldn’t bother them, he stayed in the division, where he most certainly would.

“(Smith is) a flat-out gamer who comes to play,” wrote Bill Conlin in the Philadelphia Daily News. “A kid who breaks up the double play with the reckless abandon of an Enos Slaughter.”

Owens knew the move wasn’t popular, but he also assured Phillis fans he wasn’t finished. One only needed to look at the fact that the Phillies catching depth chart went 5-deep to realize there were more moves coming. Gordon Smith’s column in the Allentown Morning Call said the Phillies were set up for a good old-fashioned blockbuster deal.

“Keith Moreland becomes the central figure,” wrote Smith on November 21st. “He’s as good as gone. If there’s one commodity for which teams thirst, it’s a catcher who can hit… Keith Moreland can certainly hit.

“Houston Seattle and Toronto are the most likely candidates for “The Pope’s” blockbuster. The guys on the other end are the Astros’ Bob Knepper, the Mariners’ Floyd Bannister, and Toronto’s Dave Stieb or Jim Clancy.”

He was half right.

December 6, 1981

A few weeks after acquiring a fifth catcher, the Phillies began to shed them. On December 6th, Owens sold Bob Boone, who had squatted behind home plate at The Vet since 1972, to the California Angels for $250,000. Boone’s production had slipped across the board in 1980 and ’81, but his new manager, Gene Mauch, wasn’t concerned, especially about his defense.

“What’s the difference?” he asked. “Who’s going to throw out Rickey Henderson anyway? I just want Mickey Klutts thrown out .”

For the record: Klutts attempted just one stolen base once Boone came over to the American League and Milwaukee’s Ted Simmons threw him out. Mauch got his wish.

December 8, 1981

Two days later, the Moreland deal finally went down. Owens had talked to Seattle about a package for Bannister that included Moreland, Sandberg, pitcher (and future Cy Young winner) Mark Davis and one other player. The Phillies countered and the two teams parted ways to “think about it overnight.” The next morning, Seattle awoke to the news that Owens had sent Moreland, along with pitchers Dan Larsen and Dickie Noles, to the Cubs for Mike Krukow, who had led the NL in starts in the strike-shortened 1981 season.

Krukow was thrilled with the deal. He welcomed the chance to join a winning ballclub and Owens predicted he could win as many as 18 games in 1982. Not surprisingly, the Philadelphia press and the fans were less than pleased.

“Phils’ Wisdom is in Question” read the headline for Philadelphia Inquirer Sports Editor Frank Dolson’s column on the deal. But Owens was happy with the Phillies return.

“Before we came to the Winter Meetings we listed in order the 10 pitchers we felt could help us,” he said. “Stieb was No. 1 and Krukow was No. 2. We are convinced we’ve gotten a solid third starter to go with Steve Carlton and Dick Ruthven.”

“Some of the most unpopular deals I’ve made have been my best,” he added. “Willie Montanez for Garry Maddox, Ken Brett for Dave Cash. Nobody liked those trades, but look what they did for the Phillies.”

More to Come

After two deals and selling a franchise staple, Owens still didn’t appear to be finished. A rumored deal sending Maddox to the Astros for Vern Ruhle looked to be dead, but a deal for Bannister was still a possibility if the Phillies were willing to part with Dernier or Franco plus Davis and Matuszak, who was coming off a .315 season in AAA with 21 homers. That was unlikely.

There was also a chance that if Owens couldn’t get Stieb, he could still pry Jim Clancy away from Toronto. Other rumors had the Phillies and Brewers swinging a deal with Owens acquiring either Mike Caldwell or Moose Haas. Then the Mets came calling.

Meet The Mets

On the surface, a deal between the Phillies and Mets didn’t seem to make sense since both teams were looking for pitching. But Owens told the Inquirer’s Jayson Stark that the Mets were in “win now” mode after years in ineptitude and might be willing to part with two prized pitching prospects if the price was right.

The price appeared to be Ryne Sandberg and Dick Ruthven but the Phillies would receive young righty Mike Scott and a lefty named Jesse Orosco. That deal ultimately fell through and Owens returned home. That’s when things got really bad.

Bowa Upset

Once the Winter Meetings concluded, the Phillies returned home to announce that they had signed Mike Schmidt to a new six-year contract, one that would hopefully keep in in Philadelphia for the rest of his career. It was a big money deal and, according to Giles, would force the team to make some tough decisions in the near future.

“Unfortunately, we’re going to have to get very tough on some other players because of it,” he said. “My philosophy is the four or five key guys – like Rose, Schmitty, Carlton and (Gary) Matthews – you have to take care of them. But we’re going to have to have tougher negotiations with some of those other people down the road or we just can’t make it financially.”

There was a name that was very conspicuous in its absence from Giles list of key guys and that was Larry Bowa. He’d been in the organization since 1966, won two Gold Gloves, made five All-Star appearances and had helped the Phillies win a World Series. Now, instead of being a “key guy,” he was part of “those other people.” It didn’t sit well.

Bowa wanted a three-year deal to stay with the Phillies and said he had a verbal agreement with former team owner Ruly Carpenter that he would either get a new contract or the team would trade him. Once Giles bought the team, he didn’t feel he was obligated to honor verbal agreements made by the previous owners.

“I told (Bowa) there were two options – give him a three-year contract or trade him,” Carpenter told the Philadelphia Inquirer. “I told him if I still owned the ballclub that’s what I would do. But I don’t own the Phillies anymore and Larry has to understand that.”

Giles expressed hope that something could be worked out, but that didn’t seem likely.

“I don’t think it can be smoothed over,” said Bowa. “I’ve been with an organization that’s always been dead honest with me. Now all of a sudden, all I get is deceit, lies. To me, the class went out of this organization when Ruly Carpenter stepped down.”

The Die is Cast

Once Bowa called Giles a liar, there wasn’t much doubt that a trade was imminent and the Cubs were the best fit. Dallas Green had left the Phillies to become the Chicago general manager and after making the Krukow deal, he and Owens began to talk again. According to the Chicago Tribune, Green wanted Bowa and Sandberg in exchange for Ivan deJesus but the deal could possibly expand to include Cubs left-handed reliever, Bill Caudill.

Four days later Jayson Stark reported more names flying back and forth between the two teams. The Phillies were interested in a young relief pitcher named Lee Smith, but the Cubs weren’t biting on the Phillies offer of Sparky Lyle, Del Unser or catcher Don McCormack in return. If the Cubs were going to part with Smith, they wanted outfielder George Vukovich in return and Philadelphia balked at including him.

