Interview with hobby legend, Dick Perez!

To commemorate the one year anniversary of Wax Heaven, I have been lucky enough to sit down with the extremely talented painter who brought you the Diamond Kings series and is the official artist of the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame, none other than Dick Perez.

If you were around during the first full month of Wax Heaven, than you probably know how lost I was at the time. I had no direction for the blog and basically just wrote about whatever came up in my mind. Having just spent nearly $200 dollars on a Hobby box of 2007 Allen & Ginter and it being a dud, I felt like bashing Topps for a bit. Unfortunately, I dwelled instead on Dick Perez’ sketchings and the rest is as they say, card blog history. (link)

Below is the exclusive interview Wax Heaven held with Mr. Perez. Please make sure to check out his official website, which includes some of his most famous paintings, biography, and much more. You can visit DickPerez.com by clicking HERE.

At what age did you discover that your talent was something special?

I don’t think that I have ever come to that conclusion. I still grope for improvement and growth. I do know that I had an interest in drawing at a very early age. My school notebook margins were filled with drawings of my classmates and stuff from my imagination. But that was rudimentary ability and a penchant for doing art. It took many years and a lot of doing to come to where I am today. Maybe my desire for it and an active imagination made it easier to develop and apply the skills for art making. It’s like tennis with me. I learned to play tennis at age 36 and have become good at it. But, I was always into sports, especially baseball, so I guess that my predilection for athletics made it easier to learn tennis at a late age.

What was the worst job you ever held before landing with MLB?

I got out of the graphic arts for while because I wasn’t going anywhere and thought that it was never going to happen for me. So I became a salesman in a related field, selling printing papers for about a year, It was among the worst and most degrading experiences of my life and prompted me to return to my quest in the graphic arts.

How did your connection with MLB come about?

It was not a plan. Perhaps, 90% of it was fortuity, recognizing and taking advantage of those life changing moments. I started out as a graphic designer designing publications for Universities including the sports information departments. My contact at Villanova University became the general manager of the Philadelphia Eagles and I in addition to design work I began doing sports illustration for the team and the NFL. The Philadelphia Phillies took notice of my work, and thus began my career in baseball. I met a lot of folks in the industry which led to becoming official artist of the Baseball Hall of Fame for over twenty years, the association with Donruss and currently my involvement with Topps. That’s the short version the whole story is too long to go into here.

Who are some of your baseball idols past and present?

Growing up in New York City made me a Yankee fan and Mickey Mantle was my baseball hero. But, my true heroes of the game, are Jackie Robinson, Roberto Clemente, Hank Greenberg and Larry Doby. It is unimaginable to consider what they went through playing during their times as pioneers, and still excel to become Hall of Famers. I don’t think I have any current idols, though I am awed by Alex Rodriguez.

Was there ever someone MLB wanted you to paint that you didn’t think deserved the Dick Perez treatment?

I consider myself an illustrator of the game and its history, and that would include painting the rascals and the scoundrels of the game. Ty Cobb was a questionable human being but he played a significant role in the history of baseball. There were racists in the game who may not deserve to be immortalized. There is a long list of players who I would not spend time with, but they are all part of the baseball landscape, and it is not for me to judge who to exclude from the portrayal of that vast scenery.

Who is the most difficult baseball player to capture on canvas?

The players who are most difficult to paint are the “pretty” ones. They have no interesting facial features to exploit. Give me Yogi Berra, Casey Stengel, Ernie Lombardi, and Babe Ruth anytime, now there are some interesting faces.

Have any players ever complimented or complained to you about your work?

I have been asked this question many times and my usual answer is: I remember three occasions. One was Joe DiMaggio who said he would strike our every time if he swung a bat the way I portrayed him, until I showed him the source from which I worked. I think he was convinced (I relate that story on my web site in the “Photo Ops” section). Another complainer was Bob Feller who was angry that I used number 14 as his uniform number in the Perez-Steele Great Moments card and that he would never sign that card. He claimed the fans knew him as number 19. I explained that the great moment we chose was his rookie year and that at the time 14 was his number. He eventually relented. Rollie Fingers pointed out that the distance indicated on the outfield wall in his Great Moments painting read 314 feet and since it looked like center field he would have had an extraordinary number of home runs hit off him. Quite frankly, I don’t know how that happened, I’ve never been able to find my reference photo, but he was nice about it. There were other mishaps here and there, I got the color of Roger Staubach’s eyes wrong and he nicely let me know about it at a publicity photo session I had with him. Chub Feeney, the late president of the NL didn’t think I did justice to his friend Mel Ott’s portrait. Nobody’s perfect, you learn to live with your mistakes and I have gotten a hell of lot more compliments than complaints over the years, so I am not bruised when it happens.

Do you ever get recognized on the streets?

No, thank God. Though, I am always delighted by the name recognition at affairs and the many emails and letters I received. It’s nice to be famous but not recognized.

What in your opinion is your least favorite work you have done for Donruss and Topps?

I believe I can say that I enjoyed everything I did for Donruss. There may have been some projects that I liked more than others, but overall I am proud of that body of work. As for Topps, the Allen & Ginter sketch cards proved extremely challenging in the beginning. They are tiny portraits where the smallest errant brush stroke can ruin an image. I am not a big fan of gimmicky things such as making portraits on baseballs and other objects. I thought at first that painting little cards was such a gimmick, but I have gotten such positive feedback for that project, and I believe I have mastered the process that I now have a certain enthusiasm for those cards.

What is the piece you are most proud of?

That is like asking which is your favorite child. I do have a great affection for the 1995 Diamond Kings, especially the Chili Davis card. There are many that I consider victories, perhaps at some point in time I will post a section on my web site titled, my favorite Dick Perez paintings. I get the question asked enough.

8 thoughts on “Interview with hobby legend, Dick Perez!

  1. Great interview. It’s cool to learn the stories of people from the people themselves, famous or no. It’s particularly cool to learn more about Dick Perez, because, you see his name and know he is a legendary artist, but that’s it. To know more, about his origins, and the twists and turns his life and career, his proudest achievements and favorite works, and criticism he’s received over the years… is just fascinating. Good job Mario! Thanks, to you and Mr. Perez.

  2. also…I just looked up that 95 DK Chili Davis card because I could not remember it. It looked pretty cool…

  3. So proud to be Dick’s second cousin!! Not only is he a great artist, but a truly genuine and sweet person.

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