Joe Petruccio can walk down just about any street in Queens, or Manhattan, for that matter, and it’s a safe bet that no one would recognize him. After all, an advertising executive out for a stroll isn’t news.
That advertising exec, however, is as much a part of the fabric of New York Mets baseball as the club’s current broadcast team of Gary Cohen, Ron Darling, and Keith Hernandez. Petruccio goes way back, too, so include long-time and legendary New York announcers Lindsey Nelson, Bob Murphy, and Ralph Kiner in that comparison.
Though many New York baseball fans won’t be familiar with Petruccio, they are well acquainted with his alter ego, Joey Paints, the incredible artist who has been chronicling the New York Mets on a daily basis for the last dozen or so years. Petruccio’s post-game posts on Instagram recapping that day’s game have become a must see for not only for Met fans but for all baseball fans around the tri-state area. His more than 43,000 followers on the social media platform attest to that as he tackles the daily goings on at Citi Field through drawings and gentle but pointed commentary.
Petruccio, whose Instagram page is joey paints, creates watercolor drawings that bring fans back to the glory days of when newspapers were king in the New York, and legends such as Bill Gallo and Bruce Stark brought the sporting world into the everyday world through their often poignant and insightful drawings that were staples in The Daily News for decades.
His wonderful creations of Bear, named for New York first baseman Pete Alonso, whose nickname is Polar Bear, and Squirrel, who represents infielder Jeff McNeil, conjure of images of Gallo’s Yuchie and Bertha, the two lovable characters that were a compass, guiding New York sports fans for decades.
“I can remember from when I could first pick up a pencil, I always drew things,” said the Brooklyn native who still lives in New York’s tri-state area with his wife of 39 years, Rosanna. “I used to love comics and copying them. My father was in advertising and is an artist himself. He would always show me, here is how you do this, here is how you do that. It’s in my blood.
“When I was 12 or 13 years old, my dad took me up to meet Bill Gallo. He was such a nice man. He’d always invite me up and I’d go to lunch with him or the National Cartoonists Society dinners. He perpetuated my love of sports and sports art. Other kids idols were guys like Mickey Mantle. My idol was the guy who drew them all. Then, when I was 16, I met [famed artist] LeRoy Nieman. Between Gallo and Nieman I was just hooked on sports art.”
Petruccio began drawing his own sports cartoons when he was young, emulating Gallo’s work. He drew what he calls “his version of how Gallo would have covered things” and brought his work to school and handed it out to his friends.
Perhaps the only thing that rivals his love of sports art is his passion for the Mets. Petruccio has been a fan of the Amazins’ for almost as long as he has been drawing. He was a fan during the lovable losing years of the 60s, then was captivated by the ’69 Miracle Mets, and has been invested ever since.
“The rest of the league was wearing polyester and looked like gazelles and the Mets just looked like a bunch of chubby guys.”
“I’ve always been a Met fan,” he said. “I remember watching them at my grandfather’s house. He used to have a house where he kept the television in the dining room. It was one of those railroad car rooms. I’d be sitting at the dining room table and look up to watch the Mets when I was a kid and I’ve followed them ever since. All my family knows is the Mets.”
“Tom Seaver was my favorite player. Right now, I love Brandon Nimmo. I love his fire and passion. He always has a smile on his face. That’s terrific. It goes beyond talent; there’s something special about him. I’m glad he’s going to be ours for a long time.”
Despite loving baseball, Petruccio didn’t play much. He admits that he was “awful, a terrible ballplayer” and was just playing because he loved the game. He was afraid of getting hit with the ball while in the batter’s box so he would reach out and catch pitches with his bare hand before they crossed the plate.
“I just dropped out,” he said. “I didn’t belong playing the sport. When I got older, I was much better at it but as a kid, I was too afraid to play.”
A Perfect Return: Max Scherzer. (Courtesy of Joe Petruccio)
Petruccio would channel all his energy into drawing. He would paste his drawings into photo journals to create what was essentially his first portfolio. He continued drawing through his years at Bishop Ford High School before studying at the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan. Petruccio took a job with a New York-based ad agency upon graduating and it wouldn’t take long for his love of the Mets and baseball to collide with his career.
“I was given the opportunity to do some layouts for the Mets, who were one of our clients,” Petruccio said. “One of our art directors was bringing his ideas to the Mets and I asked ‘I have a few ideas of my own, can I show them to you?’ He was nice enough to take them to Shea Stadium and they liked my work. That’s how I got out of the studio and became an art director.”
“There used to be Mets subway posters and the first round of stuff I did were things like The Magic Is Real, Mookie of the Year for Mookie Wilson, King of Swing for Dave Kingman, and Maz Matazz for Lee Mazzilli. I put together the concept of the banners you’d see at Shea Stadium with photos and that’s how I started working for the Mets. That was in 1981.”
The work proved to be a dream come true for Petruccio, who designed the cover of the 1982 Mets yearbook featuring George Foster and manager George Bamberger. Perhaps his biggest contribution to the club during his time collaborating with them came that year as well, when the Mets began wearing the racing stripe uniforms they would sport for a decade. This was the uniform that they wore during their heyday in the mid-80s, and it was Petruccio who designed it.