Finally; A Deal

At long last, a deal finally came together between the two clubs on January 27th. There was no Lee Smith, or Bill Caudill or Sparky Lyle or George Vukovich. It was the base deal, with no add-ons. Ivan deJesus came to Philadelphia for Larry Bowa and Ryne Sandberg.

Once again, Phillies fans weren’t happy, especially considering deJesus was coming off a season in which he won a reverse triple crown of sorts. In 1981, Ivan deJesus finished last in batting average (.194), home runs (0) and RBI (13) among batters with enough plate appearances to qualify for a batting title.

“It’s a trade we thought we had to make,” said Owens. He was right. Once Bowa began taking shots at the organization, they had little choice but to move him and he didn’t stop talking once the deal was done, either.

“That’s me,” Bowa said. “I’ve got to shoot from the hip. Bill Giles is on the job a month and 12 days and he’s had a lot of problems.”

“He comes out with a statement that he’s got four players on the team. You might believe it, you might think it, but you don’t say it out loud. How do you think the other 21 guys feel?”

Sandberg began his Cubs career at 3rd, but moved to 2nd in 1983 and the Hall of Fame in 2005

Bowa also weighed in on the “throw in” portion of the shortstop swap, saying “I’m surprised they got Sandberg, too. He’s a good looking prospect. An athlete.”

Cubs manager Lee Elia, a former Phillies coach, agreed. While some saw Ryne Sandberg as a man without a position, Elia saw him differently.

“I look at it this way, Sandberg can ay any one of three positions for us – second base, third base or center field,” Elia said.

There was talk in spring training of Sandberg becoming the Cubs starting centerfielder, but Gary Woods ultimately filled that position. Chicago acquired Bump Wills late in spring training to man second base, which left Sandberg at 3rd, replacing the departed Ken Reitz, who was released right before the season began.

After being the starting shortstop for five years, Ivan deJesus was unsure how to feel at the time of the trade.

“I really don’t know why (the Cubs) traded me,” he said. I suppose the only way they feel they can have a winning team is to make changes. So they changed me and Krukow, but maybe they made a mistake.”

Turns out, it was the Phillies who made the mistake. They paid for it until 1997 when Ryne Sandberg retired after playing more than 2,100 games in a Chicago uniform and sporting a Cubs hat on his plaque in Cooperstown.

Ballpark Ghosts: Tiger Stadium

Bob Busser shot his first ballpark photographs in 1967 with a brownie camera. Since then he’s been to nearly 800 venues, capturing more than 75,000 images. His work is on display at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York and I recently got the chance to talk to him about his travels and, more specifically, his photographs of Tiger Stadium in Detroit.

The Beginning

Bob began taking photographs of ballparks in earnest in the summer of 1976. He and his family traveled to the east coast on vacation and while the family went to see the Queen of England, who was in town to celebrate the Bicentennial, Bob headed to Fenway Park to watch the Red Sox.

On another part of the trip, his father was driving past Tiger Stadium and pulled over, telling him the family would wait while he took pictures. Bob was able to talk his way into the empty ballpark and enjoy one of the more iconic ballparks in Major League Baseball. Later he did the same at Comiskey Park in Chicago, County Stadium in Milwaukee and Municipal Stadium in Cleveland.

“It was a different time,” he said. “It wasn’t a big deal to let a teenager into a ballpark then for a few minutes. It’s gotten much tougher since.”
But that hasn’t stopped him. For more than 40 years, Bob Busser has been traveling the country, taking photographs of ballparks old and new as well as football stadiums and arenas. Sometimes the venues are new, something they’re falling apart. In some instances, they’re just a shell, but that doesn’t matter to Busser.

“I’m happiest when I’m in a ballpark somewhere,” he says. “My wife is a big sports fan too, so she’s fine with me heading off somewhere to take photos. Sometimes she comes with me and we’ll go to a game.

The Corner

Bob Busser Tiger Stadium
In 2003, Busser and his wife were on a trip in Detroit when he stopped off at the corner of Michigan and Trumbull and shot some amazing photographs. The Tigers had moved to Comerica Park three years earlier, but the old ballpark was still there. Its best days were long gone but much of the character still remained, though it was somewhat hidden under debris.

“Tiger Stadium was the quintessential ballpark,” says Busser. “Ty Cobb played there. Hank Greenberg played there. So did Babe Ruth.”

“It had double decks, crowded cramped concourses; I loved going there. You could smell the stale cigars and the sausages. The field was an immaculate green. It was a place where people went to watch a game, not ride a Ferris wheel.”

Among the gems of this trip was the opportunity to see and photograph the offices of former Tiger President Jim Campbell and owner Walter Briggs.

Bob Busser Tiger Stadium
Jim Campbell’s office

“The guy who was showing me around asked if I wanted to see the offices and I said, ‘Absolutely!’” I was shooting film at the time so I didn’t get as many images as I wanted to but it was really great to see. They didn’t let a lot of people in there.”

Bob Busser Tiger Stadium
Walter Briggs’ office

The Ballpark

Bob was able to capture some great images of Tiger Stadium, a ballpark that hosted a who’s who of baseball for 87 years, as well as some of the finest players in the National Football League from 1938 through 1974.

Bob Busser Tiger Stadium

About Bob Busser: Bob Busser is a professional photographer who has been capturing images on stadiums and arenas for more than 40 years. You can find Bob’s photographs of ballparks old and new at www.ballparks.smugmug.com. He is also the administrator of the Ballparks, Stadiums and Arenas of the past and present Facebook group and can also be found on Twitter @BobBusser.

The Best of 2017 on ’80s Baseball

I started this blog at the beginning of 2016 as a companion to a book I was writing. I’m happy to say the book is finished and should be out at some point in the summer of 2018. I didn’t post on the blog nearly as much as I wanted to this year because I was finishing my manuscript, but these are the most popular articles.

Number 5: A Discussion with Tim Carroll

 

Tim Carroll ArtTim Carroll takes old baseball cards and cuts them up to create amazing pieces of art. I had a chance to talk to Tim about his art and how he takes “junk cards” and repurposes them.

 

Number 4: Mark Fidrych Roundtable

This was one of my favorites. I had the great honor of talking to authors Dan Epstein and Doug Wilson about The Bird, his career, and his legacy. This was a two-part post. The second part is linked to at the bottom of part one.

