Year – 2013
Size – 28″x38″
Medium – Black & white acrylic paint and colored pencil on gessoed board.
The most important postwar baseball card, ’52 Topps #311 reigns as the single most valuable and most famous card aside from the multi-million-dollar T206 Honus Wagner. Indeed, it’s estimated that any one of the just three known PSA Gem Mint 10 Mantles would likewise easily surpass the seven-figure mark and approach elite Wagner territory. How did the second-year card of an Oklahoma country boy become the stuff of legend? Timing is everything. The stars aligned for one brief shining year, and young Mantle became the torchbearer for the
Class of 1952. Boasting larger dimensions, dynamic graphics, and a cherished high-number series (that began with #311), an upstart company named Topps staged a cardboard coup d’état, usurping the throne from old-guard Bowman and launching a new era in diamond collectibles. The Mick, too, was the harbinger of a new age. As the card-back presaged, “Switch-hitting Mickey is heralded as Joe DiMaggio’s successor.” Mantle had the good looks, all-American appeal, punishing bat power, big numbers and, of course, Yankee pinstripes that made him the obvious leader of the national pastime in general and Topps’ inaugural issue in particular. The oversized card was an immediate favorite for trading, flipping and “spoking,” and both its popularity and revered stature have only skyrocketed over the intervening decades.
Significantly, while the card is a small zoomed-in bust portrait, and while the news-service photo takes an expanded half-length lens, only Adam Port’s inspired take on the 1952 Topps Mantle restores the image to the grand dimensions of its full original glory. This vast perspective accentuates the upward camera angle and truly exalts Mickey’s towering legacy. Outfield billboards beneath a wide-open sky set the stage as Florida spring training, where the mighty rookie known as the Commerce Comet gazes out toward his distant future—536 home runs, 3 MVP awards, an A.L. Triple Crown, 18 World Series homers and 7 Yankee championships. With breathtaking hyperrealistic detail, Port deftly captures the boyish innocence of Mantle’s chiseled face, the brawny physique of his barrel chest and Popeye forearms, the velvety flannel of his uniform, and the patterned wood-grain of his H&B lumber. (Incidentally, the constellation of surface dots on the bat handle is also a recognizable feature of the colorized card version.) Another touchstone of Port’s unique artistic gifts can be found in the dynamic interplay of glowing sunlight and scattered shadows. Then, finally, there’s the feather in the cap of this Mantle masterpiece: The world-renowned “NY” insignia prominently radiating Yankee pride from above.
“What I find most challenging in any close-up portrait is trying to capture the facial likeness,” Port explains. “Especially when the subject is as universally famous as Mickey Mantle—and when it’s his most well-known image. Viewers need the portrayal to immediately ring true for them and match up with the picture that exists in their mind’s eye. That’s my ultimate goal.”