UNCOMMON COMMON: Ernie Barnes

Author’s note: This is the second post in a series highlighting “common players” with stories far richer than the value of their trading cards. The first post in the series profiled Dave Hoskins and can be found here.

The common understanding of the term “Renaissance Man” is of someone with many talents or areas of knowledge. Ernie Barnes fits this description. Less correct but truer to the origin of the word renaissance would be a man reborn. Ernie Barnes fits this description too.

“Song of Myself”

Raised in segregated Durham, North Carolina, Barnes was chubby, nonathletic, and bullied by his Hillside High School classmates. He mainly kept to himself and drew in his sketchbook to pass the time. Tommy Tucker, a teacher at the school, noticed the drawings and took an interest in Barnes. A bodybuilder, Tucker sold Barnes on the positive impact weightlifting could have on his life. By the time he graduated, Barnes was state champion in the shotput and captain of the football team. He also had scholarship offers to 26 colleges.

“Sunday’s Hero”

At North Carolina College, Ernie Barnes played tackle and center on the football team while majoring in art. As a kid, despite his interest, Barnes was never able to visit the North Carolina Museum of Art. Blacks were not allowed. In college, however, Barnes made a trip to the recently desegregated museum with one of his art classes. The answer when Barnes asked where he could find paintings by Negro artists? “Your people don’t express themselves that way.”

“Friendly Friendship Baptist Church”

Twenty-three years the work of Ernie Barnes would fill this same museum, and today his work hangs in Halls of Fame, top galleries, art museums, and the homes of the art world’s top collectors. If you love Motown and grew before everything was digital, there’s a good chance you even have an Ernie Barnes sitting in your music collection.

“Sugar Shack” painting used for Marvin Gaye’s “I Want You” album cover

You might even have several!

That’s great, Jason, but what does all this have to do with baseball cards? Well, let me at least bring it back to sports.

“Fast Break”

Barnes was selected in the 8th round of the NFL draft by the Washington Redskins, but his Redskins career lasted only a few minutes. Then the team found out Barnes was black. Two rounds later, the Baltimore Colts called his name but ultimately cut Barnes at the end of training camp. In 1960 Barnes played five games with the Titans of New York, who later became the Jets.

“Football Pileup”

Barnes spent the 1961 and 1962 seasons as a San Diego Charger and the following two seasons with the Denver Broncos. Barnes never approached All-Pro status or even started a game, though he picked up the nickname “Big Rembrandt” for the sketches he did during games, including in huddles.

I suspect when you think of football players turned actors, Barnes is not the first to come to mind.

“O.J. Simpson” (1984)

Nonetheless, Barnes acted in numerous television shows and movies, highlighted by his portrayal of Josh Gibson in the 1981 Satchel Paige biopic “Don’t Look Back.”

There is another connection Ernie Barnes has to baseball, one shared with me by Lawrence “Dan” D’Antignan, owner of Chicago’s historic Woodshop, longtime institution and early commercial epicenter of African American art.

As Dan tells it, his wife had made a trip to Los Angeles to meet with Ernie Barnes and discuss the selling of his work when the meeting was interrupted by a woman hoping to show off the work of her teenage son who 100% lived up to the hype.

Perhaps you’ve tasted the back of some of his artwork…

Or been greeted by it at the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City…

“Safe at Home” (2005)

There’s also a very good chance you’ve run across his book.

Of course, you didn’t come here to read about Kadir Nelson or even art! You want CARDS! Well, luckily I aim to please.

While an Ernie Barnes painting would easily set you back five figures if not six, it turns out any motivated collector can add an Ernie Barnes to his or her collection for the price of a bad ham sandwich.

As the title to this post suggests, Ernie Barnes, one of the great artists of the 20th century and an absolute icon in the African American art world, is a mere “common player, starting at around $2 on COMC and eBay.