“They were looking for new uniforms and they brought in a couple of designs and chose one of the ones I created,” he said. “I noticed that they always looked to me like they were in baggy uniforms. The rest of the league was wearing polyester and looked like gazelles and the Mets just looked like a bunch of chubby guys.”
Original concept artwork by Joe Petruccio of the Mets' ``racing stripe`` uniforms. (Courtesy of Joe Petruccio)
“I put the racing stripe down the side, took the buttons off the front and they chose that. I remember when I met with [then vice president and future club general manager] Al Harazin and [vice president] Jim Nagourney and he said my name sounded familiar. I told him that’s because when I was in college I would send him drawings of Mets uniforms that I wanted to (re)design. He said that I was meant to redesign the uniforms and I love that it’s become an iconic piece of Mets memorabilia. It’s something I am really proud of.”
Though he continued to work in advertising over the two decades, Petruccio also continued to work on his baseball drawings as well as expand his freelance portfolio. He became the official artist of Graceland in 2003; and in 2004 The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame selected his Memphis Sun drawing as the official logo for the celebration of the 50th anniversary that marked the beginning of rock ‘n roll [which coincided with the date of Elvis recording “That’s Alright, July 5, 1954].
Sylvester Stallone then approved and signed his Rocky paintings in connection with the 30th anniversary of the film Rocky. Stallone also owns the original “Yo Butkus” print. Tiger Woods and Michael Jordan have signed his work that was produced by Upper Deck Authenticated and in 2008 the Hard Rock Theme Park chose his piece entitled “Physical Graffiti,” which featured and was approved by Led Zeppelin, as its inaugural ticket design. Additionally, Petruccio has done work with Marvel Studios and Lucas Films on Star Wars-related projects.
Work with Derek Jeter, DC Comics, the US Postal Service, actors David Prowse [Darth Vader] and Henry Cavill [Superman, The Witcher], plus much more, followed.
Bear and Squirrel. (Courtesy of Joe Petruccio)
All the while he was still dabbling with the Mets; but the constant losing the team was experiencing was beginning to make it difficult for him to remain interested. In 2010, however, he began creating The NY Mets Journal, The NY Jets Journal, and The NY Knicks Journal, sketch book commentaries on his favorite teams that have since gained thousands of followers apiece.
“I was doing the Mets journal stuff on pages in books for years but I was losing interest,” he said. “How many drawings of losing can you do? I was not inspired to do them. But in 2010 I decided I was going to get myself a small little notebook and try a whole season. So, I had a ballpoint pen, a pocket size blank moleskin journal, and I journaled every game that year. I’ve done every season since.”
All of Petruccio’s drawings are done on paper, not digitally. He’s just recently begun selling reprints of his journal pages. His daily drawings, once he settles on what he wants to touch on, usually take between a half hour and 45 minutes to complete.
“There’s just something about paper and pen,” he said. “The smell of the paper, the texture, there is a romance to the whole art. It’s very emotional, I think. Even when I’m reading a book. It’s so textural and different in so many ways, emotionally and physically.”
Petruccio does sell his work and tries to keep all the prices as reasonable as possible. He remains amazed at some of the prices for which other pieces of fine art are sold; and just scratches his head – though he points out that one of his signed Rocky originals did sell for about $40,000. Petruccio also points that his baseball work, which is mostly 9X12, sells for “about $95, I think.”
The self-awareness he displays, particularly about his work, and his humility are just two of the significant reasons that his drawings have resonated to such a great degree with the New York fan base. Petruccio appeals to the everyday fan because he is one.
Joe ``Joey Paints`` Petruccio with one of his works depicting Gary Carter. (Courtesy of Joe Petruccio)
Though his style has remained largely the same throughout his time chronicling the Mets, Petruccio himself has evolved. His approach to his commentary has changed since he started and he believe it’s a change for the better.
“I try to keep things positive,” he said. “When I first started the journal and someone screwed up, I was hard on the player. Then a couple of years ago, one of the players’ sisters got in touch with me after I bashed her brother and asked ‘Do you think they go out and try to suck?’ She was right. Who am I to put them down? So, I try to find good even in the bad.”
“I didn’t start off as a baseball writer. I started off as a kid from Brooklyn who did baseball drawings for myself and then shared them with the world. I started reading what the right thing to do is [in terms of reporting] and that taught me to be more of a baseball writer and not just an artist who didn’t care about people’s feelings.”
Occasionally a player or his wife will get in touch with Petruccio and ask for a print of a specific game, or ask him about doing a commission piece. He said that some players have blocked him but others, like Tylor Megill, frequently reach out. Petruccio said that Megill and fellow pitcher David Peterson are two of the nicest people with whom he interacts.
He doesn’t formally do much with the Mets these days, though he did some pieces when Alonso was named Rookie of the Year and some of his work has appeared in The New York Times. He hasn’t given up his day job, though.
“I still love advertising so I still do it; I really do love it,” said Petruccio, who is the co-chief creative officer for AFG& in New York City. “My art is my passion, though, and I do it every day. It’s almost like meditation. I need to do it to get through the day or finish the day. I don’t see it as another job. I just see it as who I am.”