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Mudville: July 19, 2024 4:45 pm PDT

Painting the Corners of History

Long gone ballparks come to life, every detail correct, from signage, down to the weather of that particular day. Legendary players and moments center stage. Grand uniforms woven with skill once again worn to perfection.

In each portrait the eyes give a peek into the baseball soul – from superstars to little known players. This isn’t a dream, no, it is the magnificent baseball paintings of Graig Kreindler. There is no one better. He presents the game and legends like Mickey Mantle in mesmerizing works of art.

“I try to make it a window into the past,’’ Kreindler told BallNine. “I want people to look at that and not only say, ‘Oh, that’s Mickey, that’s what Mickey looked like,’ but also that’s what Yankee Stadium looked like on a hot summer afternoon. ‘You got that light back, I can smell the cigar smoke.’ That’s kind of what I really go for.’’

Meander through his ever-expanding gallery and look, there is Jimmie Foxx, his right spike landing on home plate after blasting a home run on a sweltering, steamy day at Shibe Park on June 8, 1933, one of three home runs Foxx clubbed that day to beat the Yankees, even the umpire in the background is feeling the heat. The A’s insignia is a deep, saturated blue.

Over here is Roger Maris’ 61st home run, a bolt of lightning off Maris’ bat, heading to Sal Durante in right field, at that moment, finally, the weight of the baseball world lifts off Maris’ muscular shoulders.

Enter Sandman, here comes Mariano Rivera out of the bullpen, a painting so real and reflective of the magical eye of the great photographer Anthony Causi, who tragically passed away in April. No. 42 goes to work, determination in his wake.

Lou Gehrig is giving his luckiest man on the face of the earth speech, July 4, 1939 with the sad faces of teammates looking on, hoping for a miracle.

At home plate sit gifts presented to Gehrig, including a silver service set, a silver trophy and a fishing rod. Far in the background are the white letters “BETTING PROHIBITED’’ obviously long before FanDuel became a partner with MLB.

Satchel Paige is glorious in his Pittsburgh Craws uniform, red cap with white lines. No, Satchel is not looking back, not with so much ahead of him on this day in 1932. There is Jackie Robinson in his Brooklyn Dodgers uniform. On his face a knowing “I’ve got this’’ smile. The proud and mighty strength of Josh Gibson is visible in his Homestead Grays uni. Sadly, it should have been a Pittsburgh Pirates or Washington Senators uniform or some MLB team.

Then there is my favorite, The Mick, in full practice swing, a bit unsure of himself, having to begin to live up to his legacy in this April 17, 1951 painting at Yankee Stadium. Behind that young face and tight torso, magnificently in the background loom the right field façade, light tower, Yankees championship pennant and Opening Day bunting, a glimpse of what would be Mantle’s future. On this day, a 5-0 win over the Red Sox, Mantle singled in the sixth for his first hit, driving home Jackie Jensen. There would be 1,508 more RBIs for Mantle, 2,414 more hits and those 536 home runs. It all came at a steep price.

Even if you are the Promised One, nothing is promised in baseball.

The Mick

Painting Mantle correctly is so important because that is Kreindler father’s favorite player, and it was a handful of his father’s old baseball cards that provided the spark for Kreindler to find his life’s work. Babe Ruth is Kreindler’s most popular subject, but Mantle is right up there.

“It started with my dad because he is still such a huge Mantle fan,’’ Kreindler, 40, told me. The year Kreindler was born, Mantle already had been retired 12 years. “It was kind of because of my dad’s baseball cards, the ones his mother did not throw out, that I was able to learn about Mantle and some of his other heroes on the Yankees from that era.

“Originally when I started to do artwork based on baseball stuff, this was when I was still young, it was kinda to almost court favor from my father, like oh well, Mickey is his favorite, why not draw Mickey. Ever since, he’s still a popular guy that a lot of my clients really love to have a painting of but I’ve really grown to love Mickey in my own way. There is something really kind of appealing, the whole ‘what if’ scenario in regards to his health and all of the other things that happened in his career. There is something so appealing to that story that makes him so incredibly interesting.’’

All that shines through in Kreindler’s work.

Lou Gehrig's farewell

“When I do a painting of him, let’s say from his rookie year and I think about the fact that he was 19 when he came up with the Yankees in 1951,’’ Kreindler said. “Here is this kid who comes from Oklahoma who is being touted by the media and Casey Stengel as being the next (Joe) DiMaggio, Ruth and Gehrig rolled up into one, I can’t imagine that pressure on a 19-year-old kid. You’re such a baby at that age.’’