1964 Topps Football card #48

Common though he is in the price guides, Ernie Barnes is the only man on the set’s 176-card checklist certain to remain relevant not just decades but centuries from now. Somewhere in a museum a young visitor will ask the docent where the works by African Americans are kept. And then, long, long after all 11 Hall of Famers in the 1964 Topps set have faded from memory, the visitor will happen upon an Ernie Barnes and neglect the rest of the day’s plans for a brush with greatness.

“Hook Shot” (1971)

Of Myths and Men (pt 1)

I have really enjoyed perusing SABR’s Eight Myths Out Series. Jacob Pomrenke and the rest of the many historians involved have done terrific work and it is a tribute to what a bright and meticulous team can accomplish.

The title of the project is a nod to the book and subsequent film “Eight Men Out”. As a promotion for the movie a trading card set was produced. It is a fun 110 card set that I enjoy because it falls at the intersection of two of my hobbies, baseball and film.

1988 Orion Pictures Eight Men Out #5 The Black Sox Scandal

Since the eight myths are responses to ideas introduced in “Eight Men Out” the book and further propagated by the film several of the cards are also connected to these myths.

Today we will look at some of the myth cards. I envision this as a three column series covering four myths in each of the first two postings followed by a  non-myth set summary/highlights closer.

Myth #1 Comiskey as Scrooge

1988 Orion Pictures Eight Men Out #80 Charles A Comiskey

Myth #1 is covered on card #80 – if this was a Topps set it would be a Hero Number! OK, maybe a low-level star number. While this is a nice era appropriate profile picture of Comiskey when we flip the card over we start talking Scrooge…

1988 Orion Pictures Eight Men Out #80 Charles A Comiskey (back)

The text opens discussing Comiskey’s Hall of Fame credentials but things turn in paragraph 3. “Tightfisted” and “Dollar-Pinching” are the two adjectives used to describer Comiskey. The card also mentions Dickey Kerr who is discussed in one of the further reading bullets for Myth 8.

Myth #2 The Cicotte “Bonus”

1988 Orion Pictures Eight Men Out #6 Eddie Cicotte 29-7 in 1919

I love the statistical reference which is given as the sub-line on this card. The 29-7 record of Cicotte is a subtle / not-so-subtle nod to the 30 wins that the pitcher did not achieve in 1919.  There are 110 cards in this set and this is the ONLY one that has stats on the front.

Interestingly…

1988 Orion Pictures Eight Men Out #6 Eddie Cicotte 29-7 in 1919 (b-side)

The back of the card does not mention the benching of Cicotte at all.

Myth #3 Gamblers Initiated the Fix

1988 Orion Pictures Eight Men Out #19 The Key is Cicotte

Cicotte is mentioned by name on our myth #3 card as well, but it features gamblers “Sleepy” Bill Burns and Billy Maharg. Turns out the card (book and film) has the facts reversed. It was Eddie Cicotte along with Chick Gandil that approached the gamblers.

Myth #4 The Hitman: “Harry F.”

1988 Orion Pictures Eight Men Out #60 Lefty is Threatened

For legal reasons Eliot Asinof created a fictional character, Hitman “Harry F.”. According to “Eight Men Out” the hitman threatened Lefty Williams. The mythical threat is mentioned on card #60 above.

Once again I urge you to check out “Eight Myths Out” to further understand the facts/myths involved, I have only touched upon each bullet here as a connection with the related card.

This concludes part one of our series dedicated to Eight Men/Myths Out. Hopefully in the next week or so we will cover the bottom half of the myths.

Sources and Links

SABR: Eight Myths Out

Baseball-Ref

Imdb

Eight Men Out set index (Phungo)

Cards on Film: “Mermaids”

Many of you likely know of my passions for both baseball and film. It is often assumed that I therefore must love baseball films — films about the game — but usually I do not. But I do love movies where characters attend baseball games, like Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward do in A New Kind of Love, or when there is an unexpected baseball photo in the background, as in Lauren Bacall’s iconic scene in To Have and Have Not. In the two preceding examples I link to the blog of my friend Tom Shieber because no one knows more about this subject than Tom, and no one is better than Tom at rooting out the details. I love stumbling across the scenes, but often I just pass them off to Tom to let him do all the hard work.

