Baseball Artist

Among the many Cub die-hards watching the game today was one lifelong fan who has channeled her passion for all things baseball into her art.

“I grew up by Wrigley Field. I could hear it from my school room. You know, people are cheering, there's organ music. It sounded like a fun place to be,” said Margie Lawrence.

In those days, Margie Lawrence, like most Chicago school kids, went home for lunch. She didn't always make it back in the afternoon.

“Oh, I played hooky. I'd go in [to Wrigley Field.] They'd let us in for free!” she said. “But I was in the first grade. So my mom got a phone call, ‘is little Margie OK? She didn't come back from lunch.’”

Even though Margie was ditching school in the first grade to go to Cubs games, she didn’t start painting baseball until many years later.

First, she became a bleacher bum, and went to 35 games a year for 20 years.

“I would get there before the doors opened. We’d spend six hours there. And it was people who had been there for 30-40 years already,” she said.

The idea to start painting came to Margie in the bleachers. But she wasn't inspired by the players. It was a beer vendor.

“I fell madly in love with him and I wanted to impress him,” she said. “And he was a great painter. I just thought I could woo him through my painting. But then, I started getting all of this positive feedback from people and I thought, well, gosh darn it, I should be doing this all the time. Both my parents are artists, and I guess I wanted to explore that venue.

The romance with the beer vendor didn't last, but Margie's passion for painting ball players did.

  • Archer and Meyers: “Those were turn of the century catchers. Jimmy Archer played for the Cubs and missed the World Series by one year. He joined the Cubs in 1909. He was in a terrible accident and got burned on his legs, so he couldn’t straighten his legs out. He was able to throw people out because he could throw from a crouched position. Chief Meyers was Native American. He went to Stanford, and he was Christy Mathewson’s catcher. Mathewson was a very famous pitcher.”

    Archer and Meyers: “Those were turn of the century catchers. Jimmy Archer played for the Cubs and missed the World Series by one year. He joined the Cubs in 1909. He was in a terrible accident and got burned on his legs, so he couldn’t straighten his legs out. He was able to throw people out because he could throw from a crouched position. Chief Meyers was Native American. He went to Stanford, and he was Christy Mathewson’s catcher. Mathewson was a very famous pitcher.”

  • Ernie Banks: “He’s our mascot. The Cubs don’t have a mascot, but damn if Ernie isn’t our mascot! He came from the Negro Leagues. Buck O’Neil discovered him.”

    Ernie Banks: “He’s our mascot. The Cubs don’t have a mascot, but damn if Ernie isn’t our mascot! He came from the Negro Leagues. Buck O’Neil discovered him.”

  • Hack Wilson: “He batted an RBI of 191 home runs in one year. Nobody came close to that record. And he was only 5-foot-6.  He was a notorious alcoholic. His career ended after 5 years. While he was playing in his prime, he was a menace in baseball. He smacked those balls out of the ballpark.”

    Hack Wilson: “He batted an RBI of 191 home runs in one year. Nobody came close to that record. And he was only 5-foot-6. He was a notorious alcoholic. His career ended after 5 years. While he was playing in his prime, he was a menace in baseball. He smacked those balls out of the ballpark.”

  • Hank Greenberg: “He wasn’t the first Jewish player but he was the first Jewish baseball star. Jews rallied around him and he was a particular hero of my father’s. He was a ball player during the ‘20s and ‘30s when Jews in America still were repressed minorities. Greenberg also embraced Jackie Robinson when he became a ballplayer.”

    Hank Greenberg: “He wasn’t the first Jewish player but he was the first Jewish baseball star. Jews rallied around him and he was a particular hero of my father’s. He was a ball player during the ‘20s and ‘30s when Jews in America still were repressed minorities. Greenberg also embraced Jackie Robinson when he became a ballplayer.”

  • Impossible Play Reproduction: “That was my very first painting in 1998. I saw that, and never painted before. The artist’s name is Robert Riggs. I taught myself to paint by copying this painting. It’s stylized and different from my normal paintings.”

    Impossible Play Reproduction: “That was my very first painting in 1998. I saw that, and never painted before. The artist’s name is Robert Riggs. I taught myself to paint by copying this painting. It’s stylized and different from my normal paintings.”

  • Joe DiMaggio: “He is known for the impossible feat of having a hit in 52 games in a row. He is one of the top five players that ever played the game.”

    Joe DiMaggio: “He is known for the impossible feat of having a hit in 52 games in a row. He is one of the top five players that ever played the game.”

  • I Kissed Ted Williams: “Before I knew that he was really crazy, I thought he was very handsome. I had a crush on him.”

    I Kissed Ted Williams: “Before I knew that he was really crazy, I thought he was very handsome. I had a crush on him.”

  • Ron Santo: “God bless Ron Santo. That was his rookie year. He knew he had diabetes and he didn’t want to tell anybody. When his insulin got low, he would see three balls when he was at bat and he would aim for the one in the middle. He kept it a secret from his teammates and he persevered. That’s why he is so beloved in this city. He wasn’t the greatest player but he had the biggest heart.”

    Ron Santo: “God bless Ron Santo. That was his rookie year. He knew he had diabetes and he didn’t want to tell anybody. When his insulin got low, he would see three balls when he was at bat and he would aim for the one in the middle. He kept it a secret from his teammates and he persevered. That’s why he is so beloved in this city. He wasn’t the greatest player but he had the biggest heart.”

  • Sammy Sosa: "He was pretty notorious for hitting more baseballs out of the park than most people."

    Sammy Sosa: "He was pretty notorious for hitting more baseballs out of the park than most people."

  • Satchel Paige: “He is known as the world’s oldest rookie. He played in the Negro Leagues and he was very famous. When he got drafted into the white major leagues, he was in his 40s. Usually, baseball players retire in their mid-30s. He was a great pitcher; probably one of the top five pitchers who ever played the game.”

    Satchel Paige: “He is known as the world’s oldest rookie. He played in the Negro Leagues and he was very famous. When he got drafted into the white major leagues, he was in his 40s. Usually, baseball players retire in their mid-30s. He was a great pitcher; probably one of the top five pitchers who ever played the game.”

  • Two Caseys: “Casey Stengel was very famous. He started in baseball at the early part of the century. He started off as a player but most noteworthy as a manager. His last managerial job was for the New York Mets. I sold one of these so I made another one. In this photo, they are side by side. You can’t reproduce the same piece of art so there are subtle differences.”

    Two Caseys: “Casey Stengel was very famous. He started in baseball at the early part of the century. He started off as a player but most noteworthy as a manager. His last managerial job was for the New York Mets. I sold one of these so I made another one. In this photo, they are side by side. You can’t reproduce the same piece of art so there are subtle differences.”

So, what is it about baseball players?

“Well, first of all, I like men. And when I was a young girl I had crushes on ball players. They're just normal guys. They're not 7 feet tall like basketball players, they don't weigh 350 pounds like football players, they have normal bodies.”

Margie Lawrence paints from photographs -- some action shots and some casual portraits. But she won't paint just anyone. 

“I go for the players of the past more than I do the present,” she said. “They were more characters; now, they’re millionaires.”

Margie’s psychedelic treatment of one old-time player -- Sandy Koufax -- is in the archives of the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.

Though Margie Lawrence still lives just a couple of miles from Wrigley Field, she doesn't get to many games anymore. It's just gotten too expensive, she says.

And while she occasionally branches out and paints musicians, baseball and baseball players -- and especially the Cubs -- will always be her muse.

Find more of Jay's stories about Chicago people and places right here.