Baseball Card Recollections — with photographer Jean-Philippe Garceau

The baseball card industry has been dying for years. But there was a time when every sports-loving kid had shoeboxes full of cards.
What few collectors know is that every baseball card photo during collecting's heyday was taken by one man: Jean-Philippe Garceau — baseball card photography artiste!
Garceau was a classically-trianed painter who, while attending the Royal Academy in London, went on an exchange program to the Art Institute of Chicago. There he took in a Cubs game and became instantly smitten with America's national pastime. He decided to focus his talents on baseball card photography. The rest is history.
Today, in the premiere of a new feature, he sits down with SportsPickle to discuss some of his most iconic images.

Don was an exquisite subject. It was almost like being able to photograph a real, live beast from mythology — half man, have startled elk. With Don the issue was getting a quick shot. As you can imagine, the size of his ears left him very sensitive to sound. Even the clicking of a camera could give him a head-splitting migraine, causing him to gallop off and hide. So I just told him to look off into the distance and imagine peace and silence. Which he did. But his left eye still lingered in my direction, suspicious. Scared. Lazy. But I got my one shot, Don got through it all okay — his coaches calmed him with a carrot and an apple — and it resulted in what I think is one of my finest portraits.

I remember this shot didn’t go as planned. I had a few minutes with Dick on the field before batting practice. The sun was starting to set. The lighting was perfect. Ideal conditions. The plan was to take a shot straight on. Just right into his eyes. To get the measure of the man. But right before I clicked, somebody in the stands yelled: “Hey, Dick Pole! Dick Pole! Nice name, Dick Pole!” And then he got angry and cancelled the shoot.

Mike was incredibly nervous about getting his picture taken. He was an introverted guy. Didn’t like to go out in public much. Had a ton of wild conspiracy theories. Just an odd duck. So what I did to calm his nerves was put a tape recorder in his glove. You can’t see it. But it was a tape of soothing affirmations like: “Everything will be okay, you are loved and appreciated. You matter. People like you. Be happy and enjoy each day.” And Mike just snuggled in tight and listened to that and let me click away. After we were done, he propositioned me for sex.

Jose was a big, strong kid. A mountain of a man. So I wanted to reflect that on his baseball card. That’s why I got down low to shoot up at him. It gives the impression that he is hulking and imposing. Also, if I had done a full body shot, you would have seen Mark McGwire kneeling down beside him, injecting him in the buttocks.

This is the one that I am asked about the most. Yes, I knew the bottom of his bat said “FUCK FACE.” I’m the one who gave him the bat. A few of his teammates put me up to it. Billy was hitting .207 that season. He was a terrible ballplayer. Just awful. But his teammates knew that since he was a Ripken, there was no way the Orioles would get rid of him for just his poor play alone. They hoped this card would come out and Billy would get suspended or released. It didn’t work. In fact, he played six whole years in Baltimore. And then even was signed back again a few years later for a seventh. That taught me a lesson: even great art has limits to what it can accomplish.

There wasn’t too much to this one. I just took his picture. I had hoped for more. I asked if he was willing to dress up like Frida Kahlo, but he didn’t know who I was talking about. That’s the thing about baseball players. A lot of them are not very intelligent. They don’t get a sophisticated unibrow joke.