BY KEVIN CZERWINSKI
The result of Mike Smith’s unassuming approach to creating card art doesn’t always generate the kind of commercial buzz associated with some of today’s more prominent and prolific card artists. However, the thoughtfulness behind much of Smith’s work and his desire to use his ability to help others are two of the attributes that go into making Mr. Shake one of the more popular creators in the card-art community.
Smith, 39, lives in Central New Jersey and spends much of the year teaching U.S. history to teenagers. That alone should garner him some recognition. His work creating some of the genre’s snappiest cards has allowed him to contribute to several wonderful charities and work with some of professional baseball’s most distinguished organizations.
While Smith doesn’t believe, at the moment, that his work with cards will ever allow him to stop teaching, his cards, which he creates under the moniker Mr. Shake, have come to mean more than simply a way of expressing himself and his love of baseball.
“I was working in a restaurant part-time during the pandemic and I was reading about the Barstool Fund,” Smith said. “They were raising money for small businesses and I thought what if I could sell some cards and give the profits to the Fund. I thought what if I made a Jeff Bagwell card and put [Barstool founder Dave] Portnoy’s face on it. I did my thing and I tweeted the Portnoy card and he retweeted it, saying something to the effect that this is the most important baseball card of all-time.
“I listed it on E-Bay and wanted to donate anything I made off it to the Barstool Fund. To that point, my cards were selling for between $25 and $40. I listed it and he retweeted it [the listing], and it takes off. I ended up selling it for $1,655 and was completely shocked. After fees, almost $1,500 went to the Barstool Fund.”
Smith said he recently established a relationship with Sean Gibson, the great grandson of legendary Hall-of-Famer Josh Gibson, after helping organize a bracket-style, card-art tournament in which the proceeds went to the Josh Gibson Foundation. Smith collaborated with fellow artists Jason Schwartz, the artist known as Heavy J, and Eric Kittelberger, of Triple Play Designs, as well as Tad Richardson of the Negro League Baseball Marketplace, putting forth what he called a “group effort to organize and plan the event.” The tournament also served as a push to have the National and American League MVP Trophies named after Josh Gibson.
As a result, the Dave Parker Foundation also reached out to Smith. Additionally, during Vancouver-based artist Lauren Taylor’s very public recovery from facial surgery – she was hit in the jaw with a line drive during a co-ed softball game – a GoFundMe page was started to help cover her medical costs. Several artists jumped in to help. Among them was Smith, who sold some of his cards in an effort to help Taylor pay her medical bills.
Smith’s work was also featured in work done for Augie Carton, the founder of Carton Brewery, who was featured in Topps’ Allen & Ginter Cards. He used beer labels and stickers from the Carton Brewery to make four custom cards.
While Smith’s altruistic nature is one of the driving forces behind his work, he also does it because he loves baseball, loves to create, and, after all, a little extra income doesn’t hurt. He’s made nearly 300 cards over the last three years and has honed his style in such a way that his work is now recognizable as a Mr. Shake creation.
His out-of-the-box thinking and approach to coming up with new creations have contributed greatly to his success. Consider the card he made depicting New York Mets pitcher Kodai Senga, whose best pitch, the Ghost Forkball, is his calling card.
“I get inspiration from everywhere,” Smith said. “I saw a Ghost Energy Drink at 7-Eleven and it made me think of a Senga card. I had to get a Senga card that worked. I was able to cut out the little Ghost logo and make it into a Senga card.”
Smith, who is also a Mets fan, dove back into the club’s past on another occasion when making a Howard Johnson card. He found Johnson’s 1992 Topps Stadium Club Card which depicted Johnson posing while looking thoughtful.
“I saw the card, and being a Mets fan, I was wondering what he was thinking about when they took that picture,” Smith said. “So, I tweeted at him and asked him and he said he was thinking about how he was going to rake some Pirates’ pitching. They were at Three Rivers Stadium when he took that picture.
“So, I took the card and made a little thought bubble and in it I put, ‘I’m going to rake some Pirates’ pitching.’ I ended up selling it to a Hojo collector.”
Mr. Shake (left) with Frank ``the Tank`` Fleming. (Photo courtesy Mike Smith)
Smith has come far since he started creating cards during the pandemic. His Mr. Shake handle came about because he wanted to keep his professional life as a teacher and his work as a card artist separate.
“I thought Mr. Something would be cool because my initials are MS,” he said. “The thought of a milkshake popped into my mind and that was the birth of Mr. Shake.”
A Twitter account [Mr. Shake, Card Artist] followed and suddenly one follower became 10 and then 20 and so on. Smith now has more than 4,000 followers. A friendship with Schwartz also resulted from that account. Schwartz encouraged Smith to continue his work. The two swapped some of their work, and it was Schwartz who also told him about the charitable endeavors on which he had embarked.
Smith doesn’t limit himself to selling his artwork on his webpage, mrshakecardart.com, either. He has some very creative ideas to get the word out about his work.
“I’ll take cards to a stadium and have a scavenger hunt,” Smith said. “I’ve done that a couple of times where I’ll go and hide a card and have people tag me when they find it. I had one 5-year-old kid, when I put a Noah Syndergaard card out, find it. And his mother reached out to tell me how happy and excited he was. I like using my creativity to bring smiles to the world.”
How long he will continue or how much he continues to grow remains to be seen. Mr. Shake, however, isn’t getting too far ahead of himself, though.
“I don’t think I’ll ever get to a point where I can stop teaching, but you never know,” said Smith, who has been married to his Mrs. Shake, his wife, Brittany, for nine years. “That’s kind of the attitude I have. If that happens, it would be awesome. Other things happened that I never thought would happen like working with Sean Gibson and the Dave Parker Foundation. Anything is possible.”