I am guilty of using the word “pioneer” in connection with various hobby individuals at a frequency no doubt far beyond any other hobby writer. And I make no apologies about it.
Anointing pioneer status is weighty stuff, but I would insist that I use the term advisedly, and further that designating someone in that fashion is important as a means of drawing a distinction between a mere bystander or onlooker and someone who had an impact in shaping events.
So with that introduction I bring you a piece that involves two guys who easily warrant that appellation. Ron Lewis (photo at right), one of the most prolific sports artists in the hobby’s heyday of the 1980s, and Bill Hongach of Capital Cards in New York, teamed up for a number of artistic ventures back then, most notably perhaps on the famed 500 Home Run Club artwork from the Atlantic City show in 1989.
Hongach, one of the co-promoters of that historic undertaking in Atlantic City 20 years ago, was a former Yankee batboy and a major player in the earliest days of the hobby, promoting shows and creating dozens of themed art projects with Lewis, including limited-edition prints of 300-game winners, 3,000 strikeouts and several others, along with producing collector-issue sets, including Negro leaguers and individual player issues.
The Hongach-Lewis double play combination has been pretty quiet for the better part of a decade, with the artist having moved to Idaho and Hongach focusing on his well-known hobby business, Capital Cards, in Brooklyn.
“Now we are coming back with a nice collectible, Classic Baseballs,” Hongach said in a phone interview. Each of the individually painted baseballs will feature a portrait done by Lewis of the ballplayer in question, along with an inscription from the player, his signature and the signature and edition number added by Lewis.
Leading off is Tommy Brown, the youngest major leaguer to hit a home run, who accomplished that feat on Aug. 20, 1945, and will so attest on the Classic Baseball, which also comes with a certificate of authenticity signed by Brown.
All of the baseballs will be limited editions to 100, and the second entry planned is from Calvin Coolidge Julius Cesar Tuskahoma McLish, proud owner of the greatest full name in baseball history. And don’t ask me what it means that I was able to type that name from memory without even looking at the notes from his interview. And this from a guy who can’t remember his own cell phone number.
The Classic Baseballs retail for $199.99, and collectors who purchase the inaugural Brown ball can reserve the right to purchase the same numbered edition on future issues.
The idea for the baseballs came from Hongach, who has compiled volumes of information on major leaguers of every description dating to his years as a Yankees batboy in the 1970s. “We think with Ron’s following in the hobby, this will be sold pretty quickly, so we urged collectors to secure a number for future releases.”
Serious collectors will also recognize Hongach’s work as the principal photographer on the 1975-76 Sports Stars Publishing Co. issue that made a splash in the hobby in 1975 and ultimately drew the ire of a certain Brooklyn-based manufacturer, Topps, which sued for $20 million and ultimately quashed the production.
The Classic Baseballs can be ordered through Capital Cards, P.O. Box 102, Brooklyn, NY 11228; (718) 921-6400.
Collectors wishing to contact Ron Lewis for commissions unrelated to the Classic Baseballs offering can e-mail him at: firstname.lastname@example.org.