Monday, June 1, 2015

Local Author Writes and Illustrates Celebrated Baseball Book

Local graphic designer and author Gary Cieradkowski celebrates release of new book, The League of Outsider Baseball; illustration by Cieradkowski 

If you listen closely, you can occasionally hear fireworks from Great American Ballpark, such as yesterday's, when the Reds beat the Nationals, 8-2. Local ball fields are regularly in use, with competitive games or a parent and child playing catch. Dirt-caked cleats are regularly tossed in shoe bins, Thom Brennaman is so-often on the radio and patio cushions are used daily as backyard bases.

Summer baseball also means the release of this year's newest baseball books—and Fort Thomas resident Gary Joseph Cieradkowski has written and illustrated what ESPN has called "the most beautiful baseball book of summer."


Cieradkowski runs a design and illustration shop out of a Victorian he and his wife, Andrea Gazzaniga, own on Grant Street. For more than 25 years Cieradkowski has worked as a graphic designer, with credits that include the graphics for Oriole Park at Camden Yards, Barnes & Noble's music department, and the Folgers Coffee can.

His book, The League of Outsider Baseball, started out as a blog—The Infinite Baseball Card Set. Cieradkowski's blog was born after the sudden death of his father, right before the start of the 2009 World Series.

Cieradkowski grew up as a Mets fan in New Jersey—his dad (also named Gary) was a Mets fan; his grandfather, a Brooklyn Dodgers fan. "When I went away to art school, my dad and I enjoyed a long-distance friendship that revolved around the game of baseball," Cieradkowski writes in the introduction of his book. "Just as we had tossed a ball back and forth many years before, as adults we tossed bits of baseball trivia at each other. This eventually evolved into a spirited trivia showdown that had no winners, losers, or end, just pure fun."

Cieradkowski's graphic design work took him across the country, with gigs in Baltimore, Chicago, Cincinnati, Boulder and Hollywood. Several times a week he and his dad would talk on the phone. Their favorite topic? Obscure baseball players. Cieradkowski laughs as he describes his dad calling with the hopes of naming someone unknown only to curse upon learning his son already knew of the outsider.

In 2009, when his dad died suddenly of a brain aneurysm, Cieradkowski found himself without anyone to talk to about baseball. "I missed my dad," he says. "So I started drawing baseball cards of old players in my spare time." His first illustration was of "Negro Leagues great Leon Day," Cieradkowski writes in his introduction. He posted the illustration on his newly created blog, and then posted more. He quickly gained fans and followers.

This led to a self-published book, that was simply too expensive to promote and produce. Fast-forward to August 2013, the day after his honeymoon. Cieradkowski got a call from a literary agent and fan of his blog. Not thinking anything of it, he wrote the name down. Later, he Googled the agent's name: Jake Elwell, of Harold Ober Associates—a pretty big deal. Cieradkowski called Elwell back, and later that week they met in New York City. They discussed the book proposal, which Cieradkowski later wrote and sent on a Tuesday. Elwell said the average wait time to hear from publishers is four months to three years. Two days later, Simon & Schuster called. They loved it.

In his introduction Cieradkowski writes that his illustration style "pays homage to the beautiful old tobacco cards that were manufactured at the turn of the century." John Thorn, official historian for Major League Baseball writes, "Gary Cieradkowski is to me the most interesting artist working in baseball today. His bold graphic style recalls America's poster kings of yore—Edward Penfield, J. C. Leyendeker, Fred G. Cooper—and his love of the game breathes new life into heroes long gone." 

Heroes in the book include Ty Cobb, Roberto Clemente, Oscar "Farmer" Dean, Alabama Pitts and Sandy Koufax. In support of all things local, here are some highlights from two stories, close to home:

Kitty Burke; illustration from The League of Outsider Baseball by Gary Cieradkowski 

Kitty Burke: Appearing One Night Only
"In the whole history of Major League Baseball, only one woman has ever appeared in a game, and that woman is Kitty Burke," Cieradkowski writes. "When she's mentioned at all in baseball history books, it's usually a two-sentence story or a footnote that goes something like: 'In 1935 nightclub singer Kitty Burke emerged from the Crosley Field stands and took a bat from Reds player Babe Herman. Cardinals pitcher Paul Dean lobbed an underhand pitch to Burke, who hit it back to Dean for an out.'" Cieradkowski, however, wanted to know more so he tracked down Kitty's granddaughter. And oh, the story! It involves Burke heckling Cardinals outfielder Joe Medwick, who heckled back, and Burke later storming the field to prove him wrong. Buy the book. Read the story.

Harlan Pyle; illustration from The League of Outsider Baseball by Gary Cieradkowski 

Harlan Pyle: A Bad Case of Stage Fright
"The Cincinnati Reds purchased the Nebraska native and sent him a train ticket to St. Louis, where the Reds were playing the Cardinals," Cieradkowski writes. "Manager Jack Hendricks wanted to see what the kid had but when told to warm up, Pyle refused. Peeking out at the crowd that was filing into Sportsman's Park, he told his manager, 'Hell no. I'm too scairt to pitch before this crowd.'" 

Positive reviews of The League of Outsider Baseball have appeared in publications across the country, including Library Journal, Kirkus Reviews, Los Angeles Times and Major League Baseball. It's currently the No. 1 Release in Amazon.com's Collections, Catalogs & Exhibitions department. Cieradkowski also has participated in many interviews and book signings, including an upcoming one at The Booksellers of Fountain Square, to coincide with the 2015 All-Star Game at Great American Ballpark.

But for those who can't attend a book signing, Cieradkowski has teamed up with what he calls "one of the best independent bookstores in the country, The Blue Marble. They're best known for being the best children's bookstore in the land but their store offers books for all ages, including a really choice baseball section," Cieradkowski writes in a May 28 blog post. "The owner Peter has graciously offered to handle all signed book requests, so if you'd like a signed or signed and personalized copy please order it from The Blue Marble's website." If you're local, simply stop in. The Blue Marble will note exactly how you want it personalized and in his spare time, Cieradkowski will walk down the street to sign it.

The book makes a wonderful Father's Day gift, which is fitting for how it came to be, back in 2009. Cieradkowski notes the irony in this: His father would have been delighted to read the book and would have reveled in his son's success. And yet, the blog and book wouldn't exist had it not been for his father's death. Buy the book. Call up your dad. Play a game of catch in the backyard.

"Today it's easy to get distracted by the petty controversies, salary disputes, and silly correctness that sometimes takes precedence over the game itself," Cieradkowski writes in his introduction. "Writing these stories and drawing the illustrations make me remember what the game was all about for me and my dad. When you read this book I hope, at least for a little while, you can get that feeling again of what it's like to throw the ball around with your dad, recall once more the sounds and smells of your first time at a ballpark and that feeling of zipping down a country road with the windows open, listening to the broadcast of a faraway baseball game."


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