Interview: Artist Graig Kreindler Talks About The Negro Leagues Legends Baseball Card Set

Renowned artist Graig Kreindler is the artistic genius behind the artwork found in the new Negro Leagues Legends Baseball Card Set.

Coming in at (184) cards, this set plunges you into the deep history of the Negro Leagues.  Cards highlighting the Negro Leagues aren’t absent from the hobby, but this could very well be the most detailed set ever produced on the subject.

2020 is the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Negro Leagues.  It officially was founded on February 13, 1920 at Kansas City’s Paseo YMCA.

Card fronts feature Graig Kreindler’s art, while the backs come with quite extensive bios.

Sold in factory set form, these boxes are individually serial numbered to 5,000 copies.

Negro Leagues History is selling sets for $59.95.  The National Bobblehead Hall of Fame is also selling them a few different ways.  One package comes with the set and a mystery bobblehead for $80.  Another comes with the set, mystery bobblehead, and Negro Leagues centennial postcard set for $100.  Lastly, for $120 there is a package which has the set, mystery bobblehead, Negro Leagues centennial postcard set, and Negro Leagues Mount Rushmore postcard set.  All artwork done by Graig Kreindler.

With the help of fellow sports artist Monty Sheldon, I was able to snag an interview with Graig Kreindler and ask him about this new project.

How did you get involved with this project?

This project was the brainchild of Jay Caldwell, a collector based out of the Pacific Northwest.  He approached me at one of the Nationals (I believe in 2016) with the hope of commissioning me to paint some Negro League players for his personal collection.  It started out as just that, a series of portraits for a private collection.  But as Jay got a little bit more carried away in his thinking, he posed the idea of putting together an exhibit of the paintings and some of his artifacts to celebrate the upcoming centennial of the Negro National League’s formation.  The hope was that it would be something that the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City, MO would be interested in showing in conjunction with the celebration of the anniversary.  I was very much on board, as it was kind of a dream project for me.  What started out as around 20 paintings suddenly became 50.  Then 75.  100.  150.  200.  And finally, 230.  The list of players just grew and grew, as Jay wanted to tell the story of not only the Negro National League, but the independent leagues that preceded it, as well as many Latin American teams (which often had many African American players during the winter-time months).

Over the course of three years or so, I worked on these paintings for Jay’s project, while I tried to balance all of the commission work I had going on at the time.  But in the end, I found myself at the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum on February 13, 2020 celebrating the centennial with Jay, the folks at the museum, many other baseball fans, and all of those portraits on the wall.  It was truly surreal.  And wonderful.

What would you say is the most challenging aspect when it comes to painting these historic baseball legends?

The most challenging aspect of this project definitely was the research component.  For one thing, there aren’t a ton of photographs left of these ballplayers.  Whether it’s the stuff that never survived up to the modern day, or because the teams were mostly covered by African American newspapers that were weekly publications, it’s just tough to compile a complete visual history of these leagues.  I think in general, though baseball is the best documented sport in history, it almost seems like it’s the opposite for the specific Negro and Latin League clubs—finding proper information for jersey styles and colors was usually a fruitless search.  Granted in the 1930s on, there was more to draw from (pardon the pun).  But once you get back to the first twenty years of the 20th century, it became much harder.  And then the 19th century?  Forget it.  To this day, I estimate that my color choices for about 50% of the paintings were educated guesses, which are leaps of faith I HATE to make.  I’m sure I’ll uncover proper information regarding some of that stuff at some point, and then I’ll try to get those paintings back so I can correct them.

Who is your favorite Negro Leagues subject to work on, and why?

It’s hard to pick a favorite Negro Leagues subject—there are a lot of things about each of the players that I love.  I think visually, it’s cool to paint somebody like Satchel Paige because of all of the different teams he played for, as well as the insane length of his career.  The same kind of thought process applies to Rube Foster, though in a different way.  He went through a pretty big physical transformation over the course of his career, what with his weight and all.  But also cool is that he became a magnate, which he might be better known as.  So having imagery of him just starting out with the Chicago Union Giants or the Philadelphia Giants—when he was comparatively svelte—is pretty special when it gets coupled with the images of him in fine suits.  There’s just so much cool visual stuff in the leagues though, whether it’s a player’s face or build, or a cool uniform, it makes it hard for me to settle on a single subject that rose above the rest.

What is the most important part of Negro League Baseball history you think fans should know?

Perhaps one of the more important parts of the history of the league is that though it was separate from the majors, it was still incredibly successful up until the 1950s.  Buck O’Neil always claimed that during its heyday, it was one of the most successful black businesses in the country.  Seeing that these teams drew so many fans to watch them play, whether it was barnstorming through some podunk town in the Midwest or selling out Comiskey Park, I don’t think that Buck was exaggerating.  With that in mind, the fact that these men and women were shut out from the white leagues and became entrepreneurs in their own right is just an amazing story of perseverance.

What lesson(s) can we learn from the existence of the Negro Leagues?

I think one important lesson that we can take from the existence of the Negro Leagues is just the fact that it existed.  And it shouldn’t have.  The fact that these men and women were shut out of professional baseball because of the color of their skin and/or ancestry is a vile thought.  And it’s important to make sure we never go back there again.  But, as I had mentioned in the previous answer, it’s also crucial that we celebrate these men and women for the athletes and civil rights trailblazers that they were.

Who is publishing the cards, and what is the process of turning your paintings into cards?

The card set is being sold by Jay’s company, through his website, negroleagueshistory.com, as well as a few other vendors (the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum and buythatcard on eBay, for example) around the country.

In terms of the process of putting the cards together, Jay—who has high-res scans of all of the paintings I’ve done for him—has a designer he worked with who put everything together visually.  Jay also consulted with noted Negro Leagues historian Gary Ashwill, who helped with the information on the back of the cards.

We went through a couple rounds of designs, proofreading, and fact checking.  Once everything was where he wanted it to be, the cards were printed, boxed, and shipped to Jay, who handles the disbursement among the direct buyers.  It’s a pretty small operation, as I think all of the packing happens at Jay’s home in the Pacific Northwest.

Has your work ever been featured on trading cards before?

My work was first featured on official baseball cards last year (2019), when I did twenty paintings for Topps’ 150 Years of Baseball set.  They were the only artist renditions of the batch, and were only available through their website.  It’s a bit similar to the Topps Project 2020 model, but mine were available for a week rather than 48 hours.  Actually holding a Topps baseball card with one of my paintings on it for the first time was a REALLY cool feeling.  It’s kind of like coming full circle in a way, since I spent a portion of my childhood trying to replicate some of the Topps and Bowman issues from my father’s collection (or what was left of it).

Is it true this set was almost produced by Topps?

It’s true that Topps was one of the companies we talked to about publishing the set, and they had originally agreed to put it out, but for whatever reason, at some point in the process it just didn’t pan out.  It’s possible that the business with COVID messed things up in the end, but I’m not certain about that, and I wouldn’t want to speculate too much.  Either way, I’m just happy that these cards were able to see the light of day regardless!

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