A Look at Pittsburgh Baseball Through the Artwork of Graig Kreindler

If you’ve followed this site for years, you know that one of my passions besides covering prospects is baseball history. You can use the search option on this site to find hundreds of articles from 2010-2012 that cover the history of the Pirates from 1882 until now. In fact, one of the earlier articles talks about the history of baseball prior to the start of the Pirates franchise.

Part of my love for history got me into collecting old baseball cards and talking about them on a message board called Net54 Baseball. It was there that I was first introduced to the amazing artwork of Graig Kreindler. He has brilliantly captured some of the most iconic players and scenes in baseball history over the years and continues to put out new pieces almost daily.

While his work covers all of the players during the earlier years of baseball into the stars of the 50s and 60s, I wanted to share with our readers some of his Pittsburgh baseball work. Not just the early years of the Pirates, but also the Negro League team that played in the city from 1931 until 1940.

Here’s a chance to get to know the artist, how he got started in painting and moved towards vintage baseball, all well as his descriptions of some of his favorite Pittsburgh pieces.

The rest of the article is his own words.

By Graig Kreindler

I’ve been drawing since I was pretty young, say three or four years old. Some of my earliest memories of creating representational art were based off of the cartoons that I was watching as a kid – stuff like He-Man, G.I. Joe and the like. It was when I was a little bit older that I discovered my father’s baseball card collection, which was to have a profound effect on me.

He grew up in the late 1940s and early 1950s, picking up those early Topps and Bowman issues and eventually accumulating a pretty large collection. Like most people of his generation, said collection was unable to avoid the wrath of my grandmother, who got rid of the majority of it when my father was a little bit older. He was able to hold onto a handful of stuff, mostly cards featuring Yankees (his favorite team) and players from other New York clubs.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but I imagine that seeing those older cards and their fronts – which were mostly illustrated – had some sort of impact on me. They weren’t really photographs, but drawings and paintings – made by people who did what I liked to do. It wasn’t long before I was starting to copy what I saw on those cards, mainly to show and impress my dad.

Mickey Mantle was certainly the most common subject, being that he was my father’s favorite player. I’d draw some of the players who were on those 1980s Yankee teams as well, people like Rickey Henderson and Don Mattingly. But for whatever reason, the clubs that my father grew up with seemed to have a lot more vitality. Maybe it was because of all of those World Series victories and great players – people who seemed almost mythical.

By the time I was a teenager, baseball was very much on the back burner. I was more into comic books, and other things relating to fantasy and science fiction. When I made my way to college at the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan, my intentions were to become a book cover illustrator in the fantasy genre – the drawings I had made of Mickey Mantle as a kid couldn’t have been further from my mind. There at school, I learned how to paint. Or rather, started to learn. I spent hours and hours painting (and drawing) from the figure, as well as studying the work of my favorite artists at the time. Also, observing nature was a big part of all of this – studying how light effected color, shape, and well, everything in the real world. The idea of light being an important aspect of my work developed in those years.

When I was a senior at SVA, I was floundering. Well, maybe not floundering, but my work didn’t have much direction. I had moved away from creating science fiction and fantasy work, as it just didn’t feel like it was me. I loved the subject matter, but I felt like it wasn’t enough for me to immerse myself in and do for the rest of my life (or at least, for as long as I’d be able to try to make a run at becoming a professional artist).

One day, I was in my portfolio class, and my professor gave us an assignment – to illustrate a ‘relationship.’ Typically, each subject he had us create art for was to be pretty general, so that each student could approach it in a myriad of ways. For whatever reason, the first thing I thought of was the relationship between a pitcher and a batter. Even in the initial thumbnail stage, I had decided that I would create a painting of Mickey Mantle – something that I could do for my dad. In my head, picking him as a subject made a lot of sense, because at the time, I wasn’t watching baseball as much as I had done as a kid. I still paid attention and all, but those Yankee teams of the 1950s still seemed more exciting to me than anything that was going on in the present.

As I continued to develop this painting for class, the whole research part of it became super critical in the process. If nothing else, since the piece was going to be for my father, Mickey Mantle had to look like Mickey Mantle. Not only did his portrait have to be right, but his batting stance and the style of uniform he wore. For whatever reason, I decided to take it a bit further – I was going to narrow down my depiction to a specific season, a specific game, a specific moment. That way, I could be more focused in my research. After all, a rookie Mickey Mantle looked a lot different than a Mickey Mantle towards the end of his career. Also, I could pay attention to what the ballpark would look like – what specific advertisements adorned the walls, what was on the scoreboard, etc. I could even try to figure out what kind of weather occurred during the contest – whether it was a sunny afternoon, overcast, steamy, chilly, all of that stuff.

Of course, color was a pretty big part of it all, as the majority of the reference I was drawing from was in black and white. It was up to me to be as historically accurate with that as well, so as to put Mickey and the other players in a breathable, livable space – to make it seem like they were less removed from the current era. And for whatever reason, the process as a whole just really resonated with me. It never seemed like work. Sure, it was important for me to create a painting that I was proud of, but all of the stuff that went into it became just as important as a result. It was really the first time I had ever felt that sense of satisfaction while creating a piece of art, and I think that showed when it was finally complete.

