Dick Perez, one of the most widely-recognized artists in baseball, was recently in hobby news when it was announced he is the subject of an in-production documentary titled, The Diamond King.
About a month ago, I wrote an article for Sports Collectors Daily about the documentary. The article focused on the Kickstarter campaign aimed at raising funds for film producer and director Marq Evans.
The article also touched on Perez’s career. In this article I dive a little deeper. I asked Mr. Perez ten questions on topics ranging from his upcoming appearance at The National in Chicago, the Robert Edward Auction starting July 25th featuring ten paintings, and the new set of cards he created to help fundraise for The Diamond King.
Below is my Q&A with artist Dick Perez, and a special thanks to Evans for helping to facilitate our communication.
Perez and Evans at the studio.
As a talented artist and painter, what inspired you to choose baseball as your primary subject?
Becoming a painter of baseball art was serendipitous. I did not choose to make it the center of my career. I attended art school to be a graphic designer. By chance, I began doing design work for the Villanova University sports information department.
Jim Murray was the Director of that department, and we became good friends. He eventually became general manager of the Philadelphia Eagles.
My work for the Eagles caught the attention of the Philadelphia Phillies. I did a lot of publication designs and illustrations for the Phillies. And It was through Murray that I met Frank Steele.
One of the paintings that will be auctioned off by Robert Edward Auctions beginning in July.
How important or how much of a life changer was your partnership with Frank and Peggy Steele?
It can definitely be said that meeting and forming a partnership with Frank and Peggy Steele was a career changer. Up to that point I had local recognition. They told me that they would take me nationally – and they did. It was that partnership that connected me to the Baseball Hall of Fame, Donruss Diamond Kings and other things.
When Diamond Kings came out in 1982, it changed the insert/subset genre. Were you nervous about whether your style would be accepted by the card collecting community?
Not at all. I knew that young card collectors would be looking at something they had never seen before in baseball cards. When I was a kid in the early fifties and collected baseball cards, the cards appeared different and more appealing than regular photograph cards. They were art cards. That was 1953, the last year of art cards.
I hoped that the young collector of the eighties and nineties would be experiencing the pleasure I felt back then. And I was right, I have gotten thousands of letters expressing their feelings.
The first Diamond Kings subset was released in 1982 by Donruss.
You've painted every Philly-connected baseball player in the Hall of Fame. What are your thoughts on Dick Allen, who you've painted and who missed induction into the Hall of Fame by one vote in 2021, and his candidacy as a Hall of Famer?
I came from Puerto Rico to NYC when I was six years old. I became a lover of baseball and the Yankees. My family moved to Philadelphia when I was a teenager. I was still a baseball fan, but no one was a Yankee fan, and the Yankees were far away, so I became a Phillies fan.
I witnessed Dick Allen’s entire Phillies career. He replaced Mickey Mantle as my favorite baseball player. So yes, I think Dick Allen should be in the Baseball Hall of Fame.
He has qualifying career numbers. He was a Rookie of the Year, a 7-time All-Star, got an MVP award, and compiled a lifetime career batting average close to .300. If his 15-year career had been a little longer, he would have hit well over 400 HRs.
A Dick Allen painting by Perez
Your work and life is the focus of Marq Evans' soon-to-be released documentary, The Diamond King. What is the message that you hope is conveyed in the movie about your work and life?
I hope it conveys the correlation of baseball and art. I hope it is regarded as a visual commentary on the games’ history. I hope it imparts the athletic human figure and the ballet of the game. The film is also about baseball being the gateway to America for an immigrant boy.
One of the most exciting parts of the documentary was fundraising for the independent film. One of the rewards for donors to the Kickstarter campaign was a set of 25 cards, numbered to 499, that marks your first card release since 2008. How has the experience been creating this set?
It was fun bringing art and baseball together again. I still enjoy graphic design and I was delighted to apply those skills to the project. The collection consists of a few personal choices. Players with whom I have had some personal connection or were my true heroes.
Are there any particular cards in the set that are your favorites?
As players, they are all favorites. Artistically and narratively, Josh Gibson, Grover Alexander, Nolan Ryan, Mike Schmidt, Satchel Paige, and Julio Rodriguez, in that order. I should stop there.
Julio Rodriguez by Dick Perez
You're going to be at the 2023 National in Chicago at the Robert Edward Auctions booth. What will you be doing at the booth and when was the last time you were at The National?
I guess, meeting and greeting and signing autographs. I was told there will be other baseball artists there, some of which I inspired as a pioneer. Hopefully, I’ll get to say hello to them. I haven’t been to a National in years. The last time, I witnessed one of my pieces auctioned off for the highest amount I had ever gotten for my work. It was an exciting experience.
Can you give readers a preview of the paintings that will be up for auction at REA?
There are ten in all, five scenes and five portraits, Larry Walker, Chipper Jones, Mariano Rivera, Babe Ruth/Jacob Rupert, Jeff Bagwell, Francisco Lindor, Jose Altuve, Willie McCovey, Whitey Ford, and Buck O’Neil.
This painting of Buck O’Neil will be auctioned by REA. It is in the same style as the Diamond Kings.
Your cards are the most recognizable subset from the 1980s. You were the official artist of The National Baseball Hall of Fame for almost 20 years. But beyond that, do you think about your journey, the friends you've made and any words of wisdom from your career?
I appreciate that I have made a substantial living making art of a subject I was passionate about. That is due to a great amount of fortuity and working hard and long hours when that good fortune came my way. I am overwhelmed by a fan base composed of folks who tell me how much they love what I do and how it affects them.
The path that I took in my career was to make what I created my own. That is, I developed a style and technique that best expressed my passion for what I was painting. My work, in many cases, is more suggestive than exact. I make it clear that the image is hand-made. It shows the viewer something he/she has never seen before.
Larry Walker was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2021.