In recent years I have been especially on the lookout for films that use baseball cards in some way. I am not aware of a film in which baseball card collecting is a central theme, but that is really not what I am after. I want the baseball cards or related memorabilia to either be completely random, or perhaps to help us understand the character or the time and place.

My favorite such scene is from Arthur Hiller’s “Penelope” (1966). I have explained this in depth many times, so I will just wait until you read this link. The movie has nothing to do with baseball, or baseball cards, but it is wonderful.

I wrote about a second example last year, “Skipped Parts,” a rather obscure film from 2000. In this movie, the cards are used as evidence that the main character, a 14-year-old boy, is not appropriately growing up. Imagine collecting cards at 14? Incroyable!

I actually enjoy both of those films on their merits. That is not the case with “Poison Ivy” from 1985. I did not think it worthy of a blog post, but last week I linked to it on Twitter and directed people to go to time stamps 1:02:32 and then 1:03:05 (each scene lasts 2 seconds). Two boys are sitting on their camp bed and playing with a box of 1985 Fleer cards.

My latest entry in the Cards on Film Hall of Fame is Richard Benjamin’s “Mermaids” from 1990. The film is principally about a single mother (played by Cher) and her two daughters (Winona Ryder and Christina Ricci, in her debut). The family moves around a lot, for reasons explained, and early in the film they are newly arrived in a small town in Massachusetts. This is the fall of 1963. They soon meet a local shoe store owner (Bob Hoskins) who becomes the fourth principal character in the movie.

The Hoskins character is a big baseball fan, which is the reason I am writing this post. Here is the scene where the family goes shoe shopping.

As they walk into the shoe store the radio is playing a Red Sox game, and the Yankees appear to be the opponent. It sounds like Mickey Mantle might be batting. (After a few seconds the game goes silent, though no one turns the radio off.) More importantly, there are a lot of baseball photos behind the cash register, and several baseball cards — all Red Sox from 1962 and 1963. How many can you pick out?

Later in the film the whole gang is back in the store and you see the cash register from the side. There are even more Red Sox baseball cards.

Hoskins becomes Cher’s love interest, as you likely guessed. She is very reluctant to commit to him or anyone else (a central theme of the film), but as a way of finally giving in just a bit, the entire crew heads to Cooperstown and visits the Baseball Hall of Fame. There is one very brief scene on Main Street and at the museum.

There are lot of talented actors on display, and all of the characters are somewhat quirky. Ryder’s character, who is 16, is the narrator and turns into the central character of the film. Ryder was a pretty big deal in 1990, and this film was part of her meteoric rise. Unfortunately, her character has zero interest in baseball.

But she does go to Cooperstown. How cool is that?

If you have any other nominees for the Hall of Fame, please pass them on and I will investigate. Or you can blog about them yourself.

 

 

Christmas Cards

The week before Christmas has been a good one for cards. That’s too bold; the week before Christmas has been a good one for me getting cards. I have no idea how cards in general are doing. A few random stories:

Though a long time collector, my re-immersion into the hobby the past year and a half has come with some re-education. I am consistently surprised by the variations in pricing and how, with patience, there’s always an opportunity to get what I need at a price I can bear.

My pursuit of a 1956 Topps set has been slow in comparison to the pedal to the metal pace of my 1960, 1968 and 1969 set building. I’ve gotten lots on eBay of cards in EX or better for less than $3 a card, low numbers and high, but there are usually too many cards in those lots that I already have. I never end up selling my doubles for more than $2 per card.

On Monday an eBay seller, justcollectcards, had a big 40% off sale. I was almost late for a lunch appointment because I went through all their EX listings. It was worth it though. I got 60 cards, including Minnie Minoso and a couple of teams, for $2.75 each. That put a huge dent in my checklist. Now I know I’m not going to get the big dollar cards for any discount from book, but if I keep getting the rest of the set for about 1/3 of stated value, I should have enough savings to make the Mantle and Ted Williams somewhat easier to swallow.