 

 

Number 3: Dream Season: George Brett

In 2017, I began taking  individual players’ best months and combining them into one “super season.” If you take George Brett’s best April, May, etc and put them together, it’s pretty impressive.

 

Number 2: The Quest for Razor Shines

Razor Shines spent much of his professional career playing for the AAA Indianapolis Indians. Author Nate Dunlevy spent way too much time and way too much money to recreate one of his jerseys. It was totally worth it.

 

 

 

Number 1: Cecil Cooper and the Forgotten Summer of 1980

Cecil Cooper had an amazing season for the Brewers in 1980. Unfortunately for Coop, very few people outside of Milwaukee even noticed.

 

 

 

 

 

Thanks so much for reading and I look forward to 2018!

-J.D.

Dream Season: Rickey Henderson

Every player longs for that dream season. The one where they stay healthy and just produce. I’m going to crunch the numbers and create dream seasons for notable 1980s stars. This time I’ll take a look at Rickey Henderson.

March/April 1988

By 1988, Rickey was well established as the premier base stealer of the time, if not ever. A member of the New York Yankees, Rickey started the season off well, hitting .362 with 23 runs scored and 23 stolen bases in 23 games.

He enjoyed his best game of the month on one of the Yankees’ worst, going 5-5 with 4 stolen bases and 4 runs scored in a 17-9 loss to Toronto on April 11th.

May 1982

Nineteen-Eighty-Two was when Rickey took base stealing to another level and I certainly could have used many months from that amazing year to fill his dream season but I wanted to limit myself as much as possible. Having said that, Rickey’s May was pretty impressive.

He hit .304 and swiped 27 bases in 32 attempts. He also drew 27 walks to post an on-base percentage of .443. He had eight games in which he stole two or more bases, including a 4-steal effort against the Tigers in the second game of a doubleheader on May 30th. Those four bags gave him 49 on the season in 49 games, en route to setting a new single-season record with 130.

June 1985

In his biography, Confessions of a Thief, Rickey said that when he went to the Yankees in 1985 he didn’t need to run as much and began to focus more on power. For Rickey, not focusing on stolen bases meant he’d only swipe 22 bags in 23 attempts. True to his word, he also hit 6 homers and drove in 17 runs.

He began the month by going 10-18 in the first four games and then cooled off, but only slightly. He played in 27 games and recorded at least one hit in 23 of them, good for a .416 batting average for the month with 31 runs scored, as part of a potent Yankee lineup that also included Don Mattingly, Dave Winfield and Don Baylor.

The highlight of the month for Rickey came on June 17th. The Yankees team bus was pulled over for speeding on the way to the ballpark in Baltimore, but the officer let them off with a warning after Ron Guidry offered a signed baseball. Once at the ballpark, Rickey turned in the first five-hit game of his career and also drew a walk in a 10-0 win.

Things got so bad for the Orioles that Earl Weaver, coaxed out of retirement, yelled, “Are you ever going to make an out?”

Rickey just laughed.

July 1983

Rickey didn’t hit for as high an average in July of 1983 as he did in June of ’85, but he did record the 2nd best stolen base month of his career.

After being thrown out stealing in his only attempt on June 30th, Rickey reeled off 14 straight steals without being caught until Rick Dempsey finally got him on July 11th. He stole three or more bases 5 times and ended the month with 33 in 34 attempts.

Oakland skipper Steve Boros summed things up succinctly, saying, “With Rickey’s speed, anything is possible.”

August 1983

Rickey didn’t slow down in August of 1983. After batting .327 in July, he hit a remarkable .390 in August with a homer and 9 RBI.

He had four different 3-hit games and two games in which he stole 4 bases. He was at peak Rickey during a two-game series against the Yankees when he went 6-10 with 5 stolen bases in an Oakland sweep. He began to step up his base stealing when the team went into a slump.

“I felt I had to do something,” said Rickey. “I had to make things happen. If I have the opportunity, I’m going for it.”

“He’s a one-man show,” said his former manager Billy Martin. “You really can’t stop him.”

 

September/October 1980

1980 was Rickey Henderson’s first full season in the big leagues and while many young players slow down at the end of their first year, Rickey stepped up his game.

Three months shy of his 22nd birthday, Rickey hit .297 and scored 26 runs in 31 games. That’s impressive but not as impressive as the fact that he stole 34 bases, including a string of 13 bases in 13 attempts over nine games.

Rickey ran wild in the final month of the 1980 season. He stole bases in 21 of the 31 games in which he played and had two different 4 stolen base games, one against Kansas City and one against Milwaukee.

“Stealing is an art to me,” Rickey told UPI. “I’ve stolen 80-90 bases everywhere I’ve been. I’d like to break (Lou Brock’s) all-time record (118 in a season) and I think I can. So does Brock. He saw me steal some bases in Boston and he told me the next person to break the record would be me.”

Turns out they were right. Rickey would steal 130 bags in 1982.

The Totals:

If you add up all of Rickey’s best months and put them into one season it becomes a player you’d pay top dollar for at the leadoff spot. In Rickey Henderson’s dream season, he hits  .348 with 16 homers and 79 RBI. Any team would take that without a single stolen base, but when you add in the 163 bags and 149 runs scored he’s an absolute juggernaut.

Month Year AB Hits Avg HR RBI Runs SB
Mar/

Apr

’88 94 34 .362 3 14 23 20
May ’82 102 31 .304 3 16 26 27
June ’85 113 47 .416 6 17 31 22
July ’83 113 37 .327 2 8 27 33
Aug ’83 82 32 .390 1 9 16 27
Sept./Oct. ’80 111 33 .297 1 10 26 34
Total 615 214 .348 16 74 149 163

 

 

The Quest for Razor Shines

Note: This is a guest post from Nate Dunlevy

My best friend and I just spent dozens of hours and hundreds of dollars to recreate a AAA baseball jersey from 1986 for a player with 81 career major-league at bats.

Context may be required.

Late 80s Indianapolis was a haven for boys who loved minor-league baseball. In between delivering papers and playing “Got it, got it, need it” with our stash of wood-paneled Topps, we went to games and cheered the future stars of the bigs. They never stayed long, especially not the great ones, but even as the roster turned over every few months, there was one constant. The brightest baseball star in town was Anthony “Razor” Shines.

