By Ross Forman
A few years ago, his girlfriend bought him a “Doodle-a-day” desk calendar, and Mike Noren started doing sketches of random people and things.
He soon transitioned his written work, focusing on drawing old baseball cards, starting with Cecil Cooper, whose major league career spanned 17 seasons, for Boston and Milwaukee, and included five All-Star selections and two Gold Glove Awards at first base.
Noren drew Cooper patterned after his 1979 Topps card.
“It was just really quick and sloppy,” Noren admitted. “I had no plans to ever do anything with it, or even show it to anyone, so I didn’t put much time and effort into the details. The face was just a generic cartoon face, with no resemblance to the actual player. After I got more serious about building a collection of card drawings, I did a new Cooper card, patterned after the 1981 Fleer (card).”
Noren has drawn hundreds of other cards since Cooper, and still is drawing daily.
“I think I’ve gotten a little better, and I work harder trying to capture the details of people’s faces … but I think my basic approach is pretty much the same,” Noren said.
In 2016, Noren drew about 600 cards, and his “Cecil Cooperstown” website (http://cecilcooperstown.tumblr.com) shows about 400 of them. His 2016 Chicago Cubs site (http://t206cubs.tumblr.com) has about 30. He also has drawn about 100 others too, for outside projects or just for fun.
“I’ve done a few drawings of non-baseball athletes/celebrities in a baseball card style,” Noren said. “For instance, I did a 1979 Topps Simone Biles during the Summer Olympics, and a 1952 Topps Bill Murray during the Cubs playoff run (in 2016). I’ve also done a few card-sized ‘posters’ for UFC events, plus a couple of hockey cards.”
Noren’s childhood passion is certainly alive for this Chicago resident, 42, who is a writer/editor and worked for World Book Encyclopedia for about 15 years. He now edits textbooks on healthcare management.
The Cubs are his all-time favorite baseball team, and Hank Aaron was his all-time favorite player, followed closely by Greg Maddux, Willie McGee and Tim Raines.
“I really like drawing cards from the 1970s – the uniforms, hairstyles, and Topps card designs from that decade are all really fun and colorful, and I enjoy drawing the players I watched as a kid,” Noren said. “Some of my favorite drawings are the 1976 Hal McRae, the 1979 Manny Sanguillen, the 1979 Bud Harrelson, and an old Kellogg’s 3-D Al Hrabosky.”
Noren draws cards three or four nights per week, and usually does two or three per night. Drawings take 15 to 60 minutes to complete, depending on the level of detail and any flaws he wants to fix.
“I remember doing a bunch of 1800s players, (such as) Charlie Buffinton, Jim Whitney (and) Tony Mullane, very quickly one night. They were small, simple drawings that didn’t need to be colored in, so they probably only took about 10 minutes each,” Noren said. “The longest (amount of time spent on a card was) my 1977 Mark Fidrych.”
He admitted that mostly was because the version he settled on was, oh, the fifth or sixth attempt.
Noren started the Cecil Cooperstown website in January 2016 and posted a new drawing almost daily for the first few months. Then, as baseball season was about to start, he made it a point to post a new one every day for the rest of the season. He’s continued posting one daily ever since.
Noren does his drawings while sitting on his couch and he keeps them in plastic sheets in a binder.
“I try to make them about the size of regular baseball cards, but they often turn out larger or smaller than intended,” he said.
Noren’s true paper trail dates back to 1979 when he began collecting baseball cards. He was an avid collector until about 1990. He returned to the hobby in 2010.
“My favorite card as a kid was an extremely beat-up 1975 Hank Aaron (Topps) that I got in a trade with another kid in the neighborhood,” he said. “The card has no real value because of its condition, but as a kid in the early ’80s, I was just thrilled that I owned a Hank Aaron card.
“In recent years, I’ve been seeking out older cards that I was never able to get as a kid, (such as) cards of Ted Williams, Sandy Koufax and Jackie Robinson. I bought a Babe Ruth (card) a couple years ago – the 1932 Sanella Margarine card, which was the only Ruth card from his playing days that I could find in my price-range. I’ve also put together a small collection of old tobacco cards and strip cards.
So what’s with the “Cecil Cooperstown” name?
Well, that’s Noren’s way to honor the greats of the game who fell short of induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame – players such as Lou Whitaker, Alan Trammel, Don Mattingly, Dale Murphy, and, of course, Cecil Cooper.
Noren will continue to add to the Cecil Cooperstown website in 2017, and might branch out into other styles and subjects. Eventually, he wants to do a book and t-shirts with his artwork.
Noren does not sell any of his original drawings.
“I’m keeping the whole collection together until I figure out what I want to do with it,” he said.
Noren has, though, done a few drawing projects on commission.
He penned a series of drawings for the 2016 World Series champion Cubs, which transform Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, David Ross and the rest of the Cubbies onto T206 tobacco cards. After all, the original T206 cards feature members of the last Cubs team to win the World Series.
Noren printed some of his 2016 Cubs cards on cardstock and gave them to Cubs fans.
“I’ve been surprised by a lot of the things I’ve learned while researching players to draw. Certain players’ (statistics were) better (or) worse than I remembered,” he said.
If a player Noren draws is on Twitter, Noren will Tweet the drawing at them – and he has gotten “Likes” and retweets from some former major leaguers, such as Jesse Barfield, Steve Garvey, Bret Saberhagen and Howard Johnson, among others.
Noren’s daily drawings can be seen on Twitter: @gummyarts
Ross Forman is a freelance contributor to Sports Collectors Digest. He can be reached at Rossco814@aol.com