Talking baseball with artist Mark Ulriksen

From quaint fan moments to biting commentary, Mark Ulriksen's baseball art covers many bases. Courtesy of Mark Ulriksen

For all the hundreds of thousands of words devoted to projecting the 2013 Major League Baseball season, the best preview contained not a single line of text. Instead, it was Mark Ulriksen’s brilliant cover for last week’s New Yorker. Ulriksen’s cover shows the New York Yankees lined up for Opening Day, posed with walkers, canes, wheelchairs and casts.

One of my favorite artists, Ulriksen has done nearly three dozen covers for the New Yorker as well as many interior illustrations. He is a huge baseball fan, and our national pastime is a frequent theme in his work, as you can see in this slide show.

Ulriksen discusses the Yankees, the Giants, baseball and his art:

• To see a large collection of baseball-themed Ulriksen pieces, click here.

Jim Caple: I love the work you’ve done mocking the Yankees. What makes them such great fodder for humor? How do you see this season playing out for them? Will they advance to the postseason, or will they have an AARP convention to attend?

Mark Ulriksen: The Yankees are always ripe for ribbing because the job of any satirist is to make fun of the high and (formerly) mighty. I’m a major fan of NYC itself but have never, ever liked the Yankees (or the Dodgers). That made 1976 and 1977 tough years to follow the postseason. I do like Derek Jeter and Curtis Granderson and certain players, but I’m not fond of the rich teams.

Normally, one can’t count the Yankees out of the race but they are sooooo old and soooooo beat up, with little starting pitching, that I just don’t see them being competitive this year. And on this current New Yorker cover I didn’t even include Granderson with his fractured wrist. I also could have had Brian Cashman parachuting into the park with his leg in a brace.

JC: You have baseball in your art fairly often. What do you like most about the sport?

MU: Baseball was the first sport I fell in love with as a kid growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area. I love everything about the game except the economics, which bugs me tremendously. What I enjoy most about the sport is the day-in, day-out quality. For six months a year I have this book to read, called baseball, where every day is a new chapter, with new heroes and/or goats. The characters are mostly the same for the home team -- you get to meet new characters from the opposition. When the Giants (my team) win, I read the sports page first thing in the morning. When they lose I’ll read the N.Y. Times first then get to the S.F. Chronicle afterwards.

JC: How often do you get to games? What are your best memories of the Giants? Do you think the Dodgers/Giants rivalry will get heated enough again this season that Vin Scully utters a profanity?

MU: I have season tickets for four games a year (I’m in a group of 20 folks) and friends/relatives know my love of the game, so I get invited to a half dozen or so other games annually. But I watch/listen to 99 percent of the games every season. My best memories of the Giants are probably the past two championship seasons or growing up watching [Willie] Mays, [Juan] Marichal and [Willie] McCovey play at the 'Stick. Going to Bat Day with my buddies as a kid is also a fond memory, even if they always seemed to play Houston on Bat Day.

The Dodgers/Giants rivalry is fantastic as you know, and the only good thing I can say about the Dodgers is that they have Vin Scully. He’s the king. If he hasn't uttered any profanities yet, then my guess is he keeps his record intact.

But another GREAT thing about following the Giants is their announcing team. Everyone loves them, rightfully so. Kruk and Kuip [Mike Krukow and Duane Kuiper] plus Dave Fleming (sounds like a young Scully) -- not to mention the Big Kahuna, Jon Miller -- make locals swoon. We are so fortunate out here. I had my Ron Fairly and Lindsey Nelson years so I know.

JC: I loved your illustration of Barry Bonds for his trial. What are your feelings about Bonds?

MU: I’ve never liked him as a person or as a player. He’s a jerk of a person with the hubris to match. He did give us our magnificent stadium, so that deal with the devil was worth it. I hope he never gets into the Hall of Fame. I’m a traditionalist in that I think any players suspected of using PEDs should be shunned. Baseball is so much about numbers and comparing players across generations and this generation of players who cheated the game also cheated their predecessors. Shame on them.

JC: Who/what have been/are influences in your work?

MU: I’m influenced by all sorts of things, including baseball cards which are like classical busts of yore. I’m influenced by compositions from photographs, wide-angle and telephoto lens, binoculars, movies, Buster Keaton's deadpan humor, the colors of S.F. Victorians, Mad magazine, "Rocky and Bullwinkle," Flemish painting, Ben Shahn, Max Beckmann, Edward Hopper, Picasso, Balthus, Miroslav Sasek (who does those "This is Rome," "This is Paris," etc., children’s picture books).

JC: What do you think of the Giants' ballpark?

MU: It’s the greatest! I lived in Boston a couple of years and love Fenway, but the seats are small and uncomfortable. At Pac Bell (I can’t keep track of which regional phone conglomerate now holds the naming rights), one of the best views is from the upper deck in right. I can walk two blocks from my Haight/Ashbury front door to take public transportation right to the park. Or one can ride their bike and the Bike Coalition parks it for free under the stands. The management celebrates Giants of old with statues and there’s a constant presence of old-timers at the park. It’s all magical and such a contrast with Candlestick.

JC: What are your hopes for the season?

MU: My hope for this season is the same as always -- stay healthy and be in the race come September.