We weren’t old enough to shave, but we all knew Razor. The venerable infielder played part of nine seasons at Bush Stadium, racking up more than 2,500 at bats for the Indians. Whether it was his name, his smile, or his longevity, he became a fixture on the best team in minor league baseball. Shines was so popular, he even had a Pepsi commercial that played locally.

No trip to the game was complete without shouting in unison, “Raaaaaazor” with every trip to the plate. My first game, he was there. All through Little League and adolescence, Shines was there. Eventually, we learned to drive and took ourselves and eventually even girlfriends (once or twice) to the games, and Razor was still always there. He spent nine seasons with the Indians, and we grew up from 9 to 18 during the span.

On the night of his last professional game, we were there. We yelled “Raaaaazor!” one last time. We were not yet grown men, but we were close enough to it, maybe even closer than we are now.

To this day, if anyone says the word “razor”, I hear it in my head the way the PA blared it in 1989. Chad and I reminisced about him often, and I mentioned one day that I was trolling the internet for a throwback jersey from the late-80s Indians because, of course I was. He laughed and said that he had a whole folder made up from when he tried to figure out how to do a custom version.

Realization and nostalgia swept over me in waves. This white whale of mine, an authentic-enough Razor Shines jersey was possible. I didn’t marvel that my friend was also obsessed with finding or creating a Shines jersey. Of course he was.

From then on, nothing would stand in my way. I scoured the internet for the right custom-jersey partner. Eventually, I made way to winning-streak.com and harassed their employees with emails and phone calls. After at least 50 communications including sample jerseys sent to my house, I was finally convinced they were the ones to bring my vision to fruition.

I had a friend recreate the Indians’ logo and font from online sources and sent them off to the good folks in St. Louis, like a prayer into the void. The only catch was that the smallest run I could request was six jerseys. I had to find other people just as insane about Razor Shines as Chad and I were. In less than an hour, Facebook raced to my rescue. Friends and acquaintances grilled me with questions about the authenticity and quality of the jerseys. Razor Shines’ fans are a discriminating bunch, but the promise of a Shines jersey was too much for them resist. With four other commitments to buy in place, I placed the order and hoped that we had nailed all the details.

When the jerseys finally arrived, they were glorious. Part dare, part obsession, the finished product evoked memories of a time when playing minor-league ball in a dilapidated soon-to-be junkyard was everything I could ever have wanted.

 

 

 

Many great players have come through Indianapolis over the years. Hank Aaron and Harmon Killebrew. Ken Griffey and George Foster. Randy Johnson and Andrew McCutchen. But to children of the 80s, it will always be Razor who shines brightest.

 

 

 

Invincible, Indiana by Nate Dunlevy
Invincible, Indiana
by Nate Dunlevy

ABOUT NATE DUNLEVY: Nate Dunlevy is the author of Blue Blood – The Story of the Indianapolis Colts and Invincible, Indiana a novel about basketball and small-town Indiana. His work can occasionally be found at ColtsAuthority.com and his books can be found at MadisonHousePublishing.com. He tweets @natedunlevy

 

 

 

PHOTO CREDIT: Bob Busser. You can find Bob’s photographs of ballparks old and new at www.ballparks.smugmug.com. He also is the administrator of the Ballparks, Stadiums_and_Arenas_of_the_past_and_present Facebook group.

A Conversation with John Giancaspro

It started with Ivan DeJesus.

John Giancaspro opened a pack of 1982 Donruss baseball cards, pulled an Ivan DeJesus Diamond King card, and a life-long love of sports art was born.

“I was only 12 at the time,” said Giancaspro, “and I thought a painted card was the coolest thing ever. I knew I wanted to do that. I was in junior high at the time and I asked my art teacher what medium that was done in. He said he thought it was watercolor. I have been using watercolor ever since.”

John doesn’t limit himself to simply painting on canvas. He also uses baseballs, boxing gloves, basketballs, footballs, football helmets, and home plates.

His passion has taken him to big shows where he’s had the opportunity to meet a number of his subjects and receive commissions from them and their relatives, including David Justice and Roger Clemens.

But shows aren’t the only place he’s had a chance to rub shoulders with big leaguers. His first opportunity for that came as a batboy for the New York Mets in the early 1990s.

“The greatest job I ever had,” he says. “I had been drawing/ painting Yankees and Mets players since the early 80’s and most of the people that worked at Shea Stadium lived in my neighborhood. One of them knew that I did this work and asked me if I wanted to work in the visitors’ clubhouse with him. Who would say ‘No’ to that?”

“The first player I did a painting of was Ozzie Smith. He signed it and asked for one the next time the Cardinals were in town. Sure enough, when the Cardinals came back to Shea later that season I presented the painting to Ozzie and he gave me an autographed game used bat in return.”

Over the next few seasons, John did paintings for many opposing players, including Barry Bonds, who even took him out to dinner and gave him a ride home in his limousine.

“In 1992 I mostly worked on the Mets side and really got to know some players well. Especially Doc Gooden. I’ve done about 10 paintings for Gooden and still keep in contact with him today.”

“It’s such a great feeling being in the clubhouse, being on the field, smelling the grass and playing catch with a player like Dale Murphy or Delino DeShields,” he said.

 

It’s even cooler when you do a painting of Dale Murphy and he signs it for you. Not a bad gig if you can get it.

“I stopped doing shows in 2002 because I wasn’t selling as much, the hobby had really slowed down and I got a job as a Doorman in Manhattan to better support my kids.”

“I still have the Doorman job and I did the National Sports Collectors Convention last year in Atlantic City after a 15-year absence from doing shows and I had a great response. I even ran into a few of my old customers.”

John’s work came full circle a few years ago when he gave the Diamond King collection an update, painting current stars in the same format that inspired him as a kid.

“It’s definitely a tribute to Mr. Perez and the Diamond Kings set that made me want to do what I do,” John said.

“I started the set in 2012 and I wanted to see modern players portrayed in the same style they were 30 years prior. I copied the design of the card and the illustration, researched photos of the players I would use. I only completed 15, but I’m still working on it.”

 

About the Artist

John Giancaspro attended High School of Art & Design and received a Bachelors Degree in Fine Arts from the Fashion Institute
of Technology. He’s been painting athletes since the early 1980s and can be found online at www.jgsportsgallery.com as well as on Facebook.

 

 

 

Dodgers Astros Showdown

“For you guys who don’t think we can win four in a row, do us a favor. Don’t get dressed.”