In the end, the painting was well-received by my professor and class, so much so that I entered it into the annual Society of Illustrators student scholarship competition (something I had always hoped I could get into) and made it into the show. Most importantly my father loved the piece, and from then on, I had a new and exciting focus for my artwork.

With the Pirates having such a rich history, there’s no shortage of players or scenes that I’d love to paint. Of course, I’d be happy to depict people like Honus Wagner and Roberto Clemente until the cows come home; however, as with any team, I find myself always longing for the chance to paint players that are less known to fans.

Going back into the 19th century would be a dream with people like Connie Mack, Lou Bierbauer, and Barney Dreyfuss. And then onto that first modern-era juggernaut, with people like Ed Doheny, Deacon Phillippe, Ginger Beaumont, and of course, the great Fred Clarke.

A throwback to the old Louisville Colonels days, Clarke is a Hall of Famer that is often overlooked these days. Aside from any statistic, what appeals to me most about him is that face of his. In my eyes, when you’re thinking of the players of the Deadball Era, for the most part they look like they’ve been through the ringer, no matter how old they may be. Obviously life different in those days in just about every way, especially when it came to baseball. Consider the hats that players wore, which had much shorter brims – definitely less helpful when it came to stabbing a pop-up out of the sky, it’s no wonder that these guys had crow’s feet at such a young age. Combine that with a baggy uniform indicative of the era, a telephone pole for a bat and the luscious green of the Polo Grounds in New York, and you’ve got an image that I’d have trouble staying away from.

Arky Vaughan is appealing for a similar reason. Probably the greatest shortstop Pittsburgh ever had after the great Wagner, Vaughan is one of those guys who even though is a sure-fire Hall of Famer, if you’re not very learned in the history of the game, chances are he’s a player you’ve never heard of before. The black and white photograph itself came from the studios of Charles Conlon, one of the greatest baseball photographers of that era.

He had been famous for capturing images of players from both leagues from the beginning of the 1900s until the start of the second World War. What’s so lovely about his images, in my mind, are though they are mostly posed, there’s a casualness and candor to them that is lacking in the works of other lensmen of the era. Rather than having players pose with bats after following through on a fake swing, they were probably just told to hold a bat and to act natural. Charles would focus on what he wanted, whether it was the grain of the lumber or the sinewed muscles of their forearms. He was more interested in documenting these players and what they looked like naturally, rather than trying to create some sort of contrived narrative.

Of course, there are plenty of Honus Wagner images out there, as the man was a constant with the club for the first half of the 20th century. One of my favorites happens to be this particular one of him, lovingly picking his weapon of choice.

To me, this painting would be all about the various textures that I’d try to bring to life: the different bats, Wagner’s sweater, and the planks by the dugout, especially. And the silhouette of Wagner against the stands was just too strong to deny, especially the profile of that hat and nose!

The image of Roberto Clemente might look familiar to card collectors, as it was used on his ’56 Topps issue. I’d always been attracted to it because of the neat contrast between the athleticism of the jump and the sturdy look of that outfield wall at Ebbets Field. Though Clemente is probably what our eyes go to first, being that he’s the only human element in the painting, I wanted to put enough nuance on the wall to make it seem just as interesting. Combined with the interplay between the warm yellows and reds of that wall, and the cooler blues and purples of Clemente’s uniform, it was an absolute blast to paint.

Even though it pained my father to see me paint it – he remembers watching it on television – Mazeroski’s home run was an exciting piece to create. The source photograph is just about perfect as is, what with the action of Bill’s swing, the number 9 showing on his back, Yogi in left, the scoreboard, the clock, the ball in the air…it’s just all there. Everything needed to tell the story of that World Series is right there. And it was just up to me to breathe light and color into it – to make the viewer feel like they were there that early autumn afternoon.

In the end, I’d love to continue the march through history with the club, as there remain a ton of (relatively) unknowns from the golden era of the sport that deserve to be painted. Tackling the teams from the late 1970s would also be a blast, especially with those wonderful pillbox hats. I guess I just wish there was more time in the day to get it all done.

The Pittsburgh Crawfords

In late 2017, I got involved with Jay Caldwell, a collector out of the Pacific Northwest who focused on memorabilia relating to the Negro Leagues. Initially, after seeing my work he was interested in having me paint a few of his favorite players, which was something I was of course happy to do. But at some point, before I even had a chance to get started, he decided that he wanted the breadth of this project to be larger – his new goal was to put together a large exhibition celebrating the centennial of the formation of the Negro National League (1920). Here are two Pittsburgh related pieces, featuring two legendary figures from the Pittsburgh Crawfords in Josh Gibson…

…and Satchel Paige

This exhibition show, which he hoped could travel museums throughout the country to help educate and spread awareness was to include the many artifacts he’d accumulated over a lifetime, as well as my artwork, which would be one of the main parts of the experience. He went on to commission over 200 small portraits of players who had spent time in the black leagues, as well as with clubs in Latin America (specifically Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Mexico and Venezuela) – all of whom dated from the late 1860s to the mid 1950s.

The exhibition will be opening up in February of 2020 at the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City, MO. Readers can learn more about the show here: https://negroleagueshistory.com/

There is also a kickstarter, with the hopes of turning this artwork into a baseball card set consisting of the images from 250 paintings.