The Beckett Blog

2010 Topps National Chicle Baseball: The artists react by Chris Olds

By CHRIS OLDS | Beckett Baseball Editor

While we’ve talked about the reactions to some of the surprise inclusions in the 2010 Topps National Chicle Baseball set in the wake of their preview’s release on Friday, one group of people we hadn’t yet heard from are the artists.

You know, those who are bringing those National Chicle cards to life.

Whether you love or hate their work, they probably have a different perspective than the typical collector — they also are the ones working on deadline and the ones who bear some of the brunt of reactions to their assignments from Topps.

They also can have distinctly different styles of work, ranging from paintings that carry almost a sketch quality to paintings that carry more of a folk-style aesthetic — some of which may not spark the same types of reactions from different collectors.

The artists also the ones whose names are attached to the work at the end of the day. It’s a challenge but an opportunity just to be a part of something they just might carry a life-long interest in — a set of baseball cards.

Paul Lempa, who was profiled in Beckett Baseball No. 42 last year for his work on Topps’ Sketch Cards, is one of the artists on board for Chicle.

And it’s his Babe Ruth card that’s drawing the ire of some collectors.

“Exciting stuff,” said Lempa to the reaction in an email to Beckett Media. “I am flattered that my artwork could cause such an uproar. I would rather my paintings be discussed and deliberated, than skipped over, that’s for sure.”

Lempa created 40 paintings for the product in two months — all done slightly larger than actual card size, which obviously limits the amount of detail that can be done along with the timeframe under which they are produced.

And his Ruth card is one of a few players with alternate uniforms. He noted enjoying creating pieces of Ryan Howard as a Philadelphia A’s player, Manny Ramirez as a Brooklyn Dodger and Roy Halladay in his new Philadelphia Phillies uniform, a piece re-done just after the megadeal in December.

And the Ruth? He enjoyed it, too.

“As for the painting in question, the Babe Ruth in a modern-day Braves uniform was requested specifically from Topps,” Lempa said. “It is part of a [group] of old-timers in modern day uniforms of their last team. In Ruth’s case, the cup of coffee he had as a Boston Braves at the end of his career, led to him in an Atlanta get up. Now I am a life-long Yankee fan, and getting to paint The Bambino, was a thrill, that was tempered initially by having to paint him this way.

“However I wanted to make the most of it and really push the painting by having him in a lot of modern-day equipment. So I went all out with batting gloves, eye black, wrist bands, etc. I actually had fun, and was pleased with the result.”

And in his previous interview with Beckett Baseball Lempa acknowledged how doing sports Sketch Cards are much, much different than comic book character sketches — a situation where identifying a player can be a challenge to collectors who find them: “You’ll never see an auction for man in a bat suit” he said in the magazine, referring to the iconic look of Batman. And he said a similar challenge was there with his Ruth assignment.

“This biggest challenge was making sure the face was right because if not, no one would recognize the Sultan of Swat in this garb.”

Indeed, many collectors thought the card was of Chipper Jones, which sparked plenty of discussions as Topps ultimately didn’t reveal many details about the cards on Friday. The company merely released the images.

“I am sure some will like [the Ruth] and some won’t,” Lempa continued. “One thing is for sure, it has gotten people talking about both the product and the art itself, and that is a good thing. There is nothing wrong with choosing a side and expressing an opinion respectfully.”

Oh, and Lempa added one more thing — and with details not yet known about much in the set — we’ll see if he’s kidding or not once Chicle actually arrives in April:

“[Just] Wait until they get a load of my Cy Young in a Globe Trotters uniform.”

Other artists offered their opinions after seeing the initial collector reactions to the cards as well.

Monty Sheldon, whose work is widely acclaimed and who is one artist that Lempa and others acknowledge as influential to them in the sports realm, also made cards for the set.

“It really sucks to hear all of the negative things being said when I know all too well the time spent in creating the art pieces,” Sheldon said via email. “I think some people just think and speak from a dark place all of the time and have no clue as to how they sound to the majority of folks.”

Dave Hobrecht, who did 27 pieces for Chicle, noted that Topps requested the unusual cards in his emails.

“A few cards just got ripped. What they didn’t know was the artist was asked to do those,” he said. “It was part of the commission. I did a Walter Johnson in a Nationals uni and a Christy Mathewson in a Giants uni.”

And finally, Jeff Zachowski, who also worked on the National Chicle Football set that arrives later this month like the other artists mentioned here, said he was looking forward to seeing what other artists create — and reactions to that work.

“Personally, I’m just happy to see new art from Monty Sheldon — I think everything he touches is stunning,” Zachowski said via email. “People are going to really be in for a treat when they get a look at what Chris Felix and Jason Davies have done as well.”

And he also understands the realities of deadlines — something collectors don’t often think about when the end result is in their hands.

“Ultimately, these artists are doing a tremendous amount of work in a short amount of time [on a budget], so results will vary,” Zachowski said. “Trust me, the fans aren’t the only ones looking at these products with a critical eye. I hope collectors support these painted sets.

“Personally I’ve grown sick of all photography all the time.”

And that just might be the point of doing a product like National Chicle — providing something different for collectors.

Even if it includes Babe Ruth in an Atlanta Braves uniform.

Chris Olds is the editor of Beckett Baseball and Beckett Graded Card Investor. Have a comment, question or idea? Send an e-mail to him at

1 Comment so far
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No one cares about their excuses, the cards do not look good. I don’t care if you spent 2 hours or 5 months, poor work is poor work. If Topps wanted to see a painted set, look no further than Masterpiece*

Comment by iamjoecollector

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