Last night on the MLB Network, over the span of nearly 3 hours, I watched one of my favorite baseball movies, “The Natural.” Robert Redford plays Roy Hobbs, a once can’t miss prospect who runs into a heap of trouble, falls off the planet only to return in glorious fashion later on in his life (personally and baseball wise.) Hobbs is chased and harassed and stalked by Max Mercy, played by Robert Duvall. Mercy is a local sports reporter with questionable ethics and a deep desire to make or break a superstar, like Hobbs. Mercy, along with other sportswriters, hole themselves up in the press boxes of stadiums throughout this fictional professional league with their notepads, typewriters, cigars, and a freshly sharpened pencil ready to tell the story. Mercy draws cartoons of Hobbs throughout the movie in both flattering and unflattering situations. His cartoons capture the essence of the moment – Hobbs striking out “The Whammer” at a local fairgrounds stop, Hobbs coming out of nowhere to hit towering home runs, Hobbs mired in a terrible slump, Hobbs the “Goat or Hero” in the last game sequence of the movie. Before there were cameras filming at games, tons of footage from field cameras, and certainly camera phones, there were sports cartoonist.
I have a much deeper appreciation for sports and cartooning due to two people – local Rhode Island cartoonist Frankie Galasso and my son Griffin. I met Frank Galasso several years ago and was honored to do some freelance writing work for Frank. Frankie’s gift is ridiculous and talented and colorful. His illustrations of New England sports, local Rhode Island treasures, and popular Rhode Island tourist attractions have been a huge hit for tourists and Rhode Islanders alike for decades. My son Griffin draws cartoons for fun but his gift is monumental. Griffey can draw superheroes, album covers, landscapes – all free hand and all amazing. He recently won a scholastic award for his illustrations and the sky is the limit for him.
During my recent visit to McCoy Stadium’s hallway of sports memorabilia, volunteer citation plaques, and Pawtucket Red Sox historical awards, I couldn’t help but stop and “marvel” at the sports comics on the walls. Most are from the late Frank Lanning, who wrote and worked and drew some of the most iconic images of New England sports and history for the Providence Journal. Lanning’s cartoons tell the story of the moment. If the Pawtucket Red Sox beat the Rochester Red Wings in a significant game, the cartoon and captions tell the story. Is there a player that made a historical marker on the game, Lanning’s cartoon would depict that feat and the captions would do the rest, filling in the gaps. I stopped and read every cartoon and just smiled at the drawing, the words, the sarcasm at times, and the beauty of each one. Here are a few of the many cartoons that are hanging in the hallways of McCoy Stadium.
Personally, I love the cartoonist’s eye and wit in terms of telling the story. It can be a sarcastic view of a situation. Or an outrageous slant on a player’s ability. Cartoons dig deep into the imagination bucket and the best ones inspire thought from ever the least artistic person in the room. This art of cartooning is so impressive because it typically combines art, clever wording, and the ability to tell a tiny to massive story in one frame. That is a gift and I have such a deeper respect for those who can pull it off.