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Cooperstown definitely needs more general interest stores, but that’s a difficult hurdle to jump with a year round population of around 1,800, slightly more if you add the surrounding area. Are there too many baseball stores? Sure. Do I want there to be no baseball stores? Absolutely not.

I’m not a binder and sheets person by nature but it has definitely been easier to put sets together when I can add a few cards into pages, rather than pull out boxes and sort through all the cards to put the new ones in their proper numerical place every time I get two new cards.

Yesterday Joey met me at Yastrzemski Sports on Main St., where I usually buy my supplies. I decided I’d put my 1967 set in sheets, since all my pre-1970 sets seem to have ended up stored that way. Joey needed sheets for his hoped for misprinted, psychedelic card collection.  

We got what we needed plus I found a 1988 Pacific Eight Men Out set for $5! Any set with four Studs Terkel cards is worth having.

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From there we headed to Baseball Nostalgia by Doubleday Field. I’m sure I’ve written how BN is my favorite store, filled with cards, cheap autographs, yearbooks and more. It’s been in Cooperstown, in a few different forms, since the mid-1970’s. Pete at the store had read the post I wrote about Joey’s quest for cards with messed up printing and he emailed me to say that he had a bunch of 1976 SSPC misprints. (Baseball Nostalgia began as a TCMA flagship.)

Boy, did he have misprints! Joey bit the bullet and bought all 140 of them, each a trippy nightmare of color mistakes. The Bruce Bochte card (left) looks like a still from a Peter Fonda movie and our buddy John D’Acquisto (right) seems to have two sets of eyes. Freaky stuff.

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A signed Jose Cardenal baseball Legends card caught my eye. You can’t beat the price!

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And so, that’s how my card year is ending. The 1956s are on their way, as are 4 more 1936 Goudey Wide Pens.

I’ll wrap things up as I did last year, with great thanks to Mark Armour and Chris Dial for not only restarting the SABR Baseball Cards Committee, but dragging me, quite willingly, into participating in a big way. That’s been the best gift of all.

The Brand New Testament

Baseball cards have been referenced in countless American films. My favorites only begin with 1966’s Penelope (thank you, Mark Armour!), It’s My Turn (1980, in which you get to see Michael Douglas on a card), and Spike Lee’s Girl 6 (1996). (In the latter, the title character tells Jimmy, played by Lee: “Baby, let me tell you something. You can continue to live in your little fantasy world with your baseball cards and the autographed bullshit or whatever the fuck is it you do, but me, I got to eat and pay the rent….” And Jimmy responds: “…you know, at least I got Willie Mays and Hank Aaron’s autograph on a baseball card, you know, they’re in the Hall of Fame.”)
brandnewtestament
But baseball cards do not just appear in American films. One example is The Brand New Testament (2015), a Belgian feature directed by Jaco Van Dormael. At its center is a ten-year-old girl who just so happens to be the daughter of God. But given who they are, she and her parents are not what one might expect. They reside in a cramped Brussels apartment and her father– or, God– is a loud, coarse bully. Her bathrobe-clad mother is described as “a pathetic woman, one-hundred-percent certified sloppy.” She is perpetually silent; when she doesn’t embroider, she sits at a table and contemplates her baseball card collection. (Some of the cards are seen up-close and ever-so-briefly. They do not resemble any specific set or feature recognizable players. But they are indeed baseball cards.) 

Dr. Zaius, Ernst Stavro Blofeld, and Thou – The Greatest Villains in Cinema History

Joan Crawford wielding an enormous wooden coat hanger. Blofeld stroking his fluffy white cat. “Blue Velvet’s” Frank Booth reaching out to touch Camilo Pascual on the AL Pitching Leaders card. You can almost hear him say, “Hi, neighbor!”

