Topps artist Andy Friedman first came onto the baseball stage with his article and drawings and paintings of baseball cards that were published in The New Yorker magazine in 2015.
The article, entitled “The Loneliness of The Common Player,” delved into his passion for artwork of players who had appeared on what are referred to as “common” baseball cards. You know, the ones you find in boxes at shows for a nickel to a dime apiece.
His baseball card art of players such as Buddy Biancalana and Champ Summers (one of the all-time great baseball names) were a big hit in one of the nation’s top magazines.
“I have long been fascinated by the regular player, not the stars, and it is what I grew up drawing, as early on I was making my own baseball cards,” Friedman said.
Baseball returned to the magazine again in 2020 when Friedman penned a cover story on his all-time favorite player, Mike Schmidt, the Hall of Famer and third baseman extraordinaire for the Philadelphia Phillies, with great sketches of him accompanying the piece.
“He was my childhood hero, and there I was interviewing him. There was nothing better than that,” he said. “They told me I had 20 minutes tops with him, but the interview went on for close to two hours.”
Friedman’s profile offers great insight into the persona of Schmidt, who opens up about how he was intimidated and made fun of by veteran players when he first came to the Phillies. Schmidt was so intense, he revealed, because he was always concerned with a fear of failure.
Schmidt talks about eventually playing with Pete Rose, his favorite player growing up, and winning the World Series and being named MVP, and then getting to Cooperstown. He told Friedman he could have played a few more years, but was ready to move on to a regular life due to his obsession with perfection in the game. Friedman’s piece is great baseball writing, not to mention the artwork that accompanies the story.
I met Friedman in July at Jeff Robert’s three-day card show in Nashville. He was there with renderings of his “Topps Spotlight 70” artwork that he has been doing for the past two years. It is fascinating stuff, and he is a fascinating guy.
Besides his writing and paintings, he is also an accomplished singer/songwriter with three CDs to his credit.
“This is not my first trip to Nashville,” he said with a laugh and smile.
When I tell him I live near Johnson City, he reveals he has played at “The Down Home,” an intimate music hall that has hosted the likes of Chris Stapleton, Doc Watson, Kenny Chesney and Jerry Jeff Walker over the years.
“It is a moment in my life that is not lost on me,” he said.
Friedman has been featured in Rolling Stone magazine. For several years he has been a cartoonist and has done cover art for The New Yorker and The New York Times magazines. He showed me a piece of 1-of-1 art he had done of Doc Watson that was for sale.
But at this point in his life, he is concentrating on his artwork. A graduate of The Rhode Island School of Design with a degree in art and painting, he lives in Brooklyn. I ask him about his favorite team?
“The Mets mostly, but I have to like the Yankees somewhat as well, as I just did a painting for them on Aaron Boone’s shoes,” he said.
He has even done a painting on the famous sticks of gum that used to come in card packs. Topps gave away 10 of the paintings, signed by the artist.
The “Topps Spotlight 70” cards have come out the past two years with a series I and II. The boxes they come in is a takeoff on the old Topps Traded box. Each series came with 70 cards and they have been sold in packs as well.
Friedman was a guest at the Topps booth at The National in Chicago last year and was back in Atlantic City this year.
“I love getting to talk with all the fans that you meet there,” he said.
The “Spotlight 70” cards are his ink and watercolor renderings of cards that he has picked out from over the years.
“In this form of art, mistakes are impossible to correct,” he says as we look at some of his work.
The common players are still there, as are stars and top rookies, such as Pittsburgh’s Oneal Cruz and Tampa Bay’s Wander Franco. I buy cards from him that I like, including some of my favorite players, such as Bucky Dent, Jim Kaat, Ron Washington and Bernie Williams, and he signs them for me.
We talk about baseball art and I tell him that I am a big fan of Dick Perez.
“Oh yeah, me too,” he said.
I ask him how long it takes to do the paintings, as I have always been fascinated by the amount of Diamond Kings art that Perez has turned out over the years. Friedman is now doing somewhat the same.
“Yeah, it is amazing what all he has done,” he tells me. “But it is really hard for me to say just how long, as it varies from one piece to the next. I don’t think about the time, as I just enjoy working on them.”
I ask him about Topps being bought by Fanatics and if that concern him and other artists.
“You know, when I first heard about it, of course there was concern, with all the artists really, but now I think everybody is great with it and looking forward to continuing on,” he said.
It is interesting to watch him show his art to collectors that stop by his booth. My guess is it will bring many moments of joy to those that leave with some of his paintings. I know it will for me.
You can check out Friedman’s artwork at andyfriedman.net.
— Barry Blair is an author/writer who makes his home in Jonesborough, Tenn. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or check out his website rightfieldpress.com.