So read the sign in the Dodgers clubhouse on Friday, October 3rd. L.A trailed the Astros by three games with three remaining in the season. Anything less than a four-game sweep would end their year.

Game 1 – October 3rd, 1980

Despite the inspiration, the Dodgers were in trouble late in Friday’s opener. Alan Ashby’s 8th inning sacrifice fly gave the Astros a 2-1 lead and L.A. had just two at-bats left to save their season.

Houston starter Ken Forsch, whose 2nd inning single off Don Sutton gave the Astros a 1-0 lead, set L.A. down in order in the bottom of the 8th and was scheduled to lead off the top of the 9th. Astros manager Bill Virdon opted to let Forsch hit for himself against Valenzuela, who had still not yielded a run on the season and Forsch lined out to 2nd baseman Davey Lopes.

 

Forsch got Jay Johnstone to ground out to open the 9th, but a Rick Monday single was followed by an error on Rafael Landestoy. Two batters later, Ron Cey singled to left field to tie the game.

Valenzuela again set the Astros down in order in the top of the 10th inning and Virdon again sent Forsch out in the bottom half of the frame. Former Astro catcher Joe Ferguson sent Forsch’s first pitch into the stands over a leaping Cesar Cedeno in left-center field for a walk-off homer, giving the Dodgers new life. Ferguson celebrated his game winning homer by throwing his batting helmet into the air as he rounded 3rd base and, after crossing home plate, picked up Lasorda in a bear hug before mobbed by his teammates and blowing kisses to the fans.

“Sometimes we don’t look pretty out there,” said Ferguson, “but this team has shown more heart than any team I’ve ever played on.”

Game 2 – October 4th, 1980

The two teams squared off the following afternoon with L.A.’s Jerry Reuss against Houston’s Nolan Ryan. L.A. took a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the second when Derrel Thomas singled to left to score Steve Garvey. Art Howe’s RBI single in the 4th tied the game at one, but Garvey led off the top of the 5th with a home run, his 26th, and Reuss shut out the Astros the rest of the way for his 18th win.

“I’ve never seen him more aggressive,” Lasorda said of his starter. “I’ve seen him throw better, but he went after every batter today.”

The win meant Houston’s lead was down to just a single game with one game remaining. A Dodger win on Sunday afternoon would force a one-game playoff in Los Angeles, while a Houston win wrap secure the division title.

“The fact is this: We can win it tomorrow. They can’t,” said Morgan. “We win tomorrow and it’s all over. The percentages are in our favor. The Dodgers haven’t beaten us four straight all year and I don’t see them doing it.”

Game 3 – October 5th, 1980

For game three of the series, Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda started 14-game winner Burt Hooton, while Houston skipper Bill Virdon went with Vern Ruhle, who was dealing with a finger injury he suffered when he cut his right index finger on a nail in the dugout on Friday. The wound required two stitches to close and left Ruhle unsure how long he could go in the season’s final game.

“I don’t think it’s going to be a factor, but I’m going to let the trainer work on it,” Ruhle said. “Obviously I can’t pitch with a Band-Aid on, but I think I’ll be all right. If I can’t (pitch) I’m sure Joaquin will be ready.”

In addition to Ruhle, Joe Morgan injured himself in Friday’s game sliding back into 1st base on a pickoff attempt. The Dodgers weren’t faring much better though as Davey Lopes was battling a sore neck and both Ron Cey and Dusty Baker were dealing with hamstring pulls. But minor injuries wouldn’t keep anyone out of game of this magnitude.

It didn’t take long for the Astros to get to Hooton or to practice a little gamesmanship. Cesar Cedeno led off the top of the 2nd inning by testing Ron Cey’s sore hamstring with a bunt down the 3rd base line that turned into an infield single. A stolen base and a Hooton error put runners on the corners with no one out. Alan Ashby singled to center to score Cedeno and Craig Reynolds singled to right to give Houston a 2-0 lead and chase Hooton from the game.

Ruhle wasn’t around much longer than Hooton but it wasn’t the Dodgers that knocked him out of the game, it was his finger. The stitches opened up early and by the third inning he had to come out of the game.

“I went as far as I could as hard as I could,” he said afterwards. “It started breaking by the first inning, but it didn’t start bleeding. It just started tearing downward and by the last two pitches I made, I just didn’t see any point in going on. I would have been hurting the team.”

Houston increased their lead to 3-0 in the top of the 4th but the Dodgers got one back in the bottom of the 5th on a Davey Lopes single off Joaquin Andujar. Down 3-1, Lasorda once again called on Fernando Valenzuela to keep his team in the game and once again, the rookie delivered, throwing two scoreless innings. When he was due to hit in the bottom of the 7th with two men on base, the 19-year-old Valenzuela was replaced by 42-year-old Manny Mota, whom the Dodgers activated as a pinch-hitter in September. This presented a slight problem as Mota was also the Dodgers’ 1st base coach. Ever the strategist, Lasorda sent pitcher Don Sutton to take Mota’s place in the coach’s box while Mota took Valenzuela’s place at the plate against Joe Sambito.

The two had faced each other on September 10th and Sambito had induced Mota to ground into a double play in the 9th inning of a 6-5 Houston victory. This time, Mota stroked an RBI single to right field to cut the lead to 3-2 and end Sambito’s afternoon. Houston manager Bill Virdon summoned Frank LaCorte from the bullpen, who retired Lopes and Dusty Baker to escape the inning.

Steve Garvey to hit a ground ball to 3rd baseman Enos Cabell to open the 8th inning, but Cabell couldn’t handle it and Garvey was safe at 1st base to bring up Cey. Conventional wisdom called for Cey to bunt, especially since he was nursing a sore hamstring, which not only prevented him from running well but also sapped a lot of his power. Cey squared around to bunt twice, but couldn’t get it down. He then worked the count full and when LaCorte delivered his next pitch Cey drove it straight into his left ankle. Now both legs were hurting, but the count was still full and Cey looked to put a ball in the gap.

He fouled off two more pitches before LaCorte delivered a fastball that caught too much of the plate and Cey pounced on it, sending the ball deep to left field. “You gotta be kidding me,” Sambito thought as the ball sailed into the left field seats.

