While the latest products to hit the shelves of our card aisles and LCS's might be all the rage on the blogosphere right now, Bowman only has a card or two that truly interests me. Furthermore, Gypsy Queen... well, isn't that antiquity-themed set a little repetitive with the juggernaut that is Allen & Ginter already on the release schedule? None too exciting, in my humble opinion.
In contrast, there is one Gypsy that grabs my attention. I was pleasantly surprised when I was contacted by baseball artist Gypsy Oak about a card he thought might interest me. When it comes to cards, I'm always listening - especially after previously receiving a couple of his exceptional Helmar Stamps.
Mr. Oak wanted to know if I had a card of one Hiram Bithorn - a Cubs pitcher from the early to mid 40's. While I did, it featured him with an unidentifiable jersey. Gypsy's offer was for a card featuring his own rendering of Hiram in the proper colors:
As you can see, I happily took him up on his offer. Out of the kindness of his heart, he refused my offers for any kind of compensation. Gypsy Oak is one cool dude and, as you can see, a talented artist.
Hiram Bithorn was a young hurler with a distinctively high leg kick on the rise with Chicago from 1942-43, posting 3.68 and 2.60 ERAs as part of the starting rotation. However, when Uncle Same came a-callin', Hiram fell out of baseball shape, sustained some injuries and gained some pudge. Thus, when he returned to the mound in 1946, the magic was gone. He was allowed to be claimed off waivers by Pittsburgh and then again by the White Sox, with whom he gave it one last go in 1947.
The Dontrelle Willis of his day, in more ways than one.
But, this oft- over looked MLB flameout holds a significant in baseball history, being the very first native Puerto Rican to make the Bigs - Bithorn helped paved the way for PR to become the baseball hotspot it is now. Hiram attempted a comeback in the Mexican League, but was tragically gunned down by a dirty cop in 1951, who was eventually found guilty of murder.
As you might recognize from when it was the temporary home of the Expos, the baseball stadium in San Juan, PR bears Bithorn's name in tribute to the man who paved the way to the Majors for Puerto Ricans.
For a guy who holds such an important place in the sport's history, you'd think he'd have a larger cardboard presence. But, outside of the Puerto Rican oddball that I have that was used as admission to a card show on the island (above) and a postcard from earlier this year, I can find absolutely nothing for the guy.
Of course, he had a brief, shooting star-type career at a time when most paper being produced was going towards the war effort. However, you'd think he'd have showed up in one or two of the thousands of retrospective sets produced since then.
Anyway, let's get back to the Gypsy Oak card itself:
Here's the back - very 1980's Topps - where we get Gypsy Oak's contact information. I highly recommend that you follow him on Twitter. The work that he shows off on that account is fascinating and he often does card and art giveaways, if you're paying attention. Seriously, check it out!
Also, you can see on the bottom that Gypsy produced these art sample cards in association with Rookies, a card-creating application available in the Apple Store. I too have used Rookies for some card-related work and, I have to say, they've produced a top-notch app. I might have to use them again for my wedding favors.
Back to the front, you might have noticed in the bottom right corner that this Bithorn is numbered "#18 of 20." That's because Hiram is part of a larger set of athletes from distant/foreign lands. The set is not limited to baseball either, finding significant subjects from all sorts of sports.
Below, you can see a sampling of the cards found in the checklist. Again, all of these beauties feature Gypsy Oak's artwork:
As I mentioned to Mr. Oak, this is a concept that I'd love to see one of the major card manufacturers explore, perhaps as an insert set in Allen & Ginter. A sort of United Nations of Cardboard, if you will. That said, I think Gypsy's got it pretty well covered here!
Thank you again, Gypsy Oak, for thinking of me and for the more than generous gift. This Bithorn looks pretty swell in my Cubs All-Time Roster Collection binder! Also, since my post is now pretty much over, this would be an excellent time to mosey on over to his Twitter and check out his work.
I'll close with an appearance by another one of my favorite "gypsies," the one and only Stevie Nicks: