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Ted Williams Museum marks 25th anniversary of ‘20 Greatest Hitters of All Time’

If you look closely at Fiorentino’s watercolor painting of the 20 Greatest Hitters, you’ll note that it is signed by a number of the athletes. Photo Credit: James Fiorentino

If you look closely at Fiorentino’s watercolor painting of the 20 Greatest Hitters, you’ll note that it is signed by a number of the athletes. Photo Credit: James Fiorentino

Flemington, N.J. -- New Jersey Artist James Fiorentino considered himself beyond lucky when, at the age of 17, he was commissioned by the Ted Williams Museum to paint a collage of the “20 Greatest Hitters of All Time.”

Fiorentino, who played shortstop for his high school baseball team, recalls the surreal experience of being a guest at the star-studded induction ceremony of 20 iconic players into the museum’s Hitters Hall of Fame on February 9, 1995 in Hernando, Florida. The extravaganza, hosted by Bob Costas, was attended by former president George Bush and his wife Barbara, and 37 Hall of Fame baseball players including the legendary Mickey Mantle.

Former President George Bush (who Fiorentino later painted) and Barbara Bush were among celebrities and dignataries attending the induction ceremony February 9, 1995, photo credit: James Fiorentino

Former President George Bush (who Fiorentino later painted) and Barbara Bush were among celebrities and dignataries attending the induction ceremony February 9, 1995, photo credit: James Fiorentino

Fiorentino standing next to orginal painting, which hung for a while in the home of Ted Williams. Photo credit: James Fiorentino

Fiorentino standing next to orginal painting, which hung for a while in the home of Ted Williams. Photo credit: James Fiorentino

Ted Williams Museum, 1995. Photo credit James Fiorentino

Ted Williams Museum, 1995. Photo credit James Fiorentino

It all started at a baseball card show in 1994, when Fiorentino, a high school junior, showed some of his artwork to representatives from the Ted Williams Museum.

“They said, “How about doing a painting of the 20 greatest hitters that Ted chose?” They were planning a big gathering of these players at the museum. So I ended up doing this big 40-by-50-inch painting. I don’t think they had any idea what I could do or how big. They were blown away by it. Ted Williams actually hung the painting in his house for months before the event. I had flown down to Florida to meet with Ted with my sister. It was surreal, just meeting him. Months later, we came down for the event…I think it was the biggest gathering of Hall of Famers ever – even bigger than Cooperstown. All these guys who signed the original were there, such as Mickey Mantle, Joe DiMaggio, Willie Mays, Ted Williams. Mantle was my mom’s hero. Growing up, I’d always hear her rooting for Mickey Mantle. My mom actually called The Mick to come over and sign my painting. It was a pretty cool experience for sure.” Sports Collectors Digest

Ted Williams Museum, 1995. Photo Credit: James Fiorentino

Ted Williams Museum, 1995. Photo Credit: James Fiorentino

Fiorentino snapped this photo of Ted Williams during one of their visits.

Fiorentino snapped this photo of Ted Williams during one of their visits.

Fiorentino would eventually paint more artwork of many of the legendary players he met through Williams’ Hitters Hall of Fame, and developed close friendships with a number of the athletes. A renowned sports artist in his own right, at age 15 James was the youngest artist to be featured in the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum for his likeness of Reggie Jackson, which hung beside the paintings of Norman Rockwell and Andy Warhol. His painting commemorating Roberto Clemente remains in the museum as a part of their permanent collection.

Fiorentino is now one of the country’s premier watercolor artists, with landscapes, portraits and wildlife paintings gracing the walls of galleries and museums throughout the United States and abroad.

Submitted by Visionary Art.