I love movie villains and the 1964 Topps, and thought it would be fun to combine the two to create a themed set. The Yankees and Dodgers are two of the most reviled teams, so they collectively house this rogues gallery.

Roll Call!

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Freddy

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Blofeld

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Role reversals would be interesting. The devout Bobby Richardson as Hannibal Lecter. Jim Bouton as the Wicked Witch of the West (instead of ending up in Munchkin Land, it could be the Pilots’ locker room, with Joe Schultz as the Mayor). Good ol’ Doug Camilli terrorizing teens in their dreams with a demonic catcher’s glove.

A few years back, Terry Cannon of the Baseball Reliquary invited me to share some of these as part of his “Son of Cardboard Fetish” exhibit at a local Los Angeles library. Suddenly, there was controversy. The librarian, a big baseball fan himself, scotched the inclusion of these villain cards in the exhibit. He deemed them too scary for soccer moms and their kiddies. Poor “Baby” Jane Hudson and Henry F. Potter would have to wait for their moment in the limelight.

Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed at Sports Collector’s Digest, who printed some of the cards for everyone to enjoy in their national publication. I do worry about those soccer moms, though.

“Skipped Parts”

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A couple of years ago I was watching the 1966 movie “Penelope,” starring (peak) Natalie Wood, when I came upon a brief scene in which Wood casually opens a pack of 1966 baseball cards. Here, read this.

One of the best minutes in movie history.

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So last night I watched the 2000 film “Skipped Parts,” with an ensemble cast led by Jennifer Jason Leigh. Its kind of a coming-of-age story, set in 1963, in which Leigh plays the unwed mother of a 14-year-old boy. Leigh’s father is a wealthy citizen considering a run for governor in some unnamed southern state, who exiles his daughter and grandson to a house in Wyoming so that they don’t embarrass him during his campaign. Leigh is a bit “wild”, even with a son. She also has never worked a day in her life, so she pretty much has to do whatever her father says.

65962There is a scene near the start of the film where grand-dad summons the boy into a room and makes him toss a stack of baseball cards into a raging fire. Something about “setting aside all childish things.” Prior to the summons, we see the kid (who knows what is coming) palm a 1958 Don Drysdale and slip it into his back pocket. When he tosses in the stack, we see (with a bit of freeze framing, several rewinds, and several minutes of Google image searches) that the top card is a 1962 Felix Mantilla, and below that is a 1961 Alvin Dark managers card. For the rest of the stack we can just see the backs in the fire, and they include a 1961 Willie Mays. The cards looked to be in good shape, though deteriorating by the second.

All of this is soon forgotten, and lots of interesting stuff happens for the next 90 minutes. It is sort of a proto-Juno, except the teenagers (Bug Hall and Mischa Barton) are 14, rather than the 17-18 year olds in the later film.

In the final scene, which takes place a year or so later, the boy is sitting on the front porch of the Wyoming house, next to (SPOILER) a baby in a bassinet. Above the baby is a mobile constructed out of baseball cards. (How did I not have one of those, or make one for my kids?)

54f5c4680cdc4_66095nThese are also 1961 and 1962 cards. I can make out a 1962 George Alusik (took me a while to figure this out, as the cards were literally spinning in a light breeze), a 1961 Gary Geiger (I think), and, still surviving, the 1958 Drysdale.

The movie was made in 2000, and the cards were obviously meant as a period device. We never saw the kid actually do anything with his cards other than near the start when he has a stack on the table that grandpa makes him destroy. I appreciate that the movie makers made the effort to get the correct vintage, even though very few people likely took the time to notice.

I am likely going to buy this DVD so that I can make clips out of these two scenes to add to my “collection.”

Oh, and the movie’s not bad. (I had no idea about the cards when choosing it.) Its not Casablanca, but the characters are interesting and Leigh, typically brilliant, is worth a couple of stars just by herself.

Please let me know if you run across any other baseball card scenes in movies, or if you have any insight into this one.

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