The two run homer, Cey’s 28th of the season, gave L.A. a 4-3 lead, but there was plenty of drama left. Houston put two on in the top of the 9th, which brought Lasorda out of the Dodgers dugout and drew a round of boos at the prospect of his removing Steve Howe from the game, who had replaced Valenzuela in the 8th. But the boos turned to cheers when starter and ersatz 1st base coach Don Sutton emerged from the Dodger bullpen and trotted to the mound. Two pitches later, Sutton got Denny Walling to bounce out to Lopes to end the game and force a one Monday afternoon playoff at Dodger Stadium.

“This team’s going to grow up a lot tomorrow,” said Morgan, “or it’ll die. It’ll be strong, I’ll tell you that, one way or another, or it’ll die.”

Game 4 – October 6th, 1980

The man charged with staving off the Astros’ death was knuckleballer Joe Niekro. In 14 big league seasons, Niekro had thrown more than 2,100 innings and not one of them had come in the postseason. Whether or not that streak continued was up to him, but his two previous outings against L.A. had not gone well.

“The challenge is out there, and I’ve got to go out and get it,” Niekro said. “I accept it. If we had to have a playoff game, I wanted to pitch it.”

Niekro was gunning for his 2nd straight 20-win season while the Dodgers starter, Dave Goltz, was trying to redeem himself after not living up to the free-agent deal he signed at the beginning of the season.

“I’m excited about being given the chance to win it,” Goltz said. “I’ve never been in a situation where a game meant so much. I’m really looking forward to this.”

Astros General Manager Tal Smith got caught up in the excitement as well, but he also could have lived without it. “It’s just like a World Series,” he said. “Three of the most exciting game you’ll ever see, especially if you’re an impartial observer, which I’m not.” Few of the 51,000 fans people who showed up for the playoff game were impartial, either and there was another biased observer sitting on the Dodgers bench.

Ron Cey woke up on Monday morning with a badly swollen ankle, the result of the previous day’s foul ball, and was in enough pain that Lasorda had no choice to remove him from the lineup. For a team already missing Reggie Smith and Bill Russell it was a big blow and the first sign of trouble for the Dodgers.

The next sign came when Terry Puhl led off the game with a ground ball to Lopes, who had the ball pop out of his glove for an error. Enos Cabell then singled to center and stole 2nd. After two batters, Houston had runners on 2nd and 3rd with no one out and the Dodger bullpen began to stir. Two batters later, Jose Cruz hit a ground ball to Mickey Hatcher, who had taken Cey’s place at 3rd base. Hatcher came home with the throw but Joe Ferguson couldn’t hold onto it after Puhl collided with him. Cesar Cedeno’s groundout gave the Astros a 2-0 lead despite their only having one hit.

While Goltz and the Dodgers looked a bit shaky in the early going, Niekro was anything but, retiring the first six batters he faced on the strength of an active and unpredictable knuckleball. In the top of the 3rd, Art Howe faced Goltz with two out and a man on and deposited Goltz’s offering into the left field seats to give his team a 4-0 lead. For Howe, it was his 10 home run of the season and the 33rd, and most important of his career.

Houston added three more the following inning and Niekro handled the rest. When Jack Perconte came up with two outs in the 9th inning and his team down 7-1, the Dodger Stadium organist broke into the inspirational World War II tune, “We did it before and we can do it again.” But there was no miracle comeback this time. Perconte popped out to Dave Bergman at 1st base and the Astros, for the first time in their 19-year existence, were headed to the playoffs.

“No team beats us four in a row,” said Joe Morgan. “No team does that to us. Our pitching is too good. The Dodgers learned that today, no matter what kind of momentum they thought they had.”

 

Larry Bowa: Pride of Philadelphia and Sacramento

NOTE: This is a guest post from Marshall Garvey

It’s become something of a cliche to praise a modern player who shows any semblance of hustle as a “throwback”. Should one employ the term, though, Larry Bowa is the ideal litmus. In a year that’s seeing home runs fly at a historic rate (juiced ball or no), Bowa would be out of step, hitting a scant 15 in his entire career. His forte was instead pure defense, coupled with reliable contact hitting. He didn’t even look like a star ballplayer, with a small, skinny frame and a mug graced by a bulbous nose. Even more vintage than his playing style is his story, one of tenacity forged by doubts about his ability and later turning MLB’s lousiest franchise into a winner.

The Early Years

That story began in an unlikely place: Sacramento, California. While the River City might not come to mind as an eminent baseball city for most, it’s been the hometown and launching pad for players spanning from Stan Hack to Derrek Lee. Bowa was practically destined to join this group from birth; his father Paul played in the minor leagues (including the Sacramento Solons of the Pacific Coast League), and mother Mary excelled in softball. Larry first honed his skills under his father’s tutelage with a Land Park Little League team. Always the smallest kid on the squad, he learned not only the fundamentals of the game, but a fervent sense of determination to overcome any adversity he faced.

Larry Bowa
Bowa (colored sleeves) as a youth in Sacramento

This resilience was tested right away in his teens at C.K. McClatchy High School. The school coach derided Bowa for his size, telling him he was simply too short to excel in baseball. Bowa was cut from the team, only adding to his drive. His family, disheartened when he broke the news, avoided summer vacations from thereon to accommodate his playing in the Summer League. That dedication paid off when Sacramento City College coach Del Bandy spotted Bowa and asked him to join the school’s team, the Panthers. It was there his talent flourished, earning league MVP and the attention of Eddie Bockman, a major league scout from the Philadelphia Phillies.

However, that scout didn’t get to see the young prospect in action right away. In a moment that would become common in his later coaching days, Bowa managed to get ejected from both games of the doubleheader that served as his audition. Bockman would eventually see Bowa’s natural talent, signing him to a minor league deal. In 1970, the kid who was told he couldn’t succeed at McClatchy High School debuted as Philadelphia’s shortstop at Connie Mack Stadium.

To Philadelphia

It was perfect timing. The fiery, chip-on-the-shoulder mentality Bowa fomented in his youth suited him for 1970’s Philadelphia. It was a decade that saw the city face substantial adversity, as deindustrialization hollowed out its economy and “white flight” to the suburbs turned once vibrant neighborhoods into slums. Unbecoming of its nickname, the City of Brotherly Love was further torn apart by intense racial discord, exacerbated by police chief-turned-mayor Frank Rizzo’s clashes with black liberation groups.

Nothing embodied the gritty tribulation of the city during this time more than the Phillies, a franchise with much to prove. Despite almost an entire century of existence, the Phils were the embodiment of baseball futility. Of the original 16 teams in Major League Baseball, they were the only one without a World Series title, with just two intermittent pennants (1915 and 1950) to punctuate decades of grueling irrelevance. The Phold of 1964 still left a searing pain for fans, when the club squandered a 6½ game lead with only 12 left to play and missed out on what seemed a surefire NL pennant.

