Outfielder Harold Baines of the Chicago White Sox stood beneath the Comiskey Park centerfield bleachers and asked himself the age-old baseball question: Is it me, or is it art? Baines wasn't pondering the spot where his latest dinger had landed; he was studying an 8" x 10" oil painting of himself by Chicago artist Ed Paschke. It was hanging with 16 other original oils of Sox players, all by different Illinois artists, all auctioned off on Aug. 24 at Comiskey Park. The auction's beneficiary was the Renaissance Society, a nonprofit art organization located at the University of Chicago.
The "Ren" asked artists to donate these works to raise money for the society and, as board director Henry Landan said, "to bring art to an untapped audience—fans." The Ren knows what the fans like: All the White Sox paintings have been reproduced in baseball-card-size prints that cost $25 per set—or $450 per set when each card is signed by both artist and subject. "No gum involved," says Landan.
Normally a quiet man, Baines gushed over his portrait. "I was interested from the start in having a famous artist do me," he said. "And the difficult part is, he did it all in dots."
Well, not entirely. The painting also features a row of solid-white teeth and some horizontal lines that, according to artist Paschke, "relate to television." The basic form of the portrait—a straight-on mug shot of Baines in his Sox cap—is engaging, if a trifle bland.
"The premise here was to get more of a psychological impression of the player than a superficial one," said Paschke. "Harold doesn't show a lot of emotion, so I made his face almost like a mask." If only players could explain their bouncers to short as clearly as this.
"I'm thinking about bidding on it," said Baines. "I'd put it in my family room. The thing about art is that everybody has a different view. The artist who did Floyd [Bannister] said his eyes look like that because he's watching a foul ball go by."
Unfortunately, the Sox were playing the Blue Jays in 20 minutes, and Baines couldn't bid on his portrait. He had to run off to work on a little canvas in the dirt beside home plate.
Potential bidders had shelled out $50 to the Ren just to look at the artwork, and once the auction started, the paintings went fast. Altogether, the sale added $19,700 to the Ren coffers. The low bid was $350 for a portrait of pitcher Richard Dotson by Paul La Mantia, and the high bid was $3,300 for the Baines dot mask. It was snapped up by Chicago lawyer Bill Gibbons, who said, "I know Paschke's work and I'm a big fan of Baines, so this is perfect."
A painting of recently waived first baseman Tom Paciorek went for $450 in a sympathy bid. "Poor Tom," said auctioneer Leslie Hindman, hinting at a basic conflict in the Renaissance-White Sox connection: Art is forever, the lineup is not.