As for another Yankees Hall of Famer Mariano Rivera coming out of the bullpen, Kreindler said, “That image is quintessential Mariano. Anthony took such an amazing photo.’’

Lesser stars are shown as well. Kreindler’s paintings can be both a work of art and a history lesson. There is a captivating painting of Ken Williams of the St. Louis Browns from the 1922 season. Williams led the American League in home runs (39), RBI (155) and total bases (367). He also stole 37 bases, becoming the first 30-30 player in baseball history. The doormat Browns, who never won a World Series, and only appeared in one from 1902 through 1953 before becoming the Orioles, would win 93 games that year, only to finish second to the Yankees.

The lefty hitting Williams is positioned in the corner of the dugout closest to home plate, waiting his turn at-bat, chin leaning on his left hand on top of the green railing. The railing is a shade darker than the grass at Sportsman’s Park. Williams is in deep study of the pitcher. An Ever-Ready Safety Razor advertisement is far in the background as Williams is ever-ready to hit.

This is the view you would get from a box seat. This is baseball time travel. Kreindler puts you there, his talent brings a moment, a player, a season, a career to life with a calligraphy of brushstrokes and his study of history, making sure the moment is captured in time and truth.

“A sportswriter might say ‘there was a blue haze on the field, that kind of stuff is gold for me. I interpret that into the painting.’’

Most of his work is commissioned and often the clients want a particular scene. For that reason alone he is a must follow on Twitter @GraigKreindler.

“I’m really lucky that I am in this niche that kind of appeals to art collectors and memorabilia collectors who have these built-in interests in these teams and ballplayers,’’ Kreindler said. “It’s a lot easier for me to go out and sell a painting of Mickey Mantle or Babe Ruth than say a random impressionistic landscape. The interest in Babe Ruth is already there. This baseball stuff is what tugs on my heart strings and I’m blessed to make a living. I just hope I can do it forever.’’

Kreindler does extensive research of the moment and the images. “Normally, when I do a painting I license the image from Getty or whoever,’’ he explained of reaching out, sometimes to individual newspapers or photographers as well. Each painting is one of a kind. In doing the research for his historical work he said, “I look through lots of newspapers, I look for any kind of visual information I might find. A sportswriter might say ‘there was a blue haze on the field, that kind of stuff is gold for me. I interpret that into the painting. After reading a lot of newspapers, looking through a lot of photography and watching home movies, I come up with the work. It’s an interesting process.’’

Kodachrome as Paul Simon sang: They give us those nice bright colors.

Microfilm, public libraries and the internet are Kreindler’s friends. In all, he has created some 600 baseball paintings.

Graig Kreindler in his studio - photo by Ben Hoste

Kreindler was commissioned four years ago to do 30 5-by-7 inch color studies of players from the Negro Leagues by Seattle-based collector Jay Caldwell. That work grew to 230 portraits. The exhibit opened in February at the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City and then Covid came along.

“It was work that I was totally thrilled to do,’’ Kreindler said. “There were just tons of players who played in the 1870s, 1880s up until the disbanding of the leagues in the mid 1950s so I kind of went everywhere. It was important for me to get them as historically accurate as I could.’’

Kreindler loves the Golden Era of baseball when the game was the focal point of sports in our society. Most of his work is commissioned but various paintings can be purchased. The ballparks are special, too.

“At some point when I was doing these paintings I realized that as important it is to get the ballplayers right, to get the uniforms right, to get their looks right, the stadiums were their own kind of character. It was important to get the advertisements right on the stadium wall. It comes from within.’’

Kreindler laughed and said, “I’m also really kind of anal with that stuff.’’

The great ones are that way.

Kreindler painted David Ortiz’ home run that won marathon Game 4 of the 2004 ALCS against the Yankees, the start of breaking The Curse. My press seat was in right field and I still remember the sound of the ball hitting Ortiz’ bat and the explosion of gratitude from Red Sox fans that late night, early morning at Fenway.

The angle and perspective of his paintings are often decided by images that are out there. A client sees an image and Kreindler, who lives in Brooklyn, with his wife, a writer, and two children, goes to work. This client wanted Ortiz’ franchise-changing home run.