The first half of the 70’s were more of the same old, bottom-feeding Phillies. But the scrawny Sacramentan quickly distinguished himself as a premiere shortstop during that span. By 1972 he was already a Gold Glove winner, racking up assists, putouts and double plays with ease. Two years after that, he earned his first All Star selection. The team even came around and posted a winning record in 1975, augmented by Bowa’s career-best .305 average. When asked about his success, Bowa didn’t credit his trademark heart and hustle but rather…transcendental meditation.

Playoff Runs

1976, all too fittingly, was the year the Fightin’ Phils completed their renaissance. Philadelphia was thrust into the national spotlight anew by the U.S. Bicentennial celebration, and an unlikely smash hit at the movie theaters that became the city’s pop culture insignia. On Thanksgiving week, Americans packed into cinemas to watch a rudimentary but charming film about an Italian-American boxer named Rocky Balboa. With Philly’s blue collar neighborhoods as his training ground, Balboa went from an aimless club fighter to going the distance with champion Apollo Creed. Rocky conquered the box office, then improbably won the Academy Award for Best Picture against much-favored competition. Amidst the slog of stagflation, poverty and racial strife, the city could beam with pride at the success of a local underdog sports hero, albeit a fictional one.

Before Rocky conquered the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Phillies weaved their own rags-to-riches tale in ‘76. They won 101 games, giving the franchise its first postseason berth since the “Whiz Kids” of 1950. Bowa’s pristine fielding earned him his third straight All-Star selection, ranking in the NL top five in fielding percentage at shortstop. Alongside him was an ever-improving battery of stars: third baseman Mike Schmidt, equal parts slugger and defensive maestro; Greg Luzinski, a stocky outfielder with a penchant for monstrous homers; Steve Carlton, a crafty southpaw against whom hitting was like “drinking coffee with a fork” (in the words of Willie Stargell); and reliever Tug McGraw, who rallied the rival New York Mets to an impossible pennant in 1973 with the hokey yet galvanic phrase, “Ya gotta believe!”

Any hopes of ending the franchise’s title drought were quickly (and perhaps predictably) snuffed out in the NLCS by the Cincinnati Reds. “The Big Red Machine” were the defending World Series champions, in the midst of a two-year run that merited consideration for greatest team of all-time. Cincinnati swept Philadelphia in three games, but the nucleus for the most successful stretch in franchise history had been formed. For the first time since 1964, Philadelphia could reasonably envision a World Series on the horizon.

Being the Phillies, that World Series wouldn’t come without enduring some more macabre heartbreak. The 1977 squad won 101 games again to face the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NLCS. Philadelphia looked poised to take the series at home late in game three, holding a 5-3 lead with two outs in the top of the ninth. It was then that Bowa would be front and center for the devastation of “Black Friday”, the moment that led to more tears in the Delaware Valley than any other in Phillies history. (At least until Joe Carter, anyway.)

The Dodgers scored a run on two hits and an error to make it 5-4 with a runner on third. Davey Lopes then chopped a grounder that bounced off Schmidt’s knee, which Bowa swiftly grabbed and propelled to first. Lopes was called safe in what appeared to be a virtual tie, allowing the tying run to score. The Phillies argued, but to no avail. Los Angeles rallied to win the game, and easily beat the deflated Phils the next day to take the series. The teams met again in ‘78 with the same result, this time ending on a walk-off hit at Dodger Stadium.

1980

At the end of a step-back season in 1979, the front office selected Dallas Green as manager, hoping he could refine an already talented club into a championship one. Green implemented a no-nonsense clubhouse ethic, feeling the players had been too loose in recent years. Long-time stars were no longer guaranteed play time if a younger player was doing better, a “We, Not I” sign graced the clubhouse wall, and the door to Green’s office was frequently left open for verbal reamings.

This leadership style butted heads with many veterans, especially Bowa. The shortstop and new skipper frequently clashed in heated exchanges. One time, Bowa did manage to get in a rare last word. After a particularly dismal loss, Green left the door open again as he spoke to reporters, loudly questioning the team’s desire to win. Bowa instructed one writer to ask Green how many games he won in his career as a major league pitcher (the answer: 20). Green’s booming response from the office: “Touche, Bo. Touche.”

Green’s style wasn’t what the players wanted, but it was certainly what they needed. Unlike their dominant seasons in the 70’s, the Phils were locked in a multi-team race all throughout 1980, and it would take everything they had to win the NL East. Green’s patience was exhausted by an August slump that put them six games behind Montreal, leading to a clubhouse lecture so thunderous that reporters could hear it in the hallways outside. It did the trick, as the Phillies rattled off a bevy of one-run wins down the stretch and eked out a division title.

It was just the warm-up they needed for the NLCS against Houston, a white-knuckle battle that might still be the greatest series in NL history. Four of the five games went into extra innings, each one marked by miraculous comebacks and near-misses. In the deciding fifth game in Houston, the Phillies found themselves staring at yet another devastating postseason defeat as they trailed 5-2 in the eighth inning. Worse, the Astros had none other than Nolan Ryan patrolling the pitcher’s mound, making a rally seem all the more unlikely.

Once again, Bowa would be center stage for an indelible NLCS moment. Much unlike “Black Friday”, it was a triumphant one. He led off the eighth with a single against Ryan, keying a five-run rally that set up an 8-7, 10-inning win. The Phillies were finally back in the World Series, thanks in no small part to Bowa’s .315 average throughout the LCS. But their title drought wasn’t officially over unless they got through George Brett and the Kansas City Royals. In the first game, the unyielding shortstop came through yet again. The Royals staked a 4-0 lead early on when Bowa, just like a few nights before in Houston, started a five-run rally with a base hit, ending in a 7-6 victory.

The series saw Philly engaged in more one-run battles, but wouldn’t go the distance. It ended in game six, with Tug McGraw striking out Willie Wilson for the final out. As McGraw rotated his pitching hand into a celebratory fist pump, the team swarmed the mound as the franchise’s historic drought was finally laid to rest. For the veterans of the squad, it was a complete effort: Carlton won two games including the clincher, Schmidt took home World Series MVP honors, and the image of an exultant McGraw became the defining image of the series. Yet Bowa was hardly lost in the shuffle. He hit a muscular .375 (with a hit in every game), turned a WS-record seven double plays, and scored one of Philadelphia’s four runs in the clinching game.

