The legacy of Jews in Major League Baseball, from Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax to current All-Star Ryan Braun to Chicago White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf to Commissioner Bud Selig, has been immortalized in a new series of prints produced by Buffalo Grove resident Greg Harris of Art O Graphs Limited.
The 2-foot-by-3-foot limited-edition lithographs were drawn by artist Ron Lewis, featuring 27 players in uniform. The "spectators" in the stands honor many Jews with a tie to baseball, such as Chicago Cubs President Theo Epstein, actor Billy Crystal who was the producer for the baseball movie "61," and the first Jewish major leaguer, Lipman Pike, who made his major league debut in 1871.
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The signed lithographs range in price from $6,500 to $10,000.
"It was a very costly project, but it was something that was close to my heart that I wanted to get done, regardless of cost -- and I've been getting nothing but positive feedback from everyone, so it was worth every penny that I've put into this," said Harris, 47, a personal injury lawyer who works in Chicago's River North neighborhood and has had his own firm since 1995.
Harris would not reveal how much each person was paid to appear on the print and for autographs, nor how much he has invested in the project.
"It's an unbelievable amount of money, which is why the prints are so priceless," said Harris, who noted that his costs include contracting players, licensing, traveling to autograph signing sessions, the artist, insurance and storage.
"I know many people will not be able to afford this, or not willing to part with that kind of money, but I'm also confident that, since there are only 500 in existence, it's not going to be a problem (for the series to sell out)," Harris said. "This is something that will be displayed prominently on the wall, and then handed down to sons and grandsons," said Harris.
Titled "Jews In Baseball," there are five distinct series, each limited, numbered to 100, signed by almost all of the living players, and labeled with a baseball-related moniker. The Rookie of the Year series ($6,500) is the basic version with autographs from 26 ballplayers.
"I was with my son's Little League Baseball team in Cooperstown, N.Y., four years ago when I saw a print with 20 players from the old Negro Leagues, and it was signed by all 20. I bought that print and have since bought 10 more (which were used in charity auctions)," Harris said. "That gave me the idea that I had to do this for the Jewish players."
He secured the same artist, Ron Lewis. Ryan Braun, 2011 MVP for Milwaukee Brewers, was one of the first players to sign. Sandy Koufax, who Harris labeled as "the Holy Grail of Jewish baseball players," was the last player to agree to appear on the print. Joel Horlen and Mike Epstein signed the prints Nov. 1 in downtown Chicago. The lithographs begin shipping in mid-November.
"When I came up with the idea, I said that I had to get either Ryan Braun or Sandy Koufax; I can't do it without them," Harris said. "When Braun agreed that was a big day for the project.
"After about five or six guys agreed, I realized that it wasn't going to be me begging others to be a part of it; I realized that, for the most part, they did not want to be left out off. "
The lithographs have one noteworthy absence: Ken Holtzman, who pitched in the majors from 1965-1979, including with the Cubs, and still holds the record for most wins (174) by a Jewish pitcher, Ahead of Hall of Famer Koufax (165). Harris said Holtzman didn't want to participate.
Each player designated a charity to receive a portion of the proceeds. Charities include the Jewish United Fund, the Anti-Defamation League, Cubs Care and White Sox Charities.
"To date, I have donated $70,000 to charity," Harris said.
Marvin Miller, the former executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association from 1966-1982, is, at age 95, is the oldest signer. Al Rosen, 85, the 1953 American League MVP, is the oldest player shown.
Braun, who is nicknamed The Hebrew Hammer and whose dad was born in Tel Aviv, said during his signing session, "Hopefully I can be an inspiration and role model to young Jewish kids out there to believe that they can make it to the major leagues, just like I have."
Lithographs will be presented to the National Baseball Hall of Fame, the National Jewish Sports Hall of Fame, and the baseball complex to be built in Israel by the Israel Association of Baseball, Harris said.
For more information, go to JewishBaseballPlayer.com.