“That was a painful one to experience,’’ Kreindler said with a laugh. Remember, his dad is such a Yankee fan and so is Kreindler. After all, he is named after Graig Nettles. “I love all baseball but I definitely bleed the pinstripes,’’ he said.

Jackie Robinson

The National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown is in the process of displaying one of his works, Fred Snodgrass sliding into third base in Game 3 of the 1911 World Series and spiking Home Run Baker. The piece was used as the cover image for Maury Klein’s book “Stealing Games.’’

Kreindler also has a wonderful painting at the Yogi Berra Museum of Yogi jumping into Don Larsen’s arms October 8, 1956, the exclamation point to Larsen’s World Series perfect game.

At the unveiling in 2008, Yogi asked: “Boy, how long did it take you to do this?”

Kreindler loves to paint the everyday player as well as the stars. He understands the essence of baseball. It’s a team game and that shows in his work.

“As much as I love painting the stars and painting the Babe Ruths and those people,’’ he said, “the Joe Schmos are just as important to me. I have a pal, he’s also a client too, a really good dude, and he is also a really big fan of the 1927 Yankees. Obviously a big Ruth fan, Gehrig, (Tony) Lazzeri, those people, and I did this painting for him of the entire team. It’s like I really got to know all of these other players that no one really cares about and I kind of gave them the same attention and treatment that I gave to the Gehrigs and the Ruths, that’s important to me. So if somebody calls me up, and granted this doesn’t happen often and they are like, ‘Hey Graig, I want to do a painting of Walt Weiss, then I would drop my shit and do it in a second because those guys are just as important in my eyes to those teams and the fabric and history of the game.’’

Jimmie Foxx

That care and understanding shows in every painting. The people and the moment matters. When he painted Bobby Thomson and The Shot Heard  ‘Round the World, Kreindler, in all his research could not verify the lights were on at the Polo Grounds late in the day on October 3, 1951. He had a pretty good idea the lights were on, but he wanted to make sure so he wrote a long letter to Thomson.

Thomson promptly answered, letting him know, indeed, the lights were on at that point in the game.

“It was great,’’ Kreindler said. “I wanted to take whatever he said to heart but also because I am so anal and want to be right, ‘Well, he is in his 80s, I don’t know if I can really trust his memory. He seemed very adamant about it and I finally found a mention of it in one of the newspapers, saying the lights were on.’’

A good reporter double sources his information and Kreindler did his job before doing his No. 1 job, making a work of art of that historical moment.

He is tough on himself, admitting of the creative process, “You are always setting the bar higher for yourself, you are always criticizing yourself, you drive yourself mad.’’

Writers can be the same way, trust me.

in my dealings with ballplayers, I’ve learned 99 percent of the time, hitters can tell you exactly what happened in an at-bat, whether it was 50 minutes or 50 years ago. Same for pitchers.

Enter Sandman

Take Bob Feller. Kreindler did a brilliant Feller painting from Rapid Robert’s first of three career no-hitters, on Opening Day April 16, 1940 against the White Sox at Comiskey Park for Feller’s museum in Van Meter, Iowa. Feller died in 2010 at the age of 92 and the museum closed five years later.

“I got to meet him a year before he passed away,’’ Kreindler said. “It was the first time I met a professional ballplayer outside of getting a random autograph of Bobby Richardson here and there. He really seemed to like the painting, but I think he was most happy with the way I depicted that particularly day. I think in the museum there is another artist who did a painting of the same moment, similar view but he made it this bright beautiful day and the stands at Comiskey are completely filled but the research I had done, said otherwise. It showed that Comiskey was almost empty because it was absolutely frigid. Feller said, I got that, I nailed that and that was amazing hearing that from him. Shaking hands with a guy like that with an iron grip, thinking ‘you played ball in the 30s, 40s and 50s and you fought for the country, you’re a freaking hero.’ Just so cool.

“I got the impression that when he saw the painting it brought him back to the day, that’s what I want.’’

Baseball in living, breathing color.

45+ years, columnist at NY Post for the last 23 years prior to joining BallNine. Elected to the NY Baseball Hall of Fame. Former SportsTalk Host (KFMB), ESPN’s First Take and Cold Pizza contributor. Frequent guest on radio shows and podcasts nationwide. Author of seven books. Seen in episode 10 of ESPN’s “The Last Dance” (the one with Dennis Rodman). First baseball interview he conducted was with Thurman Munson. Now you know why he is America’s Most Beloved Sportswriter.

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