Bowa’s heroics for 1980 were an apropos bookend to his full decade in a Phillies uniform. As he evolved into one of the game’s finest shortstops during that span, the Phils transformed from a perennial loser in 1970 to World Series champions in ‘80. They were also his veritable swan song: after a first round playoff exit in 1981, an aging Bowa was traded alongside budding infielder Ryne Sandberg to the Chicago Cubs. He hung up the cleats for good with the Mets in 1985, holding defensive records like career games at shortstop in the NL (2,222), career fielding percentage (.980) and fielding percentage for a single season (.991 in 1979).

Still a Phan Phavorite

Today, Bowa remains a source of pride for the oft-derided cities that shaped him, both of which honored him accordingly. He was enshrined in the Philadelphia Baseball Wall of Fame in 1991, and the Sacramento Sports Hall of Fame in 2016. Even with those accolades, he hasn’t put baseball behind him just yet, currently serving his fourth stint in Philadelphia (this time as bench coach). The Phillies, like so many times before, languish in dead last, grinding out a much-needed rebuilding cycle. Whether Bowa sticks around for its payoff remains to be seen. Thanks to his direct contributions to their first title, and his help setting the stage for the second, it’s a wait he and Philly fans can afford to sit through a little more easily than before.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: A graduate of UC Davis with a B.A. in history, Marshall Garvey serves on the board of directors for the Sacramento County Historical Society. He’s currently working on the forthcoming book The Hidden History of Sacramento Baseball, in which Bowa and many other local players are profiled. In 2010, he fused his love of history and the national pastime to create the Presidents Baseball card franchise, which imagines all of America’s Presidents as a baseball team. He’s also the lead editor of the popular Sacramento-based video game blog Last Token Gaming. An avid baseball fan since 2000, he roots for several teams and stresses out about the Dodgers way too much.

 

 

A Discussion with Sean Kane

Your average fan uses a baseball glove to, you know, catch baseballs. Sean Kane uses them to create amazing pieces of art.

For more than fifteen years, Sean Kane has been creating one-of-a-kind painted glove pieces that have earned him national recognition and a sizable following which includes many of the players he features. It all started in 2001 with a trip to spring training.

“The first glove had bright, playful images on it: a guy eating a giant ballpark hot dog, a pennant with ‘Play Ball’ on it, a ‘Hit it Here’ target and on the inside, a ball diamond scene with players and stadium,” Kane said.

“I left one painted finger on the glove blank where I hoped to get Tony Gwynn’s autograph. As luck would have it, I wasn’t there 5 minutes, walked up to a batting cage, and there was Tony talking to fans. I showed the glove to him, he laughed and said it was cool and he signed right where I imagined he would.”

From there, Kane began creating pieces that showcased his love of baseball stories, baseball graphics, and old baseball gloves. The process can be tedious and time-consuming, but the results are well worth the effort, both for Sean and his patrons. The first step is to acquire the appropriate glove.

Sean Kane Baseball Artist“I aim for gloves from the era to be represented, for the position the player played and for the hand they wore their glove on,” says Kane. “For my recent painting of Lou Gehrig, it took a few years to find a 1920s/30s first base mitt for a lefty, similar to a buckle-back glove I’ve seen a picture of him wearing. The glove is my little time machine, adding another layer to the story being told.”

“I then stare at the glove for what seems ages, looking for the spots where I can apply design and portrait elements. Each glove is unique in this way, with various creases to be avoided and sweet spots for portraits, etc., which complicates the creative process compared to working on a traditional canvas but also adds to my excitement at the possibilities.”

 

Kane spends hours poring over old photos, statistics, and career highlights, looking for just the right things to include. With limited space on each glove, sometimes deciding what to cut out is the most difficult part.

“I don’t always succeed with the ‘less is more’ approach –I’ve done some which seem like the back of a baseball card crammed with info. The editing process is a big part of the design decision-making, for sure,” says Kane.  “I try to highlight just enough info about the player to tell a simple story — enough meat on the bone for the casual fan to be interested and the big fan to have a jumping off point for their own stories about the player.”

Sean Kane Baseball ArtistThat’s the key to Kane’s work. Because the gloves often don’t depict a specific moment in time, viewing them on display can mean different things to different people. His Hank Aaron glove may elicit memories of the 1957 World Series to one person and memories of Aaron breaking Babe Ruth’s home run record or getting an autograph as a kid to another. There are notable exceptions. Last fall, Sean unveiled a two-glove set to commemorate Don Larsen’s perfect game in the 1956 World Series. But many of his pieces are celebrations of the player or players depicted. Sometimes it’s an entire team, and that can present its own issues.

Sean Kane Baseball Art“The painting featuring the 1987 Milwaukee Brewers was probably my most challenging,” Kane says. “Since it was featuring an entire team, I wanted to include the entire team, at least by name. Doing so in a way that wouldn’t be a total visual mess was tough and the five portraits wearing pinstripes were very tiny and difficult to paint. I’m pretty proud of that one.”

In the future, Sean will continue to do commissioned work, but he’s also researching stories and acquiring gloves for two different projects. One focuses on Indiana-related baseball history for an upcoming exhibit, and the other will feature Japanese ball players who have made a recent impact on the game in the U.S.

About Sean:

Sean’s paintings have been featured on ESPN. com, NBC Sports. com and MLB Network Radio and reside in the permanent collection of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, The National Pastime Museum, and private collections across the U.S. His paintings have been commissioned by the Philadelphia Phillies and Milwaukee Brewers Fantasy Camp and have assisted in fundraising efforts for several charities. Glove paintings have been exhibited at The Sherwin Miller Museum of Jewish Art, Negro Leagues Baseball Museum and West Virginia University.

Sean Kane Baseball ArtistSean has been a professional artist for over 20 years, creating art for big hitters in the publishing and corporate worlds including The New York Times, Amazon. com, The Wall Street Journal, Bayer Pharmaceuticals, Charles Schwab, and Target Stores, among others. He’s a Chicago native now residing near Toronto with his wife and two Little Leaguers. He is a graduate of Butler University and attended Herron School of Art.

Sean was recognized as an ‘Artist of the Month’ by the National Art Museum of Sport in 2016.

For more information, including a look at more of his work, please visit SeanKaneBaseballArt.com