Sports cartoonists used baseball as primary messaging
Not the kind that roamed the earth 200 million years ago, but about sports cartoonists who proliferated the nation’s newspapers for the first three-quarters of the 20th century before becoming nearly extinct due to a similar drastically changed environment.
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“Mullin was clearly the leader of the pack,” says Olderman. “He was very innovative. His style was kind of loosey-goosey. He had great ideas and a great sense of humor.”
If Mullin was the most innovative, Olderman was the most versatile. His artwork ranged from caricatures, to standard editorial cartoons, to brilliant hard pencil and ink portraits. At the same time he wrote – articles to supplement his cartoons, magazine pieces and nearly a-dozen books, including “The 20th Century Encyclopedia of Baseball.”
Since the cartoonists and their works have largely disappeared, a couple of generations of sports fans, who know little about them, were never able to appreciate what is literally a lost art. Fortunately, nearly 500 original baseball cartoons are preserved at the Hall of Fame. The originals are stored in the temperature-controlled archives so as not to expose them to light or changes of temperature and humidity, but there are a handful of reproductions on exhibit in the Museum.
“What makes cartoons unique is their ability to act as ‘snapshots’ of a given place and time while simultaneously providing more commentary than a photograph,” said Erik Strohl, the Hall of Fame’s vice president of Exhibitions and Collections. “Many baseball cartoons had a singular function: To inform readers about the performances of players and clubs. Other cartoons were meant to entice thought on certain topics. Still others reflected the intertwining histories of baseball and the American people.”
The origins of modern cartoons stretch back more than 100 years. One of the most prolific of those early pioneers was Clare Briggs, creator of the first daily comic strip called “A Piper Clerk”, who worked for the Hearst Corporation’s Chicago Herald and Chicago American in the early 1900s. According to Strohl, the Hall of Fame has about 50 of Briggs’ originals, more than any other cartoonist.
“Briggs also incorporated discussion of cultural topics into his baseball cartoons. Like the impact of World War I,” said Strohl. “It is the work of (artists) like Briggs that lead directly to the golden age of cartoons and the likes of Willard Mullin.”
Bill Madden won the BBWAA’s 2010 J.G. Taylor Spink Award